The awful truth about Kindle e-book publishing
By Robert W. Bly

Kindle has been heralded as the next great opportunity for self-publishing.

Unfortunately, its value and potential have been vastly overstated.

To establish my Kindle credentials, thin as they may be: a number of my books with traditional publishing houses are available in Kindle e-book versions – and they have earned me many thousands of dollars in extra royalties.

In addition, I have self-published two original Kindle e-books.

The first is a 300-page collection of my science fiction stories, "The Emancipation of Abraham Lincoln XL-3000 and Other Stories".

The second is a 273-page collection of these twice-weekly e-mail essays, "Don't Wear a Cowboy Hat Unless You Are a Cowboy and Other Grumbling of a Cranky Curmudgeon".

Here's what I have learned from my admittedly limited experience in self-publishing Kindle e-books – contrasted with my 30+ years of extensive experience writing more than 80 traditionally published paperbound books:

To begin with, Kindle e-books are difficult to promote using PR, because book reviewers, newspaper feature editors, radio producers, and other media people don't take self-published Kindle e-books seriously.

Example: Amazon has a service called CreateSpace that lets customers order a paperbound version of your book instead of the Kindle version.

A friend of mine who is a reporter at the largest daily newspaper in my part of NJ took a paperback copy of my science fiction book to the features editor at the paper, hoping to interest her in writing an article about me.

"This is self published, so we wouldn't even consider it," she told him with more than a little contempt.

Second, in traditional publishing, your book is at least minimally vetted: It's good enough that someone paid you some money to publish it.

Self-published books, both Kindle and other, have no such vetting. So the quality is often way below the standards of traditionally published books. Exceptions? Of course.

Third, the mechanisms for promoting your Kindle e-book are more limited than with traditional paperbound books.

When I publish a book with McGraw-Hill, for example, it at least gets into bookstores where people can stumble across it and, if it looks interesting to them, buy it.

Barnes & Noble will invite me in to give a talk about the subject of the book, as will my local library, many associations, and even corporate clients who want training in the topic.

I have also done dozens of radio and TV interviews to promote my traditionally published books.

The results include an appearance on the now-defunct network show CBS Hard Copy and a full-page feature article about me in the National Enquirer -- published when I wrote "The 'I Hate Kathie Lee Gifford' Book."

I don't know of many Kindle e-books that get this kind of exposure.

The only place Kindle e-books are sold is on Amazon, and there are two problems with that.

One is that you are competing, on relatively equal footing, for attention with over a million other books. So how is yours going to stand out?

Two, unlike the PDF e-books I sell, which are promoted aggressively with e-mail marketing and long-copy landing pages that sell the book hard, the page Amazon puts up to describe your book is pretty lame -- not hard-selling at all.

Yes, I know of a few authors who are making zillions with their Kindle e-books. But trust me: these are the rare exception, not the rule.

One of your fellow subscribers to this newsletter told me she makes $72,000 a year from Amazon with about a dozen or two Kindle e-books. That's quite impressive.

I suspect there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of self-published Kindle e-books on Amazon that have sold less than a hundred copies each -- though I don't have the data to prove it.

If you want to self-publish a Kindle e-book, do not expect to get rich or famous from it. There is minimal financial reward or prestige in doing so.

By the way, given the limited distribution and sales potential, I would never take the time to write an original book for self-publication as a Kindle e-book.

All my Kindle e-books are collections of previously published articles, essays, and stories I have written. So my labor in putting them together is less than half a day each -- mainly to cobble together the articles in the proper order, and then add a cover page, copyright page, and perhaps a brief introduction.

My total cost to produce my Kindle e-books -- running an average of 250 pages or so -- is only $600 each.

I pay my graphic designer $500 to design the front and back cover and inside pages, and to submit them to Kindle and CreateSpace. I pay another $100 to a proofreader. And that's it. So my investment in time and money is minimal.

Despite what the self-publishing gurus and advocates tell you, self-publishing a Kindle e-book is not nearly as prestigious as having a paperback or hardcover book with a "real" publisher like John Wiley & Sons or McGraw-Hill. Trust me on this.


Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter with 20 years experience in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has written direct mail packages for Phillips Publishing, Agora Publishing, KCI Communications, McGraw-Hill, Medical Economics, Reed Reference Publishing, A.F. Lewis, and numerous other publishers.