Here’s the short answer and the not-so-short answer.
On the way to school the other day, my kids and I were chatting about how much Amazon has changed the world. Strapped safely into the back seats of my beat-up minivan, my children were fascinated with my story of how I remembered how Amazon had started out as an obscure website that only sold books.
I told them how I used to sell back my old college textbooks on the website, typing in their IBSN numbers and holding my breath to hope that the books would be worth more than a couple dollars. (Spoiler: they were not.) In a world where I buy almost all of my household supplies, all of their school supplies, and so much of the minutiae of life (bobby pins that disappear all of the time, I’m looking at you), it’s hard for them to imagine a world without Amazon Prime.
With Amazon taking over the world, many authors have turned to the online platform as a way to sell their work, market their work, or even take control of their work. What’s interesting about Amazon is that some authors have actually been able to self-publish on the website after being rejected by traditional publishers, then go on to land huge book deals when their books turn out to be smashing successes after selling to fans. And on an opposite but similar vein, there are authors who are quietly “playing the system” on Amazon, recognizing what is selling and churning out book after book to make money by sheer volume alone. We hear about authors making all kinds of money on Amazon, but it can also feel like it’s a vast ocean and sending our book out to sea will simply not make a difference at all.
So, is it possible to make real money from Amazon Publishing?
The short answer is yes, absolutely.
And the long answer is, it’s probably not as easy as Amazon would like you to think. Like anything, making real money from Amazon involves three main components:
1. Timing in the marketplace
Will you make money penning a 50 Shades of Gray novel or a vampire right now? Er, probably not. That market has been saturated. Knowing what is selling right now is key. There are many ways you can search what is selling well on Amazon, from using their built-in search tools to simply perusing the best-selling categories and books in those categories.
Speaking of the marketplace, knowing how to market yourself is also crucial to making money on Amazon. You can’t rely on Amazon to be your sole platform; instead, you should build up a social media presence, have a website and email list, and market your work through ads, videos, or events.
It is also helpful if you can choose to publish in a category that is narrower instead of simply trying to appeal to the masses. For example, it might be easier to sell your non-fiction guide on breeding dogs than publish a sci-fi novel. For Amazon, adding keywords and narrowing your focus can actually help you sell more books, providing that people are looking for the type of content you are writing. And let’s face it, erotica will always sell, so don’t automatically rule that out if your only goal is to earn money on Amazon, that’s all I’m saying.
How hard is it to publish on Amazon?
Fortunately, for this one, I can tell you the answer from first-hand experience. I have self-published two books on Amazon now and the entire process was incredibly easy. So easy, in fact, I was surprised at how quickly I did it. All I did was make a cover—I used PicMonkey, an online photo editing program, to put some words and graphics on an image I had, converted my Word document book into a PDF file, then uploaded both to the KDP, the Kindle Direct Publishing portal website. It took minutes and Amazon approved and published my book that same day.
Now, that being said, I have made … drumroll, please … approximately $20 from my book sales on Amazon, so I am definitely not rolling knee-deep in cash. However, I am a big believer, especially when it comes to writing, that sometimes, you learn best by doing. So many of us are afraid to put our work out into the world and so many of us procrastinate by drafting and editing and revising and our work never makes its way past our computers. I knew that self-publishing, like any aspect of writing, was a skill that can be cultivated, and I decided to give it a shot.
I am definitely proof that throwing a book on Amazon and doing nothing after that won’t get you very far, but if you have the ability to write quickly, are interested in controlling your own work, and aren’t afraid to dive into learning some new skills in a digital publishing platform, Amazon might just be a lucrative route for you to explore.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, four young kids, and a flock of chickens. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.