Tips for creating a book of photographs for sale on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing

I’ve now produced two books of photographs for sale on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing, my newest being Square Photographs, which is available on Amazon here. It turned out great, with good, vibrant colors and excellent contrast. I thought I’d share with you some lessons that I’ve learned.

I’ll also share some tips on how to create a book for Kindle Direct Publishing. In short, you create and upload print-ready PDFs of your book’s manuscript and cover. I’ll share how I did that for Square Photographs.

Lessons learned

Premium color ink, 60-pound paper, and a glossy cover

First and foremost, when your book is entirely or primarily about photographs, choose the best paper and ink option available. Right now, that’s “premium color ink and 60# (100 GSM) white paper.” All other options will lead to low-contrast images and muted tones. The premium color ink and 60-pound paper option gives good contrast and tones, both for black-and-white and color images. Even if all of your photographs are black-and-white, choose this paper and ink option. This Help page at Kindle Direct Publishing explains the options.

This ink and paper option increases the book’s printing cost, which is why I listed Square Photographs at $15.99. If I had used standard color ink and 55-pound paper, the lower printing cost would have let me sell it for $9.99 and earn about the same royalty.

I chose black ink and 55-pound white paper for my previous photo book, Vinyl Village, available here; and for my photo-illustrated book of stories and essays, A Place to Start, available here. Image quality in both books was so-so. It mattered more in Vinyl Village as it was mostly photographs. But if I had it to do over again I’d publish Vinyl Village using the best paper and ink options for better image quality. It wouldn’t have increased the price so much that it would have been a barrier for most people who purchased it.

Next, I don’t think it matters much whether you choose a glossy or matte cover finish. Amazon’s Help page says that a glossy cover “makes black covers darker and artwork more striking.” I published A Place to Start and Vinyl Village with matte covers, and Square Photographs with a glossy cover. Vinyl Village‘s cover might have benefited from darker blacks. But otherwise, I was satisfied with the tones and contrast both cover options gave me. I slightly prefer the matte cover’s more dignified look.

Finally, if your book is under about 100 pages, don’t bother trying to put anything on the spine. The spine is the outside edge of the book’s binding, what you see when the book is on a shelf. Most books show the title, author, and publisher on the spine. Square Photographs at 80 pages has a spine wide enough to contain that information. However, Amazon wants there to be plenty of space on both sides of the spine’s text so that a slight variation in how the cover is cut and attached doesn’t cause the spine text to partially roll onto the front or back cover.

The first cover I submitted to Amazon for Square Photographs showed the title, author, and publisher (my Midnight Star Press imprint) on the spine. Amazon rejected the cover for not having enough margin above and below that text. So I shrunk the text as much as I dared and resubmitted. Amazon rejected it again. To shrink it any more would have meant text so small you would have needed a loupe to read it. So I deleted the text and resubmitted the cover, which Amazon accepted.

Tips for creating a book for Kindle Direct Publishing

To create a book for Kindle Direct Publishing, you upload two print-ready PDFs: one of the book’s manuscript and one of the book’s cover.

You start by creating a KDP account here and then clicking the Create button on your Bookshelf page. This Help page explains. You have to make a lot of choices, including entering the title, choosing the paper and ink, setting the book’s form factor (length x width), letting KDP set the book’s ISBN or using one you purchased separately, and setting your book’s price.

Creating the manuscript

You can create your book’s manuscript (a.k.a., the book’s content) in any software that lets you save to PDF. You can lay out the bucks for a professional page-layout tool like Adobe InDesign if you want. I created Square Photographs and Vinyl Village in Microsoft Word, as I already pay for a Microsoft Office subscription and I have very strong Word skills. If you’re skint, even Google Docs exports to PDF, and Google Docs is free.

ZIP file of KDP manuscript templates in English

KDP provides Microsoft Word templates for all of their trim sizes. You can download them here. You’ll get a ZIP file containing the templates. Choose the trim size you want. Inside, the margins are all set for you, including extra margin in the gutter, which is the inner margin where the pages meet the binding. You need a slightly wider margin there to keep your content out of the hard-to-read space near the binding. You can alter all of those margins if you want, of course.

If you use a tool other than Word, you’ll have to set your page size and margins manually. Be sure to set mirrored margins, so that your odd pages have the extra gutter margin at the left, and your even pages have the extra gutter margin at the right.

Then it’s just a matter of flowing your text and photographs into your publishing tool. Because I use Word, I create the content and arrange it on each page at the same time. Here’s what a spread (publishing lingo for a left-right page combination) looks like in Word.

After you finish the manuscript, save or export the document to PDF. Here’s how to do it in Word:

  1. Choose Save As from the File menu. The Save As window appears.
  2. In the box from which you choose the file type, choose “PDF (*.pdf).”
  3. Click the “Standard (publishing online and printing)” radio button.
  4. Click the More Options button. A window appears. Click the Options button. An Options window appears.
  5. Click the “Optimize for image quality” checkbox, if it is not already checked.
  6. Click the “PDF/A compliant” checkbox, if it is not already checked.
    Note: KDP recommends against saving your document in the PDF/A standard, but also requires that fonts be embedded in the PDF. The only way to do that in Word is to save it as PDF/A. KDP has accepted every book I’ve submitted that way.
  7. Click OK, and then click Save.

Here’s the same spread as Adobe Acrobat PC, the PDF viewer program, renders it.

Here’s what the same spread looks like in the printed book.

By the way, all KDP books must have a number of pages that’s divisible by four. If your manuscript’s page count isn’t divisible by four, KDP inserts blank pages at the end to round it out. If blank pages at the end bother you, make sure your content fills a number of pages that’s divisible by four.

Creating the cover

To create your book’s cover, there’s the easy way and the hard way.

The easy way is to use KDP’s Cover Creator. It’s free, so it’s the way to go if you don’t already own image-editing software like Adobe Photoshop and you’re skint. It’s also the way to go if you don’t have skills to use image-editing software. Cover Creator offers limited design options, and I don’t think they’re awesome, but they’re better than nothing. Read more about it here.

The hard way is to use an image-editing tool such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop Pro and a template KDP provides you. You should also be able to use a page-layout tool like Adobe InDesign, but I’ve never tried it to be sure. If you know how to insert images, create text areas, and move elements into place, you can create a cover.

To get a template, go here, make the selections that are true for you book, and download the ZIP file KDP creates. Inside you’ll find two template files, one PDF and one PNG. Use whichever one you want. Bring it into the software you’re using to create the cover. Here’s what the template I used for Square Photographs looks like.

This template is just a guide. You place your cover’s elements onto it, and when you’re done, delete the template layer. The back cover is on the left, the spine is in the middle, and the front cover is on the right. Notice the yellow area for the bar code – place nothing there that you don’t want covered up. KDP inserts a UPC bar code and your book’s assigned ISBN there.

The solid line is the cover’s boundary, but the red areas are the margin for error in printing. Your cover should go to the edges of the red zone. The dotted lines show you the area for the spine. Notice the red zone around the spine, and how tiny the space for text on the spine is. This is why I recommend not placing text on your spine for books with fewer than 100 pages, as I mentioned above in the lessons learned.

I used Adobe Photoshop to create my cover. I wanted to use one of the photos from the book as the main element on the front cover, so I inserted it and sized it to fit the front-cover area. Then I created the box that contains the title and my name. I filled the box with white, but then set the opacity to something like 50% so the photo behind it would bleed through.

For the spine and the back cover, I chose a color that complemented the front cover. I inserted the photo of the VW Bus, wrote the text below it, and put my vanity imprint’s information in the lower-left corner. I made sure the spot where Amazon would insert its bar code had nothing in it.

Here’s what the cover file looks like.

Here’s how the book turned out. Notice how the image above shows more tire tracks at the bottom than the printed cover does — that’s the effect of the red zone.

There you go! Let me know in the comments if I need to clarify anything, or add missing detail.

My new book, Square Photographs, is available now!

The Standard Edition is $15.99 at Get yours here.

The Deluxe Edition, on premium paper and ink, is $24.99 at Get yours here.


15 responses to “Tips for creating a book of photographs for sale on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Great entry, I’ll pass on…my group is always looking for the perfect “quality/price/ease of software” option. No one argues that Blurb Professional isnt the way to go for near high end publishing “looK’, but price is catastrophic, and you basically have to be a designer with pre-press chops to get a file that’s going to perform well. I’ve seen some Shutterfly that would NOT be what I wanted, and some stuff from MILK that looked OK and seemed like it could be tweaked to be better. This is an interesting option.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      With all of these options you do have to have some baseline pre-press skills. Mine come from my time in tech pubs and in book editing early in my career.

  2. Greg Clawson Avatar
    Greg Clawson

    Jim, you must have the patience of a saint. You lost me at gutter margins. I have a hard enough time with a formal letter (per template) let alone desktop publishing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Greg, the early part of my career was spent in technical publications and book publishing. So I have a bit of a leg up!

  3. Mike Connealy Avatar

    I used Blurb for my box camera book and thought it’s application for composition and layout was pretty painless to use. The Blurb software was free to use, though I did have to upgrade to a 64 bit computer. I was happy enough with the appearance of the final product, and the experience satisfied my curiosity about self-publishing. I tend to think that the subsequent lack of sales was not related to the quality of the product but rather to the lack of any real marketing effort.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I used the Blurb software for my first Blurb book, and even though it was simple to use I wanted more control over layout. So I used Word for my second Blurb book.

      My books have sold in small quantities as well. My meager marketing efforts are a part of that. But the larger part of it is that the world is not exactly waiting anxiously for the books that I publish. When I worked in publishing a long time ago we liked to get well-known authors — people would buy whatever they wrote in large quantities. A truly outstanding book by an unknown author was lucky to sell through its first printing.

  4. Denny Gibson Avatar

    Good tips and good overall advice and guidance for using KDP. Even though the title announces that these are “Tips for creating a book of photographs”, most of the tips apply to books with few or no photographs as well. I’ll note one exception in case anyone reads this who is contemplating something else.

    Where photos are the primary focus, the cost of choosing “the best paper and ink option available” is almost certainly justified but it is not insignificant. KDP’s current cost difference between basic black and white and high end color is 5.8 cents per page. For a book the size of “A Place to Start”, the cost increase would be a bit over $12. Would an increase in printing costs that approaches the current list price be worth it when the text is the focus and the photos are augmentation? Whether or not that is a barrier to purchase is a matter of opinion but I don’t think that there is any question that it is significant.

    Early in the creation of my most recent book I noticed KDP’s new higher quality option and set out to use it. Their previous color option had simply not seemed worthwhile to me but this looked really good. However, when it actually became time to set the price, I backed off. My books have lots of photos but they all serve to illustrate a story, not tell it themselves. I just couldn’t see people paying $30 or more for a paperback travelogue (especially when there aren’t all that many willing to pay $12:-).

    Sorry to pick at a single nit in a really good “how to” post. I suspect I was triggered by your “First and foremost” tip being on something I had recently struggled with and chose differently. Maybe it’s really just the difference between a book OF photographs and a book WITH photographs.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You make a good distinction, Denny. I really am writing about books that are primarily of and about photographs. If your book is occasionally illustrated with photographs, a lesser paper and ink option might work well for you.

      I remain dissatisfied with the image quality in A Place to Start but I wouldn’t choose the top ink/paper for that book no matter what because of the print cost differential.

  5. Kodachromeguy Avatar

    This is very useful. Thanks!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My pleasure, kind sir!

      1. Kodachromeguy Avatar

        But now I need to make/allocate the time and energy to create a book. Where does the time go?

  6. tcshideler Avatar

    Thanks for the timely tips. I’ve been considering self-publishing a book about Delaware County’s schoolhouses. Arcadia press wasn’t interested in contemporary photos, but I think I can borrow enough postcards to augment the pictures I’ve made.

    I run a Mac so the Word templates are hit or miss, but Amazon KDP includes a great primer towards formatting a Pages file to what’s needed.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Amazon would be a good way to publish your book. Only hitch is that you have to do 100% of the marketing yourself.

  7. Tim Avatar

    Jim were there any upfront printing costs or is each book printed on demand? I want to do this but the thought of significant upfront costs puts me off…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Zero upfront costs. It’s very nice.

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