Photography

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 Amazon.com. Get yours here.

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

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Photography

Why I published my new photo book on Amazon

I experimented on several fronts publishing my new photo book on Amazon.

I published my previous photo books (Exceptional Ordinary and Textures of Ireland) on Blurb, because that service is made to create, publish, and sell beautiful photo books. The print quality is very good. Their tools for creating books are so-so, as I learned when I produced Exceptional Ordinary. The layout controls were limited, and the tool was clunky to use. I made Textures of Ireland in Microsoft Word because I am highly skilled with it. Regardless of how I produced these books, they both turned out very well.

Available now – click the image to learn more and to get your copy

My big problem with Blurb is that their price for printing a single book is pretty high. To keep printing costs down, I use their least expensive option, the magazine format. Unfortunately, that limits me to the 8½x11 form factor. I’d prefer to use a form factor that fits the way I want to tell my story through photos. But other form factors have far higher printing costs at Blurb.

My first two photo books sold modestly. I think there are several reasons why, but I think their prices ($14.99 at launch) are one of those reasons. Pricing is a black art that I’m only starting to understand. But I have a theory, and it’s this: Books like these are a casual purchase, or a purchase that someone might make simply because they enjoy and want to support my work. Such a purchase needs to be priced to strike a balance: high enough to show that the book has value, but low enough not to feel expensive.

I wanted to experiment with a price of $9.99 to see if it would strike that balance, but still let me earn a couple bucks per copy. Amazon’s lower costs let me do it.

What I didn’t know was whether Amazon could print my photographs well. My Blurb books are beautiful. The photographs have good contrast and tonality. But Amazon optimized for printing books that are mostly text. Would Amazon be able to deliver good photo quality?

No, it turns out. The images are low in contrast, showing lots of middle grays but no deep blacks. Thankfully, it’s a passably good look, and it happens to suit this book’s subject matter. If you didn’t know I wasn’t fully pleased with it, you might think I meant the photos to look that way.

To be fair, I chose the least expensive paper option to keep costs down. It’s a mid-weight paper optimized for text printing. Amazon offers better papers, but they would have nudged printing costs up, threatening that $9.99 price.

As I did with my last book on Blurb, I created Vinyl Village in Microsoft Word. It’s not as flexible as a good desktop publishing tool, but for the simple layout I used it worked fine. If I had wanted a more complicated layout, I would have had to buy and learn a desktop publishing tool. Amazon doesn’t care what tool you use to make the book as long as it can output a print-ready PDF, and Word does that easily. That PDF is what you upload to Amazon.

The simple interior layout of Vinyl Village made Word a not unreasonable layout tool.

I used Adobe Photoshop to make the cover. Amazon gives you a cover template that fits your book’s form factor and thickness, and you lay out your cover on it. Again, Amazon requires a print-ready PDF of your cover file. Photoshop can output those natively.

There you have it: why I used Amazon to publish Vinyl Village. If you’d like a copy, click here for more information.

My photo essay book, Vinyl Village, is available!
Click here to learn more and get a copy!

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