How Self-Publishing on Amazon is Like Playing Dungeons & Dragons
While Dungeons & Dragons might not be the very first thing you think of when you sit down to write, it’s easy to see how playing D&D is similar to writing a novel: both are modes of storytelling that involve immersing others in a fictitious world.
But would you believe this tabletop game of make-believe also has a great deal in common with the self-publishing process? If not, this post will prove it to you! Here's how self-publishing on Amazon is like playing Dungeons & Dragons, as demonstrated by four essential steps you’ll need to follow in either situation. Let’s start with the most important...
1. Preparing a strong campaign
In D&D, a campaign is like a storyline. The DM will set out the guidelines of a campaign before the playing starts, and one campaign will usually carry on through many sessions.
When it comes to self-publishing, campaigning is also a long-haul “game.” Self-publishing requires lots of preparation and attention to detail, just as devising a D&D campaign does! Though you won’t be sending your book on a crusade through hostile lands in a search of treasure, you will be sending it into a highly competitive landscape for indie authors (as those who have previously self-published on Amazon will already know).
The crucial thing here is to familiarize yourself with Kindle Direct Publishing before you publish, just as a Dungeon Master would plan a campaign far in advance. After all, putting it into action isn’t what takes the most time and effort; it’s all about the planning that goes into it!
To that end, do a dry run of setting your book up on KDP at least a week before you actually want to publish it. You’ll need to create a new title from the dashboard, upload your manuscript and book cover image, write your book description, select your keywords and categories, and decide which special features of KDP you want to enroll in (more on that below). Going through all this will show you what to expect, and if you’re unsure about anything, you have some time to refine your approach before your launch date arrives.
Finally, keep in mind that when you are ready to publish, it will take 24-72 hours for your book to appear on Amazon. This is another reason why prepping your materials and testing the process in advance is important! Just as you wouldn’t want your DM to phone in the campaign prep at the last minute, readers expect a thoughtfully rendered, professional-looking listing on Amazon — otherwise, you haven’t got a chance at success.
2. Creating your hero/heroine
Speaking of success! Like most fantasy stories, D&D is all about the hero or heroine emerging victorious from a difficult quest. Needless to say, your book also needs someone to champion it — and in the realm of self-publishing, that person will be none other than you!
With that in mind, pay close attention to your author bio as you’re setting up your book. Building a great author bio is like creating a strong hero in D&D: it gets others invested by making the figure in question seem interesting, knowledgeable, and psychologically relatable. (I almost put “human,” but realized the analogy falls apart if your D&D character is a rock gnome sorcerer.) In any case, try to tell your personal story as concisely yet engagingly as possible, so readers will care about the hero or heroine behind the book — not just the characters within.
Speaking in more figurative terms, your book will have a few other self-publishing “heroes” as well. These include your Amazon description and categories, as mentioned above, to help the readers find and purchase your book... but perhaps your most important inanimate champion will be your book’s cover. Just as certain campaign details and character qualities provide a bit of color to a game of D&D, your book’s cover gives readers a vivid taste of what’s inside!
More seriously, your cover is your number-one marketing tool on Amazon, so you’ll want to get this cover design exactly right. Hire a professional designer if possible, and ask yourself lots of questions throughout the design process: How will this cover reflect other covers in my genre while also standing out? Can I include all the elements I want without making it look too busy? Will the final version look good in thumbnail format?
If you don’t think visuals are as critical as story, think again — to return to our central metaphor, even the most elaborately planned D&D campaigns are massively elevated by maps and character illustrations.
3. Deciding which chances to take
Just as each turn in D&D involves a decision from the player in question, Amazon self-publishing requires a series of decisions as well, some a bit riskier than others. Fortunately, if you take the time to understand your options, you’ll be in a good position to choose among them! I’ve already covered the basic steps of setting up your book to self-publish, but here are the Amazon-specific features that you can opt in or out of during this process:
● KDP Select is a 90-day program that, among other things, allows you to run free and discounted price promotions on your book. These price promotions can really help you gain visibility and attract readers to your book!
However, you can only run one promotion per 90-day period, and you’ll need to be Amazon-exclusive during this time — you can’t distribute your book anywhere else while it’s enrolled in KDP Select. The program does have other advantages, though, such as...
● Kindle Unlimited inclusion, which gets its own bullet because it’s such a substantial factor to consider here! Millions of people are subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, which offers them access to a library of thousands of books.
But unlike standard purchases and downloads through the Kindle store, Kindle Unlimited royalties accumulate based on number of pages read. So subscribers can access your book without paying any extra, but some of their subscription money will still go toward your royalties — and they don’t even need to finish your book for you to get it!
● Kindle Matchbook and Kindle Book Lending are two other enrollment options to consider. The good news for indecisive authors is that they’re both pretty much no-brainers! Neither requires you to enroll in KDP Select, and they basically just offer incentives for your readers, which is never a bad thing.
Like I said: some are riskier than others. You’ll probably have to do some independent research to decide which combination of choices is right for you. Read some testimony, think about your target audience... and then roll the dice. Because the truth is, you can never be 100% sure how things are going to shake out, and that’s okay! It’s all part of this thrilling adventure.
Aside from the camaraderie, role-playing is the coolest part of Dungeons & Dragons; hopefully, it will also be the best part of self-publishing for you. Let’s talk about some of the roles you might have to play as a self-publishing author.
Anytime you self-publish, you become — at minimum! — project manager, researcher, editor, and marketer. (You may also play the roles of typesetter and cover designer, though again, professional design is always preferable if it’s in your budget.) But among these, marketer is probably the most important in terms of getting your book into the right hands. Yes, Amazon offers various features to help, but you will ultimately be in charge of your book’s success.
On that note, you’ll want to get it reviewed on as many relevant book blogs and other promotional venues as possible! To achieve this, you’ll need to tap into various sub-roles as a marketer: outreach expert, salesman, and sympathetic indie author, to name a few. You’ll need to become a prolific cold-emailer who’s not afraid to make requests, someone who has utter confidence in their book and its value. Luckily, as most D&D fans know, it’s a lot of fun trying out these new roles –– and who knows, a marketing wizard’s cloak might look good on you!
Indeed, Dungeons & Dragons exercises your imagination in countless fun and exciting ways, and the same is true of self-publishing your book. Like playing D&D, publishing your book on Amazon will be a unique and unpredictable experience, with the choices left totally up to you. Hopefully this post has helped you think about which paths you might go down, and given you the right attitude to enjoy the journey, wherever you might end up.
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