UBuildABook | Selling Your Books on Amazon

How to Sell Your Books on Amazon

There are three common ways to sell books on Amazon:



Get An ISBN Number

Every item sold on Amazon Advantage needs a unique ISBN (International Standard Book Number). RR Bowker is the official agency in the US that assigns ISBN numbers to titles. Every version of every book has its own number. ISBNs can be purchased on Bowker’s web page in minimum blocks of ten ISBNs for $250. It comes out to $25.00 per ISBN. The trouble is if you have only one book, the remaining ISBNs are wasted. Here’s an unadvertised tip. You can get only one ISBN from Bowker for $125.


Get a Bar Code

Once you have an ISBN, it must be converted into a scannable bar code that appears on each book. There is software for generating your own bar codes. Or you can purchase bar codes directly from Bowker (cost $25 per bar code) at the same time you are applying for ISBNs. There are other, less expensive, sources for bar codes, too.


Print the Book

This is the easy part of publishing in today’s world. There are many short-run, digital printers from which to choose. Some will print in ultra small quantities, ten or fewer copies. Some will even print one at a time. The unit cost of the short-run books is higher, but the total expenditure is less than a traditional print run of 1,000 or more.


Apply to Amazon

With an ISBN and a bar code, you can apply to the Amazon Advantage Program. It costs $29.95 per year to join the program. You need to specify into which bank account your sales money is deposited. Amazon must first approve your title before you can send them any books. According to Amazon, the approval process for new titles can take several weeks. In some cases, however, it can be as fast as one week.


Mail Books to Amazon

When your book is approved, you’ll receive your first order from Amazon via e-mail—typically two copies. Confirm your order via the Advantage website and ship the books to Amazon. Amazon advertises the book as “available in 2 weeks” until they get them into their system. Pack your books well to minimize damage from rough handling. Amazon reserves the right to return the books for the slightest damage. As copies sell, Amazon will send orders to replenish its inventory. Don’t be surprised if Amazon only orders one or two books at a time unless your book is a popular seller. Amazon is instituting sophisticated algorithms to anticipate how long it takes you to fill an order, how often they should order from you and whether you have seasonal sales spikes. It is advisable, therefore, to fulfill your orders quickly.


Send the Cover Scan

Scan the cover art and send it to Amazon. Amazon also has an option for them to scan the cover for you. It takes a few weeks for Amazon to scan the cover, but it may be fewer problems than if you send the scan yourself. If there is a problem with the scanned image you send, Amazon will not put it on the site and are unable to tell you what is wrong with the scan or how to correct it. Weigh the tradeoff of having your image available faster versus the potential problems if the scan is not done correctly for Amazon.


Track Your Sales

Amazon e-mails a statement each month summarizing how many books were sold and how much money was deposited into your bank account. The report is also available on the web. Amazon will mail a check instead of direct deposit, but there is an additional charge for this.


Search Inside the Book

You can participate in Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book” program as an Advantage member. The entire contents of your book will be scanned and made searchable via Amazon’s search engine. The service is free. You must mail them one book that they will scan. This book cannot be returned to you because it is disassembled in the scanning process. There is some controversy among authors about this service. Some argue that it provides a potential reader with too much information. Others claim it helps sell more books. Since the service is free, there is little downside risk to scan the book.


Register the Book

This step is optional. It’s also free. Bowker allows you to register your book in its directory, “Books in Print.” This is the master list of all books available anywhere, which bookstores and libraries use. You must go to Bowker directly to register each of your titles. This is not done automatically when you apply for an ISBN.



The cost of the Amazon Advantage Program is high. They take 55% of the list price, leaving you only 45%. There is also a $29.95 annual membership fee. In addition, you pay the shipping costs to get the books there. If you have a $19.95 list price on your book, Amazon gets $10.97 and you get $8.98. Deduct from your $8.98 the cost of printing and the cost of shipping to determine your gross margin. The only good news in this equation is if Amazon decides to discount the price of the book to drive sales volume, the discount comes from Amazon’s portion of the revenue.


Book returns in the Advantage program are negligible. Compared to other distribution channels, this is a major advantage. Returns in the bookstore distribution channel may run as high as 40%-50% for some fiction titles. Non-fiction returns are typically less, but may still run 35%-30%.


Positive book reviews sell books. Ask satisfied readers to write a review on Amazon. Book review feedback on Amazon is almost as instantaneous as book sales figures. Book reviews are posted within five to seven days of being written. A five- or four-star rating on Amazon increases an author/publisher’s chances of selling more books because readers rely on reviewers’ opinions to help select among the myriad of title available on Amazon.


How does the author get paid?

Since Advantage is a consignment program, you will be paid for the inventory after is has been purchased and shipped to Amazon.com customers. You'll be paid on a monthly basis, 30 days after the end of the month in which the unit is sold. The standard terms include a 55% Purchase Discount (off the List Price, which you set), member-paid shipping to our warehouse and a $29.95 Annual program membership fee. Complete terms and requirements can be reviewed during account creation.