When I began self-publishing in in 2020, I got a lot of useful advice from a part of Youtube known as ‘Authortube’. Sometimes, I would search for ‘KDP’ to get more specific results of the self-publishing platform that I had chosen initially. Today, when you do the same search, the results are full of videos about no-content books, low-content books, passive income, niche research, etc.
Self-publishing firms have greatly reduced the entry-barrier to get your book published. I have published 31 titles (28 books) and it cost me nothing (other than Internet and electricity). I am a technical writer, a programmer and a graphic designer. I do all the writing, editing, illustrating, designing and formatting. I use free and open-source software (FOSS) and have zero expenses.
Not everybody is like that. Even the best traditionally published writer needs several kinds of editors — a developmental editor, a copy editor and a proof-reader. Apart from editors, a traditionally published book needs:
- interior formatter for creating printable PDFs and ebooks
- and graphic designer for creating the covers
- illustrator for the cover and sometimes for the interior too
Then, there is printing, marketing and logistics.
A traditionally published author just needs to write. The publisher has staff on the rolls to handle all other jobs and bears all the costs.
Self-publishing platforms has eliminated costs associated only with the last part of the book-publishing process. A self-published author still needs to find and pay freelancers for the other jobs. Those freelance professionals do not work for free. Hiring them cost serious money. Self-publishing is not a free or cheap alternative to traditional publishing. It is more expensive.
The pandemic and the lockdown has forced millions to lose their jobs and forced them indoors. People are desperate for new forms of income. The reluctant post-COVID reopening, war, supply-chain issues and inflation has made things worse for everyone. Exploiting the miserable conditions, KDP coaches on Youtube are tricking a lot of people into thinking they can write their way out of the doldrums.
Their click-baity videos earn them a lot of money from Google. I do not think they make much money from self-publishing. Otherwise, they would show the books they published. Apart from earning money from Youtube, they are also creating online video courses on platforms like Udemy. These courses cost hundreds and thousands of dollars. Some self-published authors are hiring ‘personalized writing coaches’ who babysit them and hand-hold them in every step of the publishing process. Those who cannot afford the personal coaches are taking these online courses.
A lot of self-published authors have now spent thousands of dollars on:
- Learning to write
When these projects fail, the KDP coaches are saying they need to create a backlist or spend more money on ads. To recoup the money already spent, the KDP coaches say new authors can publish low-content or no-content books. You can make thousands of dollars in passive income, they say. Do niche research, they say.
No-content books are just notebooks (blank or ruled) with a fancy cover. Yes, authors are being asked to create notebooks in which the buyer does the writing. Low-content books are:
- diaries, planners and logbooks
- children's activity books such as cursive writing workbooks, sketch books and puzzle books.
- ‘adult colouring books’ - colouring books for allegedly stressed-out adults
- questionable stuff such as gratitude journals and password books
When a new writer manages to self-publish a book, he learns a new set of skills. These skills can come in handy when publishing no-content and low-content books but not quite.
Should a writer be creating these books? Writing should be for the love of writing, not passive income. Writing should be for creating fantastic stories that help readers forget their problems or the drudgery of their daily life. If you are an illustrator or a graphics design professional, these books are a worthwhile challenge. It is almost criminally reprehensible to ask a writer to move away from what he loves (writing) and instead of focus on something else (illustrating).
Niche research is much closer to being criminal. This is essentially stealing from creators who have already done the homework and created popular books in various low-content sub-categories. The advice that KDP gurus are providing is essentially about intellectual property (IP) infringement.
The Youtube KDP coaches rarely provide links to their own author pages or reveal the books they have created. However, they are more than willing to steal from creators who have achieved success through real hardwork. They sometimes show their KDP earnings but they do not mention the amounts they spent in ads. It may cost $2000 to create $3000 in sales. When you stop spending on ads, the sales crash to normal almost immediately. Even then, there are doubts about the figures. You can open the earnings page in a browser, click Inspect element from the right-click menu and put any number even a billion dollars in the browser's Developer Console. And, yes, the KDP page will show that number as your earnings. Amazon will not transfer that amount to your bank account but you can fool Youtube subscribers with it. Showing your KDP earning on Youtube may have been a proud occasion some years ago. Now, it could be mistaken for a shady stunt.
Many of these KDP coaches are not even real writers. They were originally buying stuff from Amazon and Walmart and selling (dropshipping) them on Ebay using the price arbitrage. They discovered KDP by accident and moved into make fools out of aspiring writers and book buyers. They have so many hands in so many pies that account suspensions or bans barely bother them. They create a video about it and do the same thing again with a fresh account. Nothing fazes them. Self-published authors are too inexperienced to take such risks.
Recently, KDP stopped providing ISBN numbers to no-content books. These numbers were not needed anyway. However, it is now asking book uploaders to click a checkbox to identify whether the book is a no-content or low-content book. This is because the Youtube KDP coaches have sent thousands of publishers to mass-upload books with very little differentiation. Authors who have spoken to KDP reviewers have said that these mass-uploads are clogging the system and creating a poor experience for book buyers.
I advise new self-published authors to steer clear of these Youtube KDP coaches and focus on honing their writing craft. Do not steal from other authors and creators. Do not spend thousands of dollars when there is no assurance of recouping the money. Start small and grow big. Do not start with a bang and end in a whimper. Leave writing to the professionals. If you are a professional, do not get tricked by the con artists on Youtube. Not all of them are bad but buyer always beware. Otherwise, you will damage self-publishing permanently and everyone will become losers.