Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Self-Publishing Basics: Where to Publish

I'm doing a series on Self-Pub Basics. Why? Because more writers every day are going indie, and sharing information to help fellow journeymen/women is practically a Golden Rule in indie publishing (and writing in general).

Here's the series:

Tues: Where to Publish
Wed: Formatting Ebooks - The Easy Ways
Thurs: Formatting Ebooks - The Hard Way
Fri: Publishing to iTunes

If you have future topic suggestions, please leave them in the comments! I think this may be a recurring theme.

Where to Publish
You've heard of the "Big Six" publishers? We'll here are the "Big Four" online retailers that will make the largest deposits in your checking account: Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iBookstore/iTunes, Kobo*.

*Kobo is big in Canada and internationally, but just inked a deal to supply independent US bookstores with ereaders and a digital storefront.

Ebook Retailers and Distributors
Retailers are the people that sell your book directly to readers: they have a storefront, and they will pay you royalties for every sale. Distributors will send your book (often formatting and providing other services as well) to the retailers on your behalf. Distributors can often get you into retailers that do not have a direct-publishing option. Just to make things confusing, some places are distributors AND retailers.

(listed approximately in order of market size)
Retailers: Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iBookstore/iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, Sony, Diesel

Distributors: Smashwords (who distributes to B&N, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, Diesel), Createspace (who now distributes both ebooks and print to Amazon) (there are others, but I don't recommend them)

It's more complicated than just that, but I'm trying to keep it simple. This is the BASICS tutorial, yes?

One thing first-time self-publishers need to be wary of are Vanity Publishers. The number and variety of these are multiplying faster than bunnies hyped on easter candy, so please be careful. Even Big Six Traditional Publishers are now getting into the Vanity Game, and many previously "respected" suppliers of writerly information (I'm looking at you, Writer's Digest), are trying to cash in on the self-pub craze.

Here's your Common Sense dose for the day:
  • if someone is promising to do all the work for you, they will expect to make money for it. That money comes from you. There is no free lunch.
Fortunately for you, "all the work" is not that hard. Figuring it out is, seriously, the hardest part, which is why I'm doing this series of posts to make it easier.

While some people like using Distributors, and they can be useful for some things (like getting into Apple, if you don't own a Mac, or setting your book free on B&N by distributing it through Smash), I believe having direct control of your books is best (for updates, cover changes, price changes, and getting timely reports on sales). However, I tend to err on the side of wanting MORE control, not LESS, and not everyone works that way. Many people successfully use Distributors, and YMMV. /endcaveats

My Best Recommendation
  1. Make accounts on the Big Four Retailers: Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing), B&N (PubIt), iBookstore (iProducer), and Kobo (Kobo Writing Life)
  2. Format your book to meet their specs: Amazon (Mobi), Everyone Else (Epub)
  3. Upload to Smashwords for Direct Sales only, or use them for distribution, if you have a specific need that you think they can fulfill (like making a book free on B&N). Be wary of using them to distribute to retailers if you expect to make any changes in the future (it can take literally months for changes to update; I'm still waiting for Sony to pull down a book I requested two months ago). 
NOTE: If you only want to publish on one platform, make sure it's Amazon. They are the biggest retailer by far.

Smashwords Apologia: I don't think the problems are entirely Smash's fault, just understand that the more people involved, the less motivation there is to move along with a schedule that works for YOU. Smashwords is an innovative champion of self-publishers, and has recently added options to distribute to Baker&Taylor among other options. I'm agnostic on whether these are worthwhile, having seen no evidence one way or the other, but I greatly appreciate Mark Coker's attempts to move these things forward for indie publishers.

Tips on Retailers and FREE books
    Amazon: You cannot set your book to FREE on Amazon, unless you use Select (a program where you go exclusive with Amazon for 90 days, get a few free days, and make your book available in the library). However, Amazon will price match your ebook, so if it is set to FREE elsewhere, the Zon may match it. Or may not. This can cause complications if you have your pricing different on other retailers - Amazon never wants to be the highest price, and its bots will find you, even if it's only a low-priced promotion on Sony. This is why I recommend not distributing through Smash, but only going where you have direct control over your pricing. (Note: Smash does not distribute to Amazon, even though it has it as an "option" - they are being optimistic about the future.)

    B&N: You cannot set your book to FREE on B&N either, but if you distribute a free book through Smash, it may eventually be free on B&N as well.

    Kobo: This retailer is new-kid-on-the-block and still working out some issues, but it's an up-n-coming retailer. And you CAN set your book to FREE there, which is great. Except they don't report downloads (not so great). Note: I recommend uploading an epub directly to them, not a Word document, because their conversion software stinks.

    Apple: They will allow you to set your book to FREE, which is awesome. And they report downloads! (sort of) They're difficult (but not impossible) to navigate to load directly (more on that later in the week) - you may want to use Smash to distribute to them. However, once again, there's problems with that too (delayed uploads/price changes).

    What about Print?
    There are three main ways you can get your print book into the wild: Createspace, Lightning Source, and a small print run of your own.

    Hint: Having a print book is great for signings, author ego, and libraries. You are unlikely to be in a bookstore, unless your mom owns it, and maybe not even then. If you do get into bookstores, it will likely cost you an arm and a leg in returns (because bookstores will only take books on a return basis).

    Another hint: print is not necessary to your bottom line, in fact, it can gobble up all your profits, if you're not careful. Of the many sales I've had with the Mindjack Trilogy so far, less than 5% come from print (note: there are always exceptions).

    Pros: easy, zero cost to upload, minimal cost for print proofs ($10 or less), distributes to Amazon with no hiccups (because Amazon owns them), quality is good, free ISBN, now makes your print book available overseas!
    Cons: Have to pay $35 for extended distribution to get your paper book on Barnes& as well as other paper book distributors; will not do bookstore returns, which is why bookstores will not carry them.

    Lightning Source
    Pros: some people report higher quality, gives option of "returns" which means B&N will consider stocking (maybe), access to Baker&Taylor (wholesaler)
    Cons: difficult to navigate, higher cost to upload and get print proofs, requires publisher name ("DBA=Doing Business As")*, must pay for ISBN, sometimes has delays distributing to Amazon.

    *may require incorporation in some states

    If you're contemplating a small print run, make sure that you plan for print books to be a large part of your marketing effort. They are difficult to move without access to a bookstore.

    My Best Recommendation
    • Use Createspace: it's easy to produce a high quality book for practically zero upload/proof cost. 
    • If you really want to be in B&N online store with a print book, pay the $35 for extended distribution; otherwise skip it.
    • Order a few author copies to have on hand. Use Paypal to offer signed copies to fans.
    • Forget about making lots of print sales or getting into bookstores. You're an indie author - ebooks are your bread and butter.
    Come back tomorrow for a FUN post on formatting! 
    (I'm completely kidding. There's absolutely no fun in formatting.)

    ALSO: Ask questions in the comments! I'll do my best to answer.


    1. Great recap. :) I have to look into uploading directly to iTunes since I have a Mac.

      You don't have to be incorporated to register with Lightning Source. I just have a DBA. :) But I'm still debating whether to just go with Create Space when I do print because of the cost.

      1. I believe in Illinois, I have to incorporate to do a DBA – but I could be wrong about that. But thanks for the correction! I will update the post!

      2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Susan, this is such a great series and I'll be starring it for reference. Can't wait to read about formatting. Lol

      1. Thanks Miranda! I hope it will be helpful! :)

    3. Such a fountain of information! Maybe you could chat about the How to set up publishing on these accounts. I'm assuming one needs an author account at each, but I have no idea nor how to set them up. Just a thought.

      1. Good idea, Sheri! I may do some "tips and tricks" posts along the way, and that would be a good one.

    4. Wow, this is really great Susan. My book will be published in December. This is great info to have. Thanks so much. Will be back tomorrow the the next post. :)

      1. Congrats on your upcoming book release! And I’m glad it’s helpful!

    5. SUSAN!!! Squee--this is PERFECT TIMING for me! xoxo <3 Thank you!!!

      1. Yay! I’m so glad … and proud of you for taking the leap.

    6. I fully intend to publish independently one day--I'm bookmarking this and will keep track of any updates. Thanks for the help!

      1. You are most welcome! I’ve gotten lots of help along the way, and I think it’s awesome how enabling and supportive the author community can be – and that I get to be part of it!

    7. Seeing as many people are saying you posted this just in time for them to start their self-published careers, and it's also true for me, I have to ask... was Open Minds written from experience? ;) Just kidding. Thank you so much for this post! Incredibly helpful and these are the exact questions I've been doing research (and binge-eating) for.

      1. LOL! If I could read minds, well... I'd have a lot more money. :) I'm so glad it's helpful!

    8. Thanks Susan. I too am nearing my debut ebook publish and I've spent a year reading everything about the big 4 and formatting. My brain is addled!! Your series is going to be a great recap.

      One point probably worth mentioning is that we shouldn't push our books through Smashwords meat grinder and then distribute those files to other distributors directly. That isn't really fair to Smashwords. I know You didn't say do that, I'm just pointing it out.

      Do you have any experience with the quality of the ebook formatting put out by Scrivener? It's quite a poplar writing app these days, and apparently creates most major formats.


      1. Congrats on your upcoming release! It's a good point about Smashwords, and in fact I mention that in my next post in the series. I believe that's actually against Smash's TOS.

        I have friends who use Scriv for writing and I believe they've made epubs from them. With some hassles though. Personally, I love Scrivener for research, but I only use Word for writing - I'm too paranoid to trust my MS to something more complicated.

    9. Great information. I just released my second book through Createspace and it's a breeze. I also did Smashwords this time for ebooks. Tried to prepare files myself but frustrating. They gave me a list of people who do formatting all the time. Reasonable and went right through. Now to the marketing part!
      Karen Arnpriester

      1. Congrats on your book release, Karen! The marketing takes more time, but at least it's more fun than formatting. :)

    10. If you want to make the most possible money from selling ebooks, then you should consider self-publication and marketing.

    11. Do you have any advice on how to approach translating your ebook into other languages and how to find a translator and an editor that could check for grammar and punctuation in that particular language?

      1. I've heard of some self-pub authors (see David Gaughran's blog) have had translations done for a share of the profits - i.e. the translator takes a percentage interest in the book. Others I've seen approached by foreign publishers (print primarily) and negotiated rights with them. I would check the Kindle Boards and see what you can find there. Good luck!