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!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Did You Forget To Pack? Ch 5.1 Where to Publish

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

What Did You Forget To Pack?

We talked a lot about fear earlier (see Taking the Road Less Traveled), but I distinctly remember having a fear in the very beginning that I would forget some intensely important detail in publishing my first indie book, and it would be doomed, doomed, doomed!

Let me assure you that 1) there's no detail so important you can't recover, and 2) now that you have this book, you are way ahead of the game.

So breathe.



Let's get into some nuts and bolts about how to do this indie publishing thing.

Ch 5.1 Where to Publish

Indie publishing is a micro business that can be as individual as the author who's running it. While marketing is important, realizing this is a business will help get you off to the best start.

Setting Up
One of the best things I did early on was set up a checking account, credit card, and PayPal account in my author name. Having all my expenses tracked and income deposited in a few central places will help tremendously at tax time. It also helps you keep a loose tab on the health of your business, seeing that account balance in your checking account.

My state doesn't require a DBA (Doing Business As) name or incorporation, but check to see if yours does. Early consultation with a tax preparer also showed I didn't need to incorporate for tax purposes until I was making substantial money. I highly recommend you consult with a tax attorney when you start to make money, just to make sure you're legal beagle for your state. The question of whether to adopt a "publisher" name depends on your temperment (and possibly your state business requirements), but I haven't, and probably won't unless/until I incorporate.

Createspace and Smashwords will give you free ones. Amazon, PubIt, Apple, and Kobo don't require them. (Apple recommends them, but I've published many titles just fine without them.) Lightning Source requires you purchase ISBNs. Don't believe the rumors that you "have" to have ISBNs in order for your book to be "tracked" or get on the NYTimes bestseller lists. I personally know two people who were on the NYTimes bestseller lists without having ever purchased an ISBN. I went without ISBNs for a long time, only purchased a few when I started direct uploading to Apple, then stopped when Apple didn't require them anymore.

Caveat: if you do incorporate or use a publisher "name" that you want to appear on your books, you will have to purchase ISBNs to make that happen. If you do purchase ISBNs, you can use one for your print version and one for all your ebook versions: you do not need to have an ISBN for each ebook format. You cannot use the free ISBNs that Createspace and Smashwords give you for any other purpose.

Do I need to register for copyright?
Copyright is automatically granted as soon as your document is created. It's further cemented (i.e. provable) when you upload and publish at online retailers. You can register at the copyright office, but it's not necessary. It gives you some additional "verification" if you actually end up in court. Some people don't mind spending the fees to get the time-stamp (it's more than just the $35 "electronic" fee if you have a print version - they will require that you send in copies of that as well).

Do I need to register with the Library of Congress?

Where to Publish

Ebook Retailers and Distributors
Retailers sell your book directly to readers: they have a storefront and pay royalties for every sale. Distributors will send your book to the retailers on your behalf (and maybe provide services like formatting). Distributors can get you into retailers where you cannot direct-publish (although those retailers tend to be miniscule parts of the market). Distributors are the only route for non-US authors to get into Barnes&Noble.

"Big Four" online retailers (in order of market size):
Barnes and Noble/Nook Press
Kobo/Kobo Writing Life

Major Distributors:
Draft2Digital (D2D)
Createspace (print, also now ebook as well)
Lightning Source (print)

(see How Not to Get Eaten By Sharks to avoid "distributors" who are sharks in disguise)

I Recommend Uploading Direct
Distributors are easier, but I believe having direct control of your books is best. Distributors may be easier on the front end, but delays in updates, cover changes, and sales reporting make distributors much more difficult to deal with once your books are live. Most importantly, distributors often have delays in price changes - and that can cost you serious money. Pricing flexibility is one of the key advantages of indie publishing, which is why I don't recommend handcuffing yourself with distribution channels that may not be responsive to your need to drop that price now because you have a Bookbub ad going live in five hours and it will go to waste if they don't. Plus distributors take a cut of your royalties. 10% may not sound like much, but if you're making serious money (which hopefully you will do eventually), it can add up.

Note: I upload to Smash but don't use them for distribution. Why? Because a few of my readers overseas find it easier/cheaper to download from there and avoid local tariffs on books (Tariffs on books! It's a crime!).

Reasons Why People Use Distributors
* Setting a book free on Barnes and Noble - to date, the only way to do that is to distribute your free book from Smash to B&N. I actually do this with my permafree books, the only circumstance in which I use distribution.
* Getting on Apple without a Mac - I'll make the argument later in the formatting section why I think it pays to go direct to Apple, but I understand that people may not want to bother with it (you don't have to have a Mac, but it's much more convenient if you do).
* They use simple formatting - I have images in my ebooks and strive for pretty formatting. The last thing I want is a distributor messing with it. But if your formatting is simple, a distributor can be the easiest way to get up on most channels (Smashwords does have an option to upload EPUBs, which would preserve your formatting, but if you upload an epub, Smash only allows distribution in that format (i.e. no mobi). Smash does not distribute to Amazon - in spite of having Amazon listed as a "distribution channel", but D2D does; however, I still recommend going direct to Amazon, even if you can distribute to them).

Note: If you're going to use a distributor, I recommend Draft2Digital. I haven't used them, but I know people who have, and there are a lot less complaints about them (vs. Smashwords) in terms of speed of updates.

Caution: If you use a distributor and decide later you want to upload direct, you will likely lose your reviews and rankings in the switchover.

Setting Your Book Free
Amazon and Barnes and Noble have a minimum price of $0.99. Apple, Kobo, and Smash will allow you to set your book to free. Going free on Amazon requires setting the price to free everywhere else and waiting for a price-match. Barnes and Noble won't price-match, but Smash can distribute a free book to them (although it may take a month or two to show up).

Free Download Reporting
Kobo doesn't report downloads; everyone else does.

What about Print?
Having a print book is great for signings, giveaways, author ego, and libraries. You are unlikely to be in a bookstore, unless your mom owns it, and maybe not even then (because bookstores will only take books on a return basis).

Hint: print is not necessary to your bottom line. Less than 2% of my sales come from print. Ebooks are the bread and butter of indie authors. Focus on those.

I Recommend Createspace
It's easy to use, 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, and now makes your print book available overseas! You can pay $35 for extended distribution, which means your print book will be available on and at the Book Depository**. Createspace will not do bookstore returns, which is why bookstores will not carry them.

**note: as of 2014, this is now FREE

I Don't Recommend Lightning Source, But It's Another Option
Some people report higher quality at LS compared to CS, it gives an option for returns (which means bookstores may consider stocking, if you petition them, but you run the risk of paying for those returns as well). Lighting Sources is much more difficult to navigate, higher cost to upload and get print proofs, requires publisher name ("DBA=Doing Business As"), you must pay for ISBN, sometimes it has delays distributing to Amazon. Which is why I don't recommend them.

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)


  1. Good article, but a couple of things about smashwords. Frist, they ship to B&N daily now. And second, you can upload your book as a epub and bypass their 'meatgrinder'. These changes occured in the past 8 months or so.


    1. Don, I'm aware of the epub option in Smash (I use it myself, although I don't discuss it here), but I still hear people having problems with shipments/price changes. The "daily shipment" is advertised but not always accurate in terms of actual changes on the B&N site. Back when I was actually using Smash for distribution, they claimed they shipped to Sony every week, yet it took three months for them to pull my book down from that site, even after multiple requests to customer support.

      Also - I just checked my Smash account (I don't check there often) and I was automatically "opted in" to Flipkart and Oyster... something I also don't appreciate. My point being that you lose a lot of control when you use a Distributor, especially Smash.

    2. Ok, well you didn't mention the epub upload option and talked about the issues with not having such a option if one uses a lot of images. Hence I thought I would bring it up.

      As for "daily shipment" I agree that Smash may not have been fast in the past as I had a friend that waited for 3 months to have their book show up at other retails (this was a little over a year ago). Since then though my experience is they generally get a book (or changes) uploaded to retailers in 24 hours. I can't say for everyone of course, only my experiences. I have often found that even using a retailers system (B&N, Amazon, etc) it may take 24 hours (sometimes more) before the changes/upload is released.

      I am not saying Smash is perfect, just a lot better than they use to be. And I am not disputing that you do loose some control when you use a distributer. I have smash distribute some to retailers (apple for example though I may change that), but most are direct

      I agree that they should not opt one in by default to new retailers, but they did put out a blog post recently about Oyster and they are not shipping yet. Smash will send out a email (with royalty rates) to all authors before they do. So they are informing authors before action is taken, but in this case the process would seem to be a bit backwards.

    3. Ah! I didn't think the Epub on Smash option was relevant here, but I see what you mean about images. I've updated the post to reflect that - although using the Epub option on Smash means you can only distribute epub (which is fine for most retailers, but you wont' have the mobi option on smash any longer).

      Another reason to go direct to Apple (besides all the others) is when you have problems (I once uploaded the wrong isbn for a book and couldn't fix it), Apple customer service is relatively prompt. If you're distributing, you're not longer the customer, and don't have a direct line to the help.


    4. Well I did find another downside to apple direct. If you use a pen name that is different than your real name, and you don't want the two to be shown you together you must have a DBA or LLC regestered for the name you want. Then submit the paperwork proving you do before they will change the "Seller" field to something else (and do this before you sell one book).

      Why in the world Apple makes this so difficult is so beyond me. I recently created a itunes connect account so I could submit my books directly, only to run into this. None of the other bookstores require this, they all my info there is no need to. Seriously why bother with a pen name if you are going to force the real name to be right next to it? I may have to stick with a distributor (with regards to apple at least) for now. :(

    5. That is a bummer! No doubt Apple is the most difficult retailer to work with.