Where do I go to publish? This is by far one of the most frequently asked questions I see novice writers ask.
If you’re going traditional, then this post isn’t for you. Sorry, your publisher will handle all of that.
If you’re indie, that list starts rather small and then blossoms into an overwhelming list. So, I will list the most popular ones and my views on them.
KDP is Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com) and the brainchild of Amazon. Since its inception, it was for eBooks. In 2017, Amazon began the absorption of CreateSpace and has since begun offering Print.
This is the place most writers start. Their dashboard is clean looking, it’s easy to upload and navigate, and their data—in the general sense—is easy to see with their graph.
Their help section can answer 99% of your questions, but to highlight some areas:
Books priced between 2.99 – 9.99 net you 70% royalty. Anything under 2.99 nets you 30%. You can’t set a book permanently free without having the book wide; contact Amazon through Author Central to have them price match.
A popular feature is Kindle Select (readers know the program as Kindle Unlimited). Your book must be exclusive with Amazon for 90 days (there are penalties such as loss of KU privilege up to your account being terminated for failure to comply.) You can set your book to auto-renew, and if you change your mind, you have 3 days from enrollment (or auto-enrollment) to change it without penalty. Being in the program gives you access to Kindle Countdown Deals and Free Days, which can be a perk if you want to set things up for a massive marketing push.
You get paid by the number of pages that readers read. That number per page hovers around .0045. Yes, that decimal is in the right spot. You get paid around a half-a-penny a page.
Now Kindle Unlimited is facing some issues with book stuffing, illegal page reads, and the latest snafu has Amazon taking royalties away from writers because it detected “unusual activity,” but they can’t tell you what. You can’t contest it. The only approved advertisement according to one email is Amazon Marketing Service, leaving your page reads from newsletter swaps, in-person events, and even a BookBub on thin ice from being profitable to being stripped away with no recourse.
Outside of Kindle Select, you can’t plan an automatic price decrease or increase. If you want your book to go from 99¢ preorder to $2.99 on launch day, you must do it manually. Do you want to do a promo in a few months down the road? You must manually change it, and Amazon will not let you set something to free. To get a book free on Amazon, your book will have to be wide and free on other sites and request Amazon price match. According to their emails, it’s up to their discretion. I have had them not price match a short story, but it seems an exception to the standard. Plan ahead—three days is not enough notice to get Amazon to price match all the countries.
With Amazon having most eBook sales in the world, going directly with Amazon is a good thing.
Kobo (https://writinglife.kobobooks.com) is probably the most popular e-retailer outside of the United States. It was founded in 2012 for indie writers. Their dashboard is well designed, their customer service is AMAZING.
Similar to Kindle Select, Kobo has Kobo Plus (https://kobowritinglife.com/contact-us/about/about-kobo-plus/). Unlike Kindle Select, authors can put their books in Kobo Plus without having to be exclusive. Your book will be in the program for 90 days (3 months).
At the time of writing, Kobo’s promotional tab is still in the beta phase, and you can gain access with a simple email. (http://download.kobobooks.com/writinglife/Kobo/en-US/KWL_FAQ.pdf).
Kobo is sweet when it comes to pricing. With the ability to set prices far in advance, their system runs smoothly when you need to price change.
With Kobo being a world champion outside of Amazon and the US, going directly with them is a smart move.
After Pronoun announced it was closing in 2017, Google Play Books Partner (https://play.google.com/books/publish/u/0/) opened its publishing dashboard to indie authors, and those who didn’t jump on then have been on a waiting list. They have a waiting list, and I’ve heard everything from the wait not being long to some people have yet to be approved.
Google Play no longer adjust eBook prices like they once were (before you had to raise the price higher than you intended so the discount GP gave wasn’t lower than your price on other retailers.)
Google Play is similar to Kobo in allowing you to adjust prices as you need.
iBooks is a strong contender once the readers discover your books on the platform. They are hungry for books.
It’s a little difficult to get onto iBooks directly if you don’t use a MAC or MacInCloud. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201183. For those who don’t use a Mac, a 3rd party distributor can help.
If you can go direct, I would.
Draft2Digital vs SmashWords vs PublishDrive
Draft2Digital (D2D), SmashWords, and PublishDrive (PD) are 3rd party sites that will handle distribution to a lot of companies. Kindlepreneur already did an in-depth comparative on the topic, so I will not repeat most of that. (https://kindlepreneur.com/smashwords-vs-draft2digital/)
Draft2Digital (https://www.draft2digital.com/) and PublishDrive (https://admin.publishdrive.com/registration/aff/kariholloway) are my picks for 3rd party vendors for saving you time and hassle. If you’re not going to use the built-in promos that a company offers such as AMS for Amazon or the Kobo Promotional tab, then save yourself some time and use D2D or PD.
Both companies take a little of the royalties (10%), and both have great customer service. They’re slightly different, and that might make you choose to start at one and stay or start with one and migrate or use both companies.
Draft2Digital (D2D) their ability to format a Word document to cute/charming eBook and print—regardless if you publish through them or not, you can use their automatic formatting—their clean interface, and the Books2Read links are some reasons I highly recommend them.
PublishDrive (PD) accepts ePub files or Word documents, their customer service is quick/amazing like that of D2D, but their reach with distribution is about 3x longer than that of D2D or SmashWords (They even have Google Play and takes in GP’s “sales” price/flux to keep your set price as the price. The only place they are currently missing that D2D delivers is Baker & Taylor). Their dashboard is close to D2D mixed with Google Play, and the only issue I have is it’s not that easy to find and pick where to distribute the book. On D2D, the last page where you set price has all the spots listed; PD has a link you click to choose, and a list appears.
PD also offers a flat fee for those making more than $1000 a month in royalties and have less than 100 books available. If you pay the flat fee, PD doesn’t take a piece of the royalty you get from companies (foregoing the 10% they would usually take).
Update October 2020—PublishDrive has changed their pricing model to a monthly fee. https://www.publishdrive.com/pricing.html. The upside is you get 100% of the royalty earned unlike Draft2Digital where they take a small commission fee. To determine if you should use them over another company, look at your monthly sales and determine if a little off of every book vs one lump sum makes a difference in your earning.
SmashWords & Erotica pair well together if you take those wide instead of in Kindle Unlimited.
**If you use D2D to distribute to iBooks, don’t forget to take a moment and email D2D customer support to get access to the promo codes that you can give readers/bloggers for your books. I’ve included the email from Draft2Digital support team:
You can email us :). Apple provides 250 promo codes for each book listed with them. This would be for the lifetime of the listing. These codes can be requested through Draft2Digital for any book published to Apple through our site. Please keep in mind that these codes cannot be replenished once they are all used on a book listing and they do expire quickly (28 days) so you will want to be sure you have marketing plans in place for them when they are ordered.
Here are the terms Apple states for these codes and you can order them using the instructions below. Apple’s terms state:
Terms and Conditions for Use of Codes All promotional codes expire within 4 weeks (28 days) of the date of issue.
Each promotional code that is sent out must include the Country Specific User Terms from Apple’s Exhibit A2, which will be provided at the time the codes are requested.
Promotional codes can only be redeemed from the iBooks Store in the reader’s own country. For example: If a promotional code is sent to a reader in Brazil, that code MUST BE redeemed on the Brazil iTunes store.
Promotional codes can only be redeemed on iBooks Stores where the book is available. I.e. if a book is not available on the Brazil store, a reader in Brazil cannot redeem a promotional code and no code should be distributed to that user.
Codes should not be distributed to users within 10 days of their expiration
Keep in mind that these cannot be replenished and they expire quickly. You may ask for them all, but we recommend using them in increments for planned promo periods to make the best use of these codes. You may order them in any quantity and retrieving them only takes a few mins once we work your request. To obtain your codes, please send us an email with the book title(s) and the quantity of codes you would like for each book. We’ll send you everything you need from there.
iTunes is the only distributor that I am aware of that doesn’t care if you are direct or not. Get in touch with their customer service to take advantage of their promotional chances. Foster that relationship to have a productive iBook sales platform.
Final thoughts on eBooks
Unless you’re strapped for time or need a way to simplify, going direct will net you better access to the retailers’ promotions. But there’s nothing wrong with using a 3rd party to handle distribution. It’s also okay to start one way and switch to another.
All the sites handle preorders for eBooks. I do however recommend that you have the final files before you set one up. Amazon occasionally glitches and sends out the place-holder used prior to uploading the correct version ahead of Amazon’s 3-day deadline.
**As of late 2019, authors could set a preorder without having a dummy file. The length of preorder was lengthened as well.
***Barnes and Nobles…
Currently, I have no information with B&N. I tried to go direct, but as of this writing, I have not successfully uploaded a book and their customer service sucks.
****I do not recommend autoconverters in general because they are not fool proof. So while D2D makes “cute” files, they may not be accurate files.
Covering Print Distributions
The battle of POD is alive and well.
For most American indies (self-published authors) the two main players are Amazon KDP Print (KDP Print), and IngramSpark (IS). There is also Lulu, but I do not have first-hand experience to write an article about them.
Amazon—Kindle Direct Publishing Print (KDPP)
KDP Print is similar to their eBook upload. It’s three pages with guidelines telling you to upload what file where. It debuted in 2015 but didn’t gain beta stage until 2016 where it has been for a while. Each upgrade has brought something new (author copies, proofs, expanded distribution). As of 2018, they officially merged CreateSpace (CS) with Kindle Direct Publishing.
They use the same printers as CS and have printers everywhere except Canada. Don’t ask me why, but KDP Print does not make print copies available on Canada’s Amazon. Hopefully, this will be an upgrade soon.
They allow Word docs or PDFs for upload of the interior. The online viewer will show you any errors. I highly recommend you upload a formatted PDF. You can use the same one as you would on IngramSpark.
Shipping with KDP has been a nightmare for me. Instead of printing orders in the order received, large orders are pushed back again and again. I ordered around 50 books and it went from print in 3 days to 5 days to 7 days to a couple of weeks to next month (talking close to 8 weeks). If I hadn’t canceled part of the order and ordered through IngramSpark, I wouldn’t have had the books for a signing that I needed. There is no option to pick a shipping speed, increase print speed, and none of the author copies or prints qualify for Amazon Prime. Though, if you are a member of their affiliate program, you can have your earnings deposited into your Amazon account as a gift card and use that and regular gift cards to cover the price.
Amazon does not allow you to order author copies before the book is “live” on the platform. That means if you’re trying to launch your book at an event signing, do a book signing within a month of your book’s release, you will have to publish the paperback about a month before your official date. Some people have asked if they can publish it and then unpublish it. The problem with that is you are throwing away the “new release” boost Amazon gives taking your 30, 60, and 90-day cliffs and throwing them away.
With ISBNs, Amazon will provide one or you can use your own—I recommend using your own ISBNs.
Some shipments are carefully packed, and others are thrown in the box and the books come bent on corners and creases in covers. I’ve had to contact them a few times on these issues. Most of the time, they will replace them, but it’s not always on the first asking attempt.
Customer service is a 3.5 out of 5. Some of this is colored by my general experience with Amazon’s customer service regarding KDP. Their replies usually come within 3 days, they pass around some issues with no clear answer (I’ve got an inquiry going since 2016, and I’ve checked up on it multiple times since then and the issue is still there). Coupled with their latest behavior … don’t put all your eggs in a basket with them.
As of July 2018, Amazon allows expanded distribution. My stance still stands. I would not rely on their expanded distribution to land you on a bookshelf inside a bookstore. Stores view Amazon as competition.
I pulled my paperbacks from KDPP due to consistent dashboard glitches, insane loading times for the proofer, and the consistent pushback time frame for large orders.
IngramSpark is the mecca for indies. Their dashboard is more sophisticated than KDP Print (kind of the difference between SmashWords and Draft2Digital), and it can overwhelm novice the first time they log on. Their help guide is a great resource, and their customer service is right there with the online chat function.
Speaking of their customer service, they earn a 5 out of 5. I’ve dealt with them through emails and their online chat function. Their staff is knowledgeable and friendly. They don’t give you a runaround, respond usually within 72 hours—minus holidays, and they will walk you through how to fix any issues instead of just pointing you to a page on their website.
Their quality is wonderful. They are consistent whether you’re ordering 1 copy or 200 copies. They take care when shipping, and they’ll even tell you how many copies fit in a box if you want (I love that feature). If you do have issues, upload pictures, and contact Customer Service. You’ll have a fixed copy quickly.
Shipping is consistent. You can speed up print, speed up shipping, and even when picking the slowest available, I get my books within 2 weeks of ordering. The only exception would be the holiday season, but that’s reasonable, and I still got them quicker than CS and KDPP.
One thing I love about IngramSpark is the ability to order copies before a book’s launch date, getting you prepared in a timely fashion. Your book also goes up for preorder on all major retailers.
Their System and File Requirements
IS only allows your ISBN. They offer to sell you one for $85, and it works similar to if you had bought them yourself—you can take it anywhere else. But at $85 a pop, you could save up and buy 10 ISBNs for around $250.
IS files are different than CS and KDPP. You can’t upload a Word document, only a PDF. They run it through, and you’ll usually get errors on pictures inserted unless they are 300DPI, which you can ignore, but you can get an Embedded Font error. These errors you can’t ignore and continue. They won’t show you what’s wrong. When they want professional, they mean professional files. Their cover files are strict too.
Out of the cover designers I have used, 3 couldn’t create a cover for IS, 1 needed the template they provide (always a good choice), and the current designer for my Devil’s Playground series covers knows their craft well. Their files pass IS, CS, and KDPP. Again, IS wants professional.
If you want to be on the shelf of a BooksAMillion or a Barnes and Noble, IS is the way to go. With over 10,000 distribution partners, their reach is untouchable. They are the only provider in the USA (1 of 3 in Europe) that can supply American Wholesale who is the only distributor for mega bookstores. They offer a return policy that CS and KDPP don’t have, making stores take a chance and order copies.
Now, unlike KDPP, IS has fees. They have an upload fee and a revision fee. Don’t panic. I can see you starting to. IS offers a ton of codes throughout the year. A simple Google search can uncover them. If you take part in NaNoWriMo, you’ll have access to free upload and revision codes and a discount off author copies for a limited time—for NaNo 2018, it was 15% off orders up to 25 copies. If you publish one book through them, they’ll email you codes, and if you’re a member of Alli, they will have them too.
My thoughts on Print
I have used KDPP and IS. I used KDPP to supply Amazon. Even with IS’s expanded distribution, with the same ISBNs, Amazon will put their copies first, maximizing royalty.
Amazon is cheaper to send single copies. If I do a giveaway open to the world, I can easily go onto Amazon and order a copy to ship anywhere cheaper than IS. And if I order through the Amazon store instead of using the author copies, I get the royalty back and it helps my visibility rank.
I order all of my author copies through IS. I use these copies to fulfill my online store, book signings, festivals, and more. The quality is consistent, the price for bulk orders is on par with Amazon, and shipping print/shipping speed is all within my control.
The world of self-publishing changes with the tides. Most of the information can be found on the respective site’s Terms of Service or by poking around. My experiences with these listed and your experiences might differ.
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This post was edited/proofed by ProWritingAid.