The Authors Guild Guide to E-Publishing
Chapter 2: The Book Publishing Service Landscape
Indie publishing is a rapidly evolving industry, with new author services coming onto the market all the time. To understand how to evaluate new offerings or packages, it is essential to understand the underlying principles that are at play in the market. This chapter will help you make smart and economical decisions when considering questions like whether to hire a full-service publishing provider or pay for a la carte marketing and service offerings. The most popular service providers will be discussed, with specific recommendations on how to use them.
The full article INCLUDES:
Deconstructing book publishing services and packages
Including writing and editing tools, e-book design, editorial services, and more.
The biggest danger: Marketing and promotion packages
Be extremely cautious in purchasing any marketing and promotion package, no matter who is offering it. We’ll discuss some of the most common offerings you’ll find.
Choosing the self-publishing service provider that’s right for you
Including Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), CreateSpace, IngramSpark, Nook Press, Apple iBooks, Kobo Writing Life, and more...
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The Authors Guild Guide to E-Publishing
Chapter 2: The Book Publishing Service Landscape
Indie publishing is a rapidly evolving industry, with new author services coming onto the market all the time, so it’s useful to understand the underlying principles that are at play when evaluating new offerings or packages. One of the first things to remember is that you do not need to invest in a full-service publishing provider in order to be successful or to produce a professional product. In fact, many established indie authors warn against such full-service publishing providers and consider it against the ethos of indie authorship to pay a company to publish you. That said, some provide high value and quality, and may be helpful to authors who have little or no knowledge of book publishing. The following discussion should help you make smart and economical decisions should you decide to hire a full-service provider or go the a la carte route.
First and foremost, indie publishing services, distributors, and retailers should not obtain the rights to your book.
If a publishing service asks you to sign a publishing contract that includes a grant of rights clause, it’s a red flag. Part of the point of self-publishing your work is that you retain control over every aspect of it, and that you not enter into a traditional publishing arrangement. Unlike, a traditional publisher, the publishing service provider is not investing in you by giving you an advance or acting as your partner; it is merely providing a service to you. For that reason, any agreement you enter into with a publishing service provider should look like a service contract or terms of service agreement. You should never assign your rights, and you should license your copyrights only as necessary to distribute or sell the book. And if you do grant rights for any reason, make sure you have the right to cancel the agreement (generally with a 30 days' notice).
If the self-publishing service is operating according to current standards, then you should be working with it on an at-will basis.
If you realize you’ve made a mistake at any point in the process, you should be able to back away and remove a book from availability as quickly as you published it. You should act as the publisher and make all the choices associated with the publication of your book, no one else.
Author-friendly service companies charge nothing or very little for distribution; they charge you for editorial, design, and marketing services.
For authors who are unschooled in self-publishing, the number of companies offering help can be overwhelming, with little seeming to differentiate them. However, you can quickly separate the wheat from the chaff by asking: Is this company charging significant fees for simply distributing the book (e.g., making your book available for sale through major retailers), or is this company charging fees based on how many print books you buy? If either is true, you’re firmly in the realm of old-school “vanity” publishers that are generally considered less author-friendly than the new generation of service companies. The old-school service providers also tend to hit you twice: once with up-front fees or requirements for purchase, and then again by taking a chunk of your sales profits. It’s best if you can hire a service provider whose business model focuses on just one end of that equation. Either it provides you with services that you pay a fair price for up front (and then as the author you keep most or all of your sales profits), or the company charges you little or nothing, but takes a cut of your sales.
When paying service fees up front, you should see tangible value provided in the form of e-book production, book design, editorial help, ongoing administration and title management, and so on. Always remember that distributing and making your book available for sale costs little or nothing—for you or them. That is by far the easiest part of the process and something you can handle yourself once you have book files in hand.
Always check to see if the service is exclusive or nonexclusive.
For the most part, retailers and services work on a nonexclusive basis. That means you can sell your book at many different retailers at once. This is generally to your advantage; you don’t want to limit where your book may be sold, just as no publisher limits where its books are sold. However, Amazon does offer special incentives to authors who agree to sell exclusively with it. Whether it’s worthwhile to limit your distribution in exchange for those perks is a matter of great debate in the author community. (More information in the upcoming Amazon KDP and KDP Select chapter.) If you do agree to some kind of exclusive arrangement that limits where your book can be sold, make sure there’s a specific duration that you’re agreeing to. Given how fast the market conditions can change, especially for e-books, it’s wise not to tie up your rights for too long.
You should always be in control of the price.
While some retailers may have reasonable pricing restrictions, such as not allowing you to price below $0.99, the standard practice is to give the author complete control over pricing. There is one caveat to this: some e-book retailers, such as Amazon, mandate that you not offer more favorable pricing anywhere else.
You should always be able to find clear information about how much money you’ll earn on each book sale.
For example, Amazon offers 70 percent of your e-book’s list price as long as you price between $2.99 and $9.99. If you price outside that range, you earn 35 percent. This information is presented up front and explained to you before you hit “publish.” It may seem obvious, but closely review the fine print on pricing and payment for each company you’re doing business with. For instance, Amazon charges you a very small fee on every e-book sale (“delivery charges” based on your e-book file size), but only if you’re earning a 70 percent royalty.
Understand how much freedom you have to make changes to your book after it goes on sale.
If you’re working directly with retailers, such as Amazon, you can upload new and revised files as often as you like. It’s a self-service system, and the volume of changes you make doesn’t matter. However, with some distributors or services, you might incur fees with every single change, no matter how small.
What’s quality control like?
Most retailers and distributors want your business and make it as easy as possible for you to start selling with them. Some will even allow you to upload a Word document so you can start selling an e-book immediately, or they will convert your PDF into an EPUB file. However, don’t assume these shortcuts will lead to a professional-looking book, or that they’re any guarantee that someone is paying attention to quality results—aside from you. Nearly all services offer preview programs and other ways of ensuring your book looks OK before it goes on sale, and the responsibility is usually on your shoulders to act as quality control.
Deconstructing book publishing services and service packages
When you evaluate service providers that charge you fees up front, before publication, you’ll find they tend to fall into one of these buckets:
- Companies that offer publishing packages in a tiered system, with some kind of basic package that’s less than $1,000, and more premium packages, which may cost more than $2,000 or $3,000 (or even higher).
- Companies that offer bespoke packages, meant to fit your needs and your book project. You will rarely find any prices or packages listed; you have to call or e-mail to set up a consultation so a price can be quoted. Prices vary wildly, from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, based on the project.
- Companies that focus on providing more economical, a la carte services.
The highest-quality service providers are usually those that don’t quote prices up front, and they may not even take on every author who contacts them. That’s how you know you’re working with a firm that is more likely to treat your book as a unique product in the marketplace—as a traditional publisher would—rather than as another widget on the assembly line.
Services you’ll be offered or charged for as part of a self-publishing package
Writing and editing tools
Some services provide you with tools to write, format, and revise your manuscript and collaborate with others on it. Instead of writing and formatting your book in Microsoft Word or Scrivener, you instead compose and complete your project within a proprietary, in-the-cloud environment.
There are only few situations where you need to use this kind of software and it may be advisable not to, since your work is then locked into this environment, and must be exported or copied and pasted into another format if and when you no longer use the service. Writing and editing tools typically look attractive to the totally uninitiated, but rarely have any value that a writer should pay for. Don’t be fooled into believing these bells and whistles deserve your investment. You should be able to write, edit, and publish using whatever composition software you prefer or are accustomed to using, which usually has just as much power and flexibility as the solution being sold by the service provider.
If you’re interested in collaborative editing tools—which is the one area of arguable value that is hard to come by with Word or Scrivener—then take a look at Dropbox or Google Drive. They both offer revision control, permissions-based access, and more. Another tool is Reedsy’s Book Editor (see Creating E-book Files).
Some service providers outsource all editing and proofreading to freelancers, and pay those freelancers a lower rate than what they charge you, so that they’re acting as middleman and earning a profit on the transaction. The dead giveaway for this practice is when you are charged a per-word rate for editing. For example, let’s say the service says you’ll be charged $0.05 per word for line editing. It’s a near impossibility that this is what the freelancer is earning. That’s why you can often get better quality freelance help at the same price by not using a middleman service, but by hiring someone directly.
Furthermore, service companies may not put you in touch with any of the freelance editors who work on your book. So you’ll never know the name, experience level, or background of the person working on your book, which can erode confidence to say the least. In such a case, you’re not building a relationship with your editor; you’re participating in a transaction with the service provider.
It’s rarely a good idea for an author to design her own book cover.
It’s rarely a good idea for an author to design her own book cover, unless she is, of course, a professional book designer or illustrator. That said, it’s very popular for distributors and other service providers to provide do-it-yourself cover design tools that work on a template-based system. What you end up with is a cookie-cutter design that may pass muster with the average reader, but is unlikely to be competitive next to other titles in your genre. Given that a book cover is considered to be one of your most important marketing tools, this is where proper investment can make a significant difference in the impression you make on your audience and influencers.
Outside of DIY templates, nearly all service providers offer cover design services a la carte or as part of an all-inclusive package, but you may be offered a “basic” or “standard” cover design unless you’re willing to pay more for the “premium” option. Usually, by paying for premium service, you’re paying to have more options to review, a more customized design that’s not template-driven, and greater opportunity for feedback and revision. Once again, this is an area where you might be better off hiring a freelance designer yourself, since you are less likely to be nickeled-and-dimed for your expectation of a cover that’s uniquely crafted to your book.
Interior design and formatting (print)
Service providers almost always offer services to format and design your print book, and the lowest cost options will be templated systems where you have little room to revise or customize. While finding a cover designer is often straightforward, sometimes finding an interior designer with InDesign expertise—as well as experience in book layout—is more difficult for the average author. If you have a nonfiction book with a lot of styles, sidebars, illustrations, charts, graphs, or other complicated design considerations, you may need to find and hire a freelancer to work with directly. For full-color interior books—especially where color integrity is critical—a design professional should be hired.
E-book design and formatting
Whether you need professional help preparing your e-book files (which should be in EPUB format) depends primarily on whether your book is text-driven and how comfortable you are with technology.
Just about every e-book distributor and retailer accepts a Word document and automatically converts it to e-book format, but you still must go through an “unformatting” process of that Word document for the most professional, reader-friendly results. (All major services offer step-by-step guidelines for formatting your Word documents before you upload them for conversion.) While it’s a tedious process, the average author can often handle unformatting a Word document without much trouble, assuming the book is mostly straight text. However, if your e-book has a special, fixed-page layout, includes heavy illustrations, or has unusual requirements, you’ll likely want assistance. Also, authors who feel intimidated or overwhelmed by new technology may want to hire a freelancer to assist, or use a publishing service that includes professional e-book file preparation.
Print book distribution
Recall the warning from earlier: paying a publishing service because of its distribution muscle is largely a waste of an author’s money, unless that distribution also involves actively selling your book to accounts for placement. That is almost never the case, however. Furthermore, given that the large majority of an indie author’s sales will be through Amazon, and authors can access that channel for free (via CreateSpace or Amazon Advantage), there is little or no reason to use a publishing service for distribution reasons. (See Producing and Selling Print Editions for more information.)
If there is little reason to use a publishing service provider for print distribution, then for e-book distribution it might be considered counterproductive, at least in cases where the service doesn’t give you immediate access and control over your e-book administration and management (to update your book’s metadata, pricing, description, and so on). However, if you’re the kind of author who prefers to “set it and forget it,” then you may appreciate working with a service that centralizes the administration and distribution of many titles. In such cases, look for packages that pay you 100 percent of net on a monthly or quarterly basis and still grant you some flexibility and control—to adjust to changes in the market.
Book landing pages or online shops
Some publishing services, to help justify their package costs, will help you create an online shop, book landing page, and/or author profile on their own website, especially if they sell print editions or e-books directly to readers from that site. Don’t be fooled into placing much value on any of these extras. Unless the service has an impressive track record in online bookselling (and, as of this writing, none do), then these pages aren’t likely to sell any more books for you than you would ordinarily. Professional indie authors send people to buy books either from Amazon or other well-known retailers, and in rare cases, from their own author website. The only online author profiles that carry significance are those hosted by Amazon (at Amazon Author Central) and Goodreads.
The Biggest Danger: Marketing and Promotion Packages
Marketing and promotion packages are a specialty of full-service publishing service providers, who often significantly mark up and profit from these services. The long lists of all the things such a service will do to market and promote your book may look essential, important, and impressive (and make you feel fearful of not engaging in such marketing and promotion activities), but usually do little in practical terms to reach the target market for your book. So be extremely cautious when purchasing any marketing and promotion package, no matter who is offering it.
Here are some of the most common marketing and promotion offerings you’ll find:
Marketing copy assistance
One of the best marketing investments an author can make is to ensure that she has effective and professional copy for her book’s back cover and Amazon page. This copy gets used again and again, whether on the author’s website, in online promotions, on social media sites, and so on. Package services usually upcharge you to either create or polish this copy, and as with the editorial and design services, you may not be told the experience or skill level of the person creating it. Look for an experienced book marketer to help you with this task if at all possible, particularly one who understands your genre or category.
In the world of online retail, the metadata associated with your book may be critical to its discoverability. Metadata includes things such as your book’s category or genre, keywords associated with your book, your book description, and other data points. Some publishing services will optimize your metadata for the best possible discoverability, and even tweak the metadata after publication. If it’s an area you’re unfamiliar with, it can be useful to retain guidance, or you can buy tools that help you research it yourself, such as KDSPY. (See Metadata.)
Amazon Look Inside and other online book preview features
Regardless of how you self-publish, expect that every retailer will automatically create a preview of your book for customers, without your having to lift a finger. This includes Amazon’s Look Inside the Book and equivalent features at other online retailers. In other words, this is not a special feature that you should have to pay for or do any work to create.
Press release distribution
A press release is rarely effective unless you have also hired a publicist or PR person who is sending that press release selectively to warm prospects, and following up with those prospects. Press releases that get blasted out to hundreds or thousands are usually unwelcome, filling the inboxes of journalists who are uninterested and who will delete them as soon as they arrive. Don’t expect them to result in media attention; you’re better off personally approaching outlets that may have an interest in your work for local, regional, or thematic reasons.
If you’re interested in securing professional or industry reviews that require payment, pursue them independently; avoid using a service provider to administrate the process, since such companies usually mark up the price. Any reviews included in a package price are probably of minimal value.
Discoverability programs and tools
Services may have partnerships with book- or industry-related sites you’ve heard of (and some you haven’t), making it sound like your book will be visible and marketed to millions of people. Usually, the promotion value offered by these programs or tools isn’t going to make a meaningful difference to your sales. Remember that the larger the numbers cited for any promotional channel, the less likely your book will be shown and targeted to the most likely audience to buy your work. Authors without a brand name, in particular, should be looking for targeted opportunities most appropriate for their book, not broad, mass-market approaches.
Services may try to sell you a spot in advertisements they regularly run (featuring multiple titles) in mainstream publications such as The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and similar periodicals. These are rarely worth the investment and have limited ability to affect sales; the same can be said of grouped advertisements in trade outlets, such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and so on. If you think such advertising is the right strategy for your book, then it’s best to have a budget that supports advertising directly yourself, rather than being lumped in with half a dozen other books that may have nothing in common with your own.
Other advertising packages may target search engines or social media, using keywords associated with your book. Be extremely careful; most online advertising, to be effective, has to be laser targeted on the right audience—and improved over time based on response—to be successful and lead to a return on investment.
Media or publicity campaigns
The hard truth is that most mainstream media outlets (TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines) will not offer coverage to self-published books. This is why many professional publicists will not accept self-publishing authors as clients: they know that they can’t provide a service that would ever be worth the money they charge. Thus, be wary of any package offering that includes a media or publicity campaign. Research what media outlets such a service provider has gained coverage in; are these outlets that the service provider owns and controls? Are they outlets that reach your book’s target audience? Be critical.
It is very difficult to create a book trailer that persuades someone previously unaware of you or your book to make a purchase. Even if you did have an excellent book trailer, think through how difficult it would be to get attention and drive traffic to it, especially if you don’t have an online following. On average, people are willing to watch about 5 or 10 seconds of an online video before they move on to something else; it’s a very unforgiving medium. Unless you have TV, film, or professional experience with producing effective video, investing in a trailer should be near the bottom of your priority list.
Print promotional materials
Before you invest in bookmarks, postcards, business cards, and other print collateral related to your self-published book, think through how these would be used in your marketing efforts. Are you attending a lot of conferences or trade shows? Do you expect to plan a book tour or participate in a range of book fairs? Unless you have a specific reason to use and distribute such items, save your money for other marketing tools.
Extremely few books are optioned by Hollywood; those that do get optioned are almost always from traditional publishers and represented by literary agents. Avoid paying for any service that promises attention from the film and TV industries.
Once your book goes on sale, the work is over, right? Not quite. Once you start to gauge the market reaction to your book and see how your efforts have paid off (or not), you may want to revisit some of the decisions you made. It’s not uncommon for authors to rethink their cover, book description, and pricing, and experiment with all three to see if they can improve sales. Or, if your book picks up momentum and you score some important wins, you’ll likely want to update your book description with any bestseller status, important words of praise, or professional reviews. When hiring any kind of service to assist with the publishing process, be clear on how long after your publication date the company will be actively involved—to help make changes or otherwise administrate your titles. Some services may charge you fees for making changes or impose an annual maintenance fee.
Depending on how many titles you self-publish, it can sometimes be a lot of work to keep titles updated, or to go back and analyze how to make improvements that might benefit sales. Literary agents who represent indie authors sometimes undertake this administration (especially if they’re earning 15 percent of sales), but it’s rare to find any kind of publishing service that proactively will make suggestions. So it falls on authors to monitor their titles and to hire someone to offer an evaluation.
A final word on publishing service packages
No publishing service package can guarantee specific sales results or a certain level of success. However, some services will make you feel as if your book will fail if you don’t invest in a marketing and promotion package. Marketing and selling a book is probably the hardest part of self-publishing, but you can’t make that challenge go away by writing a check to a service company—even if it makes the endeavor look very attractive and doable. Be extremely wary when service providers seem to appeal to your ego or make it sound like you or your book will appear in lights. It is not easy to get attention for a book, no matter how much you’re willing to pay.
The best author services focus on helping you produce a high-quality book that will compete in the market. They are staffed by people who have some kind of background in the book publishing industry and understand the market challenges you will face. They don’t promise, but they do guide. Whenever possible, to help get attention for your book, hire individual marketers, publicists, or other business specialists—if budget permits—who can help you identify your target readership and how to best reach that readership. Package services almost always apply a cookie-cutter marketing approach to all titles, without consideration for how each book must be marketed uniquely.
MOST COMMONLY USED E-PUBLISHING SERVICES
The following services, distributors, and retailers are among the most important and most discussed among self-published authors. While there are hundreds of potential services or companies you might use to self-publish, only a handful are essential to nearly every type of author.
Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace
U.S.-based authors typically see about 70 percent of their e-book sales happen through Amazon, regardless of how they are published. Self-published authors report an even higher percentage of sales through Amazon, but sometimes that is a self-fulfilling prophecy since most of their sales and marketing links go directly or only to Amazon. But there’s no way around the fact that Amazon is the most important retailer of books for both print and e-book formats; it is next to impossible to self-publish and avoid having your book sold through Amazon, since distributors and third parties may do so even if you don’t.
Amazon offers two services to independent authors: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for e-book sales and CreateSpace for print book distribution and sales. Authors may create accounts at both services for free, upload their book files, and start selling their book immediately, usually within 24 to 72 hours. Both services take a percentage of sales based on a variety of factors. Neither service demands exclusivity by default, although it’s possible to get locked in if you’re not careful. (See Amazon KDP and KDP Select and Working with CreateSpace.)
Amazon White Glove
If you work with an agent, you may hear about the White Glove program. This is a program devised by Amazon that is specifically for agents to use in collaboration with their authors who wish to self-publish (e-book only). It is more or less Amazon KDP wrapped in a marketing package for agents. It offers authors’ e-books some limited-time promotion through Amazon’s site, but requires temporary exclusivity with Amazon, and allows the agent to easily manage and retain 15 percent of e-book sales that happen through KDP. The program only makes sense if you prefer to (or must) work through your agent, and even then, it would be better to discuss with your agent what other business arrangements might be possible. If you do use White Glove, read this post first: https://janefriedman.com/amazon-white-glove-program.
IngramSpark (a division of Ingram)
Ingram is the largest and most important U.S.-based book wholesaler and distributor, serving all types of booksellers, libraries, and industry players, including Amazon. Traditional publishers sell to Ingram, and thousands of small presses are distributed by Ingram. Additionally, many publishers use Ingram’s Lightning Source—a print-on-demand service—to keep their books available when a formal print run isn’t economically feasible or fast enough. Lightning Source was originally open to self-publishers seeking print-on-demand sales and distribution, but to better serve the indie author community, Ingram created a new division, IngramSpark, that specifically meets the needs of authors. It has many of the same qualities as Lightning Source and allows authors to make their print books available for order to any retailer that uses Ingram (which is nearly all of them). It also distributes e-books, but because its percentage cut is so much higher than any of its competitors, few indie authors use the company for e-book distribution. Authors pay about a $60 setup fee for print books, with additional fees for updating book files after the book goes on sale. (See Working with IngramSpark.)
Nook Press / Apple iBooks / Kobo Writing Life
Not long after Amazon launched KDP, other major e-book retailers built similar platforms for self-publishing authors that mimic KDP’s terms and functionality. Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press, Apple’s iBooks store, and Kobo all offer do-it-yourself programs that allow authors to upload their e-book file and start selling within a few days, with no up-front costs. None of these retailers require exclusivity, nor can they realistically demand it given Amazon’s weight in the market.
For authors with a significant international readership, Kobo is one of the more important e-book retailers, as it is known for the best penetration into the world market. It can also claim about 50 percent of the Canadian market. Apple iBooks is generally seen as the No. 2 e-book retailer in the United States, followed by Nook, then Kobo. Because most sales happen through Amazon, and many indie authors are looking to save time and administrate e-book sales from one central location, e-book distributors have become a popular means for reaching the secondary markets—or basically the non-Amazon accounts.
Other retailers and services to know about
The most well-known e-book distributors serving independent authors are Smashwords, Draft2Digital, BookBaby, and Pronoun. They are discussed further in E-book Distributors.
Unless you signed up for Google’s publishing partner program years ago, it’s not currently possible for individual authors to submit their books for sale directly through Google Play. Unfortunately, neither of the two favored e-book distributors—Smashwords or Draft2Digital—distributes to Google Play. However, Google Play, as an e-book retailer, is generally considered of low importance to the average fiction author. But if you think your audience is there, then you’ll need to look at alternative e-book distributors, such as BookBaby, Pronoun, or StreetLib.
When self-publishing first became affordable through print-on-demand technology, a range of author service companies sprang up to provide very affordable POD publishing packages. Some of those earliest companies were AuthorHouse, Xlibris, and iUniverse—which over the years became consolidated into one corporation now known as Author Solutions. Traditional publishers have partnered with Author Solutions to launch self-publishing imprints, such as Simon & Schuster’s Archway Publishing and Thomas Nelson’s WestBow Press; in such operations, Author Solutions is responsible for providing and managing all services, while the traditional publisher receives what amounts to a kickback for referring a new customer. Despite traditional publishing partnerships, Author Solutions’ business is declining and is largely seen by indie authors as a service company for those who are uneducated and uninformed about how to self-publish. Be cautious if considering Author Solutions’ services, as they are typically overpriced.
One of Lulu’s strengths is just how long it’s been operating in the self-publishing market, thus giving it a strong brand name with authors. It was one of the first players, established in 2002, and has published about two million titles since. However, its importance has dwindled in recent years on account of authors’ ability to simply go directly to Amazon or Ingram, and cut out Lulu as the middleman. Also, Lulu’s prices for producing print-on-demand editions are higher than those of CreateSpace or Ingram. Finally, Lulu received bad press in the author community when partnering with Author Solutions on author services.
If you have representation through a literary agency, your agent may suggest that you work through the agency to self-publish; agents have access to services and distributors not open directly to authors. One of these services is Argo Navis, discussed further in Agent Assistance. While such a situation might sound good because it has the feel of exclusivity, it usually results in lower earnings for the author.
Which distributors or retailer services should you use?
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every single author or every single book, here are the most common approaches of professional indie authors once they have book production files ready to go.
Deal directly with Amazon and use distributors to reach the rest of the market.
Upload your print book files to CreateSpace (which distributes to Amazon) and IngramSpark (which reaches everyone else); for e-books, directly upload to Amazon KDP and then choose an e-book distributor such as Smashwords or Draft2Digital to reach other major retailers.
Deal only with Amazon services.
Some authors don’t bother going any further than Amazon’s services. That means they upload their print book files to CreateSpace and choose “expanded distribution” (which reaches Ingram and Baker & Taylor) and upload their e-book files to Amazon KDP and enroll in KDP Select, which is an Amazon exclusivity program with marketing perks. The drawback to this method—for print sales—is that few retailers like ordering from Amazon (it’s their competition and the terms are unfavorable), and you earn far less profit on print book sales when they do happen outside of Amazon, at least when compared to IngramSpark.
Deal directly with Amazon as well as other major e-book retailers.
This is like the first approach, except that authors set up accounts directly with Apple iBooks, Kobo, and perhaps Nook Press, in order to maximize profits, control, and the ability to market through those particular channels. Most indie authors who do this still place their e-books with an e-book distribution service such as Smashwords or Draft2Digital to reach all the smaller e-book markets and subscription services that either aren’t worth the time to reach directly or aren’t open to indie authors. Remember: These services all work on a nonexclusive basis, so it’s not a problem to use them in tandem with each other.
If you wish to avoid dealing with multiple channels (and/or avoid Amazon)
You can rely on IngramSpark alone for print book distribution (and it does fulfill orders coming from Amazon), but your profits will be lower than if you were to use CreateSpace. For e-book distribution, neither Smashwords nor Draft2Digital distributes e-books to Amazon, but Pronoun and BookBaby do.
How an author produces ready-to-go book production files—whether for print or e-book—is a matter of individual ability, the complexity of the book design, and the professionalism required in the final product. Authors may choose to hire a publishing service, as discussed in the previous section, or they may hire freelance help. (See Creating E-book Files.)
Where to find more information about self-publishing services
If you’re at all active online or run any kind of search for publishing services, you’ll likely see or hear about many companies not listed here. All of them will try to market themselves as cutting through the confusion or providing invaluable assistance, but ultimately, uploading one’s work to Amazon and other distributors is not a particularly complicated process, as you’ll see in later sections. Be sure to use only the services that save you time, provide expert guidance, or produce a more professional product. To assess the quality of any distributor, retailer, or service, the best two sources are the Alliance of Independent Authors and The Independent Publishing Magazine.
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)
ALLi is a UK-based nonprofit organization, global in scope, that seeks to serve all types of independent authors. They offer watchdog reports, provide service reviews, and keep an updated service directory. Visit www.allianceindependentauthors.org.
The Independent Publishing Magazine
The editor of this online magazine, Mick Rooney, has been providing comprehensive reviews of publishing services for more than five years. Several times per year, he compiles a ranked index of the best publishing service providers. Visit theindependentpublishingmagazine.com.