Thinking about self-publishing? Don’t know how to share that book you love with the world? I’ve been walking the indie walk since leaving traditional publishing in 2011, and I’ve figured out a few nuts and bolts. What follows is simplified but will give you the lay of the land.
(Prefer a deep-dive how-to instead? David Gaughran’s classic Let’s Get Digital is currently FREE: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/)
The first decision is which distribution platform to use to get your book onto a vendor, and when it makes sense to upload a book directly.
Distribution platforms can be very useful for independent publishers. 1) Their sites have conversion software to transform your manuscript (usually a .doc file) into formats people can read on their digital devices. 2) They distribute your book to vendors like iBooks and bn.com, where your future fans can buy it. 3) They receive monies back from the vendor, take their cut, and send the rest to you. They also provide sales reports so you can keep track of how your book is doing.
Some distributors’ focus seems to be selling overpriced “package” services to writers: hire our editors, designers, marketers . . . that kind of thing. Luckily, they aren’t your only choice. From what I hear other authors say—and can vouch for from personal experience—Smashwords and Draft2digital are both reliable, reputable distributors of self-published books. Importantly, both are free to use. Both will take manuscripts and turn them into readable epub (nook, iPad) and mobi (kindle) files. Some people think the Draft2digital interface is easier to use. I prefer Smashwords myself because a) I like founder Mark Coker’s staunch support for indie authors, and b) Smashwords has its own (basic) vendor site and there are some perks that go along with that.
Smashwords and Draft2Digital send books to bn.com, iBooks, Kobo, and assorted small/library/international vendors. The percentage they take on sales and the vendors to whom they distribute are pretty much the same—possibly exactly the same. It’s been a while since I compared. Neither distributor sends books to amazon, but amazon is easy to upload to directly.
The advantage in uploading directly is that you cut out the middleman. The entire sales percentage goes to the author. If you’re not Nora Roberts, that can make an important difference to your bottom line.
Amazon, bn.com, Kobo, and iBooks all allow independent authors to upload books directly. Of these four main sales outlets, iBooks is probably the fiddliest to deal with. I let Smashwords distribute to them for me, but if I could do it myself, I would.
Though it daunts some authors when they first self-publish, I recommend learning to create your own epub and mobi files. There’s a learning curve, but formatting isn’t rocket science, and doing it yourself gives you more maneuverability when it comes to uploading and updating.
If that’s too much to face, plenty of people format epub/mobi files as a business. Also of note, Draft2Digital allows you to download the epub/mobi files their free-to-use conversion software creates. Once you have the files, you can upload them yourself wherever you want—something Smashwords requests their users not do. I absolutely DON’T recommend services that format and distribute books . . . then take a percentage of the sales forever. From my perspective, hiring service providers for a one-time flat fee is the way to go.
I do my own covers, so you’ll have to google around and do some due diligence to find good designers. David Gaughran has some info about the process here:
And here are URLs to check out Smashwords and Draft2digital.
When I create ebook files, I use a combination of OpenOffice.org (free word processing software) and http://www.jutoh.com/ (low cost ebook/mobi creation software). Other people use different programs, but this works well for me. Having an epub or mobi to upload seems to result in nice, tidy ebooks. Occasionally, the software amazon, etc. use for converting .doc files introduces quirky bugs.
The final—and much debated question—is whether to distribute widely or go exclusive with amazon by enrolling your book in KDP Select. My personal experience and my unscientific impression from keeping my ear to the ground is that the advantage indie authors initially gained going exclusive has mostly dissipated. There’s a lot of product in Kindle Unlimited now. Just because a book is free to borrow for Prime or Kindle Unlimited members doesn’t necessarily make it easier for any one author to stand out. Readers in those programs simply have too much to choose from. On top of that, because authors are usually earning less from borrows than sales, they need to reach more readers to stay even earnings-wise. If you’ve also given up sales at other vendors, the reduction in income can be that much harder to make up.
That’s just my opinion, of course. You might check these sites for different takes on the state of the indie-dom. There are plenty more sites out there, but these are the ones I visit every day. Just remember, part of being indie means using your own judgment and deciding which points of view suit you.
And that’s my thumbnail introduction to self-publishing. I hope it serves as a useful place to start your journey!