Self-Publishing Series Part 3: Choosing how to self-publish

A post by Jess Gately

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We’ve said it already and we’ll say it again: self-publishing involves a LOT of research. It’s a long process, and choosing how you’re going to publish your book is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. As self-publishing has grown in popularity, platforms and services designed to help make the process easier for authors have also grown.

While some services focus entirely on the final printing and/or distribution of the product, other services exist to help authors streamline the search for editors, designers, typesetters, printers, and marketing expertise. Which route you decide to take is entirely dependent on you, what you envision for your book, and what time and money you have to spare.

Before you start

First things first, you need to think about what format you’re looking to publish in. Are you releasing solely in ebook format, or do you want to have a print version available as well?

Ebooks are an immensely popular option for self-publishers. They make up 40% of all books sold and self-published ebooks account for 30-40% of all ebook sales. Perhaps it’s the cheaper cover price that makes readers more likely to invest in a self-published ebook over a self-published paperback or even a traditionally published ebook, or maybe it’s the marketing systems set up by the various distributors, but whatever the reason, self-published works seem to find a lot of success in the ebook market.

Physical books, on the other hand, tend to be more expensive to produce and therefore need to be sold at a higher price. Sell a print book too cheap and you’ll lose money on your investment, but put the price too high and you’ll turn off potential readers.

This decision will also impact what you decide to do with publishing your book. While some of the options that follow will work great for an ebook-only model, you may find you need to mix and match retailers and aggregators to get the best options on both print and ebooks.

Retailers and Aggregators

Right, let’s talk about the difference between retailers and aggregators.

A retailer is your bookseller, and your retailers may be both online and through brick and mortar bookstores depending on what avenue you decide to take. Online bookstores like Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and Kobo often provide branded platforms through which you upload and sell your ebooks. They will have specific requirements of how your book should be formatted and loaded and may have programs that you can sign up to that exchange exclusivity for a higher proportion of royalties (more on this below).

However, things are a little different with brick and mortar bookstores. If a customer specifically requests your print book from them, they’ll need to be able to order it in through a distributor, or you can go in and talk to a manager to arrange a contract directly for them to stock any copies you may have on hand. We’ll talk about how to get your print books stocked in bookstores later in the series, but for now all you need to know is that it’s a bit more involved than the process of loading your book to an online platform, unless you’re using an aggregator who can supply to bookstores.

An aggregator is a type of distributor who ensures your book is stocked across all the retailers. For a cut of the profit, companies like Draft2Digital, Smashwords, and PublishDrive will ensure your ebook is available across all the retail platforms. Print-on-demand aggregators like IngramSpark, BookBaby, and IndieMosh not only distribute to the ebook markets but also offer print-on-demand options for your hardcopy books, ensuring that brick and mortar bookstores have access to them should customers request them. The print-on-demand model also allows you to purchase copies of your book without having to go through a minimum print run. While it does mean that printing costs may be slightly higher, it prevents you having to print copies that you may or may not sell.

Some self-published authors will use a combination of retailers and aggregators to sell their book. For example, they may set up an Amazon Kindle account that they manage on their own, before lodging their book with Smashwords to cover other ebook markets, and then going to IngramSpark for their print-on-demand service. Knowing your market and the markets of each of the retailers and aggregators is essential to picking which avenue you might take.

Assisted Publishing

Assisted publishing involves a company providing publishing services to help you self-publish your book. It’s a great place to start if you’ve never self-published before and if the process is confusing or stressful for you.

Unlike vanity presses who will often pretend that they are recruiting you for your manuscript and then ask you to pay the costs while they retain copyright, assisted publishing houses are very clear that they are offering publishing services, not necessarily publication. This might include design, production and retail services such as ISBN and barcode application; professional editing, indexing and proofreading; design and layout; print production; and marketing advice. Some companies also offer packages which include marketing material such promotional posters and author websites.

Most assisted publishing houses have set package prices and you choose the package or the services that you require. Australia has a plethora of assisted publishing services including Wild Weeds Press, Pendragon Publishing, InHouse Publishing, Ocean Reeve Publishing, Green Hill Self Publishing, and Gumnut Press, amongst many others.

It’s important to remember that most assisted publishing services are also sales services, and that means their job is to sell their services to you. You should expect that they will try to sell you on lots of extras, and the extras they offer aren’t necessarily bad (returns features for your print books, editing services, extra prints to sell at author events, etc. all have their place), but you need to set your budget and be aware of the costs. If you know there are going to be extras that you’ll need to add on, don’t go in on a package that’s already at the top of your budget.

Carefully research and compare exactly what each company offers with what you need, and then consider whether you really need everything they’re offering. Make sure you read the fine print on your contract. Double check who holds copyright (if it’s not you, back away), what annual fees are involved for keeping your book on their lists, and what costs may be involved with removing your book from their catalogue. You should also know if the ISBNs will be registered to you or the publishing house so you know if you’ll need to organise ISBNs later down the track if you decide to go your separate ways. If they’re promising reviews in ‘prominent publications’, check which publications they are and whether you’d be able to get a review there yourself without paying them to organise it.

Do-it-Yourself

The final option is for when you want to handle the print aspect all on your own. Rather than using any of the above services, you source the whole lot and print it yourself through a printer rather than a publisher. Such a process involves sourcing your own typesetters, designers, editors, ISBNs, barcodes, and printing, and then of course you’ll need to manage all the distribution and marketing yourself. It’s a big job, and for that reason isn’t as popular as the retail, aggregator and assisted-publishing routes mentioned above.

The major downfall of this method is in distribution and getting your book to a wider audience. However, if your reason for self-publishing is to produce something intensely personal and solely for yourself and perhaps close friends or family members, in a limited print run, then this might be the perfect avenue for you as you’re not in need of all the extra marketing costs.

Here, your research will largely focus on individuals, and if the project is personal you may spend less time worrying about editors and instead spend more time and money on typesetting and printing. Different printing presses will have their own pricing structures and guidelines on formats you need to provide, which you’ll then need to feed back to your designers and typesetters. If you’re not planning on selling your book commercially, you won’t need to worry about ISBNs and barcodes either.

Distribution, exclusivity, and turning a profit

We mentioned above that some retail platforms may offer extra deals for exclusivity. The most well-known of these of course being KDP Select, Amazon Kindle’s program which rewards authors in exchange for exclusivity of their book on the Kindle platform.

As part of the KDP Select program, digital copies of your book can only be sold through Amazon, although a 10% sample can be made available outside of the Kindle Store, print and other non-digital versions can be distributed elsewhere, and copies of the book can be emailed to reviewers for editing purposes. In return, your book is added to Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s ‘all-you-can-read’ subscription service, and you get access to countdown deals, free promotions, and increased royalties for sales in some countries.

So, is it worth going exclusive?

Well, as always, that depends on several considerations. Certainly, Kindle is the primary ebook retailer in the US and UK and accounts for 80% of all ebook sales. However, it is worth remembering that there are other providers that account for a bigger portion of the market in other countries. If you’re based in Canada, for example, Kobo accounts for 25% of all ebook sales in that region which means you could be cutting out a huge portion of your market by going exclusive with KDP Select.

Likewise, it is important to consider distribution in printing services as well. Although Amazon’s CreateSpace option is great for US-based authors, IngramSpark has found favour with Australian authors due to their more affordable shipping prices, meaning they can charge less for their books and still turn a profit. While it may be tempting to do everything with one provider, it’s important to look at all the options and consider how your locality impacts upon distribution and marketing.

The Takeaway?

Research. Lots and lots of research.

The field is changing all the time and which route you choose to take will depend largely on you, your project, your time, your experience, and your vision for your book. No one can tell you what the best option is, all they can tell you is what the best option for them has been. And if you’re looking at the truly honest self-publishers, they’ll tell you that they’re always re-evaluating their options and looking at new retailers and aggregators.

Take your time and don’t rush. This is an exciting journey and you don’t want to ruin it by investing your money in a service that you’re not happy with. Read reviews, compare prices and services, draw up tables, and make sure that you really are doing what’s best for you and your book.

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