If you decide to take the leap and become a self-published author instead of going the traditional publishing route, your first question will most likely be “where do I start?”
The obvious answer is that you start by finishing your book (writing, editing and polishing included), but what comes after that? What kind of options do you have for publishing your book? Although most authors think of Amazon’s Createspace or Kindle Direct Publishing services when they think about self-publishing, Amazon is actually not the only game in town. In fact, there are many great self-publishing platforms out there for authors to consider, and all of them provide different services for different prices.
Here is a look at the top five self-publishing platforms, along with the pros and cons of using each one.
1. Ingram Spark
Ingram Spark is Amazon’s most formidable competitor when it comes to self-publishing. This company publishes both paper- and hardback books and prints them on-demand, meaning that it will only ever print as many books as you sell (so you don’t have to order hundreds of books and let them sit in your garage until someone buys them like in the old days). With Ingram Spark, you get books that are impressively high-quality – in fact, many traditional publishers use this company to print their books too! Ingram also offers an ebook service, as well as high-level marketing opportunities that could potentially give you the same reach as a traditionally published author. Oh, and I forgot to mention: by publishing with Ingram Spark, your book could become available at over 39,000 retailers all at once.
While this may sound like a bit of a no-brainer, there is always a catch. Publishing with Ingram Spark, unlike some other services, is not free. Publishing an ebook is $25, and publishing a print book (or a print book and ebook together) is $49. This amount is said to be refunded to you with an order of 50 or more books. While this doesn’t seem like a big price tag, one must also take into account that for every book sold, Ingram Spark also takes a sizeable chunk of the money earned from the sale in order to pay printing and shipping costs, meaning that one might make less money selling books via Ingram Spark than via other avenues.
Lulu is another extremely popular publishing platform. It offers print book publishing, ebook publishing, global distribution, and even access to professional marketing and publishing services (for an added fee). Unlike Ingram Spark, setting up and publishing a book on this platform is completely free. It offers a wide variety of ebook formats that enable your audience to read your book on nearly any device, and the LuLu website itself is a fantastic resource for indie authors who want to learn more about the trade. According to Lulu’s pricing chart, one can also make more money from the books they sell here than on other platforms, but this may be slightly skewed due to the fact that Lulu doesn’t include any distribution costs in this equation (more on that in a second).
Some of the drawbacks to publishing with Lulu include fewer sizing options for print books (there are really only five, and most of them are larger and more awkwardly shaped than a typical trade paperback one would find in a store), and the fact that “Not every print book size and format qualifies for distribution.” This could mean that you could spend hours and hours readying your book for publication, only to find that it won’t be distributed to online stores (or real-life stores) like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. This is definitely something you should look into before publishing your book with Lulu.
Smashwords is rapidly becoming one of the most well-known places to self-publish ebooks. Their services are completely free, and their royalties are very high in comparison to other sites. Plus, you don’t have to reach a certain threshold to get paid – you get paid your royalties once a month regardless of whether you made a thousand dollars or fifty cents in that time frame. Smashwords has global retail distribution, global library distribution, and free ebook conversion to every format imaginable. You only have to upload your manuscript once, and Smashwords makes it available in a myriad of different ebook formats so that it can be read and distributed in nearly every form from .PDF to .epub to .mobi.
Unfortunately, this makes everything sound a lot easier than it really is. In order to get a book published on Smashwords and have it available for sale on other sites like Kobo and Barnes and Noble, one has to go through the nearly impossible, hopelessly time-consuming process of stripping their manuscript of all of its formatting. To give you an idea of how invasive and terrible this is (and I would know, as I republished Portrait of a Sunset on this platform last year), this process is lovingly referred to as “preparing the manuscript for the Meatgrinder.” This can take the author hours or even days, although Smashwords does offer a service to do this, which, as one can guess, is not free. A few other cons to this website are the fact that so many books get published here each day that yours can easily be lost in the shuffle. Smashwords also offers a lot of sales, which means that readers come to expect that a book should be priced at an extremely low price point, or should be free, which means less revenue for the writer. Smashwords also only publishes ebooks, so print book lovers would be out of luck here.
Okay, I know I said that it’s not all about Amazon, but some of it is! Createspace is the world’s largest self-publishing platform, and is popular for a good reason. Publishing via Createspace automatically puts your book on Amazon, which just so happens to be the world’s number one place to buy books. It is a print-on-demand service, meaning that you don’t have to buy books that you haven’t sold, and the royalty rate is great compared to many other platforms. You can create a book in nearly every size imaginable, and you can control every single aspect of the cover, the paper inside, and the format – not to mention that your finished book will be distributed around the world. And if you need help formatting your book or creating your book cover, Createspace has experts on hand to help you (for a fee, of course).
As great as Createspace looks on paper, there are always a few downsides to consider. One is that Createspace only publishes print books, and (sadly) these are not selling as well in today’s market as they once were. You also earn fewer royalties than you might think you deserve due to the printing costs of your book. These printing costs aren’t the worst in the field, but they vary based on the number of pages your book contains (as well as several other factors), so the longer your book is, the more it will cost to produce. These costs must be factored in to your pricing calculations, so you may end up having to list your book at a higher price point than you would like in order to make any money from its sales.
Kindle Direct Publishing has been a game-changer in the self-publishing industry. Not only can you publish an ebook in as little as five minutes, but you can now also publish your book as a paperback as well! This is definitely one of the quickest ways to get a book to market, and can easily earn you the highest revenues. Royalties are very respectable at KDP, depending on which royalty model you choose: you can earn 35% royalties on ebooks that sell for up to 99 cents, and 70% royalties on ebooks priced higher than this. Once a book is finished and approved, it can hit the worldwide market in less than 48 hours (usually much less). You can also enroll your book in the Kindle Select Program, which allows readers with a monthly subscription to read your book for free (more on that below), which helps you gain a much bigger audience.
With every ray of sun comes a shadow, though, and it is worth mentioning that KDP is another platform that is currently flooded with books. Just like with Smashwords, authors are pricing their ebooks so low that authors who are not Stephen King or John Green often find it difficult to sell a book unless they price it at 99 cents or free, which doesn’t bring them much of a return on investment. In addition to this, the Kindle Select Program has recently undergone some changes that have been reported as being extremely unfavorable to authors. Readers read your book for free… which means that you don’t get paid for it either. There is a global fund that used to pay writers a few pennies per a certain amount of pages read, but now this would take a massive amount of pages to add up to anything. However, this program is optional – it offers several benefits from a marketing standpoint, but most authors these days are saying that the benefits don’t outweigh the costs.
No matter which self-publishing platform you choose to use, be sure to weigh all of your options first. It is easy to focus on just the pros of a certain company, but as you can see from this list, even the best companies have their potential downsides. If you are going to become a self-published author, you are the one in charge of all of the decision-making. You may make some mistakes along the way, but taking the time to consider everything objectively before you jump in is a great way to ensure that you have as much success as possible.