Friday, 29 April 2016

A Guide to Self Publishing - Introduction

A Guide to Self Publishing is an account of my experience self publishing my first book The Wobbly Wallaby. The purpose of the guide is to help outline some of the options involved in the process, to explain some of the decisions I took and to assist in the creation of the output required to self publish your own book.

Choosing What to Do

So now that you've written your masterpiece, the next step is to determine how you want to publish and distribute the book. Assuming you have already decided to self-publish, there are really only two choices here, eBook and/or Print On Demand (POD). It is also possible to enlist a dedicated printer and have them do print runs of a specific number of books for you but you would have to pay up front for that. That's definitely not what I wanted, particularly when POD can supply one book or a thousand books on demand.

eBook publishing is an obvious choice. To date the movement to eBook format has required a transition for the reader from paperback to eReader device. That will likely not be the case when the next generation comes through. Many children all over the world have already started using laptops and tablets at school and in many cases the textbooks are digital. For them, reading digital content is not something they will need to transition into, it will likely be their norm. I'm sure hard copy books will still exist but you just need to look at the impact eBooks have already had on the publishing world to see this is the way of the future.

Print on Demand is the next question. Do you really need to have your book in hard copy? Are you really prepared to go to all the trouble to set that up? Of course! It's physical, it's real and it's a trophy of your accomplishment! Plus you can sign it! You'll also want to provide that format if that's what people want to buy. Once you've been through the process of creating the files for the Print On Demand printers you'll realise it's not such an onerous task, especially if you have experience with Microsoft Word.


More and more eBook retailers are springing up all the time and each could potentially stock your book. Do you try and distribute your eBook to all of them, just some of them, or use a distributor to distribute the book? Consider what happens if you need to redistribute an updated copy. The decision is also influenced by where you live. The major eBook retailers are based in the US and despite some having international sites, sales revenue comes from the US. If you are an author outside the US, you will need to create an account, complete a W-8BEN (or W-8BEN-E) form and distribute a separate copy of your book in the required format for every eBook retailer included in your distribution list. Additionally, each eBook retailer will take a different percentage of your book based on the price and where you sold it. Some allow free books, others don't. I soon found myself engulfed in a world of options, legalese, EINs and TINs and that is not where I wanted to be!

The most useful advice I can give in this area is to read this article from the Author Earnings Report. If you can distribute to Amazon, Apple iBooks, nook and Kobo you have covered 96% of the market by sales at the current time. You'll find many variations on quoted market share statistics on the internet but regardless of the accuracy of any quoted percentage of sales of eBooks on Amazon, no one can deny it's the big white whale when it comes to eBook sales. Apple has sold nearly a billion mobile devices, all with an iBooks reader installed that is wired up to the iBooks store with a massive global footprint. Given what iTunes has done for music it's hard not to see apple pushing to do the same thing with books. (I actually prefer the Kindle app, but what would I know...). Nook is Barnes & Noble's eBook store. Barnes and Noble are a colossus of hard copy bookstores and they would be reluctant to see their business eroded by Amazon and Apple. They have massive skin in the game and will continue to push their eBook sales to ensure their revenue stream. Kobo are a pure eBook and eMagazine company. They have their own eReader device and while they may not have the clout of Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble, they are too big to ignore. Google, which currently has 2% by market share is curious in this area. At the moment they are not accepting new publishers. If you go to their site you will find a message that says "New publisher sign-ups in the Google Play Books Partner Center are temporarily closed." They are obviously looking at their strategy, but I'm sure they won't just go away so that will require a revisit some time down the track. If they're not enlisting, then there's only 2% of the market left.

There is another element in all this that you should be aware of. Each of the eBook stores specify the format(s) for your book and it's usually a single format per bookstore. Even though there are only a few formats, epub, epub3, mobi, pdf, etc., each eReader device may add extensions to those formats. If you publish a book so that it appears beautifully on one reader it may look terrible on another. So firstly, its prudent to be a simple as possible in your formatting for eBooks so that it will look reasonable on ALL devices. You will also need software to create these formats if you chose to create the files yourself. Secondly, the formats seem to be morphing as the technology matures. New features are always being added and while the change is slow and backward compatibility is almost essential, the future is unclear in this regard. I definitely don't want to have to keep up with adjustments in file formats at various bookstores! Wouldn't it be great is someone managed all this hassle for you?

Smashwords to the Rescue!

Smashwords does exactly that. It's not the only player in the aggregated distribution market but it's by far the biggest. Smashwords will distribute to Amazon, Apple, nook, Kobo, Scribd and a host of others including the Baker and Taylor library network. Perfect! Smashwords will sell your book on their site and return 85% to you or 60% if your book is sold on one of their distribution partner sites. Even though that may cost me 5%-10% at some eBook stores, the convenience, reach and that fact that they are managing the eBook formats sounds like a great deal to me. They also allow you to sign up and exclude the distribution to Apple or Amazon while maintaining all the other channels if that's what you wish to do. I signed up to Smashwords for distribution to everyone except Amazon, as Amazon are the largest retailer and I'd make 70% direct vs. the 60% from Amazon through Smashwords.

Print On Demand

Of the Print On Demand printers the two big players are Ingram and Createspace. Ingram has two arms, Lightning Source and Spark. Lightning Source is really for experienced publishers, Spark is aimed at self publishers like me who are new to the process. Spark is a simplified front for Lightning Source. You may see value in trying to convince Lightning Source that you are a serious publisher but I honestly couldn't see the benefit in that. The royalties are about the same, the charge to set up a book is slightly higher with Lightning Source, the account setup is far more involved with Lightning Source. For me, the ease of use of Spark made more sense.

Lightning Source (and Ingram Spark through Lightning Source) has massive reach, here is a list of the Ingram Print Distribution. Their eBook distribution is just as impressive but due to the reduced royalty to the writer (only 40% flat), the eBook offering was not something I wanted to pursue.
There are a lot of negative comments related to Spark because they used to force you to apply a 55% discount to your retail price. The 55% is theoretically to allow the bookstore to cover the costs of the store, staff, store profit, opportunity to discount your retail price etc. It appears to be a relatively standard practice and frankly I can understand the reasoning behind the percentage. Spark lets you choose a lesser percentage now, but unless you are JK Rowling, if you choose anything less than 55% you are probably going to remove any possibility of a bookstore actually stocking your book. The fact is, you are now swimming in a sea of self published authors, all competing with major league publishers who quality control and cherry pick every manuscript, for the shelf space in every brick and mortar bookstore. For a bookstore, a self published author is a high risk proposition.

The cold, harsh reality is that the only place you are likely to sell a hard copy of your book is through Amazon but you still need to be ready in case someone wants to buy your book in that format. The unsubstantiated rumours that pervade the internet imply that Amazon will prefer to source the hard copy from Createspace because Amazon owns Createspace, however bookstores will prefer Ingram because Amazon/Createspace is a direct competitor to the bookstore. Given my unshakable faith and conviction that I will be catapulted into the rarefied ether of literary greatness, I decided to cover both bases and chose to use both companies.

So in summary, here's what I went with and what I needed to produce:
Distributor Format Reach Requirement
Amazon eBook Global reach through Amazon, I did not elect to enrol in KDP Select. eBook in .mobi format including a cover
Smashwords eBook Multiple site distribution (Apple iBooks, Kobo, Nook etc). (Amazon is included by default, make sure you un-tick this if you want to go direct) once your book passes the premium validation. Microsoft Word Document
Createspace Paperback Amazon Worldwide Print Distribution, I did not opt for Expanded print distribution due to the lower royalty rate. PDF Document for the text, Cover Art according to Createspace's guidelines.
Ingram Spark Paperback Worldwide Print Distribution outside Amazon. I did not opt for their eBook distribution because they take 60% for all eBook sales. PDF Document for the text, Cover Art according to Ingram Spark's guidelines.

Fortunately the PDF requirement for Createspace and Ingram Spark is identical and can be generated out of a Microsoft Word document. I originally looked into Scrivener and Jutoh and while they are both excellent programs, neither are really the best fit for the requirement outlined above. I didn't discover that until after I'd blown 50 bucks on Jutoh... The Word document for Smashwords uses a different formatting approach so at least two versions of your book are required.

The next question is should you buy your own ISBNs?

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