The original post that I wrote on this subject was done Tuesday. But a little birdie told me there was something coming down the pipeline that may change how I saw things. I’m not saying that I’ve had a change of opinion on being discoverable on all vendors. I’m going to be watching how things develop and what changes may occur in respect to Kindle Unlimited. Expect an interim blog post on Kindle Unlimited coming soon and I will be hosting a Google Hangout round table of sorts because I want to hear everyone else’s take on this move by Amazon.
Additionally, I’m going to be providing information and letting you know about specific pitfalls I’ve encountered when trying to upload to vendors to hopefully save you some time. I will not be offering any commentary on Kindle Unlimited.
Digital Book Vendors
Digital book vendors make being an indie author possible. Without them we would still be at the mercy of begging Barnes & Noble to, pretty please sell our books, and be happy with the seven cents they were willing to give us…if our book sold. Of course, they also retain the right to return (at our expense) or destroy our books if they do not sell in a satisfactory time period. That’s a different post.
For indies, specifically just starting out, we need, that’s right NEED all of the exposure we can get. Not all of us explode onto the scene with a debut novel that becomes a bestseller. It happens, but it’s the exception, not the rule. For that reason I currently choose to be on as many digital vendor sites as is possible.
In this topic there’s any number of questions that come up.
- Which vendors to use
- Direct publish or use an aggregator
- What do I need to make it happen
- KDP Select
Of course there is no one right answer to many of choices mentioned above. All of these decisions should be based on your personal preferences, time, goals and strategy. You have to do what keeps you in your comfort zone for management. Please always do your due diligence when making decisions about your work. Don’t just blow through the sign up process of vendors or advertisers always know what you’re getting into.
Direct Publish Vs. Aggregator (Digital Distributor)
There are vendors to which I direct publish including Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play Books. One of the reasons I do this is the higher royalty rate. I am also building a business relationship with these vendors. They may or may not ever notice me, I’m a small potato. But certainly if I ever want to have opportunities for features or special programs I think I have a better chance at being included if I’m already a business partner with them. Another reason to consider direct publishing with as many vendors as possible is that if you have an issue with a launch or book you can talk with the vendor directly and not wait through the chain of communication between you and the middle man.
I want to stay within the realm of my own experience I’m only going to talk about the vendors/distributors that I personally use or have used. I’ll list the other aggregators that I’m aware of, but can’t speak on any experience with them other than perhaps why I chose to go with Smashwords as my aggregator over Book Baby or Draft2digital.
I’ll assume that you’ve already set up your accounts with each vendor. Do this when you send your first book off to the editor. That way you know you’ll have your account set up, ready and all issues will have been resolved with the initial set up.
What You Need
Create a text/notepad/xls spreadsheet with all of your book info. This will save you infinite time in filling out multiple vendors forms. You will only have to copy/paste in most situations. You will not need all of this information for every vendor, but here’s what you are going to need overall.
- Author and other contributors (e.g. editors, illustrators, co-authors)
- Book Description (pro tip: Most vendors will allow basic html. If you would like to bold or italicize parts of your description here’s how – bold – <b> text to be bolded</b>. Italics <i>text to be italicized</i> if you are unfamiliar with html then that’s all you need to know or run this risk of being a danger to yourself and others!)
- Short Description
- Author Bio
- ISBN – this is optional.
- Categories – do some analysis on this before you jump right in. It’s important for your categories to be correct and applicable to the work. But remember to think strategically.
- BISAC Codes
- Age Range (Optional – you do not need to know this, but it will assist the Amazon algorithm in putting you in front of the correct audience.)
- Grade Range (Optional – you do not need to know this, but it will assist the Amazon algorithm in putting you in front of the correct audience.)
- Keywords (other vendors call them tags)
Book Cover – (sizes and requirements vary) they all take jpg/gif AND they will all take 1600px x 2400px. That’s a good size.
Your Manuscript - Most vendors accept epubs. If you use Smashwords you’ll want to upload a .doc for inclusion in the premium catalog as well the ability to have them convert your book to multiple file types.
Do yourself a favor and get a great formatter to create an epub. That way you have an epub that you can send out as prizes/review copies and it’s pretty universal. I use Dead River Books. They are the bomb, extremely helpful and knowledgeable regarding best practices for each vendor, and put out excellent clean code in your manuscript.
Good meta data, clean code in the document, good formatting strong front and back matter. Vendors WILL take down your manuscript if they get customer complaints. I’ve seen it happen. Not to mention this is quite possibly the only “contact” you have with a reader, put your best foot forward. Also, PREVIEW YOUR BOOK. Can I say that again? On each vendor that you upload your book to, preview it. Please! Don’t leave it to chance that it uploaded okay. Preview it in the tool and then when it goes live, download it to a device. You also want to check out your product page. Look it over with scrutiny when you first go live.
I know I may be missing something here, it will come to me and I’ll update. If you think of something that I’m missing please comment!
Duh, put your books on Amazon. I was unable to find a source with the exact current percentage of market share Amazon has, but it’s pretty high. In my case and several other indies that I’ve discussed sales with the ratio is from 85%-95% of sales come from Amazon. You’ll hear it referred to as many different things, Kindle Direct Publishing, KDP, Amazon, Zon, The 800LB Gorilla. Either way, in my experience if you aren’t on Amazon you aren’t visible.
File Types Accepted
- Word (DOC or DOCX)
- HTML (ZIP, HTM, or HTML)
- MOBI (MOBI)
- ePub (EPUB)
- Rich Text Format (RTF)
- Plain Text (TXT)
- Adobe PDF (PDF)
KDP Select or not to KDP Select that is a burning question right now and I’m not going to go into the choices, just very briefly bullet point the program for the uninitiated.
- If you opt into Select you are exclusively publishing THAT title with Amazon only
- You sign up for a 90 day commitment that auto renews at the end
- You are allowed up to 5 free promo days in the 90 day period to boost visibility (sometimes it works)
- Depending on the price point of your title you can do Kindle Countdown Deals
- You are offering your book for BOROWING/LENDING to Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited customers.
NOTE: if you decide to go with KDP Select I would recommend not using DRM, that way tech savvy folks will be able to buy/borrow your book from Amazon and load it on their non-kindle device. And don’t worry, pirates already know how to strip the DRM out.
It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 days for your book to go live!
- Link to KDP
- Link to KDP Select info
- Link to KDP Support and how to. It’s a great resource for getting your books on Amazon.
Barnes & Noble/Nook Press
I direct publish on Barnes & Noble with the exception of INK: Fine Lines (Book 1). That title is through Smashwords because I wanted it to be permafree. Barnes & Noble has a pricing threshold of 0.99.
The set up is pretty typical. If you upload a clean epub in MOST cases your book goes live in about an hour. This has been my experience. But I have heard I am the exception to the rule. Their author support is pretty well nonexistent. I’ve not experienced this, but it’s the consensus.
Other than the support issue, it’s pretty cut and dry.
Apple iTunes Connect
I do not publish direct with iTunes since I don’t have a Mac. It took me a few days to figure this out, so you are welcome. They have an application called iTunes Producer. This requires OS X 10.8 or later. But the good news is that if you are in the market for a Mac and sign up as a vendor you will get some discounts through their purchasing program. The information is in the dashboard of iTunes Connect.
Itunes accepts epub. Again make sure it is properly coded. Your formatter should be able to provide you with an itunes specific document.
iTunes support information (This is a pdf)
Like all of the vendors the step by step is pretty simple and easy to understand. The one weird thing for me was I was confused on the pricing section. Then I realized I was making it over complicated. So take your time the first time out and it will go just fine.
Kobo you CAN set a book to free, there is no pricing threshold. I direct publish to Kobo. They require an epub.
From time to time the dashboard has said there’s no cover to display. Check the product page and most times you will find that there is a cover, the back end was just confused.
After upload your book is typically live in an hour or two.
Google Play Books
There is an entire blog post dedicated to Google Play Books. You can read that post here. If you want to just jump right in, here are the links:
The Aggregator (Digital Book Distributors)
An aggregator is basically a distributor. You have the option of uploading your book to one place and have them publish to most of the other ebook vendors. It’s a one stop shop.
Aggregators that I’m aware of are Bookbaby and Draft2Digital. I know there are more, I just haven’t heard much about them. Things to look out for, low royalties, poor support, and I would never use a distributor/aggregator that charged you to give your book away!
I use Smashwords as my aggregator. I chose them for several reasons but the top reasons were the favorable royalties, no annual fees, flexibility in promotions and allowing coupon codes. Yeah, I’m that easy!
Vendors Smashwords Distributes:
- Apple iTunes
- Baker-Taylor Axis360
- Baker & Taylor Blio
- Page Foundry
- Library Direct
You may pick and choose which vendors to be distributed to. There is an opt in/out section in the “Channel Manager” of your dashboard.
So why doesn’t everyone just do that? As discussed earlier I think there are important business relationships that can be courted through direct publishing. I could be wrong about that.
The royalties when you direct publish are higher. More control to contact the support department of the vendor rather than wait for the person at Smashwords to get your ticket, then they contact the vendor, then the vendor contacts Smashwords, then Smashwords contacts you. It could end up like a bad game of operator and I don’t have time for that.
Pre-orders and getting your content ready before the release date. This is pretty cool! I like to have everything ready to go as much before launch as possible. Amazon has invited some authors beta test pre-orders. Smashwords lets everyone participate in setting their release date. For more information on that click here.
Mark Coker, the president of Smashwords is very active in the indie community and I respect that! They are also working on their analytics which were previously horrid. So it’s nice to see a good amount of improvement in that area.
A few words of warning. The process of setting up titles is a little bit cumbersome. It isn’t as bad as Google Play, but it could be a little easier. You also have to make sure that your document is good for the Smashwords Premium Catalog if you are going to have them distribute to their partners. For this, as mentioned, upload a properly formatted .doc.
I’ve seen small presses and indie authors selling ebooks on their website. What a nightmare! In most cases it’s a huge time or money suck getting it set up. And then let’s not forget, you are the tech support for all of the people that usually only have to one-click and like magic the book appears on their device. Really, don’t do this to yourself, trust me on this one.
This blog post could have been a full size novel. It was hard sticking to the hard facts in respect to how to best prepare for taking your book to market. A slew of other blog posts came to mind such as what should go in your epub and epub formatting, pricing, choosing categories, choosing keywords, etc.
It doesn’t matter whether you decide to publish through an aggregator, only through Amazon, or direct publish with everyone as long as you are getting your work out there! Read articles on other blogs, stay abreast of industry changes that could affect how you proceed with your strategy. The information is out there, listen and talk with other indies who are sharing the same experience as you are. It’s a community and I know that Indies Have Heart!
If you have anything to add or you think I got it wrong, don’t hesitate to let me know! Also, if you ever have questions or issues getting going, don’t hesitate to contact me via Facebook. I’m always happy to help.