Don't Rip Your Hair Out While Self-Publishing

Self-publishing requires gazillion steps using half a gazillion different tools. Ripping out your hair in frustration at some of these steps will leave you bald at the end of your career. Fear not. One company has as its mission to save authors from this traction alopecia amazonia. No, not the Zon. In fact, the industry's 6,000-pound dinosaur does everything in its power to ensure that no writer can maintain a mane like Beethoven.

For starters, what looks like a giant bookstore in reality breaks down into two separate and disjoint channels —“Books” for print and “Kindle Store” for e-books. You can easily verify that the same search terms used in both do not produce the same results.

Worse, Amazon cobbled together disparate programs into the semblance of a platform: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Author Central (AC), CreateSpace/KDP Print, KDP Select, Kindle Unlimited, Amazon Advertising. Each has its own website, and one digital hand doesn't know what the other one does.

TIP Finding the right article across the different help systems can lose you more hair than publishing a single book. Instead, ask your question in Google Search, add “site:amazon.com” and you shall receive the best matches across all Amazon websites in one results list.

Even if you find the right tool for the job, clumsy procedures and quirky behavior will leave you bald in no time.

Save your hair by starting your book production with free publishing tools like Draft2Digital's (D2D) revamped platform to simplify creation of e-books, paperbacks, audiobooks, or sales pages.

Like Amazon, this aggregate publisher or aggregator can distribute the different versions (other than hardcover) of your books. The similarities end there. Unlike the KDP self-publishing platform with its proprietary MOBI format, author-friendly D2D doesn't lock you in. In fact, you can avail yourself of their tools whether you publish with them or not. You get to keep your e-books in both MOBI and EPUB (used by every other vendor) and the PDF of the print book. Take them to whomever you like.

Or distribute through D2D to various retailers the world over, including Amazon, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble. Let them deal with differing guidelines for each website.

  1. Zon Defense

For the convenience, D2D does charge a commission of 10% of the retail price (about 15% of your royalties for most e-books). And since its print books always include the high wholesale discount for physical bookstores, your royalties will be considerably less than KDP Print selling through Amazon.

As far as KDP goes, D2D becomes the publisher of record. Your books will not show up on your KDP bookshelf. That has three important consequences.

  1. You cannot change the sales page from the KDP tools, so you can't customize it with elements specific to Amazon (see 6.5). Its author-marketing platform Author Central (AC) does allow editing the description for books that list you as author (see 12.3). In typical one hand doesn't know fashion (see above), that editor doesn't support the same formatting as KDP.

  2. You cannot enroll your e-book in KDP Select, Amazon's exclusivity program with its Kindle Countdown Deals (see 12.4), or the popular Kindle Unlimited (KU) flat-rate subscription service. A good portion of Amazon customers only read titles from KU.

  3. You cannot use Amazon Advertising (see 12.5) for those books.

Particularly new authors who most benefit from the visibility given by KDP Select and KU opt for the 90-day exclusivity initially. If the books get traction, they can always worry later about going wide (selling at other vendors).

TIP I based this guide on the KDP US sites. The Resources link to KDP US help pages, which usually match other English-speaking countries, but some features may differ.

    1. The D2D Experience

Here's the rub. Mixing platforms only works in one direction. For the Zon, exclusivity is a mindset. You can't move your work from KDP elsewhere. Its free International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) don't port. Its tools won't create an EPUB version.

TIP In the USA, a monopoly sells ISBNs. The number identifies its owner whom retailers consider the publisher even if you do most of the work. You can't take one company's ISBN to another one. Of course, you can republish that same book somewhere else with a different free ISBN. Since vendors consider it a different book, metadata, sales statistics, and reviews don't carry over. If you want the flexibility of moving a book from one platform to another or selling it on unsupported vendor sites (eg Google Play), get your own ISBN.

By starting the process at D2D, you can easily move the books to Amazon for an initial 90-day exclusive. If you go wide later, all the hooks will be in place and you'll have consistency among all stores (more on that later).

Most important, the company aims to take the headache out of publishing your book and managing it out in the wild. So they've created tools for the most common items needed and thrown in a few little surprise freebies to make their self-publishing platform easier to use than anything else out there.

Anybody who had to deal with an ongoing support issue that bounced from one rep to the next in a large organization will also appreciate much smaller D2D (around 20 employees). The same customer service rep usually answers follow-ups. Responses can come quickly. During the monthly Ask Us Anything on Facebook, the audience pointed out that the Universal Book Links (UBL) (see 12.1) didn't cover audiobooks. One month later, they did.

So why not go with someone who's Head & Shoulders above the rest? Your hair will thank you eternally.

    1. What about Other Companies?

Before we enter the barbershop of self-pub wonderland, let's make a courtesy visit to other hairdressers. A confusing array of offerings make comparisons hard. Printers differ. Distribution models diverge. Costs vary. Only a few offer Print on Demand (POD) paperbacks or hardcover books.

Nevertheless, many bloggers have weighed in. Spoiler alert: most like D2D.

Some people won't buy from Amazon. Other vendors dominate in different countries. Keep in mind, though, that distribution doesn't equal sales. Unless you're willing to market your books in a region, wider availability may not help your earnings.

Publishing the exact same book at two sources, resulting in a double listing, is an industry no-no. Publishing platforms generally won't accept a book with an ISBN already in use at another service. Besides, you'd have to do the setup work twice for little additional benefit. You can have a MOBI version through KDP and a separate EPUB through someone else.

Although D2D works with partners for additional services like editing, cover design, and marketing, they don't offer everything. For special needs, Table 2-1 gives a comparison to other choices.


Table ..2.- 1: Publishing Services Comparison


Commission

POD

Hardcover

E-book Themes

Editing, Design

Book-store

Draft2Digital

15%

v

X

v

partners

X

Smashwords

10%-15%

X

X

X


v

PublishDrive

flat fee

X

X

X


X

IngramSpark

varies

v

v

X

partners

X

Lulu

20%

v

v

X

fee

v

Bookbaby

varies

v

v

N/A

fee

v

Bublish

varies

v

v

v

fee

X

Smashwords

The original e-book aggregator with more distribution channels than D2D.

Successful conversion requires following a 170-page style guide.

PublishDrive

This aggregator offers extensive international distribution for e-books and advanced marketing features.

IngramSpark

The self-publishing arm of Ingram, one of the world's largest distributors and wholesalers of print books, offers the most comprehensive services including bulk orders.

Competitive e-book services, including free ISBNs and a WYSIWYG description editor.

Each book has fees for setup and maintenance. You can regularly find discounts, and IS waives the fees for members of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

Because of its complex worldwide distribution network, comparing costs becomes impossible. The fee schedule goes on for eight pages. In some markets, I had to set a minimum print price considerably above that at D2D.

Expects print-ready PDF for POD.

Has an option to return unsold books, a requirement for many physical bookstores.

Lulu

One of the oldest self-publishing companies that distributes to their own bookstore, retailers, and other distributors like Ingram.

Free e-book conversion tool requires a 32-page E-book Creation Guide.

Separate e-book and print publishing tools (like Amazon).

Offers xPress App for direct sales from your Shopify store with fulfillment by Lulu.

Bookbaby

Assisted self-publishing company that distributes to their own BookShop bookstore and other retailers.

No free tools.

Offers free e-commerce option for direct sales from your website.

Bublish

Assisted self-publishing company that converts an EPUB file into Book Bubbles for sharing to social media with built-in marketing tracking.

Offers online eBook Creator word processor for e-book creation.

Does channel marketing through Amazon or Facebook ads, email to bookstores & libraries.

Gumroad

E-commerce platform that allows you to sell PDF, EPUB, MOBI or print books from one website.

Unbound

Crowdfunding publisher who goes through a traditional publishing process once a book meets its pledge target.

Inkshares

Goes through a traditional publishing process once a book meets its pre-order threshold.

Distributes through Ingram.

Comments