Advice on self-publishing, Part 6: Review of sites that format and sell your ebooks

Okay, so here’s part 6 of my Advice on Self-Publishing series.

Previous posts in this series: Part 1: Write the book | Part 2: Beta reading and editing | Part 3: Turning your manuscript into an ebook | Part 4: Cover art | Part 5: Deploying the book for sale

This post, since it’s waking up the series after a long hiatus, will be reviewing my experiences with the various services available for formatting and/or selling your ebook for you.

When I originally started these posts, I was deploying Faerie Blood out for sale on Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo, and Google Play. I am still working with this set of sites, but it’s important to note that I have chosen to condense how I work with them. I’m now using Smashwords to deploy in turn out to B&N and iBooks. More on this below.

This post is long, so I’m putting it behind a fold!

Amazon

There really hasn’t been much change here since 2013–love ’em or hate ’em, you have to work with Amazon if you want to self-pub. Period. The vast majority of my sales remain Amazon sales. And a notable number of the indie and hybrid authors I know elect to publish exclusively out to Amazon.

Whether you should do that is a legitimate question. If you choose to go with KDP Select, Amazon will give you some promotional tools you wouldn’t otherwise get, such as Kindle Countdowns and the ability to set your book to be free for certain time periods if you so desire. It also gets you the ability to get your title into the Kindle Unlimited service.

(Although, fair warning: KU’s payment system is problematic to say the least. If you want to consider Kindle Unlimited, you should pay very, VERY close attention to how it works. Some places you can begin reading about it are The Digital Reader, Chuck Wendig’s post on the matter, and John Scalzi’s post on the matter.)

Should you go through Amazon directly, or through an aggregator? Up to you. However, of the three aggregation services of which I’m currently aware (Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and BookBaby), only BookBaby actually deploys to Amazon. Personally, I vote for just going ahead and working with Amazon directly. That’ll get you best and fastest access to your sales numbers, and I will say this: Amazon HAS been very reliable on getting my payments to me.

Also of note: if you’re not tech-savvy about formatting, Amazon will take a variety of formats for conversion to Kindle format, as covered in their Help article on Supported Formats.

Barnes & Noble

Barnes and Noble has historically been my second-best site for sales. However, I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with them, partly due to their abysmal support record for Mac users and for their web site. But earlier this year the news broke that they’d started partnering with Author Solutions, who has a terrible reputation in the writing community. Since then, I have taken Faerie Blood and Bone Walker off of direct sale there, and am deploying to them via Smashwords instead.

My recommendation: if you want your book on the Nook ecosystem, pick the aggregator that annoys you the least, and deploy via them.

iBooks

To date I have had very scanty luck with sales on the iBooks system, which made me decide that the headache-inducing process of getting a book deployed for sale there is not worth it to me. Their author portal is insanely and unnecessarily complicated, and so is the process of preparing an epub file for deployment with them. Moreover, if you want to go through those hoops, last I knew, you also have to be a Mac user–they don’t support deployment from PCs or Linux boxes.

I have therefore elected to deploy to the iBooks ecosystem via Smashwords.

Smashwords

Speaking of Smashwords: I’ve been generally mostly okay with them. Their “Meatgrinder” process is notorious for being difficult to slog through, it’s true. But the good news is, they’ve actually finally deployed the ability to put your own EPUB file on their site–which is what I’ve done for Bone Walker and “The Blood of the Land”. The ability to create a bunch of other formats via Meatgrinder is nice in theory, but in actual practice, my sales have been small enough on Smashwords to not make those other formats worth considering.

One lingering problem with Smashwords that might be a deal-breaker for you, though: their options for payment are ONLY a) paper checks, and b) Paypal. And their threshold you have to clear for amassed royalties before they’ll send you a check is way higher ($75) than the one for Paypal ($10). If you have issues with Paypal and how they do business, you should be aware of this.

On the other hand, I DO like Smashword’s ability to let you set a book as “reader sets price” on direct Smashwords sales if you want. That’s an idea I’ve seen used to good effect on Bandcamp, and it’s nice to have it available here.

Kobo

My experience with Kobo has been unfortunately disappointing. I want to like Writing Life as a platform–I mean, a lot of my personal ebook purchases are in fact via Kobo, just because I really like how they’ve set up partnerships with indie bookstores.

But my sales on Kobo have been frankly… subpar. The issues I’ve had with them so far are 1) there’s no easy way to change the email address associated with your account; 2) their threshold for when they pay you is very high, so if your sales are scanty with them, it’ll be a long time before you see any actual money; 3) while iBooks and Google Play go the route of making their UI for writers too complex, Kobo’s is almost too simple. It doesn’t give me data I want to get at in ways I want to get at it.

Also, I tried to set up Smashwords to deploy to Kobo, except for some reason, I could not get it to pass the Smashwords copy of Faerie Blood over to Kobo’s systems. So right now I’m still on Kobo directly, but this is likely to change just because I make sales so seldom there that it’s not worth it to me to log into the interface and never see any numbers changing. If you sell better than I do, your mileage may vary.

Google Play

Like iBooks, I’ve found Google Play’s process of getting books live on their system ridiculously complicated. Their turnaround time for getting titles live is laggardly compared to other systems. Their mechanisms for setting up pricing and verification that you’re actually deploying to your desired markets are hard to follow. And I really, really dislike that if I want to check my recent numbers with them, they make me actually generate and download a file, rather than just showing me the data on a web page as every single other site I’ve worked with does.

Also, I have had recurring issues with them losing track of my tax information that I set up with them so they could actually pay me for what few sales I’ve had with them. I’ve gone a few rounds with their tech support people on this, and I’m pretty sure their system got confused and thought that “Low Orbit Publications” was associated with me tax-wise. It’s not. It’s associated with Dara. Either that, or their system is choking on the apostrophe on “Korra’ti”. I don’t know which yet, and I’m keeping an eye out for further iterations of this problem. If it happens again, I’m likely to pull my books off of their system just because this kind of hassle isn’t worth the few sales I have with them so far.

However, if you want to get your stuff to Android users, Google Play is probably your best bet. So you’ll have to decide whether their system is worth it to you to tackle.

Other Systems

Draft2Digital

Draft2Digital has come across my radar as a rival for Smashwords, and I’ve heard some good things about their system from authors who have used it. One of their selling points is that they do not expect you to conform to a style guide–which is a direct shot across Smashword’s bow, although now perhaps out of date now that Smashwords actually lets you upload your own finished EPUBs.

For my money, D2D’s better argument is that they aren’t limited to Paypal (or check) for how to pay you. They can also pay you by direct deposit if you so desire.

Note though that they will not get you onto either Amazon or Google Play right now, according to their FAQ. So if going through an aggregator to get onto those systems is important to you, you might keep an eye on that and see if this situation changes. Interestingly, though, they will deploy you to CreateSpace if you want to print your book.

BookBaby

BookBaby is the other aggregator about which I know anything at all, and then only because I looked at them since they’re run by the same people who do CDBaby. Dara works with CDBaby to deploy her music, and hasn’t had any complaints. So that by itself is an argument in its favor. Last I checked, BookBaby also provides ability to print your book, as well as an array of other services that you can purchase from them or not as fits your needs (such as editing, cover art, design, etc.).

CreateSpace

Pretty much every indie author I know via NIWA or the Here Be Magic loop does their printing via CreateSpace. Which, okay, yeah, Amazon. So if you have any issues with dealing with Amazon, you will need to decide whether the vexation of dealing with them outweighs the simple fact that they do have this whole “help you prepare and sell a book in print or digital” thing down to a science. And I’ll say one thing for CreateSpace that I don’t currently have in my favor doing my printing via espresso book machine: at least on CreateSpace, you get an easy way to point people online at somewhere to order a print copy of your book.

Lulu

Lulu is the last site I can think of off the top of my head that provides you a full array of self-publishing services, and I’ve even actually bought a title from them a time or two. That said, I’m not actually currently aware of any authors in my circles that are working with them, and I have this (currently unsubstantiated) idea that they’ve gotten kind of dodgy. A quick google of “review of lulu self publishing” gets me a bunch of posts, but they’re all more than a couple of years old.

And a quick scan of their site and some of the prominent high prices on it suggests to me that you can do better and cheaper if you judiciously shop around.

(If anyone reading this does actually have recent experience with using Lulu and can offer actual data on what they’re currently like, drop me a comment!)

Scribd and Oyster

Kindle Unlimited is not the only player in the ebook subscription service game right now. The other two I’m immediately aware of are Scribd and Oyster, both of which I’ve heard getting some traction in the romance world. (Sources for this being Smart Bitches and Dear Author, via posts on both sites and also via their joint podcast.)

Scribd in particular has been making a push to get its act together and attract major publishers to deploying content to them. Harlequin’s on board, which is why you can find Valor of the Healer there.

Right now, though, my current data says that if you want to deploy to those services, your best bet for doing so is via an aggregator that will talk to them. I’m not currently versed on whether you can deploy to them directly.

Long Story Short (As It Were)

You do still have a bunch of options as to which services to work with for self-publishing your book. Depending on how much work you actually want to put into it, you should basically decide which of these are most important to you: ease of use, what kind of data each site will let you get at, how fast they will pay you and via what means, whether they will help you get onto sites you don’t have access to, and what your options are for printing with them if you want to do so.

At minimum, I’d say work directly with Amazon. If you want to get onto other sites as well, decide whether you also want to work with those sites directly (which, granted, will give you best and closest control over your interactions with them), or whether you are okay with going through aggregators to deploy to them.

Of the sites I’ve worked with to date, I’ve found Amazon’s easiest and most reliable to work with, honestly. Even if, well, Amazon. Of the non-Amazon sites, Smashword’s currently my second favorite just because of the “Reader Sets Price” thing and because they finally did actually set up letting you deploy your own EPUB. In descending order for the rest, it’s B&N, Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play.

How About You?

If you’re an indie writer with experience with these various systems to share, drop a comment and let me know your recommendations!

Posted by

Author of the Free Court of Seattle series as Angela Korra'ti, and of the Rebels of Adalonia series as Angela Highland. Geek, fangirl, musician, and raving admirer of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music. Also a.k.a. Anna the Piper!

12 thoughts on “Advice on self-publishing, Part 6: Review of sites that format and sell your ebooks

  1. I used to deploy direct to Nook, but now I use D2D to save me a step. I had 1 book on Smashwords, because of the difficulty I had getting there. I’ve since taken it off when other venues became available. BTW, D2D gets you on Kobo, as well as iTunes, Scribd, and Oyster. Plus an Italian book site Tolino, where I’ve made some decent sales.

    I would love it if D2D worked out a deal with Google. But that looks to be a long way down the pipe since Google has the propensity to discount books at their discretion, which mucks up the price at Amazon when Am gets wind of the price change.

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    1. Someone else I know mentioned the “random google discount completely mucking up prices” thing recently as the reason they won’t put their books on Google Play. I can’t say I blame them. It would be really nice if Google or Amazon (or both) had a checkbox that was “don’t sell my book for any price other than the one I set” to stop that kind of behavior. :/

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  2. I was going to log in to comment via my twitter account, but it requires permission to post to my account to do so. 😦

    Anyhow, a friend of mine just released her first book and I helped her run this gauntlet. She was already really skittish about dealing with the ‘business’ side of things, so was looking for the path of least resistance for actually getting things out there (but not completely compromising quality in the process).

    What she ended up doing was to work with Amazon directly (and throw a completed kindle file at them) for kindle stuff, CreateSpace (and completed pdf) for print, and throw an epub at draft2digital for everything else (which in this case was iBooks, Nook, and Kobo).

    This worked out pretty well; Amazon is pretty easy to work with, and having the direct control there is nice. draft2digital was almost a non-event, except for one minor problem with the epub that made Apple initially kick it back, but that was easy to fix.

    FWIW, I’m not sure that you actually need a mac to publish to directly to iBooks, but I’m not sure (I should find out). You *can* give your epub to someone like draft2digital and have it posted to iBooks that way, so not having a mac shouldn’t get in the way of most people regardless.

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    1. I did look into it; if you want to get onto iBooks directly, you have to use the iTunesConnect software they provide, and there is no Windows version. So you have to have a Mac, or access to someone else’s.

      So yeah, if you want on iBooks, you should probably go in through an aggregator to get there. Even if you’re a Mac user, the iTunesConnect software is stupidly complicated, and Apple will bitch at you in several hard-to-parse ways if your EPUB isn’t exactly right.

      (This is why I started throwing my own EPUBs through a validator to make sure they’re problem-free before I throw them up on Smashwords, and by extension, to Apple.)

      Thanks for sharing your experiences on your author friend’s behalf, particularly working with Draft2Digital! This is good data to have and to share with others.

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  3. My experiences are very similar to yours except that I’ve (knocks wood) never had trouble deploying to Kobo through Smashwords, and I’ve never deployed directly to anyone but Amazon (I let Smashwords deal with everyone else). The *vast* majority of my sales come through Amazon. GooglePlay’s interface intimidated me to the point where I gave up before I ever got a book onto it. And I don’t know if you’d read about how Scribd’s been dropping romance titles in bulk because they’re losing money on them (I tried to paste a link to a relevant article, but my paste button’s not working in this comment box — if you google “scribd romance” you’ll get relevant articles, though, and I know DA or SBTB posted about it).

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    1. Yeah, I’ve seen the recent rumblings about Scribd backing off of romance–though FWIW, Valor of the Healer is still up there. But it’ll be interesting to see if Valor actually stays there. It’s not like I’m one of Carina’s bestsellers!

      Apparently the power readers in the romance genre–and there are a lot of them–completely skew an ebook subscription service’s business model. From what I’d read (and I THINK it was on Dear Author that I saw this), they only really make money on the sorts of readers that only read a book or two a month. As opposed to readers like, say, me, who can plow through 75-100 books a year.

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