You might be surprised to learn that Amazon is not the only way that an indie author can distribute a book to the world.
There are several options, and several distributors, each with its own set of complications and advantages. I spent weeks gathering all the possibilities, studying the online interfaces, reading their documentation, reading opinions by other writer/publishers, listing advantages and pitfalls. I also published some books for other writers using their strategies.
Finally, I decided upon my favorite strategy. You might do the same research and arrive at a different conclusion. You might also have a different goal. I will share with you what I believe is the best approach for a self publisher, like myself, who wants to make a living writing books.
Preparation and Marketing
Have you written a book that is ready to publish? Perhaps you would rather not wait for rejection letters or being forced to share profits with a publisher. Self publishing could be just right for you.
If your book is submitted and accepted by a traditional publishing company, you assume that they will do the marketing for you. Well, if your book is lucky enough to strike a sweet chord in the market, they will spend more time on marketing that book. If not, your book will just become part of another catalog. In that case, you will end up doing most of the marketing yourself anyway, if you want to succeed.
Self publishing makes you available to readers, but it does not let them know you exist. To gain visibility in the marketplace, polish your work, and build an audience, you’ll need additional skills. I work with an editor. I am skilled at word processing, book layout design and cover design, and I know how to do contemporary marketing. I can handle the preparation for submission, and I will proactively do marketing and networking to sell books. You might want to hire someone with experience to help you with these tasks.
Today, you can self publish a book in any of three formats: printed, ebook, audiobook. It is worth the effort to produce and release a book in all three formats. Printed books are still extremely popular, ebooks have a huge and growing market, and audiobook sales grew by 21 percent last year. Since I plan to put a lot of effort into marketing, and my goal is to make a living as a writer, I want to be available everywhere in all formats.
There are many distribution platforms and online book stores available to me for self publishing my book in any format. You may know a few, such as iBooks by Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Baker & Taylor, Google Play, Amazon. The primary distribution outlets for audio books include Audio Republic from Great Britain, and Audible, owned by Amazon. Audiobooks are a separate market with different outlets and aggregators. For now, let’s just talk about printed books and ebooks.
A book distribution aggregator is a company who will, when I follow their procedures, accept my manuscript and cover design, turn it into a printed book and an ebook, then enter it in nearly all major book catalogs and online distribution outlets in the world. When someone buys my book from any of these catalogs, the aggregator will print it, and deliver it to the customer, collect all the royalties and pass them along directly to my own bank account. I will enjoy having only one managing account and one revenue stream covering many distribution outlets, and I do not share royalties with any middle man, like a publisher. I am the publisher.
Founded in 2011, BookBaby.com has a comprehensive aggregator service that will submit my book to all the major outlets. In 1997, a service owned by Ingram called Lightning Source became the preferred online catalog for business to business relationships between publishers and bookstores, but it was not available directly to authors. Last year, 2015, the same company launched a service called IngramSpark that will compete directly with BookBaby, also serving self publishers with a fairly well designed online interface for book submission, and a lower cost for submission than BookBaby.
BookBaby, for a fee, will edit, cover design, and convert my book to ebook formats. IngramSpark expects me to have hired someone to do all this before I submit my book to IngramSpark. In either case, unless I do it all myself, I can expect to spend between $1,000 and $3,000 for the professional preparation chores. The price will depend upon how long my book is, the level of quality I expect, and how much work my manuscript really needs.
If I have completed all the preparation, I can publish a book on Ingram in print and ebook format for about $75, including the ISBN. At BookBaby, it is a minimum of about $425, and the price goes up depending upon how much preparation I already did myself. The best idea is to submit my book in PDF for print versions, and EPUB for ebooks and Amazon/Createspace. Ingram includes my book on nearly all the same distribution venues as BookBaby. BookBaby will put me on the Ingram catalog too.
Amazon/Createspace is not an aggregator. They sell printed books and ebooks directly from Amazon.com. The consensus is that if I want my book to be warmly welcomed at brick and mortar bookstores, I may want to avoid publishing it in print form on Amazon/Createspace. Most bookstores hold Amazon responsible for damaging their business, and even when there is a wholesale discount, they will not order from Amazon. Bookstores, such as Powell’s in Oregon, will order from Ingram because they have had a relationship for several years through Ingram’s Lightning Source.
However, if I skip Amazon, I am missing out on an enormous online marketplace. If my book is available on Ingram, and it is selling fairly well overall, I am hoping that the bookstores will want it anyway, since they stand to benefit from stocking the book. It is a risk I will take because sales at bookstores is certainly not the bulk of where books are bought by readers. Readers worldwide mostly buy online these days. Getting into a bookstore is more of a source of pride and an additional source of physical promotion through book signings and getting on shelves.
I have read a lot about pricing and royalty and shipping comparisons between BookBaby, Ingram and Amazon. Each are only slightly different and the comparisons are not particularly useful to making a decision. Since it became clear that the royalties are very similar in all three platforms, and I need to simplify my business operations, I decided that comprehensive distribution objectives are more important than the financial minutia. I need to sell in high numbers to make any appreciable revenue.
BookBaby and IngramSparks and Amazon become the print-on-demand (POD) printers and ship the orders directly to readers and bookstores. Their ongoing profit is built into the printing cost. Amazon/CreateSpace also prints and ships their own titles too, but when you add Amazon to your aggregator list, the aggregator will be the printer and shipper.
I am going to wait until I have a printed copy of my book to send to the copyright office at the Library of Congress before I apply for my official copyright. My rights are sufficiently protected after a copy is printed and bound with the copyright message on page one. Copyright submission in 2016 costs about $87. The copyright office website has a thorough tutorial for submission, but it is a big chore. If I wish, I can use Bowker’s copyright application service that makes the job easier, but will cost closer to $135 for a submission. Here are the links to both choices.
My book will need an ISBN number. BookBaby and Ingram and Amazon all offer to acquire an ISBN for me during the submission process. All have an agreement with the one company who issues ISBN numbers in the United States. This company is Bowker. When I acquire my ISBN through Ingram, BookBaby or Amazon, then these companies are listed as the publisher of record in the ISBN. That won’t matter if I stick with these services indefinitely. If I want to be the publisher on the ISBN, I would have to buy the ISBN directly from Bowker, then enter the ISBN in the submission form for the aggregator. It is critical that I do not create two separate ISBN numbers for the same book. That is the kiss of death in the catalogs.
Bowker ISBN | https://www.myidentifiers.com/
I will publish using IngramSparks. It will cost a little less, bookstores might be more inclined to order my book, it will be available on all the major distribution platforms, and I can handle the level of expertise it requires to complete the preparation, submission and marketing.
Becoming a successful self published writer is a lot of work, even after the manuscript is complete. Companies like IngramSpark and BookBaby are trying to make self publishing easier and more consolidated. Perhaps my strategy will work for you.