Elizabeth: Self-Publishing 101 – Platforms

publish_buttonKids are heading back to school, the leaves are starting to turn, and the local craft store has their shelves stocked for Christmas – obviously summer is drawing to a close.  Guess that means it’s time to put away those vacation pictures and get back to our discussion of self-publishing.

We’ve already talked about designing a cover, defining taglines and concepts, and the importance of editing.  We also got some good firsthand self-publishing knowledge over the past few weeks from Molly Jameson and author/editor Nan Reinhart.  Now it’s time to turn our attention to how to choose the appropriate self-publishing platform.

What is a self-publishing platform?

In the simplest terms, a self-publishing platform is a set of tools/services that allows you to get your book into the hands of readers in either physical or electronic format.  Kind of like cars, they can be basic bare-bones offerings or can include all sorts of bells-and-whistles.

When deciding which platform is right for you and your book, consider what you want to do yourself and what you are willing to pay someone else to do.  Here is a sample of the type of services offered by self-publishing platforms:

  • Cover design, book layout, and formatting
  • Conversion of word processing files into ebook formatted files (i.e., ePub)
  • Editing and proofreading
  • International Standard Book Number (ISBN) assignment
  • Access to distribution channels
  • Sales and shipping
  • Print-on-demand
  • Marketing
  • Post-sale tracking and metrics

Things to consider when choosing a platform/service

Finding the platform that’s right for you can be a challenging process and requires some research.  One of the best ways to start is to reach out to authors you know who have recently gone through the self-publishing process.  They can tell you what did and did not work for them and help you learn from their (possible) mistakes.  If you don’t know any self-published authors personally, many writing groups like RWA provide self-publishing resources and discussion threads.  Googling “self publishing platforms” is also a good way to get started.

Once you have a list of potential self-publishing platforms, the next step is to take a closer look at their offerings and identify the pros and cons of each.  When evaluating a potential platform, here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • Is there an upfront charge for their services or do they take a percentage of your sales
  • Can you select only the services you need or are they only offered as a bundle
  • What level of support is offered, both before and after your book is published
  • How difficult is it to make revisions to your book once it is published
  • Do they offer print or only electronic book publishing
  • Is the platform exclusive or can you publish your book on other platforms as well
  • How difficult would it be to move to a different platform at a later date
  • Where would your book be available (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your own website, etc.)
  • Are there limits regarding how you can price your book
  • How do you receive payments from your sales
  • Do they offer any marketing or promotional support

While this list is by no means exclusive, it should help get you started.

So, what platforms are out there?

There are a wide range of platforms available and the self-publishing landscape is constantly changing.  Bookrunch has a good summary of 20 platforms and this post by Bailey Richert provides details about the Amazon’s self-publishing platforms.  We’ll be talking more about specific platforms later, but for now, here are a few of the more well-known platforms:

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Amazon’s KDP lets you publish a traditional text-based book (as opposed to a graphic intensive book) electronically for the Kindle eReader, from anywhere in the world.  Once your book is formatted and ready to go, publishing takes less than 5 minutes and your book can appear in Kindle stores worldwide in less than 48 hours.  Authors can set their own prices and make changes to their books at any time.  You can see videos here from romance writers (like Bella Andre) who have published via KDP.

Kobo,  iBooks (iTunes),  and Nook (Barnes & Noble) similarly allow you to publish electronically to their specific ebook retailer.  To distribute (list) your book at multiple retailers there are services like Draft2Digital.


CreateSpace, which is owned by Amazon, lets you publish paperback books for free, for distribution on Amazon.  Distribution via other channels, like Barnes & Noble, is available for a fee.  It offers free tools for formatting and cover-creating, as well as paid professional services for design, editing, and marketing.  The process for paperback publishing is a little more difficult than the electronic KDP publishing, because you need to consider additional things like print dimension, spacing, book spine, etc.


Smashwords is a self-service ebook distribution platform that has been around since 2008.  The no-frills service converts Microsoft Word files into multiple e-book formats for distribution to most of the major retailers, including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and smaller retailers.  Smashwords earns its money selling books to readers, rather than selling services to authors.

So, what self-publishing platforms are you familiar with?  Feel free to post any insights you have, along with any questions to add to our platform-evaluation-list in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Self-Publishing 101 – Platforms

  1. Only peripherally on-topic, but my first thought when I looked at the services offered was “Proofreading? That’s still a thing? I wonder if big publishing houses could use their services?”

    On a more serious note, how does CreateSpace make their money, if the paperback publishing service is free?

    • The services that let you publish for free (either electronically or physically) typically make their money on the book-sale side of the equation, taking a percentage of each sale.

      And yes proofreading is still a thing, though you wouldn’t necessarily know that from what is sometimes published.

    • LOL, I wonder if part of that (lack of proofreading) is a function of age, Scott. I catch a lot of things that I wouldn’t catch at 25 (if the average age of an idealistic copy editor is 25 . . . ), so I feel like writing and proofreading has gotten worse. Maybe it has — many editors say that their new staff got significantly worse on a certain date (I think it was mid-80s; wish I could remember where I read that tidbit). But also, we’ve gotten better (-:.

  2. Thanks, Elizabeth! I find the list very good to have. I didn’t even have ISBN on my radar. Distribution is a huge hurdle for “self-“publishing, at least I see it that way. Well, the “making it known that something is available for distribution” part of it.

    • I’m with you on the ISBN, Michaeline. I had no idea how they worked or how to get one. Now it’s one more thing on the list.

      • ISBNs are internationally recognized, but they’re sold by one authorized vendor per country. I’m pretty sure it’s Nielsen in the UK, and I think Bowker in the US. You can buy one, or a bundle, but as with all things the pricing gets significantly cheaper if you invest in a bundle. They’re non-transferable so you can not pick one up second-hand 😉 .

        As I understand it, you don’t need an ISBN to publish digitally, though you can use one if you wish. You do need one to publish a dead tree book. Bookstores and libraries use them for tracking (and bookstores for returns). You can get one for ‘free’ (included in the bundle) if you use Createspace, say, but then the ISBN legally belongs to Createspace and you can only use that version of the book, with that ISBN, on their platform (Amazon).

        So traditionally published books always have an ISBN. Some indie authors publish digitally without one. Some use the ‘free’ ones offered by formatters and others buy their own. Some use more than one per title – one for digital and one for physical, or even breaking it down further. It’s definitely one more thing for the list!

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