Kids 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
- 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:
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.