Self-Publishing Options

Once you’ve decided to self-publish, you will need to consider what options are available for you to do that. In part, this will be linked to what kind of book you intend to publish. 

The expected size will be one factor. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon KDP), the current clear market leader, offers sixteen different Trim Sizes (essentially, book size, or the size of the front cover) ranging from 5” x 8” (12.7 x 20.32 cm) up to 8.27” x 11.69” (21 x 29.7 cm). If you intend to publish a ‘coffee-table’ style book, such as a photographic essay on a particular topic or location, Amazon KDP may not be the service provider that will work for you.

For most fiction and non-fiction books, however, Amazon KDP just can’t be beaten. In fact, most of their competitors seem to have given up trying to better them and are now focusing on services that complement what Amazon has on offer.

And Amazon KDP really does what they do very well. Their service is very slick, it’s easy to deal with, it’s relatively inexpensive, and it offers good returns for authors as well as regular reports which are updated in real-time. 

There is no upfront cost for publishing with Amazon.

There is no establishment fee; they simply take a percentage of the royalties from any sales that occur through their distribution network. They offer the author somewhere between 35% and 70% of the royalties, depending upon the particular deal you opt for. 

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

It is, however, up to the author to format, check, edit and otherwise prepare their manuscript (or to get someone to do that for them). It is also up to the author to provide the cover artwork, although, once again, you may decide to engage someone to prepare that for you. Amazon does provide a manuscript template for whatever trim size you opt for. In my case, I was able to use their template to configure my manuscript’s print layout without the need for special software (I used Microsoft Word) or any third-party assistance.

With a print publication, or paperback (Amazon KDP does not offer a hardback option at this stage), Print-on-Demand means that, once published, a book is only printed when someone buys it from Amazon’s online sales pages, or when you as the author request a number of ‘author copies’, which are then supplied to you at the Print Cost plus postage.

As the final step before completing the initial publishing process, Amazon advises you what it will cost them per copy to print your book (the Print Cost). You then decide what price it will be sold at (the List Price). The royalties apply to the difference between the Print Cost and the List Price. If my book’s List Price is $24.99, for example, and the Print Cost is $6.45, then, if I have chosen the 60% royalty option (more about that in Step 9), my royalty for each paperback sold will be 60% of $18.54 — that is, a royalty of $11.12 per copy.

You can decide on a print edition, or an eBook, or both. Although the print and eBook editions require slightly different formats for both the cover and the manuscript, those formats are closely related. The print edition formats are slightly more complex, and so the usual path is for an author to prepare the files for a print edition first, and then modify the files so that they are suitable for the eBook publication as well.

Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

Significantly more eBooks are sold than are paperbacks, so the eBook option is virtually essential these days — but it is your choice. The profits (royalties) on an eBook are lower as the expectation from buyers is that an eBook will be sold at a significantly lower price than a paperback. In the case of eBooks, rather than estimate a Print Cost, Amazon estimates the cost of producing the eBook and distributing it to the buyer. This cost is deducted from your sale price (List Price) , and your royalty is based on a percentage of the resulting figure.

Along with a range of other useful services, Amazon provide you with an online reporting system and a ‘control panel’ (called the Bookshelf) to manage any changes to your book (which you can make at any time with no additional charge from Amazon) including, amongst other things, the cover artwork, the content or text, the keywords associated with it, and so on. You can view daily updates of your sales and royalty figures and make changes to the publications price at any time you feel is necessary.

There are, of course, other options than going with Amazon KDP. Many of these offer similar services to those offered by Amazon. None, to date, can match the full range of services offered by Amazon KDP, or their prices. 

More importantly, none can match Amazon’s domination of the online book sales market. Nearly 70% of all book sales go through them. For my money, unless you are planning a book size that sits outside of what Amazon KDP can deliver, they are the undisputed first-choice service provider for a self-publisher.

Does publishing with Amazon KDP limit your options?

Deciding to avail yourself of Amazon KDP’s services does not mean you should not also consider using some of the other providers which nicely complement what Amazon offer.

In terms of a print edition, there are good reasons to consider also publishing with IngramSpark. The latter offer far superior options than Amazon for ‘bricks and mortar’ bookstores which may want to stock your publication (more about this in Chapter 6). You will need a separate ISBN to upload your book through IngramSpark, but this is easily dealt with (more about ISBNs under Step 5 in Chapter 4).

In terms of eBooks, Amazon KDP is a very significant player, and its Kindle service is hugely popular. Once again, there is no need to make them your exclusive choice, however. Although there is a range of other eBook services, the two standouts in my view are Draft2Digital and Smashwords. 

Draft2Digital offers a very slick distribution service to all of the eBook retailers that don’t partner with Amazon. Like Amazon KDP, their service also has no upfront charges. They cover their costs by taking a percentage of the royalties on any of your sales through them. Apart from distributing to a wide number of retailers that Amazon doesn’t partner with, they also offer some very useful marketing tools that are not provided through Amazon. You will need a separate ISBN to upload your eBook to Draft2Digital (more about this in Chapter 6), but this is easily dealt with.

Smashwords, while not as slick as Draft2Digital, offer even further marketing tools. Once more, there are no upfront charges for publishing your eBook through them. Like Amazon KDP and Draft2Digital, they take a percentage of the royalties on any of your sales through them. And, once again, you will need a separate ISBN to upload your eBook to Smashwords.

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In the meantime, if you want to know more about self-publishing, and get some easy-to-follow advice on how to do it, why not have a look at my publication: Self-Publishing: A Step-by-Step Guide.

Click on this link if you want to access a list of all of my Writing Tips posts in one place.

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