Saturday, June 07, 2014

Best Places to Self-Publish 2014

This is an update to the original post from September 2012.

The original laptop.

Considering the rapid rate of change in the publishing industry in the past few years, I'm surprised I don't have more to add or revise. But, there are enough significant new services or changes worth mentioning in an update.

Print Books
CreateSpace is still my #1 choice. Please do not consider pretend self-publishing companies such as Author Solutions, Lulu, or any of the self-publishing divisions of traditional publishers, including Hay House. They charge too much for services and for the books. They do not exist to help you. Their purpose is to make serious profit off a new author's inexperience. Author David Gaughran has expressed this in far deeper detail in his many posts criticizing the predatory practices of these companies.

One of the great things that's come out of the the indie movement and downsizing of the legacy publishing houses is that many quality editors and designers are now working freelance and are available for hire. These independent professionals are committed to helping you put out the best possible product. Yes, they will charge for their services, but at least you can hire a team that works for you, not some corporate conglomerate that doesn't give a hoot about the quality of your book.

When I wrote the original post, I didn't include Lightning Source, because they were not open to working with independent authors. I was able to open an account there as a small publisher, but most indie authors were discouraged. Now they offer Ingram Spark, which is available to indies. Although my dealings are still with Lightning Source and I don't have personal experience with Ingram Spark, the company is the same and customer service stinks on every level. Note, I said service not support. They don't offer support, and their service (answering the phone, returning voicemail or email messages) is poor. Their prices to upload and make changes to your book are high, especially compared to CreateSpace, which is free.

That said, if you are located outside the United States and want to buy or ship books internationally, Lightning Source is a much better choice, cost-wise. For example, if you are a UK author who wants to buy your book at your author discount through CreateSpace, you will pay enormous shipping fees. (This does not apply to customer purchases made through the Amazon or other retailer sites, only to bulk author-discounted purchases delivered outside the US.) Lightning Source has plants and offices throughout Europe and Australia and thus shipping costs are tolerable. A good comparison of CS and LS/Ingram Spark was made very recently by author Giacomo Giammatteo, if you're interested. The one thing I disagree about is that I don't believe Lightning Source print quality is always better, and I have used both companies for the same title.

Ebooks
Since ebooks are the area of publishing with the most growth, it makes sense that this is the area of my previous post that needs the most updating!

Getting my books formatted for Kindle (mobi) and most other readers (epub ) is now my top priority. Once my manuscript is complete and edits are final, I format for the two types of files. Until recently, I outsourced the formatting, but as I added titles and needed updates, it became too costly. I bought Scrivener software, which is a word processing program specifically for writers, and the program enables me to do the formatting without learning any coding. I simply click a series of boxes that defines how I want the material output, and I have my files. It's a bit of learning curve, and at some point when I'm making more money from the books, I'll probably go back to having someone else do it. Bottom line is that time spent formatting my books takes away from writing time. Nonetheless, your decision will be based on your own needs and resources. I use and recommend Maureen Cutajar, if you wish to outsource this important step in the process.

I start by uploading the mobi file to Kindle (Amazon). I don't use the Select program, which requires exclusivity. The general consensus seems to be that the Select program isn't as effective for building sales as it used to be, at least not at the cost of lost sales on other sites, but many authors still tout its effectiveness. My take is that having my books in the most places where readers shop is preferable, but I encourage you to make your own decision.

Some authors establish individual accounts at Nook (Barnes & Noble), Kobo, and iTunes (Apple) and upload their epubs to each site individually. The benefits are being able to individualize the back matter and links to your other books for each site. I don't upload to the individual sites, although this may change for me at a later date. For now, I use a distributor for my epubs. This does decrease my profits, but not significantly to warrant the extra time I'd have to devote. (Once my writing provides sufficient income to afford an assistant, that's one thing I'll change!)

In the previous post, I recommended Smashwords as the distributor to convert and distribute to those retailers. Since then, I have starting using another service (not available in 2012), Draft to Digital (D2D). I love Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, for all he has done for indies, but I wish he'd pay as much attention to what is going on in his own backyard as he does to what's going on in the industry. Smashwords' sales reporting and customer service is dismal, and royalty payments are paid quarterly. The recent affiliations with Scribd and Oyster, etc. have been hotly debated, but I don't know enough to comment.

Both Smashwords and D2D will convert a properly formatted Word doc to ebook formats and provide how-to guides. I find this acceptable if you have no other choice, and only if you commit to learn how to prepare your Word doc for the best conversion results. Be sure to download and check the converted files before you authorize distribution to the retailers. Nothing is worse than a poorly formatted ebook, and your sales will suffer if your ebook doesn't look professional.

I haven't transferred all my books for distribution to D2D yet, but I'm going to over time. The sales reporting is much better, payment is faster, and they seem to get the books online at the various distributors more quickly. D2D is not a retailer, as Smashwords is, although I sell very few copies at the Smashwords store. I'll keep my Smashwords account and the books listed, but opt out of its distribution services. In other words, I'll use Smashwords as another retail outlet, rather than as a distributor of my work.  I'd recommend you research both companies and make your own decision.

Both Smashwords and D2D are free to use. There are other companies that will format and distribute your ebook for a fee, and I don't recommend them, much for the same reasons I don't recommend the POD companies that take advantage of new authors' inexperience and charge high fees for things the authors can do themselves or outsource for less money.

I haven't mentioned every place possible to upload and sell your ebooks, most notably Google Play, which I haven't used yet, but plan to in the near future. I'll update again once I have information to share.

As with most decisions, your goals will determine what's right for you. There's never one right way for everyone. The information about companies and individuals mentioned here are from my perspective and based on my experience. Your results/opinions/decisions may differ.

6 comments:

  1. My way of getting my books formatted for the various Ebook formats is much simpler. I go through Smashwords.com. They will format my .doc files into all the various formats FOR FREE, but the best part is by using them, your book gets listed on a number of Ebook sites automatically. If you want them as your publisher, they'll even provide a free ISBN. However, you can also purchase ISBN's for a very low fee, and they'll even do it against future sales, so you put up NO CASH up front. I agree with you on Createspace, for most types of books, but some, well you have to look elsewhere since they simply don't provide the kind of book printing and binding required for some, for instance library quality books, children's books... really anything other than a trade paperback. Lulu can do a great job at a good price for small runs, for larger runs you need to find what I call a "real" printer. Sometimes, it's quite satisfactory to build a relationship with a local printer. The savings in shipping costs alone could be substantial enough to make it worth paying a bit more. You can also work with them directly, and turn around times are usually better. Local printers are going to do well at smaller runs, generally speaking, maybe small runs of extra high quality versions as presentation grade pieces. Frankly tho, I often don't bother doing print at all. The last bastion of print books, the airport shops, is very difficult to get into, even if you're with Ingrams or anyone else.

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    1. Thanks for your comments! I agree with you that CS doesn't fill 100% of needs. Indeed, local printers can be a good alternative for POD under certain circumstances. D2D does everything that Smashwords does and offers better service (IMO). The best part about today's publishing industry is that we finally have choice on so many levels, from choosing our service providers to where and when we want to publish. Doesn't get much better than that!

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  2. Shelley, I was referred to your blog by an author friend, and I really enjoyed reading this article. I've had close to 20 books published thus far but in addition to my own writing, I've been working with small to midsize publishers, providing formatting and cover design work. Last summer I began expanded my services to work with Indie authors, and I've been walking them through the process of establishing accounts with CreateSpace (who is fabulous), amazon Kindle, and Smashwords. I've never worked with an author who wasn't happy with these three but I'll definitely be checking out D2D as well. I signed up to follow your blog, and I am looking forward to your future posts. Good job!

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  3. Thanks, P.M. Welcome! It's great that you're sharing what you have learned to new authors going through the process for the first time.

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  4. As always, Shelley, your articles are both insightful and honest. Thanks for sharing. I'm in the process of uploading files to the various outlets, and it's a nightmare of formatting inconsistencies. Even though I use an identical template for the same publisher, I run into one problem after another. By the time I figure out a workaround, I've forgotten what I did to correct the problem. This self-publishing isn't for the faint of heart, and I've been doing it for quite a few years now. :-)

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  5. Thanks, Stuart. Formatting and uploading is a detail-oriented task, and most writers do find it daunting at times. I find giving myself lots of time with frequent deep breathing helps ;-) Truth is, we'd all rather be writing!

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