So you’ve written your book and have decided to self-publish. Congrats! Now comes the hard decision of how to publish your book. While self-publishing ultimately gives you more control over things like the content of your book or the design of your book cover, this also means that you are responsible for distributing and marketing your book.
There are many different platforms available to individuals looking to self-publish. However, not all distribution platforms are made equal. Before you choose which platform is the right one for you, you should first determine your top priorities. Do you want your book to be available in digital, print, or both? Are you looking for a platform that will help you market your book? Is your top objective keeping the most revenue possible? Because the market is so heavily saturated with options, determining your priorities will help narrow down which platforms best fit your objectives.
You’ll also want to determine if you want to do the distribution work yourself or work with an aggregator. An aggregator is a site that hosts your book and distributes it to the proper retail channels for you. Why use an aggregator? It will save you time. Rather than having to upload your book and host it on the various retail channels yourself, an aggregator will do the work for you. However, aggregators typically charge a fee for hosting your books. This means not only will the retailer selling your book take a cut, the aggregator hosting your book will take a cut as well, which works out to a smaller royalty for you. However, if time is your most valuable commodity, you may be willing to take the smaller cut.
The good news is that we here at Three Houses Press took a look at the various options on the market and have broken them into a few choice categories for you to consider as you make your decision.
One of the fastest-growing self-publishing aggregators, Smashwords offers global retail and library distribution, access to metadata management tools, daily sales reporting from various retailers, and allows users to run pre-sales on their titles. One drawback to Smashwords is that they do not distribute to Amazon so if you want your book to be available there, you may need to upload separately to Amazon or consider a different aggregator. Smashwords takes a 10% cut on books sold through their site and 15% on books sold through their various retail partners. Note that Smashwords’ cut is in addition to the cut the retailer takes, so this does mean less revenue for you.
Smashwords’ biggest competitor, Draft2Digital offers many of the same services as Smashwords and their retail cut is the same. However, the biggest advantage of going through Draft2Digital over Smashwords is that Draft2Digital distributes to Amazon. The choice of aggregator should really come down to what you’re planning on utilizing their services for the most. Do you want to reach the most retailers possible through your aggregator or do you want to take advantage of the tools and reporting available the aggregator provides. Draft2Digital may distribute directly to Amazon, but Smashwords does have more reporting features.
BEST PLATFORMS FOR PRINT
Ingram is the world’s largest wholesaler of print books with access to over 40,000 different retailers. If your main goal is to be on bookshelves, IngramSpark is your best option. Additionally, IngramSpark provides more options to customize the look and feel of your book–30 trim sizes, two types of lamination, and 3 interior color options–that few competitors can match.
While Lulu doesn’t offer as many custom options as Ingram, this site still gives authors the ability to create highly customizable print books. Lulu also works to help authors get placement on retail shelves. In addition to giving authors the ability to customize their print publications and reach retail spaces, Lulu provides resources, guides, and even hosts links to other helpful sites for authors. While not as well established or connected as Ingram, Lulu offers many resources in one convenient place so authors don’t need to go looking for more.
BEST PLATFORMS FOR KEEPING YOUR MONEY
Apple is one of the largest retailers for digital books in the US, second only to Amazon. They also offer one of the most competitive royalty rates on the market: 70% fixed rate. In order to upload to iBooks, you must first have an iTunes Connect account. Once your account is live and your book has been added, Apple gives authors the ability to adjust their pricing in different countries and schedule promos/discounts whenever they want. Additionally, Apple does not require an exclusive distribution contract. However, in order to directly upload your book to iBooks, you must be a Mac user. If you’re not a Mac user, you’ll have to go through an aggregator to get your books distributed to iBooks, which will impact your royalty rate.
While Kobo only accounts for approximately 2% of digital book sales here in the US, this Canadian-based company has a larger market share in Canada. According to the 2019 article, “How e-reading company Kobo is fighting Amazon, Apple and Google for your time,” from the Financial Post, 25% of all books sold through Kobo in Canada came from their self-publishing platform. Not only does distributing your book through Kobo give you the opportunity to reach a wide audience around the globe, Kobo’s royalty rate ranges from 45-70% depending on the price of your book.
BEST PLATFORMS FOR MARKETING
There is a reason that Amazon is the dominant self-publishing platform on the market: they have the largest market share in the United States. While their interface isn’t much to look at, Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP offers resources beyond just adding your book to their site. However, it is important to note that Amazon is a digital jungle and it is easy for things to get lost on their site. Although Amazon offers many tools for marketing, promotion, and metadata, it takes a lot of work to ensure your book won’t get lost in the shuffle. One benefit to publishing through Amazon is their KDP Select program. KDP Select gives authors, “the opportunity to reach more readers and earn more money at no additional cost.” Authors who opt into KDP select will be included in the Kindle Unlimited program and your Kindle book will be eligible for a 70% royalty rate on sales in Brazil, Mexico, India, and Japan. However, KDP stipulates that Amazon must have exclusive digital distribution rights to the title for the select enrollment period of 90-days.
For $50 authors can submit their book to Reedsy Discovery for review. We’re going to set aside the ethical ramifications of paying $50 for a review of your book for a moment here and instead focus on the promotional benefits. Reedsy Discovery gives self-published authors who may not know where or how to promote their book a platform. As they say on their website, “Every book submitted for Discovery will get a unique landing page that you can use to market your book. So even if your title isn’t selected for review, you will still have a powerful sales tool in your arsenal.” While Reedsy Discovery doesn’t offer distribution, authors looking for ways to get their book out into the world and in front of readers, may want to take advantage of this option.
There are so many more options on the market that we couldn’t cover here today, but here are a few honorable mentions:
As you can tell from our Patreon page, we’re big fans of this platform. While it definitely requires more maintenance on your end, we love that we can interact directly with our patrons and customize our page for our needs.
This one is more heavily design-focused. So if you’re a graphic novelist or looking to publish an art book or cookbook, this is probably the site for you.
We hope this helped break down the market for you. Self-publishing takes a lot of work and effort. If you want to be successful, knowing where, how, and when to distribute your books is key. Good luck!