A Checklist for Indie Authors – E-Book Retailers (Post 2)

To get my e-book into the hands of readers, I had decisions to make. Should I upload my book through a Distributor/Aggregator with bundled services for multiple retailers or load them directly onto the sites of individual retailers? If you have a number of titles from your backlist, this could seem daunting, but bear with me. Some retailers are easy to upload into directly, regardless of the number of titles you have, while others restrict authors who don’t have enough offerings to meet their initial minimum requirements.

As I stated in my first post on this series, if you upload to Amazon and B&N, you’ve covered 60-70% of e-books sold today. That’s a good place to start. I could have formatted my own books to save money, but I went through a service provider to do this as I continued writing my contracted books. My formatters created my e-book files for Sex, Death and Moist Towelettes & Dark Kiss through Amazon (Mobi), B&N (ePub), and Smashwords (.doc), plus my e-book and pdf file for my Print-on-Demand (POD) non-fiction book with a cover design for the front, spine, and back of One Author’s Aha Moments.

To optimize an indie author’s outreach and distribution efforts, I’m listing other options beyond Amazon and B&N in this blog series. Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come when I post about Distributors & Library Sales, Retailers with Volume Restrictions, and I draw some conclusions from all this in my final post on the indie author topic. I plan to launch a page on my Fringe Dweller blog where I will list indie resources and maintain them.

Below are the e-book retailers that allow anyone to upload content, no matter how many offerings you have or your publisher status. (Kobo will be mentioned in the next post, but there are many interesting changes happening that will put them on this list soon.) Please be aware that each of these sites operates under different formats and you should get familiar with their guidelines.

Amazon’s Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP)Amazon’s primary e-book format is Mobipocket (Mobi) files, with or without DRM. Amazon currently dominates the market on e-book retail sales. Authors and publishers have access to an effective online retail outlet. Their royalty percentages are split by price point. Currently, that is 70% if your e-book is priced between $2.99 & $9.99, or 35% for all other price points. There is a small delivery charge based on size of file and royalties are paid monthly.

Barnes & Noble – B&N’s upload service is called PubIt!. PubIt! is similar to the Amazon KDP and gives indie authors the ability to upload a higher quality of ePub file that will not be lost through an automated conversion process where standards might be lower. The system also accepts Word, HTML, RTF, and TXT documents, which will be auto-converted to the ePub format.

Apple’s iBookstore – Apple’s iBookstore is open for authors and publishers to upload their own content. You must have a Mac computer to use the iTunes Producer program to upload the files. The signup process may seem intimidating, but an indie author can earn a higher royalty percentage by going direct and not through a distributor/aggregator. If you are unable to use Apple’s system because of limitations, the iBookstore provides a link of Approved Aggregators you can go through.

Google – Google’s e-book store allows readers to purchase PDF and ePub versions of your book, protected by the Adobe DRM. (Digital Rights Management is a term for any security measures designed to inhibit piracy.) The Google e-book store is part of the Google Books Partner Program. HERE  is a link on their system requirements.

LuluLulu uses ePub, PDF, and Microsoft Reader (LIT) formats, with and without DRM. Lulu is well-known for its Print-on-Demand (POD) services and an indie author can sell e-books through them. Lulu takes a cut of sales and there could be an additional fee to use the DRM option. Lulu is an Apple-approved aggregator for the iBookstore.

ebookMall – A $19.95 submission fee is waived until June 30, 2012. ebookMall uses ePub and PDF file types. Lightning Source could be an alternate source into this retailer.

ScribdScribd uses PDF files only and cannot sell other formats.

Smashwords – Smashwords works off a specific Word document style (HERE) that must be in accordance with the Smashwords Style Guide. That Word doc is auto-converted into 9 different formats at the author’s option. In addition to selling books at its own online store with the lowest fee of any retailer listed here (15%), the Smashwords Premium Catalog offers authors and small publishers a way to distribute their titles across a variety of retailers, including Apple’s iBookstore, the Sony eBook Store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others.

In my next post, I will go into more detail on the various issues with a middleman distributor. Be aware that an indie author can have format issues by going through the conversion process and this can translate into downstream retailers taking issue with e-book quality from that distributor and YOU. Bottom line is, uploading directly to a retailer with relative ease might be your best option. You’ll see why in my next post when we talk about issues beyond formatting, like cumbersome and untimely price changes when going through a third party.

Some of this sounds daunting, but remember, if you’ve got your book onto Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you have your digital baby with the largest e-book retailers. Fine tuning your retailer outreach can be done as you have time. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. Many of these sites will take time away from your writing, so weigh the benefits against the time it takes for you to focus on this, but once you see how things go, you can fine tune where you will focus your retail and promotional efforts.

If you’re an indie author, please share your experiences with the retailers I mentioned and what has worked for you. If you are exploring the idea of self-publishing, do posts like this help you or intimidate you?

24 thoughts on “A Checklist for Indie Authors – E-Book Retailers (Post 2)

  1. If you have Lulu on the list, you should also have Createspace. For self-pubbing in POD, Createspace offers the best pricing structure for writers who want to buy and resell copies. Also, because of the pricing structure, you can keep the retail price down. I have a artsy coloring book that promotes my business through CS and am able to sell it for $7.99 and have a decent profit to split with the artist.


  2. WOW! Lots of detail. Makes my head spin. I’m thankful for TKZ as a go-to source for all things writing.

  3. Hey Terri. Thanks for mentioning Createspace. I used it for my non-fiction book. There’s also Lightning Source for POD. My post focuses on ebooks, but I’m very glad you brought up POD, print on demand. An author has decisions to make on whether their book will be available on print. Thats extra production cost with typically lower sales. Appreciate your input, as always.

  4. Hey BK & Kathryn. Going through this process has made me appreciate what my houses do for me. I still love the creative control, cash flow aspects, & rights reversion issues. Finding a good balance is my goal. More to come in my next few posts here at TKZ.

  5. Great post. I’m just starting to learn about self-publishing. Thank you. Looking forward to more!

  6. I have a Mac, but I would strongly recommend against anyone publishing in Apple’s iBookstore. It’s extremely author-unfriendly. You have to deal not only with iTunes, but with something called iTunes Producer. The steps you have to take are infinitely more complicated than the relatively simple procedure of publishing on Kindle.

    Should you ever make it through all the obstacles they put in your way and actually publish your book in the iBookstore, you can forget about sales. They won’t promote you unless you are already established with a legacy publisher. Indies are an afterthought.

    Then, once you’re finally in and you want to see if any sales are trickling in, good luck. The bookstore may or may not be “open”, meaning if it’s “closed”, you cannot access it in any way. It’s closed more frequently than you would think. It was closed this morning. During Christmas, it was closed for over a week!!!!

    Finally, many, many people with Macs, iPhones, and iPads download free Kindle apps, which not only allows them to read in exactly the same manner as the iBookstore, but makes it much, much easier to browse, buy, and download the books themselves.

  7. I’ve done all my Apple uploads through Smashwords.com. Simple and one upload gets you into Sony, Kobo, Apple, and others including Bn.com. But, for them, I go directly through Pubit.

  8. David– I found Smashwords very difficult to work with. Very un-user friendly. They take forever on distributing and if an author wants to remain nimble on pricing, they take weeks to update through all the channels. And for that privilege, they take a cut. It was quicker for me to go direct.

    Kobo has some amazing stuff coming that may rival Amazon. I know some very experienced indie authors who are part of a trial period, taking the new portal for a spin. They love it. Going direct with Kobo will take another avenue away from Smashwords. Smashwords’s meat grinder that formats into multiple distributors needs work IMO. I’d gladly pay them a cut if they had a system more responsive. For me, they’ve been an obstacle that I don’t have time for.

    But I’m glad it’s worked for you. You’re a lucky guy. Truly. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  9. Jordan, I always find your input and information invaluable. Thanks for posting this. I haven’t taken steps down the indie route but I may well do so and need all the helpful advice I can get! Clare

  10. Anytime, Clare. Thus is definitely worth doing & gaining experience, but it’s not a case of “build it & they will come.” There’s real work to set up your foundation, but I love options for anyone with a dream to write & the dedication to hone their craft.

    I’ve loved all of James Scott Bell’s posts on the topic too, our fellow indie guru.

  11. Jordan, that’s what I get for posting at 7 AM. I see Lulu and think POD. I didn’t know they did ebooks (other than .pdf as well). See, even by commenting I learned something.

    You rock! Terri

  12. GREAT post, Jordan!
    I have to say, I took my books down from Smashwords. I discovered they “lent” over 100 copies of MythSam–without sales. I had a problem with the book being borrowed and not bought.

    Tricky business this e-pubbing, but well worth it. Especially, when one as knowledgeable as you shares her insights. Thank you!

    • I’ve heard other weird stuff about Smashwords from other authors who’ve used them. Apparently even if you opt out of distributions to Amazon or B&N (for example) because you went direct, Smashwords may still distribute & have THEIR version listed. Then it takes time to get them to remove it. And if you want to chg your price to do a promo on Amazon, you have to pkan ahead for the weeks it takes to get Smashwords to revise their prices so it’s in line with what you have planned for your promo. Who needs the hassle?

      Thanks for commenting, Piks.

  13. Terri–I thought of LULU that way too. They’ve made changes over the years. Createspace is very simple, but I haven’t tried any other service yet for POD. One thing I found very cool is the cost of my books that I buy is much lower than if I went through my traditional publishers, even after their 50% discount. Makes it more cost effective to do signings & giveaways.

  14. Reading all these choices make me glad I went with a digital first publisher for my new romance series. It’s a lot of work to get a book ready for self-pubbing, work that could be spent writing the next story. Otherwise, you really need to put aside time to spend on the business management aspects.

  15. There are definite trade offs, Nancy. But I’ve heard some amazing revenue figures from authors I trust not to embellish the numbers. Cash flow & rights control are HUGE motivations IMO, but every author must make their own decision.

  16. I have published to all of the standard platforms as well as now trying to find my way through the interesting situation and platform that is Google Play/ Google Books.

    Being indie has been awesome for me. Creative control and more frequent publishing possibilities make it a great way to continue sharing stories. Connecting with readers and offering the characters in my head a way to escape provides a sure fire way for me and those close to me to retain our sanity.

  17. Totally agree, Shawneda. And thanks for commenting. It’s great to have options & indies learn interesting angles to the publishing industry, for sure. Have a great week & happy writing.

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