The idea that self-publishing is ‘vanity publishing’ for those who could not get a deal with a ‘real’ publishing companies is gradually diminishing. What better proof of this than when the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright David Mamet turns to self-publishing. While brand-name authors are leaving traditional publishing houses to go it alone, successful self-publishers such as E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) have gone to the traditional prestige publishing realm to realise more success.
“I think readers are more focused on a good story that they can enjoy instead of where the book was published,” said R.L, Mathewson, whose self-published novel Playing For Keeps (Smashwords) made the New York Time e-book best-selling e-list last year
“Thanks to the internet they can research books before committing time and money on them. Flashy advertisements really don’t mean anything to most avid readers. They care more about reviews, ratings and recommendations than they do about ads telling them what to read,” he told the UK Guardian.
A self-published author is not just a writer and a teller of stories. An author needs to be (or needs to hire) a professional editor, a publisher, a publicist, a marketer, a sales person and more.
For international authors the big three e-book self-publishing platforms have been Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Nobles and Smashwords but as with anything in today’s publishing world the situation is constantly changing. I-tunes has quietly expanded its market share, and with over 50 country storefronts is now be a significant, and lucrative, market for books. Draft2Digital has pushed past Lulu to challenge Smashwords’ distribution dominance and now other publishing and technology companies are stepping in to offer self-publishing options. There are also a few hybrid publishers offering to print hard copies and digital copies. Here’s a look at what services they offer and where they fit in the self-publishing puzzle.
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace
Amazon’s KDP is the pioneer in the field, the best known and the biggest platform for self-published authors. It’s a full-service publisher, selling books, selling services to authors and even selling the reading device for them, the Kindle reader. You can even print on demand or order hard copies of books by using their Createspace option. You have to do some different cover design for these books but it is a simple enough process and their software will guide you through.
The Kindle platform is quick and easy for anyone to use. You can have your book uploaded in hours minutes and available in the store within 24 hours. They offer a basic cover making option during the process – this is currently in beta. You can choose to put your books into their Select program, where they have the exclusive right to your book for three months and in return you get to offer your book free for up to five days. Is it worth it? Not in my opinion, but a surprising number of authors do take them up on it.
Kindle was the place to be in 2009 and 2010 when Amanda Hocking was hailed the first Kindle millionaire (she later signed with Pan Macmillan). But it’s no longer the only place to be.
Barnes & Noble’s Pubit! and Nook Press
Barnes and Noble are currently moving all their authors over from Pubit! to Nook Press (as of April 2012). Previously Pubit was their online publishing service offering fewer services. They only accept U.S authors but international authors can use a distributor to get their stories on sale in their store.
Like Amazon Kindle, Nook Press is a full-service platform selling the books in the Barnes & Nobles’ e-bookstore, selling service to authors on their platform and with a reading device, the Nook Reader.
The new Nook Press promises even more services than Kindle with a platform to write and organize your work directly into their platform, the ability to collaborate and have editing and reviews done before the book is published.
Smashwords is a distribution service for authors as well as a storefront for making e-book purchases. Until this year, they have been the only way for non-U.S authors to access the Barnes and Noble store and an easier way to upload to i-tunes.
Smashwords distributes automatically to virtually all stores except Kindle and have been the distributor of choice for many authors until this year and the introduction of a new player. It is free to use their distribution service – they take a percentage when a sale is made. They have taken a lot of criticism from users of their service who have been unhappy with the requirement that Smashwords is listed as the publisher, quality of the distributed product, quarterly rather than monthly payments and a lack of sales updates, the time taken to get the books into stores and perceived failings with their customer service. This made the entry of a new service welcome.
This new distribution service has really hit the ground running in 2013. Authors have abandoned Smashwords for an easier and cleaner distribution option. They distribute to all major stores and their automated software produces beautiful EPUB files which you can then download and use elsewhere.
Apple allows authors to upload books to their iTunes store. They don’t pitch as hard to the self-publishing authors as Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble. Instead they concentrate on selling media, music, films, books to the public. You need to apply for a publisher’s account with i-tunes. They will list your real name as the publisher so if you are concerned about this then you need to have your own limited company and submit these documents to them.
You upload your book formatted from PDF or an EPUB format. All books are checked by Apple’s reviewers and your book is not automatically placed on bookshelves. It will be rejected if it looks unprofessional or has errors, although Apple don’t make any artistic judgments on what is submitted.
All this is a good thing, if you’ve got a great book to sell and want to be among quality.
Lulu , Burb, Peecho and Qoop
These four self-publishing platforms offer deals to print a limited number of hard copies as well as digital (which should always be unlimited because they cost nothing to print). They may also offer the option to print on demand. This seems like a great option for marketing purposes because you have professional looking hard copies to send out for publicity and you can also go into stores like iTunes and Amazon with the option for digital and print copies in the shopping cart.
They offer professional help with editing and artwork as well. However, these kinds of services are extremely expensive and you’ll be lucky to get a book in a store for less than $US5000.
Penguin’s Authors Solutions
Traditional publishing giant Penguin are merging with fellow power Random house and forming the worlds’ biggest publishing company as you read this. They are promising to shake up the digital book industry.
Penguin has already delved disastrously into the self-publishing with Author Solutions. Launched in November 2011 Author Solutions promised to put self-published American authors next to the names of their classic top-shelf authors for around $US99 upfront. But things went askew.
Author Solutions was accused of misrepresenting itself and publishing manuscripts with errors to generate fees amongst an array of other charges. The suit also alleged that Author Solutions fails to pay its authors the royalties they were due.
Expect the newly formed Penguin Random to be more strategically placed for their next shot at the self-publisher. They are likely to create new imprints for self-publishers and then sign those who make great sales to one of their other prestigious imprints. It’s a matter of watching their next move.