I did quite a bit of research on this topic for my book that came out last week, and I’ve seen several bloggers mention that they’re also contemplating doing books at some point, so I thought I would share some of the self-publishing basics that I’ve learned. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve managed to get past the initial deer in the headlights phase.
Where to publish
There are multiple ways to publish a book, and you can stick to one or do a mix of several. Amazon is the biggest fish in the sea with their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program. They allow you to publish an ebook and/or paperback with no upfront costs to you. I’ll come back to them soon.
You can also publish directly through other book publishing platforms. Apple’s iBooks is one option, and they have an iBook Author app that can help. If you use Apple’s Pages word processing software, in your file menu there’s a “publish to Apple Books” option built right in Apple’s market share is fairly small, so you probably won’t want that to be your only option. Rakuten’s Kobo has a larger share of the ebook market than Apple, and their Writing Life platform can be used to prepare a manuscript to publish with Kobo. Kobo ebooks can be read on Kobo ereaders or using the Kobo app. You can set your ebook price, and it looks like typically royalties would be 70%
You can also publish through a distributor like Smashwords. They will help you put together your book, and then distribute it to various booksellers including iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and a few other platforms like OverDrive that sells to public libraries. You don’t pay an upfront fee to publish your book, but they will take a cut of sales. Your royalty on sales would depend on where the sale was made. Your royalties are going to end up being lower than if you dealt with each of the different selling platforms directly, but that’s the price you pay for the convenience of having Smashwords do all the work. There are a variety of similar distributors out there, but Smashwords is the only one I’ve looked into.
Ebooks on Amazon
While you have the option of publishing your book through several platforms, simplicity can be nice, especially when you’re starting out. Amazon has a program called KDP Select, in which you agree to publish your ebook exclusively through Amazon. They obviously would prefer if you did this, and there are two key draws. You have to be enrolled in KDP Select for your book to be available through Kindle Unlimited, where people pay a monthly fee and can read as many books as they want. The royalties you would get from Kindle Unlimited would depend on how much your book was read. The other drawing point for KDP Select is that you get higher royalties on book sales (typically 70%).
There is a Kindle Create app that will help you format your book from a Word document. You can design your book cover using Amazon’s online Cover Creator tool, or you can make your own using a site like Canva (which is what I did). There’s also the option of paying a designer to come up with something fancier. KDP ebooks are formatted to be read by either Kindle ereaders or the Kindle Reader app, which can be downloaded onto your desktop/laptop or mobile device.
Paperbacks on Amazon
Amazon gives you guidance on how to format your manuscript for a paperback, and they have Microsoft Word templates that you can use. I decided to do it without using a template, and it wasn’t particularly difficult, although I use Apple Pages rather than Microsoft Word, so it took a bit of extra time to figure out how to do some of the steps.
Amazon will print paperbacks of your book on demand, i.e. when someone orders one. They let you know how much it will cost to print the book so your book can be priced accordingly. Because the books are printed on-demand, you don’t have to pay money upfront for them to have a supply available. You can choose the extended distribution option to make your paperback available through retailers other than Amazon, but you get a much lower royalty for books sold that way.
Paperbacks need to have an ISBN (international standard book number); this is optional for ebooks. KDP will give you a free ISBN, and the publisher associated with that ISBN will be listed as “independently published”. You can also purchase your own ISBN, and this allows you to designate your own publisher name. I haven’t been able to figure out why this would be worth paying for, but in Canada we can get free ISBNs through the government, so I was officially published by Mental Health @ Home Books. It’s kind of fun, but not so fun that I’d be willing to cough up money for it.
The actual volume of information that KDP makes available can be a bit daunting at first. A good place to start is their KDP Jumpstart learning series to help you get familiar with all the different aspects of self-publishing. It takes you through everything step by step, and I found it quite helpful.
Publishing a book also means promoting your book. Obviously your blog is a good place to do this, as well as social media. There are a number of bloggers out there publishing books, so watch what they’re doing and get ideas from them. Marketing is definitely not my forte, so it’s something I’m fumbling along with and trying to figure out as best I can.
To help potential readers get to know a bit more about you, you can create an author page on Amazon or whatever platform you publish on. Goodreads is another good place to create an author page. There are a variety of other book sites like AUTHORSdb and iAuthor that you can sign up with to help put your book out there to the world. Booklife from Publisher’s Weekly has some good resources.
For my book I decided to go with Amazon and with KDP Select, in large part for the sake of simplicity. My paperback will be available through extended distribution as well, only because I’m hoping my local library will pick it up as part of their local indie author program. So far I’ve been happy with the Amazon experience, although the Kindle Create app didn’t do everything that I wanted it to do.
I hope these self-publishing basics have been helpful. Are you thinking of publishing a book at some point? Have you started researching options yet?