Frankly, I’m still wrapping my head about all the options in self-publishing. When someone asked me which self-publishing platform I’d recommend, I realised I really needed to do some digging.
Amazon, I’d heard of before, of course, but what about the rest? What about Gumroad, or crowdfunding or Smashwords?
I hadn’t a scoobie so I decided to do some research on the different options out for self-publishing. I spent a good few hours on this, maybe I can save you some time. found:Here’s what I found.
Let’s clarify the most important thing: Your choices fall under 3 categories.
- Your choices fall under 3 categories.
- Direct to ebook retailers: These are platforms that sell directors to the reader. Guess what? 95% of ebooks sales are through Amazon (80%), iTunes take 10%, the Nook 3% & Kobo 2%*
- Aggregators: These are platforms that allow you to upload and distribute to the large retailers (see above) PLUS the small ebook retailers PLUS libraries. And all at once. It appears to be easier to do but there is a higher cost involved.
- Offbeat: These are what I would classify as alternative platforms. They include Gumroad, Leanpub, Kickstarter and Unbound. They are a platform where you can raise money, publish and sell your book. They don’t suit everyone but for some authors, they work particularly well. See this Kickstarter success story & this author's happy Leanpub journey).
Many authors I researched seemed to combine going to Amazon directly + using an aggregator for all the other platforms. This is a good place to start, but opinions seem to vary from author to author. If you’re selling technical work (coding etc) I would consider suggest a platform like Gumroad where you can add a bundle of digital products easily.
To sum this up, here is a list of the 7 most popular places to sell your ebook.
Tag: Publisher, Online Retailer
The Amazon store accounts for *80% of ebook sales across English-language countries.
It’s no wonder that KDP remains the most popular platform for authors to sell ebooks on. On it, you can convert and sell your book here for free to millions of potential readers.
Pricing: Amazon pays out a royalty of 70% on all Kindle titles priced between $2.99 to $9.99. For eBooks priced below $2.99 and above $9.99, Amazon pays out only 35% (royalty table here). Note: the 70% plan is based on the publisher’s net income and the 35% plan is based on the gross sales price of the book so 35% can be a better rate.
Other features: KDP Select allows you to take a ninety-day exclusive digital distribution deal — in return, you’ll get your books available in the Kindle Lending Library, where Amazon Prime members can check out their books for free with no due dates. (you get paid royalties for every book borrowed). You can also choose between Kindle Countdown Deals or a free book promotion.
There is the option of using Createspace for creating and distributing print books.
Verdict: Most authors will use Amazon to sell their books, the question is whether to go directly to them, and whether to opt into their exclusive programme. More experienced writers seem to say ‘no’ to both these, but if you’re starting out, and not worried about smaller platforms, it might be the easiest option. You could also mix and match this with a platform like Gumroad (see below).
If you’re based outside the US, but would like to publish on Amazon US — read this.
Tag: Publisher, Online Retailer
Apple is growing and gaining more market share. They account for *10% of all ebook sales, small…yes, but the popularity of Apple products makes it an enticing platform.
Pricing: iBooks royalty rates are flat 70% for all prices and all territories. Publishing on iBooks requires the iTunes Producer program, which is only available for a Mac. Unless you have the software to make your PC run Mac programs, you’ll need to take one of two steps to get your books on the platform. You’ll either have to borrow a Mac to publish, or you’ll have to go to a third-party publisher like Draft2Digital or Smashwords.
Verdict: Worth taking seriously, as, within the Apple ecosystem, the iBooks app is downloaded more than the Kindle app. If you have a mac, and the time, go directly otherwise use an aggregator (See below) to get your books listed.
Tag: Publisher, Online Retailer, Global
Kobo has only 2% of the ebook market at the moment, but there is a good reason to still consider this platform — international sales. Upload your files onto Kobo Writing life and have your book available in 190 countries.
Authors like Joanna Penn report good sales through Kobo.
Pricing: Their Royalty rates 70% if selling between 1.99–7.99 (GBP) or 1.99–12.99 (USD), and 45% if outside of this.
Verdict: They have a small reach in the UK & US but with their ambitions in reach in Asia, Americas and beyond, they seem particularly good for long-term writers. However, unless you’re a career writer, I would suggest publishing to Kobo via an aggregator rather than uploading directly.
Tag: Publisher, Retailer, Aggregator
The original and oldest aggregator site with a larger reach than Draft2Digital.
About: Smashwords was set up by author Mark Coker in 2008 and allows you to distribute your titles to the many smaller ebook retailers like B&N, Baker and Taylor as well as library networks like OverDrive and Gardeners.
Pricing: You’ll be charged 15% of the sales you receive (after the retailers' cost has also been taken)
Verdict: Smashwords comes up against Draft2Digital as one of the top 2 popular aggregator sites. Opinions are divided: some authors are loyal to Smashwords, while others prefer the more modern website. Smashwords distributes to more sites but to be honest, Draft2Digital covers the most important ones (iBooks, Nook, Kobo).
Tag: Publisher, Retailer, Aggregator
Recommended by Kindlepreneur Dave Chesson, this is one of the top 2 ebook aggregators.
About: They’re the new kid on the block, been around since They’ll convert your book and distribute it across iBooks, Nook, Kobo and other smaller stores, taking 15% of sales you make. Good if you’re short on time but want your book available everywhere.
Verdict: See verdict for Smashwords. If I had to choose, I’d prefer Draft2Digital for the easy to use interface.
Tag: E-commerce Platform
A simple platform by teen genius Sahil Lavingia to connect creators and buyers. You can integrate your ebook sales into your website or social media account. Popular with artists and coders alike for selling books and digital products. Particularly useful if you want to sell bundles of products to go alongside your book like audio, videos, additional documents. Used by Nathan Barry (founder of Convert kit) to sell over $500k of products and books.
Pricing: Costs are either $0 + 8.5% + 30 cents per transaction for the free version or if you have the Premium version at $10(USD)/month, the fee is 3.5% + 30 cents per sale.
Verdict: A perfect addition if you’re offering a digital bundle around your book.
Tag: Crowdfunding, Traditional Publisher, Distributor
Eric Ries ran a famously good kickstarter campaign for his second book The Good Leader. If you have a tribe, a following, then you might consider these publishing only crowdfunding sites:
UK’s Unbound is the maverick publisher known for commissioning award-winning titles in the UK. Across the pond, we have the US-based Inkshares, with a similar proposition. They both act as traditional publishers with a full team of publicity, sales, designers, editors) but you need to be actively involved in raising money beforehand — you have to prove that there is demand for your book.
Pricing: The catch is you have to raise a large amount to pay for the book. Your royalties are at 35% (Inkshares) or 50% (no frills option Quill, also part of Inkshare) and 50% (Unbound).
Verdict: Something to consider if you have an existing tribe who want your book.
What about you? What platforms appeal the most?
*Feb 2017 Author Earnings Report, for the English-language market
This post was written for Writer Unboxed
Dial back a good few years, and I had just put the phone down with an agent. I had acquired the UK rights for Never Fall Down, by Patricia McCormick, a powerful, hard-hitting book about a boy escaping the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I know, cheery stuff. But to me it was an astonishing book, and a book I felt readers in the UK needed to read.
The boss, the Publisher, walked across the room to my desk — ‘Have you already signed the contract for your book?’
I told her I had. Trouble was, they had just read another hard-hitting book, and she thought that one was more commercial. But it was too late, I’d already made my move on the book I loved, so she had to pass on the opportunity for this second book.
Who knows what we told the agent or the writer about why we rejected the second book , but the truth was we only had space for one of that type of book that year and my acquisition had taken the slot. There was nothing wrong with that second book. It had nothing to do with the author’s social media followers or her publicity plan. Nothing to do with her cover letter. Just plain bad luck and unfortunate timing.
Sometimes I wonder if authors and aspiring writers really know what’s going on in publishing houses — what motivates editors and why they say yes or no to an unpublished book.
I regularly scroll through advice given online to aspiring writers about how to approach editors and how to stand out. More often than not, I wrack my brains to remember: Did I ever care about that as an Editor at Random House, or did I hear fellow editors worry about this in editorial meetings?
Sometimes yes, the advice is spot on. Sometimes the advice doesn’t match my or my friends’ experiences at all.
The obvious thing I want to point out is that editors have two forces at play when they look at a manuscript.
- Their love for a book, or their intuition about that book’s potential to be a bestseller
- The company’s position : Are they acquiring? Is there a lockdown on a certain type of book (e.g. paranormal) because the list already has enough of that scheduled in the next year?
So here are some things I often read, and here’s what I think are myths and truths.
Myth #1: An editor is looking for an author who ‘speaks the right language’ of the genre, and has a compelling cover letter.
While it’s nice if an author can make comparisons between his/her book and other bestsellers in the market, I’ve certainly invited authors in who don’t read in their genre but have produced a page-turning book.
YES, authors who can speak the right terminology are great on festival panels, but when I read a manuscript it was because an agent had convinced me with their great description to do so—and because I trusted that agent. I never picked up a manuscript just because it was described well by an author I met at a conference or fair.
Of course, it’s helpful for an agent to see a smart cover letter that sells your book well, but smart ones will get the gist of the story and read a sample to see if they like your style and writing. My advice is not to overly worry about this till you come to submit. In the meantime, just focus on your story. Once you’re coming to submit to an agent, you can take time to hone your pitch.
Myth #2 : An editor is looking for an author with a massive social media following.
I just emailed my friend who is a non-fiction editor at a large UK publishing house to double check this. I asked ‘How many followers would you need a non-fiction writer to have, for you to be interested in them? 10k?’ Her response ‘That’s way too low.’ She said it depended on the project, how topical the subject is was but at least 50k+. It’s a competitive market for non-fiction.
But for Fiction it’s a different story.
Editors are WAY less concerned about how many followers you have. I mean really, I can’t remember caring that much at all.
As an editor, I played up ‘the social media card’ when trying to convince a sales team to let me acquire a book, but it was always the cherry on the cake, not the cake itself. Unless the writer had a ridiculous number of followers, it wasn’t worth mentioning.***
Yes, it’s smart to start engaging with your community early on, but worrying about the number of followers you have is unnecessary at this stage. Focus on writing, and set aside 25–40 min a day on a social network (Not sure what to do on social media? Read this and this), but don’t worry beyond that.
Now you might point to Grace Helbig or Zoella or some YouTuber who won a huge publishing deal because of their social media following. That’s different. In my mind, they get deals because of their followers; they are social media stars first, writers second. Unless you’re interested in making social media your priority, focus on the writing.
I can think of a number of unpublished, about-to-be-published, still-early-in their-career writers I followed when they had small numbers, whose followings grew organically as they published. Nikesh Shukla, Cat Clarke, RJ Palacio, and Patrick Ness have a healthy number of fans today, but five or ten years ago it was very different!
I personally like using the Pomodoro Technique to be strict about time spent on tasks. The advice I give all authors, and try to follow myself is to show up daily but don’t obsess.
Myth #3 : An editor is looking for a writer who has a marketing & publicity plan.
I read this advice online and had mixed feelings about it. In today’s publishing houses, it’s a guess as to how much help you’ll ever have from the publishing house. Smart authors, whether self-published or traditionally published, will consider the Long Term Launch. At some point it’s smart to have a publicity plan, and if you’re in a position to choose between multiple publishing houses, then knowing what a publicity plan should look like will help you decide on the best company for you. However as an editor, at the stage of reading a manuscript, that was never on my mind.
By all means start researching marketing & publicity (you can find inspiration by reading Six Lessons Seth Godin Taught a Literary Novelist, and 12 lessons learnt by Tim Ferriss’ marketer) But for now, at the stage of writing and submitting, spend some time reading about how other writers are helping themselves, and focus on the writing.
Truth #1: An editor is looking for an author who is great to work with & personable.
An award-winning author once emailed me in the middle of the night, a long rambling message, with some insults thrown in. I’m pretty sure he was on drugs, complaining about the draft cover we had created. Turns out he had been looking at the wrong image.
He wasn’t easy to deal with; he really wasn’t. By contrast, years later, I still remember kindness and gratitude shown to our team by authors like Daniel Suarez (Daemon) and Michael Williams (Now is the Time for Running).
It’s like any relationship with a client or colleague, everyone would rather work with people they like and can get along with. Try to be that person.
Truth #2: An editor is looking for an author who has potential to grow and develop.
When an editor is persuading the company to acquire a book, the first thing they do is talk about the book itself and how wonderful a story it is, etc…
The second thing they do is talk about the author him/herself. What a publishing house wants to hear is that an author has the potential to GROW, that an author has more ideas and even more fabulous books up his/her sleeves.
It makes sense, right? A publishing house is taking a chance on a debut author, and it takes time for the author to blossom. Household names like Jacqueline Wilson, Lee Child, and Murakami have developed over decades and over multiple books. The best authors become brands in themselves, and the money they make a publisher allows the publisher to invest in lesser-known authors.
Truth #3: An editor is looking for a story that is a potential award winner and/or bestseller, or fits a gap in the publisher’s schedule.
We all want to be successful, to have our work matter. An editor at a publishing house is no different.
Being the editor who acquires EL James, or JK Rowling, or Lee Child can change your career. Discovering small authors who perform well can still save your head when the company is downsizing. I remember having lunch with an editor during a time when his department was downsizing, and he told me he knew he wouldn’t be made redundant because he had ‘discovered’ a book that had gone on to win multiple prizes around the world.
Editors battle across publishing houses, and even internally within publishing houses, to be the first to see potential award winners and bestsellers.
As an editor, when you’re reading a manuscript that you think will be the book of the year/decade, it’s like winning the jackpot — it really is. Of course you might be wrong . I remember being the first person at Quercus to read Genesis by Bernard Beckett, which was acquired by the boss with big fanfare and—although I still absolutely love the book—it didn’t make or break my career or the company’s. But an editor always hopes…
I don’t think there is a simple solution for having the right manuscript. Editors read your manuscript and compare it to books that the public hasn’t seen yet, to trends that haven’t emerged yet. And they do get it wrong, sometimes, of course. Choosing the next big book is an art, not a science. The best advice I’ve seen for writers is to read broadly so that you have a sense of what else is popular; and of course, the simple advice to ‘just write,’ with focus, without distraction.
Have advice you’d like to share? The floor is yours.
***Note from Parul: After I submitted this to Writer Unboxed, I had a slight panic – was I out of date? After all, it has now been 4 years since I worked at the Big Five. I texted two of my friends, a senior editor & an editorial director both at different publishing houses to check what they had to say. The first answered, ‘It has changed since you left. I do look up an author’s profile online and it is helpful if we know they can engage online.’ The second said, ‘No way, I think you’re right. It’s not important for me, and frankly it would be depressing if we cared about a fiction writer’s Twitter account at the submission stage. It’s great if they can build a following after, of course.’ So there you have it.
A first in the series of Publishing Uncovered interviews. Our first interview is with Kirsten Armstrong, a former editor at Penguin Random House
Kirsten worked as an editor for 7 years, including at David Fickling Books and Penguin Random House. After editing hundreds of children’s fiction books, she now works as Creative Manager at Unicef where her job is to bring real children’s stories to life.
A year ago you were an editor at Penguin Random House: tell me about some of the authors you worked with’?
Kirsten: I edited many fantastic authors, ranging from established bestsellers to debut writers. I was incredibly privileged to work with the late great Sir Terry Pratchett on his later children’s publishing, including Dodger, Dragons at Crumbling Castle, The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and The Shepherd’s Crown.
I also edited Andy McNab’s action-packed books for young adults, featuring battles, blood and bullets; I worked with Jamila Gavin on a beautiful fairytale collection; I even found myself working on abridging Bradley Wiggins’s autobiography for children.
How many submissions did you get a week? How many could you actually read?
Kirsten: Our editorial team would get anywhere between 10–30 submissions a week, depending on the time of year and whether a book fair was taking place. At any given time, I’d have around 8 submissions queued on my Kindle. I would try to read at least the first three chapters.
I prioritised ‘buzz books’ that I knew might get snapped up quickly. As an editor you build relationships with individual agents, so they have a good idea of your personal literary tastes and what you are looking to commission. So submissions from certain agents would get bumped to the top of my reading pile, as I knew the material they sent would be more relevant to me.
Editors turn down manuscripts they love, right? Do you remember you doing that? Why did you turn it down?
Kirsten: Sadly I’ve had to turn down a number of books that I thought were brilliant. A lot of it depends on your acquiring remit and the focus of your publishing house.
I once fought hard to acquire a book that I loved — a very brave, literary YA that I felt was incredibly powerful. But to secure in-house support I needed to be able to edit the manuscript to make it more commercial, and we would have needed the opportunity to buy certain rights in order to make the P&L sheet look healthy enough to get signed off.
Ultimately we were unable to offer for the rights we wanted, and so the business case just wasn’t strong enough. Also, after exploring potential edits with the author, it became apparent that they felt strongly about changing certain parts of their story.
While their reasons were completely understandable, I felt that the changes suggested would have enabled the book to reach a bigger audience. I still think that the submission had incredible potential — I remember it vividly many years later — but as a result of these factors I had to turn it down.
It’s easy to romanticise the publishing industry — after all, there is certainly more than a pinch of magic to be found in the incredible story or first finished copy that has just landed on your desk.
But publishing is fundamentally a business, and for the industry to survive it needs to make money. So even if a submission was really strong, I needed to ask other questions: what would be a realistic sales level, based on the market? Is there a knock-out USP or story hook that would help the publicity team create a splash around the book? What level of advance would we need to pay to secure the rights we wanted? How are similar books performing in the market?
Are there colleagues who share my passion for this project, who would help me champion the book internally? Based on all this, what financial margin do I think this book could make? And am I so convinced of this book’s potential for success that I would invest all my own money in it?
There are always exceptions to the rules, and editorial passion can go far to galvanise a sales team. But as the industry faces increasing pressures, business considerations come to the fore.
Would you recommend that authors submit directly to publishing houses or to agents? Why?
Kirsten: Always submit to agents. They will leverage their networks to give your manuscript the greatest possible opportunity. The best agents will also provide early-stage editorial feedback, so your manuscript is in the best state possible when it’s sent out to editors.
Becoming a published author is a lonely and sometimes challenging experience, and so agents can be an invaluable source of moral support — as well as using their expertise to negotiate the best deal for you when it comes to advances and royalties.
What advice would you give an author who is getting rejected from publishing houses and/ or agents
Stay positive. As I said earlier, there could be all sorts of factors at play, and it isn’t necessarily a reflection on your writing ability and talent.
Listen to the feedback you are receiving, and if you are consistently hearing the same comments then try to take them on board. However, if you fundamentally don’t want to change your manuscript, or if you have exhausted all your contacts, it may well be worth exploring self-publishing.
I think a lot of it depends on your motivation for writing. If you simply want to share your ideas with readers, go for it and self-publish. If you want to become rich from writing then stop right there! Regardless of how you become published, the reality is that very few authors make a lot of money from it. Most have part-time or even full-time jobs alongside their writing. Write because you are passionate about it, and have ideas you want to share.
Do publishing houses always get it right, with what they accept?
Kirsten: No! There’s always a risk in accepting any manuscript. Even with vigorous interrogation, there are some books that end up losing the company lots of money — and others that got away and went on to perform brilliantly elsewhere.
What would you say to writers who have been rejected but are still keen to be published by a traditional publishing house?
Kirsten: Read widely and get to grips with the market. Build a social media following — having a good Twitter network can help to reassure an editor that you will be proactive in promoting your book but don’t prioritise it.
And develop a thick skin — if your manuscript is acquired by a publisher, it must go from being a purely personal work to a creative collaboration.
Even the strongest manuscript will be subject to some editorial changes. An editor is there to preempt any negative comments that a reader might have, and to give your book the best chance of getting stocked in bookshops and into the hands of readers.
You may not always agree with their suggestions, but remember they are on your side and want the book to be a success just as much as you do.
I was recently invited to a party by a good friend of mine. An entrepreneur.
I arrived late and stood at the edge of the room. I've worked with startups in my previous jobs, and I've been to a gazillion entrepreneur events, they sort of blend into a blur of bland pitches and egos.
But there were two things I noticed about this particular crowd. Something I haven't seen before.
1. Almost all of them had laser focused pitches.
I'm a high-end life coach
We provide personalised fitness plans based on your DNA
I'm a peak performance coach
Not everyone can get away with making bold claims, but these entrepreneurs sounded sincere, authentic and they spoke with no hesitation.
2. Most of them were also authors.
They were proud to say they were self-published, and all were doing very, very well.
My friend later told me that they had been on the same course about cementing authority (KPI programme).
This was new to me.
I mean, sure, I knew a bit about self-publishing (Joanna Penn, Taylor Pearson had already impressed me with their books) but this bunch turned me around on self-publishing. Their drive, their persistence.
I wanted to dig deeper into what these entrepreneurs were gaining, in real terms from their books. After all, they were super busy running businesses, did a book really make a difference?
I interviewed 10 of them on the phone and over coffee. I asked them why entrepreneurs should write books. And for the purposes of making this readable, I separated their answers into 3 buckets.
The first is obvious, the second was interesting and the third I didn’t expect.
#1. Your book is talking to potential fans, friends and customers while you sleep
Having content, videos and books with your message and voice help you reach more people, at scale. Leanne Spencer, Founder of Bodyshot, offers fitness and nutrition based on genetics and DNA profiling. She explained that more often than not, by the time she had met a potential client, they had bypassed the introductions. Why? Because they had read about her, understood her philosophy and method through her online presence and her books.
So what is the potential impact of someone having access to so much of your content?
Daniel Priestly, author of Oversubscribed explains that it takes, on average 7 hours to make a big decision. This happens in business and is part of the process of taking a client through the sales funnel. Think about the hours spent building relationships with clients? In Japan, businessmen entertain and socialise with clients for hours before even discussing a deal. There’s a psychology to this.
“After you have a 7hr+ relationship two great things happen. Firstly, you don’t feel uneasy offering something of value and secondly, you are less likely to blow the relationship by offering something you don’t fully believe in… Strangely, the human brain can’t distinguish between digital media and real life (which is why we still feel sad when a celebrity dies even though we didn’t ever really meet them)” — Daniel Priestly, Oversubscribed
Using content, blogs, videos and books to distribute your message helps to do this at scale. If a blog or video offers an introduction to you and your message, a book is the second step, the equivalent of getting inside your head and understanding your mind. The third step is to meet you in person.
#2. Being a ‘best-selling’ author can boost your authority. Result? More speaking opportunities, more leads.
What do you send a conference organiser? Online links? A business card? How about a book? For all the entrepreneurs I spoke to, having a book made meant getting better speaking opportunities and more organic invites. It goes without saying that if your book doesn’t add value to the topics you’re writing about, then you’re wasting your time. But entrepreneurs like the elite coach and trainer Jean-Pierre de Villiers have used books to boost their brand and business. He is now one of the UK’s highest paid personal coaches.
Authors like Tim Ferris and James Altucher have hit and maintained bestseller status, which is a level that most authors find difficult to achieve. Some of the authors I spoke to had momentarily hit ‘**bestseller’ status but no one was earning more than 20k annually from their books. Not yet. However, almost all recognised that they had muddled through the process but were confident that subsequent books would read and sell better. All were working on 2nd and 3rd books and all of them saw Amazon as another platform to reach their potential allies, fans and customers. Only 30% were natural writers. The rest used grit, perseverance and a reached out for help including paying for professional editors. **Being a best-seller is a whole topic in itself, something I’ll cover later. But it’s enough to know that even if you’re not top of the pile in the Amazon charts, it’s worth considering writing a book.
#3. Writing will help you clarify your mission, your philosophy. Don’t underestimate how powerful this is.
What does your company truly stand for? Robin Waite, author of Startup Online said that the process of writing helped him his systems and belief.
The world’s most influential companies lead with their mission statements. com. Can you guess who they are?
“To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world”
“To create a better everyday life for the many people. We make this possible by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home-furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them”
“Provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world”
These are mission Statements from Google, Nike, Ikea, Ebay. Having a clear sense of purpose is important. Connect with your customers to show them what you care about and how you’re making the world a better place.
If you want to stand out in a world of content, you need to underline your expertise. Publishing a book is not just putting your thoughts on a blog post. It’s an event. It shows your best-curated thoughts and it shows customers, clients, investors, friends and lovers what the most important things on your mind are right now — James Altucher, blogger, investor and author of bestselling title Choose Yourself
Do you know what your business stands for? Can you articulate it clearly? If you're thinking about writing a book, what is stopping you?