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
‘Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.’ Groucho Marx
Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, Gary Vaynerchuk, James Altucher and Seth Godin are Titans of Publishing. In my research about bestselling authors, their names kept coming up.
Who are they? And they’re all entrepreneurs-turned-authors. They write compelling non-fiction, how-to guides or insightful commentary.
They are talked about all over the internet. They use blogs, emails, podcasts and books. They are sought after at conferences, they are celebrities, their customers will buy books and courses and sign up for conferences on their name alone.
What strategies do they use that you could also use?
So this is what this post is all about. I’m going to give you an overview of what these mavericks did and how you can apply this to your book writing and marketing strategy today.
STEP 1: LOOK BEYOND THE BOOK, BE CLEAR ABOUT THE IDEA YOU WANT TO SPREAD. MAKE IT A F***ING GREAT IDEA.
Credit: Riley Mccullough, Unsplash
Seth Godin nails this. He says that books are vehicles for ideas. Being a non-fiction author is about spreading ideas and starting a movement around your belief.
You have to accept that putting your writing out there is no longer difficult. What’s difficult is getting someone who encounters your writing to share it with someone else. — Seth Godin
It’s obvious but I have to say it. A shareable idea won’t have a chance of liftoff if you’re not 110% passionate about it. The super successful books by entrepreneurs are about subjects that they live and breathe: e.g. Tim Ferris writes about lifestyle design, Seth Godin writes about creating remarkable work, James Altucher writes about being happy and being free.
All these authors are platform agnostic. They publish on lots of platforms, including books. Which makes sense, don’t you think? Today we consume media over multiple platforms and devices.
The ‘book’ itself is less important than the message. So, don’t get hung up on tactics about which format might go first, simply repeat it across multiple platforms including blogs, ebook, paper, audio, video.
Your book must help solve problems that people have. Your number one focus at this stage should be influence. Worry about money and sales later — this will come as you are seen as an authority in your field (from agriculture to property, writing, baking etc)
Don’t get hung up on the format, experiment with one format: physical and ebook book, audio, other products as well. Don’t go in expecting to make millions from your book immediately (this will come with time, but go with the determination that you will give massive value. Publishing a book is great for building a brand for yourself and help grow your business but it’s unlikely to happen overnight.
STEP 2: YOU WANT A BESTSELLER? LEAD YOUR TRIBE
Credit: Anthony Delanoix, Unsplash
“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” — Seth Godin
Bestselling non-fiction writers have tribes behind them. Readers who are impacted and influenced by their message.
So you need a following. But it doesn’t have to be tens of thousands or even millions.
Both Ramit and Tim talk about Kevin Kelly’s marketing advice: the true fan rule.
The True Fan Rule: You only need, a ballpark figure of 1000 true fans to make a living from your work.
What is a true fan? Someone who will buy whatever you make, travel the world to meet you or hear you speak, someone who is your superfan. Kevin’s logic is that if you can make $100 per true fan, you will make a ballpark 100k which is enough for most people to sustain themselves.
Kevin argues that having 1000 true fans is enough momentum to push your fanbase to 2000, 5000, 10000. It’s the start of your journey to building your community. Depending on your profession and expertise this figure will vary. If you specialise in something super esoteric like creating Japanese Gardens, you might need less. If it’s helping executives break free from the 9–5 grind, then it might be higher, as it’s a larger niche.
Whether this is your first, second or tenth book it’ll be your true fans that will pre-order your book and give you reviews and recommend your books to their friends. They are the foundation of the tribe that you need to build.
If you’re a business you will have or want to have a tribe already. A tribe consists of the people that your message is for, who is yours? Perhaps, entrepreneurs or frustrated writers or college graduates or stay-at-home mothers?
STEP 3: DON’T TAKE THE SHORTCUT. TAKE THE LONG CUT
Credit: Pablo Garcia Saldana, Unsplash
“The longcut is truly the quickest route to get to where you want to. The longcut is the Beatles playing in hamburg, the longcut is ‘what does this community need and how do I do a piece of work that matters, that’s difficult.” — Seth Godin
Nothing good comes quickly. If you wanted to you could churn out a 20–40 page book and publish it on Amazon. Maybe you’d make a few thousand dollars, maybe a few more with some clever marketing and persistent hard work. If you game the system you could even hit a niche category bestseller status for an hour or a day.
But here’s a better scenario: what if your book sells itself, not just for a year or two years but for decades? Rather than sending your poorly-selling book to conference organiser to get speaking gigs, you get so many invites that you have to start turning the invites down? To get this sort of result you need to play the long game.
To really make an impact, you have to create material is miles better than the everyone else. It’s better to spend an extra few months or even a year creating truly evergreen content than mediocre work.
You do this by researching what in the market, and improving on it, consolidating what’s already out there on your topic, in your niche and adding your own flavour. And you need to speak to your audience specifically, not to everyone, but the people that you know need and want to hear what you have to say.
Ramit Sethi, Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss are masters of doing this:
- Tim Ferriss talks about how his first draft of the 4HWW being “stilted and pompous and using $10-words where 10 cent-words would suffice.” His solution? He “drank wine, sat down, and literally opened up an email client and started typing The 4-Hour Workweek as if I were writing it to two of my closest friends.”
- Seth Godin talks about how he keeps his chapters to 2–3 pages to reflect how our attention spans today.
- Ramit Sethi says he spent over 6 months on just plotting the book to get it right. He says it wasn’t easy and he felt like giving up.
- There are the exceptions who can write for 10 days and churn out a wonderful book (Seth’s Ideavirus was an exception, even for him) but it’s dependent on the person and the idea.
We’re part of a culture that gives us meaningless likes and hearts for short pithy statements. And our senses love the rush of being validated this way. But to create meaningful work, dig deeper, put your toys away and do the hard work to create something remarkable. You should be pushing yourself to write the best content you can.
While writing your book, consider ways that you can share your message now. Start giving away material and advice NOW to help build your tribe. Most businesses blog, but it’s common for this to be delegated to an intern, or whipped up in a few hours. It’s better to create posts that are definitive guides on a topic.
“There are three steps: write, ship, share. The more you write and ship and share, the more people will come to depend on what you’re doing and the easier it’s going to be to spread your ideas. At some point, people will come to you and say, ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Here’s some money’, or ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Please come speak to my group’, or ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Please coach me so I can do it too.’ But none of that happens until you write and ship and share.” — Seth Godin
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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?