When it comes to ebooks, Amazon has been and continues to be the undisputed king of ebook sales. You’ll sell more downloads there than anywhere else on the Internet. At least, I guess you still can. There are actually books I’ve sold through other retailers that are not selling at all on Amazon. I have no idea why. In any case, you can create an account to publish on their digital text platform here: https://dtp.amazon.com/mn/signin.
When you sign up with Amazon, you have a choice between joining KDP Select (publishing only on Amazon) or staying completely indie. Choosing to be Amazon exclusive (available on Amazon only) or uploading your work to other publishing platforms. The exclusivity period runs for 90 days at a time, with the option to re-up as often or not as you choose.
However, don’t limit yourself to Amazon. When I first self-published, Amazon was the only game in town. Now authors and readers have other options.
You can publish directly to different retailers or use a distribution service.
You can choose to publish only through Amazon, but I’d strongly suggest not doing so. Don’t limit yourself. If you absolutely feel you must be exclusive to Amazon, keep in mind that you can change your mind about it, but also keep your readers in mind. How fair is it to them to make a book available from their retailer of choice, only to pull it down? Seems like a good way to make yourself look unreliable.
Publishing directly to Apple Books is a bit more complicated than the others. So, if you’re looking for the easiest way to get your books on Apple, I’d go with a distribution service. This is simply the easiest way, but you do have the option to publish directly through Apple iBooks. See Apple’s instructions on how to do this: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201183
I distribute my books to Apple through Draft2Digital or D2D. Here’s where you go to open an account: https://draft2digital.com/
D2D will let you pick and choose among several retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. Along with Amazon, those are the major platforms.
I also publish my work through Smashwords, which also allows sales through multiple distributors, including Sony, B&N, Amazon, Diesel and Apple. Smashwords’ Web site is http://www.smashwords.com/. From there, click on “Publish” to start the publishing process. Keep in mind, however, that to qualify for widespread distribution, the file must meet Smashwords’ formatting requirements. The Smashwords Style Guide can be found here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52.
Smashwords will also accept standard .epub files, which makes the platform essentially equal to any other retailer who offers books in .epub format.
On a personal note: I use Smashwords, in addition to D2D, only in part because Mark Coker, the company’s founder, has spoken out bluntly about Amazon’s predatory practices. As the first company (as far as I know) to offer one-stop-shop ebook distribution services, Coker has not only been every bit as innovative as Bezos, but has been a staunch indie author ally.
Once the book has been approved and put in either D2D’s or Smashwords’ system, you should opt out of distribution through anyone with whom you publish directly, e.g., Amazon, Kobo, and/or B&N/Nook.
While these two distribution services have the advantage of customer trust built over time, they don’t offer distribution to Google Play. Yet. At this writing, PublishDrive and StreetLib are the two services that distribute to Google Play.
In addition to an account with one of these, you’ll need a Google account.
So, to sum it up:
- D2D or Smashwords for wide, non-Amazon distribution, except Google Play;
- PublishDrive or StreetLib PLUS Google for Google Play.
- PublishDrive: https://publishdrive.com/
- StreetLib: https://www.streetlib.com/
- Google Play guide: https://support.google.com/books/partner/checklist/4489282?hl=en
For those of you new to this, digital text platforms require a properly formatted file of your book. I started off uploading my first novel as a file formatted in Word for print. It uploaded with no problem. I sold thousands of downloads. Later, I was told there was too much white space in the book. This disturbed me. I didn’t want my book to look unprofessional (even if it hadn’t hurt my sales one whit). So, when I released my next novel, I hired a professional formatter. She did wonderful work, so after that I had all my work professionally formatted.
Since then, I still recommend having a professional handle your formatting, because it gives you one less headache to manage, if all you really want is to write and publish your work. However, if you like the idea of having more control over your content and having it look professional, you could use a program like Vellum to format your work. My only caveat is that, as of this writing, Vellum is only available for Mac users.
The Vellum app can be downloaded from here: https://vellum.pub/
Using Vellum (like everything else we use online) involves a bit of a learning curve, but I’m sure someone’s written a book or blog post that assists with the process. Vellum also has a fairly good set of FAQs and instructions on how to use it.
Like everything else writing and publishing related, I suggest jumping in and just learning as you go. At this point, I would use a professional formatter only if the complexity of the content was such that I’d rather a pro handle it.
As for a cover, all you need is a JPG of a front cover. So much easier than print all around. If you need to change the text or cover, all you have to do is make the change and reupload the file. That’s it.
PS: I should add here that IngramSpark also distributes ebooks. They are also a viable option as a publishing platform for ebooks sold through retailers.
That alone likely merits its own section. Things change fast in publishing these days. So fast, you never know where you might end up. 🙂
And finally we come to … the last part …
PPS: Since I first wrote this guide, Smashwords and D2D have merged. However, they still operate as independent entities. Okay, then.
Yeah, I have no idea how that works either.
I haven’t even gotten into the other non-retail options for marketing and selling your books! But we’ll get to that. Soon!