Self Publishing Platforms Compared

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The following article compares eight self-publishing platforms:

  • Kindle Direct Publishing
  • Smashwords
  • Lulu
  • Book Tango
  • eBookIT!
  • BookBaby
  • Vook
  • Press Books

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to upload a Word (doc or docx),.mobi, epub, text, HTML (Zip), RTF and PDF file which they will convert into their own eBook format (.mobi). They accept files up to 50MB in size. The service is completely free, the interface is intuitive and simple and within 24 hours of a successful upload (manuscript and cover) your eBook will be published and available for sale.

The Kindle Previewer allows you to view your uploaded file to ensure it looks OK, and you can upload your file again if necessary. The author dashboard is also simple and easy to use for both editing your published eBook and viewing sales.

Amazon takes a 30% royalty cut on books priced between $2.99 – $9.99. For books priced out of that range or for buyers outside Amazon’s specified countries (like Australia) they take a 65% royalty cut on each book sale. Since Amazon is the biggest eBook player in town, you have to be on Amazon, either directly via KDP, or indirectly via the other services listed below.

KDP – Kindle Select: Kindle Direct Publishing offers authors the opportunity to enroll in their Kindle Select program. When your book is enrolled in the program it enables Amazon Prime subscribers to borrow your eBook. You receive a royalty on each borrow. The other nice feature of enrolling in the Select program is that within a three month period you are able to make your eBook free for up to five days. The advantage of this is that you can give your eBook a quick promotional boost. Each free download also raises your book’s ranking within its particular category, making it more visible as well as raising its ranking on Amazon’s search results. Furthermore, someone who picked up your eBook for free may review the book, which can then further promote the work.

The only disadvantage of the Select program is that you have to exclusively publish your book with Amazon within a three month period. So if your book is available elsewhere, you are required to unpublish it at that distribution point.

Smashwords is one of the largest indie eBook publishers in the world and your eBook will be distributed both on their website and through their premium distribution partners including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Diesel, Baker & Taylor and others, for free.

Smashwords only accepts Word (doc) files for upload and your doc will have to get through their notorious ‘meatgrinder’ which converts your Word document into numerous eBook file formats. Smashwords has very strict style guidelines outlined in their Style Guide so first time users of Smashwords have been known to pull their hair out in frustration (been there done that) because of seemingly minor issues.

However, once you know the drill, the service is very good and if you combine premium distribution via Smashwords as well as publishing via Kindle Direct Publishing, your eBook will be available across most of the major retailers, and there is no up-front cost. Smashwords takes a 15% royalty cut on eBooks sold from its site and author royalties from its distribution partners are in the range of 40% – 60%.

One note of caution: Smashwords does not accept a Word file that is over 5MB in size. If your manuscript is image heavy then Smashwords is not for you.

Smashwords – Coupons & PayPal payments: A nice feature of the Smashwords service is the ability to create a coupon. A coupon allows an author to offer a promotional price for an eBook over a time specified by the author. So the coupon is a unique code which the author can distribute to people on their website, Facebook page, Twitter or directly via email. Those receiving the coupon just input the code when purchasing the eBook to receive the promotional price. This can be a useful way to get or ask for reviews and track where potential readers are coming from. An additional nice feature for non-US residents is that book royalties can be paid via PayPal. This is not the case with KDP which issues foreign cheques, which cost $10.50 to cash and take near 30 days to clear.

Like KDP and Smashwords, Lulu enables you to publish an eBook for free, while they take a percentage of the eBook royalties (10% in Lulu’s case). They will also distribute your eBook for free to the usual suspects – Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble. But unlike KDP or Smashwords, Lulu offers a variety of services in addition to eBook publishing including, print on demand, cover creation, promotional services and more. It is a full service eBook and print-on-demand conversion, publishing, distribution and promotion outfit.

Its paid services start from about $199 and rise from there. Lulu also has international sites including UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

Lulu – Range and Google Drive – Apart from Lulu’s shear range of services including, conversion, cover design, distribution, publicity and promotional services, Lulu has also partnered with Google to offer a One-Click Publishing app. The Lulu One-Click Publishing app lets creators collaborate with anyone on Google Drive, then easily publish content as a PDF eBook that can be sold or converted to a print book. While still early days, the app marks another advance in combining the cloud, apps and easy eBook creation and distribution.

BookTango is the eBook publishing wing of Author Solutions (a Penguin company). It is a relatively new service and enables you to publish and distribute your eBook for free and it takes no royalty cut. You receive 100% of royalties on eBooks sold on the BookTango site and 100% of net sales from its distribution partners. Its distribution partners include Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scribid, Google, Books on Board and Sony.

The upload formats accepted are Word but the nice feature of BookTango is that you can edit your document online. It provides basic online editing and error correction features to both ensure your eBook is formatted correctly but to enable you to enhance the look and feel. It is not as sophisticated as Vook in this regard, but the feature is free, so one can’t complain too much.

If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can pay $49 for BookTango to format your book and distribute it for you and there are additional book cover and promotion services you can purchase.

BookTango – Hollywood Book to Screen: BookTango offers a variety of paid publicity and promotional services including press releases, social networking assistance, video trailers and author websites. But if you have a spare $599 lying around and you think your book would translate well to TV or Film then BookTango offers a service which prepares your book so it is suitable for submission to a Hollywood database viewable by industry writers, agents, actors, directors and producers.

eBookit! provides the full suite of eBook and print on demand publishing services. I’ve not used the service before but examining the website closely suggests to me that the service has a more personal touch than the larger Lulu, with human formatters used and phone numbers available to call.

Paid services start at $149 to convert a Word doc to an ePub and distribution partners include Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google, Ingram, Apple and Sony reader. One of the unique features I saw were its audio book conversion service.

eBookIT! – Add an audio book with that: One terrific feature that eBookIT! offers is a conversion of your eBook into an audio book read by a computer generated voice. For $119 you can get your ePub file turned into an MP3 and distributed via Audible, Amazon and Apple iTunes. Now you might be thinking, computer generated voice, no way! But listen to the samples, they are not bad at all.

BookBaby has only been around a short while but now claims to be the world’s largest eBook distribution network of indie authors. Bookbaby has three main price points: $99 for distribution only (BYO ePub or Mobi file); $149 includes conversion plus distribution and $249 is its premium service.

It accepts Word, text, HTML, Quark, Pages, InDesign, RTF, PDF files for upload which it will then convert. They also offer book cover design services and author website and promotional services. While I’ve not used the service I’ve heard very good first hand reports. While they don’t offer a print on demand service, they do offer printing of books.

BookBaby – Accepts many file types, wide distribution:One nice feature I noted about BookBaby is that is accepts a wide variety of file types it can convert into an eBook, for example: Word (doc, docx), RTF, Text, HTML, PDF, InDesign, Pages and Quark. It also distributes is eBooks very widely: Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Sony Reader Store, Kobo, Copia, Gardners Books, Baker & Taylor and eBookPie. Of the self publishing services reviewed, BookBaby accepts the widest variety of file types and has the widest distribution network.

Vook allows you to upload your Word file and then edit and style your eBook online. It has a variety of design and styling features which can take a boring looking eBook into something much more attractive and professional. While BookTango also allows you to edit and style your book online before final conversion, the feature set of Vook is far superior and more user friendly.

To distribute your title via Vook’s website is free but to distribute (or to just get unwatermarked eBook files) costs $99. Distribution partners include Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble.

Vook – Add Design and Styling to your eBook: No other self publishing service offers the range of design and styling features that Vook offers and you don’t need knowledge of HTML to implement them. You can do DropCaps for first letter styling, utilise a variety of different fonts, adjust letter and line spacing, add colours and highlight boxes and add video to your eBook. Manipulating images within your book is also very easy with a nice drag and drop feature.

PressBooks is unlike all the other services reviewed in this article. It is essentially a Web service built on the popular blogging platform WordPress. If you are familiar with WordPress you will feel comfortable with PressBooks. Pressbooks recently changed from being completely free to having both free and paid features.

At the moment, PressBooks, does not accept Word uploads. If you have created your manuscript in Word then the process of using Pressbooks would be to cut and paste each individual chapter into the Pressbooks site and you can then edit your document online. While this may sound a bit cumbersome, it is relatively painless and the WordPress platform provides significant flexibility in design, styling, referencing and using images and multimedia.

Pressbook basically turns your book into a website and you then have the ability to export that website into PDF, ePub and XML. If you are interested in print on demand as well as eBooks then the PDF file exports are suitable for you to use on print on demand sites like Createspace and Lightning Source, which can save you considerable time having to format for print as well.

One note of caution: at the time of writing this article Press Books was only offering one trim size 6″x9″ and one font size (10 pt) for its print-ready PDF exports. So if you want a smaller or larger book with larger font, then Press Books currently doesn’t offer this flexibility. This, I believe will be changing shortly.

The first five books on Pressbooks are free and then there is a sliding scale starting at $20/mnth to $200/mth depending on how may books are hosted on the site. Distribution to the usual suspects is an extra $100 per book plus $25 per year.

PressBooks – Format once, export Web, eBook & Print: The best feature of Pressbooks is that if you want to publish both an eBook and a print-on-demand title then you only have to format once and you can export files that will be ready to upload to Amazon’s KDP and print on demand services from Createspace or Lulu. Plus, your book will have a dedicated website raising the book’s online ranking across Google search. You can also make your Web book private or publicly available for people to read.

Verdict

The decision of which service to use depends a little on how much or little formatting or converting you want to do yourself and how much you’d be happy to pay someone else to do. If you are confident in formatting your document appropriately (use my Step by Step guide to help) and want to pay as little as possible, then services such as Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, Lulu and BookTango are for you.

If you want the flexibility of adding additional design, multimedia and styling features to your eBook then services such as Vook, PressBooks and to a lesser extent BookTango may suit.

If you want to self-publish both eBook and print on demand yourself then PressBooks will enable you to export an ePub file (for eBook) and PDF file for print on demand services such as Createspace and Lulu.

But if you just want someone else to do the whole thing then you can of course use BWM Books, BookBaby, eBookIT! and Lulu.

A final point:

No matter which option, or options you chose, it is worthwhile preparing your Word (or equivalent) manuscript so it is ‘upload’ ready. This will ensure the conversion process goes as smoothly as possible. My step by step guide is designed to assist you with this. This is available from the BWM Books website

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