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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Which E-book Publishers Should a Hybrid Author Consider?

Chip MacGregor is the president of MacGregorLiterary, a full-service literary agency on the Oregon Coast. A former publisher with Time Warner, he has worked with authors as a literary agent for more than a dozen years, and was previously a senior editor at two publishing houses. An Oregon native, Chip lives in a small town on the Oregon coast. Chip is also the author of a couple dozen books and a popular teacher on the craft of writing and marketing. Connect with him through his blog and on Twitter.
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Which e-book publishers should a
hybrid author consider?
I've been one of those agents encouraging writers to consider becoming hybrid authors (that is, publishing with traditional publishers, as well as self-publishing some titles). That has brought me this question from several people: Which e-book publishers do I need to consider? 
There are a number of choices for authors who want to indie-publish a book. Everybody tends to immediately think, "I'll just post it myself on Amazon," but we've seen countless error-filled books done on Amazon, so if you want to take a step forward, there are some options to consider. Of course, you need to know what you want in a publisher. For example, do you want to pay extra for marketing help? Does your non-fiction book need photos or maps in the text? Will you want the capability of adding an audio version of your novel? There are a bunch of choices, so let me suggest some places to consider checking out.
1. Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (you'll find them at kdp.amazon.com). This can be a great choice, since it's quick, easy, and fast. KDP will make sure your book is available on every Kindle and every computer or phone with the Kindle app, it allows you to be part of their unlimited lending program, and has some special features such as their "countdown" deal and their free book program. KDP pays you a royalty of 35% of the list price on most sales, with the opportunity of a 70% royalty if you follow some pricing guidelines. They pay monthly, and can do direct deposits. It's a great way to go for many authors... but the big drawback is that they will have some Amazon-only restrictions. That means people who don't own a Kindle won't even be seeing your book. Still, KDP is great for reaching the Kindle crowd, which is roughly 60% of all ebook readers.

2. Smashwords (www.smashwords.com). This is who we almost always recommend to authors who want to reach beyond Amazon. Kindle is great, but Smashwords will get you into the iBookstore (for readers with iPads), the Nook bookstore (for Barnes & Noble devotees), the Kobo bookstore (which works with indie bookstores in this country, but is a big deal overseas), and Scribd. So instead of having to upload your titles to every company independently, Smashwords takes care of all the non-Amazon e-tailers, and converts your text into the various formats you'll need. They also have nice extras such as free marketing help, and they'll even suggest who can help you with the required formatting. They pay 70%, will send you checks quarterly, and we've never had a problem with the accounting at Smashwords. This is a company we trust, and if you do both Smashwords and self-publish a book on Amazon, you're reaching all the major markets.
Stay informed about what's out there.
3. BookBaby (www.bookbaby.com). This is a fast-growing company that makes it easy for authors. They offer three packages, charge you a flat fee, and take care of everything -- formatting, distributing to all the e-tailers, and even helping with marketing. They have some great extra features (like an author bookstore page, or good cover design assistance) that cost more, but the authors I've spoken with have been very happy with their experiences at BookBaby. This is more of a one-stop shopping -- so while posting your book on Amazon is free, the convenience of using BookBaby will cost you, but it might be worth it to you. They pay 85% of net. BookBaby isn't as fast as the others, but they have good customer service, and offer some really nice extra features (that you'll have to pay for, of course). We think they're a good option for the right authors.
4. Kobo's Writing Life (www.kobo.com). This one might be new to you, but I mention it because it's huge in other countries. Kobo currently says they are the world's second-largest e-bookstore, and that they're doing book in nearly 70 languages, reaching into almost 200 countries (that's from their website, so I'm taking their word for it). I've known authors who have worked with them, and they rave about how easy it is -- you upload a file, Kobo converts it, they pay you 70%, and they're now starting to offer some marketing helps. But the big news is that they're working closely with ABA bookstores, which means all those indie bookstores will be helping you to sell your titles. This is one of those companies you might be overlooking, so make sure to check them out.
There are lots of options out there—it's our job to
stay informed.
There are certainly others. Apple has iBook Author (which people have complained is cumbersome to use, but can be great for children's books, cookbooks, and projects with a lot of photos), NookPress (which replaced PubIt, and is easy to use, but only for those who own the floundering Nook), Vook (which can work with all the e-tailers, but works on a different economic model than the others), eBookIt (the competitor to BookBaby in terms of being a one-stop shop), and BookTango, iUniverse, Trafford, and Lulu, who are all owned or in partnership with the folks at AuthorSolutions. To anyone looking at an AuthorSolutions company, I always say, "Do your research." There are good programs and bad programs, but understand that AuthorSolutions is too often accused of being there to sell services to you, as the author, not to necessarily sell books to consumers. 
My question to you: Which of these have you worked with, and what are your impressions?  Leave a note in the "comments" section for who you liked and why (or who you didn't, and why not).
Chip MacGregor

3 comments:

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Hi, Chip, I've worked with Amazon, Smashwords, Nook, and Kobo. I will say that my experience, and MOST other indie authors I know, is that Amazon moves the most books (there are exceptions, particularly with nonfiction or series). I recently pulled one of my books from their Select program (which allows you to schedule freebies/countdowns and lists your book in Kindle Unlimited) and took that novel to Nook and Kobo, as well as Amazon. So far, I've regretted that decision, because even though the Kindle Unlimited sales paid me less, I had more actual sales via Amazon only (most people have a Kindle reader, even if only on their computer).

However, when I have a series out, I do want the first to be permafree across all platforms, so I will probably leave my mystery there for now.

Smashwords and Draft2Digital are similar in that they keep a percentage of your sales but will distribute your book to multiple platforms (after you've formatted/edited it, of course). I know Smashwords upload was difficult for me because I had a map, but others have no problems.

Regardless of which "publisher" you choose, you really ARE the publisher when you go indie (your name will be listed as publisher, at least on the ebook, even if you don't have a pub house name), so that generally means you will be very involved with developing your cover art, uploading your books, formatting, editing, etc. You can outsource any of these things or do them in-house. But self-publishing is just that--you do much of it yourself. In other words, though it gets easier over time, there is a learning curve and if you want to do it right, it will take effort, no matter which source you upload to. But it's nice to have flexibility to choose which outlets will carry our books and which will bring in the most profit.

Connie Almony said...

Just for clarification, there are two options through Amazon, KDP and KDP Select. In KDP you upload your book there as well as to other distributors, but are not part of the lending library and under some conditions have a smaller royalty (ie. price under $2.99 gets the 35% royalty). In KDP Select you agree to be exclusive to Amazon (not uploading to other distributors), but you are part of the lending library and can make use of the “countdown” deals. I use KDP at present because I do not want to be exclusive to Amazon, however, I may use the Select program temporarily in the future for the initial release of a novel.

I like Smashwords because it’s a one-stop-shop to make the ebook available on many channels without going to several sites. However, there is benefit to uploading to specific sites. Smashwords does not allow you to add links to other distributors (understandably) that take the reader right to a retailer site to buy the next book in the series or anything else by the same author. If you upload to each individual retailer sites, you can customize the buying of future books at the end the one they own—an easy way to “help” the reader find more of your gems. Still, I recommend Smashwords to newbies of indie-pub (in addition to regular KDP) in that they can get their feet wet without all the bother. However, that’s not to say the process of uploading to Smashwords is simple. Prepping your manuscript for “the meat-grinder” is a bit more work than it is for Kindle.

Nancy Kimball said...

Hi Chip! I do keep up with your thoughts on the industry still even though I am an all Indie author, because I remember you being one of the first literary agents in CBA circles to be what I would consider "Indie-friendly" =)

I do just want to clarify something here in your article thought for anyone who may be brand new/unfamiliar with KDP. Kindle Direct Publishing is a distribution channel that functions completely separate from KS (Kindle Select) and KU (Kindle Unlimited) though none would exist without the one before it.

I am published through KDP and Nook Press for my ebook, which is also available in paperback and audiobook but I'll confine this to ebook for purposes of this comment. While my ebook is available for Kindle (any form and app) through KDP, I do not participate in KS (Kindle Select.) Therefore I have no exclusivity requirement with them. The Amazon Only restrictions you mentioned are only part of the Kindle Select program, and they are for 90 day terms/periods at a time. In exchange for that exclusivity, the author has the options of the 5 free days and countdown deals you described, and also (here is the important part) become part of the Kindle Unlimited lending program.

How Kindle Unlimited works and its impact on readers and authors is an entire other discussion we love to have in Indie circles, but my ebook is not part of that program either because it is not enrolled in Kindle Select. I am missing out on the opportunity to see some really astounding borrow royalties, even those beyond the ebook list price of some of my Indie brethren but for now this works better into my overall publishing strategy and pricing model.

P.S. (This is vain of me but since I still feel Indies have to work twice as hard for half the respect, this post isn't indicative of my published work. There's a reason I have professional freelance editors for that but without them I do tend to let my less than stellar grammar and sentence structure show--and let fly with my love of emoticons and parenthetical phrases. =)