I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to write about my experience using various self-publishing distributors as an Indie author. My intention with this post is to share my experience – and hopefully give good advice – to other authors starting out. This information is relevant to UK authors as it applies to distributors that have printers and warehouses in the UK and Europe.
Before I started out on my Indie author journey with The Buddha’s Bone a few months ago in June, I felt confused and overwhelmed by the amount of options available for self-publishing, and I wanted the most user-friendly option to begin with: my goal was getting a professionally designed book to a worldwide audience at as low a cost as possible. I had previously used Lulu publishing to print and distribute my novella Zombie Reflux and issues of the literary ezine I run, Bindweed Magazine so I was familiar with this, though found it hard to use and wanted to look at different options.
Amazon KDP – Ebook: As a starting point for both the ebook and paperback versions of my book, I chose to use KDP as it is straightforward to use. For the Ebook, you can download Kindle Creates to format your doc or doc X file; however, I chose to directly upload my doc X file and then check through it with the previewer. What’s helpful about the previewer is that you can check how it would look on a phone, tablet and Kindle reader via a drop-down menu. It was also simple to upload my book cover as a JPEG and to enter the book metadata (title, blurb, contributor details, etc). The only downside to be wary of is that you can’t use unusual fonts, as they will not show as intended; I had tried to use a simple curly graphic in Wingdings font, appearing under each chapter number and it showed up as a plain box. But a great benefit is that the Ebook version also allows you to set a date for publication; I chose to set mine for pre-order on 25th October, to give me time to start sending out ARC copies. Another plus for using Kindle for your Ebook is that it’s free and you can do multiple revisions before your publication date. If you want you can check out the Kindle version of The Buddha’s Bone to see what it’s like. Overall user level: easy.
Amazon KDP – Paperback: There is a simple, very user-friendly option for your paperback: you can download a template that is already formatted with page numbers, header, and typeset ready for you to literally copy and paste across your finished work. It opens as a word document. The only formatting I had to do was to tick the boxes for Widow and Orphan control (single lines appearing at the top or bottom of pages) found in the paragraphs ‘line and page breaks’ section. Then I saved my typeset novel as a PDF to preserve layout and uploaded it. Using the cover designer was also straightforward, though a bit fiddly at times. I used the cover designer as I didn’t have a finished PDF of my work. This involved selecting a layout and uploading my cover art. You have the option to include front and back cover art individually, though I chose to upload one full cover of front, back and spine without the barcode, which I designed on Canva. Author tip – KDP will generate a barcode for the ISBN that you enter: it won’t show on the proof copy, but it will show on the previewer and published book (I have known authors who have paid handsomely for a barcode, only to find out later that KDP will put their own on top of it anyway). I uploaded my full cover as a PNG so that I could see how it would fit with the bleed and trim (areas to be cut off at the edges) shown as dotted lines. This bit was fiddly for me and involved some tweaking to make sure my title and photo wouldn’t be too close to the trim zones. Making a print copy on KDP is free to do, and you can print proof copies that will have a ‘not for resale’ logo; on the plus-side, you can check for typos and order up to five copies if you want to use them as ARCs, as I’ve done, but a downside is that you can’t set your book for pre-order. Take care: I have heard of some authors who said that they assumed the paperback copy would be set to the pre-order publication date that they had chosen for their Ebook and were surprised to see it go ‘live’ straightaway. As for mine, I have saved it as a draft, which I’ll publish on the 25th October when the Ebook goes live. Overall user level: intermediate.
Amazon – exclusive or expanded distribution: On KDP you basically have two options for publishing a paperback: exclusive to Amazon, or expanded distribution. Which route you choose depends on what you want to gain as a publisher of your own books. You can do both routes using the free Amazon ISBN provided, or using your own ISBN as I did. With exclusive you get higher royalties per copy sold (above 60%) as the book will sell only through Amazon. With expanded you get lower royalties (around 40%) but your book will be distributed in libraries, schools and other online retailers. I chose exclusive, as I had already set the price of £8.99 and registered that with Nielsen, where I bought my ISBNs. Choosing Amazon expanded distribution means you have to set a higher retail price as your royalties will be lower – in my case, over £10.63 according to my page count. I wouldn’t imagine too many readers would be willing to buy a paperback from a new author for over a tenner, though that’s conjecture; I may be wrong. For me though, I wasn’t willing to take the risk.
Draft2Digital: Instead of signing up to multiple platforms and creating an Ebook on each, I chose to use Draft2Digital to distribute my novel to Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple, and other online retailers; you can view all the links for The Buddha’s Bone if you’re curious. Draft2Digital has a number of different layouts that you can preview to suit the style you prefer for your book. I chose ‘modern watercolour’ for mine, which adds a lovely leafy design under each chapter heading and for section breaks. Like KDP, Draft2Digital is free to upload your work, you can set it for pre-order and it’s free to use. They are in the Beta stage of creating paperback copies; as of now, they are mainly an Ebook distributor. Overall user level: easy.
Barnes & Noble Press: Like KDP and Draft2Digital, B&N Press is free to use. Unlike KDP, they don’t have a template to use, so you will need to have your doc/doc X/ PDF file ready to upload. I found it easy to enter my book’s metadata and upload the manuscript, though the cover designer was more fiddly to use: as with KDP I chose to upload a PNG of my whole cover minus the barcode. Like KDP they will generate a barcode for the ISBN that you enter on the book’s metadata. However, for UK authors (and I think this applies to European authors too), B&N Press don’t distribute to Europe/the UK. I found this out once I had my book ready for pre-order, so I’ve saved it as a draft for now; if I decide to go ahead with distribution, I’ll have to hire a courier in the US who will ship the books to the UK for me. At the moment, it’s easier and more cost-effective for me to use distributors who ship to the UK. Overall user level: intermediate.
Ingramspark: Before using them, I had heard from so many authors that Ingramspark requires advanced knowledge of book design and is difficult to use. I haven’t found this to be the case for me at all. I wouldn’t say it’s easy; but as I have now built up a considerable skill base from having used all of the above before I navigated Ingramspark, I found it refreshingly straightforward to use. The sticking point for some authors is the cost: I paid $49 (£35) to approve my hardcover book for distribution. I personally feel that cost is worth it considering the worldwide distribution to numerous retailers, wholesalers and libraries. Making the book was easier than I had been expecting: Ingramspark have book designer technology that allows you to upload your doc/doc X file and format it without too much bother. The cover designer is straightforward to navigate if you have some background experience already (in my case from having used KDP, Lulu or B&N Press). The tricky part for me was setting the wholesale discount price; if you set it less than 50%, most bookstores won’t be willing to list it, bit of you go as low as 35-40%, you maximise your online royalties. I also found it a hard decision about whether to set returns or not. Most physical bookstores require you to allow returns otherwise they won’t list your title. But if selling online is your priority, then no returns is probably your most viable option as a new author. It’s mainly what you want to achieve with your individual career here. I can’t recommend Ingramspark enough; it’s a professional service for authors and publishers and I will be using them again for my next book. If you want to see the hardcover of The Buddha’s Bone, the links for various retailers are at my book page. Overall user level = Intermediate to hard.
Lulu: Like Barnes and Noble Press, Lulu requires you to have your files already formatted and ready to upload. I had been preparing to upload my hardcover book via Lulu, but kept getting error reports and had to do a lot of research to find out how to embed fonts in a PDF. Once my book was successfully uploaded, the cover designer was easier to use. A factor to consider when using Lulu is that they don’t offer a cloth hardcover with dust-jacket option, only a case bound cover. I personally wanted a dust-jacket, which is why I used Ingramspark in the end. Another factor to consider is the cost: the minimum retail price I could set for my hardcover on Lulu was £23. I don’t know if even my most faithful family and friends would pay such an eye-watering price for a hardcover copy of my book. This was compared with the much more reasonable price I was able to set on Ingramspark of £14.99, for a beautiful cloth-bound book with professional dust-jacket. (Rest assured you will see a video of my unboxing on this topic soon). Overall user level = Hard.
I hope all the above information is helpful to you in deciding which printer/distributor to use for your own book. Or, if you are a curious reader, an interesting insight into the behind-the-scenes book making world. It’s definitely not an easy feat. Personally I am lucky that my day job in a grammar school means an 8 week summer holiday; I made the most of July and August this year by working flat out for several hours each day educating myself about book and cover design to become my own cover artist, typesetter, editor, marketing company, publisher and distributor – in addition to being a writer. The Buddha’s Bone will be out in the world in 25 days. What can I do, other than give myself a huge pat on the back?