I have many aspiring writers and authors contacting me with questions on my story and publishing in general. I have worked hard to integrate my personal experiences into a break down of self-publishing (indie publishing) and traditional publishing. Let it be known that I am not an expert in this field and am only offering my personal view points, first hand experience and information gathered in my own research. The information provided here is not meant to replace the direct guidelines of any publishing model or influence ones decision to publish with any particular company or route. You all have minds of your own, this is merely me sharing my experience to further help you make an informed decision so please don’t dissect this, argue with me or otherwise snub this page. It should be noted this page is best served to novice writers looking for a foot in the door, a launching point on navigating the industry.
I’ll try to break things down so they’re easier to organize and retain.
The first thing you need to do is decide if you want to go the ‘Indie’ route or the traditional route. Both have their pros and cons.
Indie Route: Total control. Higher profit margin. Faster turn-around. Total responsibility. Everything is on you: editing, cover, marketing etc. (though you can hire out for those things.) Often requires investment for editing & cover. (My editor is Susie Hatfield, however I do my own covers.) Harder to build a positive reputation in the industry. (You have to prove yourself time and again with top sellers before many will even consider you an author.)
Traditional Route: Professional editor. Only investment is time. Professional cover artist. Professional marketing (though publishers are doing less and less of this and forcing you to do your own.) Sometimes, you obtain an advance. (Beware, this is often broken up into 3-4 payments at different steps in the process.) Industry respect. (Indie is looked down upon by many, primarily due to a lack of quality control.) Book is available in “exclusive” locations you can’t gain access to on your own. Very time consuming – don’t expect your book to be available for a minimum 6-12 months from the time you sign the contract. (This can go up to 2-3 years sometimes. The publisher may also decide they don’t want to release your book at all, which contractually they are allowed to do.)
I am both an indie author and a traditionally published author. My young adult series is self-published and my adult romances are through publishers. I won’t lie to you, they both require a lot of time and work, and unfortunately you have to be ready for rejection regardless of which format you choose.
With traditional publishing, you have to have an agent to even be considered by the larger presses like Simon & Schuster. Personally, I find that the smaller presses are just as efficient at providing excellent service & they offer a faster turn around, however they are much lighter on marketing and offer advances typically of $5k or less. With my Vamp Chronicles series, I shopped it to several editors at larger publishers. I corresponded with one in particular for a while. But between each request the editor sent to me was a minimum four months. I wasted over a year by the time he said he didn’t feel my main character’s voice was strong enough in the beginning of the book. So I rewrote the entire book to what it is today. Because he hadn’t requested a rewrite though, I couldn’t resubmit it to him.
That’s when I decided, with the rising success of other author hopefuls, to self-publish. I originally went through Smashwords to publish, but after over a month, my book still wasn’t available on B&N and Amazon. So I took matters into my own hands and set up an account directly with www.pubit.com (B&N self publish site) and kdp.amazon.com (Amazon’s self publish site) My book was available within 48 hours on both sites. I’ve kept my books through smashwords because Sony, Kobo and a few others don’t have direct publishing sites for indie authors.
So here is the break down of what you need to do for each distributor.
Of course sign up for an account with them first. You will need to read through their “premium catalog” requirements. Your book will NOT be distributed anywhere but on smashwords.com unless you comply with all the formatting, legal details and quality control they require. When you upload your manuscript (in a .doc format – NOT .docx) and cover image (typically .jpg) it will automatically be put through an automated, computer check called auto-vetter. If you have no immediate errors or issues, then your work will be submitted for a manual review. The manual review can take up to 3 weeks to be completed. If you don’t pass the manual review, you will not be added to the premium catalog and your book will go no further until you correct the issues cited. Once your book is accepted, expect your book to take 3-4 weeks to be available for purchase on the sites you choose to distribute to. I choose to distribute to only the distributors I can’t access directly.
Money is always important. With smashwords, there is a big lag in payment from the third party. Your numbers will be reported up to a month before payment is made to smashwords. Smashwords pays quarterly, typically the last day (up to the 10th day of the following month) of January, April, July and October. You will only receive payment for what was received by the last day of the previous month. So in January, you will be paid for the payments received from October 1st until December 31st. The selling site (Sony, Kobo, Deisel etc.) will take a portion of your list price for themselves, then smashwords will take another cut, so be aware of the double dipping. That’s why I only use them for the ones I can’t access directly. Additionally, if you do not have one, you will need to sign up for a paypal account, since smashwords pays via paypal.
Of course, sign up for an account first. You will always sign some sort of contract when you sign up with these direct publishing companies. They have the right to adjust the price of your book at their choosing. Amazon is the one sight that will lower your price if they get wind of your book being priced lower on any other site out there. I sell the most on amazon. It is the number one market for e-books to be sold. (iTunes/iBookstore is a close second.) You will have a bookshelf where you maintain all of your books. Be aware that once you publish something, regardless of if you unpublish it, it will always sit on your main docking board.
Amazon and Apple are your only International platforms. You will have the option to opt in or out of the international market. I sell far more internationally on Apple than Amazon, however, I still opt in (by selecting that I have the rights for the book internationally). You will receive a separate paycheck for Amazon US versus UK, France, Italy etc.
Amazon pays monthly, however they are on a 60 day delay. What I sold in January, I am paid for at the end of March. The good thing about amazon is they are prompt, often early actually. I’m typically paid between the 26th-28th of the month. Amazon is set up like B&N with profit margins though. Anything priced $2.98 and below will only receive a 35% payout of the list price sold. Items priced $2.99 and above will receive a 70% payout of the list price sold.
Amazon / Kdp Select.
There has been a big debate about this. Essentially, if you are willing to sell your book exclusively through amazon, they will give you a portion of the profits of Amazon Premium, however, it is based on how many times your book is downloaded/purchased as to approximately how much you will receive. They’ve put out big totals, however, being that this is your first book, you will want the face time elsewhere. You have to build yourself up first. Once you have several books under your belt, a solid ‘fan’ base who will definitely download your book regardless of location, then you can consider this. I still am not a fan of it anyways because you are cutting out a chunk of your audience through the exclusivity, and the likelihood that you will recoup the profit loss or receive more is a big question mark. This is something you can dig deeper into on your own if you’re interested though.
Barnes & Noble: www.pubit.com
Barnes and Noble is ranked 4th in terms of marketplaces for e-books, but that is a big difference. To put it in perspective, I earn roughly $700 on Amazon for every $100 earned on B&N. I keep my books on B&N though because the money does make a difference at the end of the month sometimes. The more exposure, the better too. People upgrade and change e-book readers constantly. I started with a B&N nook and ended with an Amazon Kindle. Your audience will carry you with them when they transfer e-book readers, but only if they were aware of you.
Barnes & Noble pays 40% of the list price sold for items priced at $2.98 and below, and 65% of the list price for items $2.99 and above. B&N is the same as Amazon with the pay schedule being 60 days after the close of the month, however, I typically receive payment from them on the last day of the month or first day of the following month.
Apple: iTunes & iBookstore: www.itunesconnect.apple.com
Apple is a completely different ball game, but to me, well worth jumping through the hoops to contract with. Now you can opt to go through smashwords for distribution on iTunes/iBookstore, however you make more money and sell in more countries by contracting directly with them. And that is your first step. You must submit an application to be considered for a contract to publish with them on iTunes connect. Once they accept you, which can take up to 2 months, then must actually electronically sign the contract. Be aware, you are signing up as a publisher, despite specifying that you are an author. They will ask questions such as how many books you plan to publish per month etc. With Apple, they are formal and all about business.
Here is the kicker for Apple, you cannot upload or publish your book unless you have an apple computer product. You must download iTunes Producer in order to submit your work to them for distribution. It is in iTunes Producer that you will be have to one by one add the countries of distribution and where you will be forced to upload your manuscript in a .epub form (everyone else typically wants a .doc.) Beware, they will recommend that you pay for a software that turns your .doc manuscript into an .epub file (which is an e-book reading platform/scripting). They will also try to tell you you must pay for and submit for a ITIN/ESBN. I found a way around both of these, and it’s the BIGGEST reason why I use smashwords. Use your free ISBN, that you set up through smashwords, on Apple. As for the epub issue, download your published book from smashwords in the epub version (B&N). On an Apple comp, it will then be in your downloads. When you select the file to upload through iTunes Producer, just upload it from your downloads. Then you met both requirements without shelling out a dime.
Apple pays monthly as well (quarterly to 3rd party distributors like smashwords). They pay 35-40 days after the close of the previous month though. So what I sold in January I would get paid for between March 5-10th. Depending on the previous month’s number of days, I’m typically paid from Apple between the 4th -6th of the month. They combine all earnings internationally and make one payment to you. Be aware that your payment amount will fluctuate by several dollars. Apple converts your profits/payout schedule based on the currency value for the day of payment. You will see the currency value fluctuate based on the value to the dollar daily until your actual payment is made. It’s never been more than a $5 fluctuation; so don’t worry too much about it. I just mention this in case you’re a strict budgeter.
Print on demand. They force you to purchase a mock copy for quality purposes at a supposedly discounted rate, but it is generally the price of a regular book. Profit margins vary so much on the print versions of books, it’s not funny. They price based off the number of pages, whether black and white or color interior… there are so many variables. It’s only nice to have a print option for customers who enjoy your book so much that they want it in print or those few customers who only purchase print books (which is less than 5% of the reading audience these days, at least where you’re concerned since the book will not be physically available in book stores. The customer can special order the item for pick up at a bookstore, but they won’t carry your book in stock.)
Createspace tries to upsell you on each title. They offer you a higher profit margin, and premium distributing for each book for a fee of $39. Print is such a small market these days, especially when it’s not done properly, that it doesn’t seem worth it to me. If the books would be in your face and available at book stores the way they are when distributed by the big NY pubs, then go for it, but people are far less likely to purchase a print book, pay the higher price plus shipping (where applicable) when they haven’t seen, felt or peaked inside the book they were buying. Ultimately it’s up to you though.
Another thing to mention is that with createspace, you have to upload your book cover in a very specific format. It is far easier to pass their quality assurance by using their pre-made template.
Essentially the same as createspace, but I prefer them over createspace. They are far better with customer service, walk-through/set-up etc. But this is merely a preference. They both do/offer the same thing.
Now that you have the basics, here are the finer details of things. First, many people don’t realize this but by publishing your manuscript through Amazon, B&N, Apple or whoever, the piece is automatically copyrighted to you as the author/owner of the book’s rights. If you go through a traditional publisher, they will obtain a copyright for you through the Library of Congress. Beware that some of the smaller press publishers do not do this for you. Just read your contract. Regardless, it’s not essential that you spend the $35 and apply for a copyright. You are more than welcome to if it will make you feel more secure.
With the copyright, you tend to also request/receive an ITIN/ESBN number. This is basically the barcode/serial number assigned to your book. Every single distributor listed above (aside from Apple) will provide a free one for you. And again, with Apple, just use your free smashwords one.
General Formatting Rules:
Do not use font larger than 14pt.
Try to stick with basic, universal fonts like Arial & Times New Roman.
Do not use colored text anywhere. When being converted into a html, epub, kindle etc. file, it will not translate and the reader will often end up with symbols where you intended text to be.
Only use a page break when you are moving onto a new chapter, moving from the title page to the legal para page etc. (Note that Smashwords wants no page breaks.)
Paragraph formatting:: In Microsoft Word, right click and select Paragraph. Here is what I input and utilized:: Under spacing: Before: 0 pt After: 10 pt Line Spacing: Multiple 1.15
Do not use smileys, any sort of word art / clip art or image inserts anywhere except on the cover.
Keep the edges at 1 inch all around.
Do not underline anything! This does not translate in conversion, and again the reader will end up with symbols or extra characters that take away from or completely remove the text. You may italicize things though.
The Nitty Gritty of the Traditional Route…
In going the traditional route, be aware, be extra cautious and read every single submission requirement because every publisher requires something different, especially with formatting, when submitting your manuscript. Some want a 2-5 page synopsis, others don’t. You have to read the submission guidelines carefully because things as simple as font and document type are selected for you. One thing they all want though is a query e-mail, which essentially is a blurb about your book. (I included the one I would put up on amazon.com or b&n to entice readers to buy the book.) They also want a couple sentences about you and usually any experience, previous publishing, you have. (I didn’t include anything about my indie work since it’s unrelated, though I did include a link to my website if they wanted to check in on me.)
The typical turn around time varies. The earliest is generally a month. And I’ll tell you now, that month is torture! You’re checking your phone every 5 minutes for an e-mail notification. But in the end, all the hard work will be worth it if someone actually replies with interest.
For the publisher(s) that permitted you to submit your entire manuscript and offered you a contract, your true journey begins here. For the other publishers, you go to the next step, which is generally to send the first 3 chapters, or the first 50 pages of your manuscript. If they like that, they may ask you for up to a total of half of your manuscript. If they like that, then they go to the final step of reviewing your entire manuscript. It often takes them the longest to respond during the initial phases, but be prepared for up to a 2 month wait time still on this last step. (If you’re dealing with a large publisher, then they may take longer. As with my experience, they can take 3-6 months between requests / responses.) FYI… It’s the exact same process to obtain a literary agent. Make sure you research their experience before you submit to them though. You need someone with experience in the specific genre/market you are writing.
Now here’s the bad news. You’ll be making a lot less per book copy through a publisher than if you were an indie author, even though they will charge several dollars more for your book. This is important because if they are doing very little marketing for you, yet charging way more than a slew of books currently on the market, then you will not be making much at all. It’s imperative to ask them what they will be doing for you. Be careful with wording in the contract as well. Percent of list price is far different from percent of net profit. (Keep in mind, an agent will receive generally 10-15% of your take home for facilitating things. It’s important to make sure they earn it, that they fight for you to receive the most possible, so choose one wisely.)
Truthfully, once you get the hang of things, then you will be just fine. I made quite a few mistakes in the beginning with both chosen routes. It’s going to happen.
This is a LOT of information, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. You’re entering an industry that is going through the change of its millennium. Publishing isn’t what it was 10, 5 or even 2 years ago. Regardless of which route you choose, there will be challenges to face. So suit up and get ready to dig deep. You have to believe in yourself, in your talent before anyone else will. You have to be prepared to face adversity, dislike, rejection, regardless of which path you choose. Writing is a personal thing. Your book will be your baby, and you are basically putting it out there on the front lines. It’s going to be torn apart. It doesn’t matter who you are, you are going to get a nasty review at some point. You cannot please everyone, so it’s important to remain focused on your dreams, your goals, your plans and not allow others to dissuade you.
Best of luck to you!