Choices for Publishing: eBooks, Part One

publish buttonCongrats! You’ve finished your book! Your editor and beta readers have worked their magic, you have a kickass cover and an awesome blurb, and your ARC readers are ready to post their reviews as soon as you push the “do it” button and release your book.

The question is which “do it” button to use. The good news is that you don’t have to pick just one; you can mix and match, depending on how many ways you want readers to be able to buy your books. And the choice you make now doesn’t have to be your final answer; if your book isn’t performing on a particular platform, you can bail out and try something else.

But there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re making your initial choice. I’m going to cover eBook publishing options today, because I happen to think eBooks are quicker and easier than print. (Your mileage may vary, of course.) We’ll get to the options for dead-tree books later this month.

eBook publishers basically fall into two camps: single-outlet and distributors. Single-outlet publishers include KDP (which publishes only to Amazon’s gazillion global storefronts), Nook Press (only to Barnes & Noble), Kobo Writing Life (only to its own online store), Google Play (only to its own online store), and iBooks (only to Apple’s iTunes). Distributors, on the other hand, may have their own virtual store, but they also send your book to a number of other places. The two biggest players in this category are probably Smashwords and Draft2Digital.

Each avenue has its pluses and minuses, and most have their own technical considerations. I don’t plan to get technical in this post; if you poke around here at IU, you’ll find tutorials for most, if not all, of these publishers. This is more of an overview.

For starters, let’s look at the distributors.

The biggest plus in going with a distributor like Smashwords or Draft2Digital is that it simplifies your publishing process. Smashwords, the granddaddy of eBook distributors, sends its books to Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo, as well as sellers in India (Flipkart) and Germany (txtr). It also will send your books to Oyster and Scribd, which are eBook retailers that do business on a Netflix-type model. In addition, Smashwords has deals with three outfits that distribute to libraries, which can make it easier to get your eBook into your local library’s catalog. And finally, Smashwords also has its own virtual storefront, although it’s not the most user-friendly thing in the world.

Note that while Smashwords has a placeholder for distributing to Amazon, it has never been able to resolve certain technical issues to Amazon’s satisfaction. If you do publish your book at Smashwords, you should uncheck the “distribute my book to Amazon” option, and simply upload your book to KDP yourself.

Draft 2 Digital is a relative newbie, as it’s only been around for a year or so. It lacks a virtual storefront, and it only distributes to four eBook sellers: Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Scribd.

The main advantage with D2D seems to be what it doesn’t have: there’s no Meatgrinder. With Smashwords, you need to format your book in a fairly rigid manner, or it won’t be accepted into the Premium Catalog – which is what gets it to B&N, Apple, and all the rest. Smashwords has even published a Style Guide that will walk you through the process of formatting your Word file – a process that some indies find intimidating. At D2D, there’s no style guide. You send them your .doc, .docx, or .rtf file, and they take care of the formatting and conversion, including the creation of a functioning table of contents. New indies may appreciate the shorter learning curve, but one of the tradeoffs is a shorter list of places where your book will be offered for sale.

One other important point to mention: neither Smashwords nor D2D charges anything. If you run into a so-called publisher or distributor who wants to charge you money to publish your book, RUN – as fast and as far as you can in the opposite direction. A reputable publisher makes its money at the same time the author does: when readers buy the book.

Next week, I’ll talk about the single-outlet publishers, and why you might want to work directly with them.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

18 thoughts on “Choices for Publishing: eBooks, Part One”

  1. Maybe I’m a control freak (or just a freak), but I like the meat-grinder and strict formatting requirements of Smashwords. Wouldn’t want to just turn it over to someone else to do as they see fit…

  2. I previously used Smashwords to distribute my books, but the process is really slow (it once took them 23 days to implement a price change at all the retailers; so I was not happy). With my most recent book, I tried Draft2Digital for distribution and just loved it. With Smashwords, you have to check to see if your book has been distributed. D2D sent me an email when my book was live, along with a link. Everything looked lovely. There was also no meatgrinder drama. So, as far as I’m concerned, I’m done with distribution to kobo, B&N and Apple through D2D. I’d been concerned, because in the past, D2D didn’t do ISBNs (which Apple requires), and I’d heard it didn’t allow you to set a book’s price as free. Now, D2D provides an ISBN for your Apple books, and you can set a book’s price to free. So, no issues on either front, there.

    In terms of ease of use, I’m loving D2D.

    However, I’d forgotten about library distribution, so it’s possible I’ll eventually upload a version to Smashwords just for that purpose, or so I can offer coupon codes to reviewers (because Smashwords has a storefront that lets you give out coupons for free books).

      1. I’ll probably keep uploading to SW to take advantage of the coupons, like RJ said. Also, free books on SW don’t require readers to have an account in order to download which I think is a super opportunity to reach readers. I have no idea how D2D handles that.

  3. Great advice. I’ll add another point or two about Draft2Digital and Smashwords.
    D2D reports and pays monthly, and Smashwords reports and pays quarterly.
    With my most recent book, I have used D2D for the five distribution points they have (they also distribute to page foundry), and Smashwords for the rest. So we’ll see.
    I did make a change to my book and it came through immediately at B&N. This has not been the case with Smashwords. I have books with old covers still listed on B&N.
    It’s too soon to decide, but I’m leaning towards moving my Smashwords distribution to D2D.

    1. Perry,

      I agree that my experience using D2D so far has been great, and I’ll probably use them for all my future books. However, just a quick note that if you actually unpublish books published via Smashwords, you’ll lose those reviews on the other sites. May be worth it to you in the end (My reviews are mostly on Amazon), but it’s something to throw into your consideration when you talk about moving titles.

  4. I bought a book from Smashwords some months ago and could never download it. The tech support response was basically a shrug. That one experience has put me off trying any other Smashwords facility. But D2D sounds promising. Thanks for the heads up, Lynne.

    1. You’re welcome, Meeks. I’ve found Smashwords customer service to be pretty responsive, but that’s been from the author end and not the customer end. Maybe you could try to contact them again.

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