Publish Your Book: Self-Publishing or Using a Publishing Service

Today, you can publish your own book. Opting out of the traditional publishing route, you become your own publishing company. Or maybe you hire a publishing service to help you. Here’s some information that I’ve collected which you may find helpful if you’re ready to share your writing with the world.

(Oh, and congratulations to you if you are ready to publish! I think it’s a big (HUGE) accomplishment to write and finalize a book, any kind of book. Getting tens of thousands of words down on paper (well, on the screen) and then editing, organizing, and finalizing that work product is a big deal. No one appreciates that more than those of us who have done it. Kudos to you! I wish you much success!)

1. Self-Publishing 

Once you have your content ready to go, it is possible to take that Word document (or Scrivener file) and turn it into a book on paper or in an electronic format. E-books, of course, are sold in several different formats that depend upon the e-reader that will be used.

Kindles will not read e-books sold on Barnes & Noble, for instance, because Amazon sells the Kindle e-readers and Amazon wants you to buy e-books from Amazon, not its competitor. Of course, Amazon also offers a free downloadable software program so you can read their e-books on other devices.

All this because Amazon e-books are published in one kind of proprietary format. For Barnes & Noble, another format is used. Apple, ditto.

A. The Four Major E-Book Sellers in the United States 

(1) There are four major e-book sellers right now. These are the websites where you want to place your e-book for sale. They are:

(2) Each of these online e-book sellers offers their products in a different format. So you have to provide your book to them in the electronic format they require. Yes, this means that your book will have to be formatted several times, in different ways, if you want to cover all the major selling sites. 

Fortunately, these sellers will guide you through this process for free. Kobo will take your Word document, for example, and convert it to its preferred sales format as part of the steps you take to upload your book to their site for sale. Kindle Direct Publishing guides you through the process as well, converting your document into an .AZW3 format for placement on Amazon.com. Apple really holds your hand, helping you to add images and graphics as you build your e-book for their sales site.

B.  The Four Big e-Book Formats 

1. .AZW3 

This is the format required by Amazon.com (Kindle Format 8 aka .AZW3). It is used on all Kindle e-readers, and with the new reading apps provided by Amazon, these .AZW3 formatted e-books can also be read on smartphones, tablets, PCs, etc., via the free software provided by Amazon.

2. .iBook 

This is the format used with the free iBooks Author software. It’s based upon the .ePub format but it’s proprietary to Apple Inc. You agree to sell books in the .iBooks format through Apple exclusively.

3. .ePub 

This is an open software format. E-books formatted as ePub works can be read in e-readers like Kobo Readers and Barnes and Noble’s Nook as well as on iPhones and on PCs with things like the Firefox add-on, “ePub Reader.” Sony has changed its e-reader formatting from its proprietary BBeB format to .ePub. Barnes & Noble sells e-books via NookPress in an .ePub format. Kobo will take your content and publish it in an .ePub format, too.

4.  .PDF

This doesn’t mean that you cannot offer your ebook in a published, professional way that is outside these sales formats. Portable Document Format (.PDF) is a popular format for e-books that many people use because PDFs are so easy to view on so many different devices and platforms. Most e-readers, smartphones, and tablets can display .pdf formatted e-books. You might choose to offer your e-book as a .pdf on your website, for instance, and invite your readers to upload it to the e-reader, smartphone, or tablet of their choice.

C. Print on Demand for Paperbacks and Hardbound Books 

Some of your readers will want to read your books in print, not on a screen. You can do this without printing an inventory of books (and incur that expense) like traditional publishers do by choosing to “print on demand.”

Amazon.com provides this service with CreateSpace. You can also choose to print your work as a paperback or hardback through Barnes & Noble’s NookPress or through third-party services like BookBaby, IngramSpark, Lulu, or Blurb.

These are not necessarily services where a buyer requests a printed product and then the book is printed for them so much as avenues for you to print your work as a hardbound or paperback book which is then sold on the various web sites. Read the fine print on each site to learn more — and compare the costs! These services aren’t cheap!

2. Publishing Services 

If this seems complicated or overwhelming to you, there are businesses out there ready to help. They will take your raw word count in its Word format (or Open Office, or Scrivener, whatever) and they’ll do everything necessary to convert it into a finished product.  They will also help with marketing your work to readers in various ways.

Some will also submit your work to all the different sales sites (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) as a distribution service. Some stop before distribution, but still offer help on things besides publishing the book, like marketing your work.

For instance, Lulu.com offers support for things like helping you market your book, including things like press releases and business cards.  Popular publishing services that include distribution, etc., include Smashwords, BookBaby, IngramSpark, and Draft-2-Digital.  

3. Royalties: How Much Profit for You? 

Different places offer different royalties to you. If you are writing these books for profit, then you need to analyze how each seller takes their cut and how much profit you can make at each site. Royalties are the buzz word here.

Compare royalties that are offered both for e-book sales through Amazon.com (and other sales sites) to you directly as well as royalties offered via these publishing service companies.

Remember, if they are helping you with marketing tasks or distribution jobs, then they will need to be paid for their work and you’re choosing less profit here for not doing these things yourself as an indie publisher. So, it’s important in your analysis to keep track of the costs you may have incurred in hiring an editor, paying a designer for the book cover, and other costs you’ve incurred in getting your product ready for sale.

These costs need to be tallied alongside any publishing expenses as well as marketing costs and monies paid to get the book into the marketplace. The hard thing about writing books for sale is that you start at that keyboard as a creative artist, but at the end of the process, you evolved into a business owner dealing with a bottom line.

That’s the choice you’ve made by going the independent route: being both (1) a writer and (2) an independent publisher of books.