OK – Time to sum up the decisions you need to make with regard to your self-publishing effort.
Before doing any of this, remember the fundamental question you should have answered long ago, namely: What is your goal for going down the self-publishing route in the first place? If it’s to make money, options involving marginal cost (i.e., profitability) and distribution will take precedence over goals like establishing a reputation or having a book to share with loved ones where revenue-neutral or even revenue-negative choices might make sense.
So with your goal firmly established in your head, the first question to ask is:
1. What format do I want for my book?
a. Print only
b. E-book only
If (a) (Print only), the next question to ask is whether your book needs to be in a non-standard format (an unusual size, extensive use of color, need for high-quality illustrations or photos, pop-ups, whatever). If so, and if you can afford it, going with a short-run publishing option that supports lots of print choices provides that flexibility. But if you’re working with a standard format (like a 6×9 book such as Critical Voter with a color cover and black-and-white pages containing only text and maybe a few diagrams or images), then CreateSpace offers lower unit cost, print-on-demand flexibility and the ability to distribute through Amazon’s channel.
If (b) (e-book only), you actually don’t have to pick a vendor – just a format (MOBI which plays on Kindle devices, EPUB that plays on everything else – for the most part – or both). Once your book is in one of these formats, you can then distribute it through one of the channels mentioned below, or simply sell or give the files away yourself (via your own web site, other free or e-commerce sites, or just by e-mail).
If (c) (both print and e-book), the Amazon ecosystem (including CreateSpace for print and KDP for e-books) is the place you should start, assuming your book works in one of those aforementioned standard sizes and formats. This doesn’t prevent you from also adding EPUB formatting and distribution to the mix, but why not begin with the world’s biggest storefront that offers options to produce and distribute your book for free?
With question one asked (and answered), the next question on your list should be:
2. How do I want my book to get into other people’s hands?
a. I will give it to them or sell it to them directly
b. I want anyone in the world to buy it
c. I want anyone in the world to have it for free
Choice (a) assumes you know who your customer is and want to control distribution to a specific audience. This might be because you know the book has a limited audience (for instance, a memoir you are publishing to share just with family members), or perhaps you have your own direct sales channels which allow you to skip with middlemen. In such cases, this decision combined with your previous one regarding format dictates your choice: produce the best book you can for the best price and start giving away or selling.
Choice (b) will push you to one of the channels described previously (Amazon vs. everyone else vs. both), and if print is in the mix then Amazon should be your first stop. This means alternatives to Amazon should be considered supplemental channels limited only to e-books. And your choice of how far to go in this direction will be dictated by how much time you want to put into managing multiple channels and whether or not you want to take advantage of what Amazon’s KDP Select program (which requires time-bound exclusivity) has to offer.
Choice (c) – free distribution – is actually an interesting one that hasn’t been explored in detail yet in this series. And it is to this topic that we will turn to next.