Presuming you’ve come up with serious and well thought-out goals for your self-publishing project and are ready to put the work into creating a good book, your next decision is where to place yourself in the current self-publishing ecosystem.
Like the choice between an Apple or Android phone, there is no “right” decision. And, unlike that phone example, it is very normal in self-publishing to go down different routes simultaneously or sequentially. But the pathway or pathways you choose will dictate (or at least inform) other choices you need to make.
The current landscape can be divided into three broad categories which I’ll outline today, with the next few entries into this series dedicated to describing each separate category in more detail.
If you are primarily interested in publishing a print vs. an ebook and you are ready to manage your own distribution, you can still follow the route I used years ago of finding a printer and working with designers, layout artists and other professionals to produce your book yourself. This option has high up-front costs, but it does provide to the lowest unit cost if you plan to do a large enough print run.
This route can still be the right one if you have a direct channel into which you can sell your book(s) since low unit cost means high margin for direct sales. For example, the key market for a quick reference series I once self-published was temporary service agencies, an identifiable audience that could be marketed and sold to without going through intermediaries. But if your market is smaller (like the audience for a community cook book), short-run publishers like Lulu eliminate most of your upfront cost and work in exchange for a higher per-unit price to produce the book.
Both the long and short-run print options mentioned above don’t get you automatically into book stores or into the Amazon marketplace for print books. If you’re looking for the latter, the best option (one with a higher per-book production cost than working directly with a printer, but lower than working with a short-run printer like Lulu) is CreateSpace.
Like Lulu, CreateSpace lets you submit electronic files for a book’s cover and inside materials which then get turned into a print book. But CreateSpace is an Amazon company which means that any book you publish with them can be added to the Amazon catalog with a single mouse click. Most importantly, CreateSpace produces books on demand, which means they don’t print a copy of your book until that copy has been ordered. So if you are primarily interested in having a print book distributed through Amazon’s global channel, the CreateSpace option essentially makes production free (although you have to pay for your own copies, and both Amazon and CreateSpace take their cut whenever a book is sold online).
Having segued into the Amazon portion of the ecosystem, Amazon is still the biggest player (by far) in ebook distribution, with Kindle sales still representing well more than half of all ebook sales. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is the company’s program for ebook self-publishers and, like CreateSpace, KDP provides tools that allow you to submit your files which are then used to generate a Kindle file which can be distributed through Amazon with no up-front cost.
In theory, the rest of the ebook ecosystem is vast with options like Apple iBook, Barnes and Noble Nook and a dozen other ebook platforms and marketplaces all offering ways to produce and distribute an electronic version of your book. The reason I started that last sentence with “in theory” is that, even with this platform variation, most non-Kindle publishers use the same ebook format (EPUB), so you don’t need to produce different ebook files for different systems.
Nor do you even need to manage relationships with distributors like Apple and B&N separately. You can (and if you do, you can keep more of the money generated with each book sale). But if you’re willing to do without a small slice of that revenue, companies like Smashwords allow you to centralize distribution of all non-Amazon ebook sales through a single vendor.
I know that’s a lot to digest and, as I mentioned, I’ll spend the next few entries in this series going through each option individually in more detail, finishing up with some suggestions on how to select a production and distribution strategy that best meets your ambitions, goals and resources.