A recent email came to me with a slew of indie- and self-publishing questions. The writer wanted to know how to choose the optimal publishing option and company. They had questions about applying for book awards, how to get into bookstores, questions about formatting, and even about naming your own publishing house.
How Do I Find the Best Services for Indie Publishing?
The author wrote, “Which publishing platform to use? This is the one I’m struggling with the most… I’ve been researching the pros and cons of which companies/aggregators are best. There are many recommendations for publishing through Amazon KDP—in comparison, do you know about IngramSpark? Or is there even another option you’d recommend?”
I started by sharing what I did. You can read more about why I decided to self-publish here. Here’s what I did…
I began with Amazon KDP to publish The Joy of Writing Journal because I wanted to focus initial sales on this major retailer, where I could gain some leverage with the algorithm. I figured I would add IngramSpark later to get into independent bookstores and other online retailers.
While I’m not a fan of the monopoly-like behavior of a certain online retailer. I also want my book to reach as many readers as possible. I felt Amazon KDP offered some advantages. Other pros of Amazon KDP include good quality paper and printing, higher profit (the lowest printing/fulfillment cost that I have found), discounted copies you can order in bulk to sell locally or at events, and less likelihood of running into sourcing delays.
I also knew I wanted to work with Tamara Monosoff, who, at the time, published exclusively with Amazon. I chose Tamara because I knew her well, she’d helped many of my clients publish excellent and award-winning books, and because of her expertise in adding QR codes in the book, linking readers directly to videos, audio and web pages when scanned. I love the idea of an interactive book to help my readers have a 3D experience! Tamara also provided valuable marketing input, from ideas for the QR codes and videos to researching keywords and categories to make the book an Amazon bestseller.
There were some other benefits of Amazon KDP. For one, I didn’t experience any printing delays that some traditional and indie publishing companies experienced during the pandemic. In addition, the higher margins with Amazon gave me more money to work with on Amazon ads. It turns out that Amazon ads is one of the main ways many indie authors find their readers (and their readers find them!). I got many additional sales, including a couple of bulk sales from the wellness office of a school district in Florida!
How to Get Into Bookstores
Not many bookstores, however, will carry a book independently published through KDP. Many will, however, order books from IngramSpark. As long as you don’t use an Amazon ISBN for your Amazon KDP book but instead buy your ISBNs from Bowker, you can publish with both Amazon KDP and IngramSpark, and pay the lower price for Amazon KDP.
I heard from various people in the publishing industry that IngramSpark has some challenges that have not been easy to deal with, and they are slightly more expensive than Amazon. The paper quality is good but not quite the same stock as Amazon, in my experience. Publishing with Ingram Spark has helped my book get into some local bookstores, some that I approached and at least one that approached me (Barrington Books) after seeing an article in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine. I do make significantly less money per book on IngramSpark.
I did not, however, work with IngramSpark on my own. It’s much easier to work with a publisher familiar with them. I worked with my colleague, Bryna Rene, founder of WorldChangers Media, a hybrid publisher. WorldChangers Media published the expanded edition of my book with IngramSpark.
There are many excellent hybrid publishers and indie publishing options. However, there are also many bad actors. I recommend speaking to authors who’ve worked with a particular indie publisher or hybrid publisher and asking about their experience. What worked? What didn’t? And what do they wish worked better? Also, Google the publisher name plus the word “reviews” and the publisher name plus the word “scam” to see what turns up. I am very happy with both of my publishing choices if you want to check either of them out.
“What Do I Need to Know About Formatting?”
This author also asked about formatting: “How did you go about formatting? Does Amazon KDP (and other publishing platforms) take care of this aspect? Or do you need to use another service for this?”
Certainly, you can learn how to format if you are a true do-it-yourselfer, but it takes time to learn to format, and if you’re not a designer, I recommend hiring a publishing company that does that for you. My publishers did a great job of formatting and layout and I was super happy with the result.
“How Do You Win Book Awards for Your Indie-Published Books?”
This author had seen my book awards and asked, “How do you go about book awards? Are there specific sites/outlets you recommend for this? It’s probably a silly question, but would submitting my manuscript for an award prevent agents from taking on my book since it’s been presented to the public? Should I only do this once I’m sure I want to indie-publish, or should I start working for book awards now?”
I told the author that I worked with an excellent awards consultant, Melissa Sones. While it may seem like the kind of thing you can do on your own, I would not have won the Nautilus Book Award if I hadn’t done that since I would have gone with one category, and it was not the category for which my book won the award. The second category, which Melissa suggested, was the winning category.
Many of my clients have won book awards, business awards and other awards working with Melissa. She also took care of all the admin parts of it, including sending out books, filling out the paperwork, etc.
Regarding the question about literary agents and timing, winning an award as a self-published author is fine. Still, suppose a traditional publisher later picks up the book. In that case, you may be unable to place the award medal image or sticker on your book cover if the publisher changes the content, book cover or other aspects, which they likely will do. So, consider checking in with the awards company on their rules so that you know you can use the awards information and image if changes are made to the book.
If you plan to self-publish in the hopes of attracting a traditional publisher later, you may want to wait to apply for awards. On the other hand, the award could make your book more attractive to publishers, but usually, more important to a publisher is that your book has sold many thousands (or tens of thousands) of copies. There are some exceptions to that caveat about book sales.
AMAZON Keyword and Categories
I addressed this with the author because strategically choosing keywords and categories can dramatically help sales. Publisher Rocket is a great starting point for indie-published books because it will show you how often your keyword is searched for on Amazon and how competitive your keywords are. Keyword frequency and competition change over time, so you’ll want to go back and keep checking on this as you get closer to your launch. Luckily, you pay a one-time fee of $97 for Publisher Rocket and you never pay again, yet it instantly updates every time you use it so that you are getting the most up-to-date data. Note: I am a paid affiliate, and if you use my link (above), I will receive a commission if you purchase.
If you don’t want to research on your own, you can also work with someone knowledgeable, which is what I do. I used Publisher Rocket for some initial research. Then Tamara helped me use Publisher Rocket to identify keywords and categories to use on Amazon. My friend and colleague Howard Van Es also helped me research potential book titles using Publisher Rocket.
The author then told me she was considering using 99 Designs for her cover. I do not know specifically about 99 Designs book covers, but, in general, many book designers use stock covers or stock images specifically for book design, so you can get a cover that copies someone else’s book cover with just a few changes. I encourage authors to be cautious and ask questions about their cover designs.
In addition, when you hire a cover designer, make sure you understand whether they work with you until you are satisfied. You will not need a separate cover designer if you are working with someone like Tamara or Bryna or most hybrid publishers, as that is part of their service.
Decisions to Think Through When Indie Publishing
The author then asked, “Anything I need to know about creating a publishing house name for my book? Any legalities I should know about? Would I need to come up with any random name and logo?”
I would think long and hard about a publishing house name. Your first book may be the first of many. Choose a title that you think will work for a broad area of writing that interests you rather than just the first book.
Authors should also think about tax implications. When you sell through online retailers, the retailer should be paying the taxes, and you’re either receiving royalties or selling to the retailers wholesale. It’s nice not to worry about charging and paying sales tax! If you are selling individual books, you must file sales tax on those retail sales. Are you selling books in several states? More tax filings to do!
Given the amount of additional time those sales tax filings could take, I chose to encourage people to buy from independent bookstores and online retailers, and I only sell my books wholesale or on consignment to retailers rather than individually because I didn’t want to deal with the sales tax filing required if I sold retail. When I speak at a library, I donate books to the library so that the library can generate funds for their programs by offering books as a gift to donors.
If I speak to a group on Zoom, I encourage them to buy the book from independent bookstores or online retailers. Think about what your time is worth and how you want to spend it!
What Questions Do You Have About Indie Publishing?
What questions do you have about self-publishing / indie publishing or hybrid publishing? Ask as a comment below. Or share your experiences with other readers/writers.