When it came to publishing, I decided to independently publish my work.
I often get asked for publication advice from new writers. There are tons of guides (google it) on various types of publishing. I don’t want to re-invent the wheel by posting a generic article on this. What I can do is put a personal spin on my information by reporting my own experiences.
I have independently published five books (and counting…). Independently publishing is not the same thing as self-publishing, though those two terms often get interchanged and used incorrectly. In my opinion, they are two very different routes.
To understand what I mean, let’s take a quick step back: There are three types of publishing (to my knowledge). I researched each type before pursuing my path to indie-publish (that’s the slang for independently-publish).
1. Professionally publish (through a publishing house)
3. Independently publish
Let’s briefly review each, and then I’ll get into my personal experience.
1.Professional publishing means that your book is published through a publishing house. The publishing house creates a contract that outlines all sorts of legal information pertaining to the publication. Essentially, they cut you a check up front to buy the rights to sell your book. If you surpass a certain number of copies sold, then the publishing house will pay you a small amount of revenue from each additional copy sold. [Example: Let’s say you write a book and get picked up by a publishing house. Publishing house will then offer you a $100, 000 contract at 100,000 copies (~20 per book). They give you that check up front and you get no more money until 100,000 copies are sold. Then you get a royalty on every additional book sold.] The overall consensus is this: traditionally publishing does not mean you’ll make enough money to live on.
How do you get picked up by a big publisher? Great question! Most big publishing houses (the big five: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster) will not accept your peddled manuscript. It is nearly impossible to get picked up by a big publishing house without an agent.
To get an agent, you must submit what is called “a query.” You should do this in batches—ten queries at a time, every two months (for example; I read that somewhere). After you find an agent, the agent will work with you on polishing your manuscript before they begin submitting your manuscript to publishing companies. After that, your agent will work hard on trying to land you a contract. Your agent is the one who will fight for you to get the best deal possible from the publishers. Why? Because they make a commission off of what you earn.
If you land an agent, and they get your manuscript accepted, the publishing house will do a lot of the tricky stuff for you. They will have a cover designed, they will get you an editor, whom you will work with to get your manuscript “publish-worthy.” The publishing house will advertise and market for you. That’s a huge deal. It’s also one of the biggest positive aspects of professional publishing. The publisher will get your book in front of the right audiences. Oh, and they also have ways to print books for VERY CHEAP in bulk.
2. Self publishing is a bridge between indie publishing and professional publishing. To self publish, you go to a self-publishing company and you pay them…yes, you heard me correctly. You pay an upfront cost to publish your book. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to go this route. By all means, if you have the money upfront and you feel it is a good fit for you, go for it. A decent package can be anywhere from $1000 - $6000 on average. This package includes various services such as, but not limited to: marketing materials, help editing (not always), help with creating a cover (not always), and a contract to print in advance a certain number of books. The self-publishing company will get your book on various bookstore shelves (not always). Please do your research on self-publishing. I have heard of a lot of people having negative experiences where they paid a lot of money only to discover it was a mistake. All self-publishing agencies offer different packages at varying price levels. When I did my research on this route, it sounded like a terrible fit for me (everyone is different). Do your research.
3.Independently publishing gives you the most freedom. It can cost anywhere from $0 to how ever much you want. As an independent publisher, you are responsible for all aspects of your book: editing, cover creation, book interior formatting, marketing, distributing, etc. You can put in as much or as little effort as you please on all of these things. You are your own boss.
So how does it work?
When you have a completed book, you independently publish by using a print on demand (POD) service to print and distribute it. There are a number of companies who do print on demand books and offer distribution channels. Largest and most popular are Kindle Direct Publishing, and IngramSpark. I have published through both of these companies. I want to mention the biggest differences I noticed with each.
Kindle Direct Publishing vs IngramSpark (as unbiased as possible):
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) does not charge you any up-front fees to publish your book. However, I advise you to order a “proof” copy if you are offering a paperback format. KDP offeres ebook and paperback platforms (as of 2021 they have a beta hardcover case laminate option too). To order a paperback “proof,” it will cost a minimal amount of money (print cost + shipping). In my case, it has always been about $10 total per proof ordered.
KDP will list your book on amazon (because it is amazon), and you can opt to have it sold through other distribution channels too (worldwide), so that big bookstores can order your book. This method is called “extended/expanded distribution” and in order to get extended distribution, you will have to sell your book for a premium (because both Amazon and said bookstore must profit).
Amazon will not print your book until someone orders it. They print according to demand, so they do not keep inventory stocked up for indie books. [Example: If you sell five copies in a day, they print those five copies then ship them out to the buyers. Inventory never passes through your hands.]
KDP does not have the best royalties for its authors (more on this later). Where they lack in royalties, they make up in great and easy to use platform for going through the publishing process (compared to IngramSpark). They also have a nice analytics system in place for you to track sales.
IngramSpark is similar to KDP. They have print on demand services for your book and listing services. They will list your book on amazon, too. They have expanded distribution channels, and can get your book worldwide, just like KDP, due to their printing agreements worldwide.
One big difference is that IngramSpark offers more publishing format options. For example, they offer the ability to publish hardbacks (KDP does not for everyone, but this is changing with case laminate, no dust jackets on the horizon as of yet, yuck), and they also offer more trim sizes. Another big difference is that they allow you more freedom in selling (you have more control over the prices you set). This overall results in your ability to make larger royalties. [example: if I sold a paperback through both KDP and IngramSpark on Amazon, I would make a larger profit on the IngramSpark copy than on the KDP copy.]
Ingram Spark is harder to use than KDP for the publishing process (including uploading your book, filling out info, etc). It also costs money to “list” your book through them. You must buy the ISBN too, either through them for $85 or on your own. To list, it is usually $50 which is frequently waived due to promo-codes that they offer throughout the year (EDIT: this is no longer the case. It is almost impossible to find a coupon to waive the fee anymore, so plan on paying about $50 set up). You don’t have to buy an ISBN through Amazon (one of the biggest differences). IngramSpark also does not make ordering a proof a regular part of the process, which is absurd. You’ve got to special request one. I was never able to figure out how: example of their not straightforward process (KDP earns brownie points there).
Finally, IngramSpark offers non-rush and rush print options. Obviously if you go with the basic, you save the most money. Basic ends up taking much longer than KDP’s only option. That was a pain point for me and frustrated me (more on that later).
My own experiences with these two print-on-demand services:
When I published Blood and Ballet, I only used KDP. I published an eBook and paperback. The process of creating my amazon author account, kdp account, and listing my book on their site was very straightforward. The only thing I didn’t like about ordering proofs, was that they come with a watermark on the cover (super annoying) that says “not for resale.”
I chose to also offer my eBook in the Kindle Unlimited program, which is kind of like Netflix for books. I make money on pages read if people prefer to read it through a KU account rather than buy the eBook. The process was smooth, though it was a learning experience.
When I published Talon the Black, I decided I wanted to offer it in a paperback and a hardback version. Now came the added complication (but I’m so happy I did it). I decided to publish through KDP, Smashwords, and IngramSpark. I offer both an eBook and paperback format through KDP, an eBook only format through Smashwords, and a hardback version through IngramSpark.
(Smashwords is used specifically so that my book can be accessed by people on iBooks, Google Play, etc. If you publish an eBook through KDP, it only distributes to Kindle.)
Setting up my hardback copy on IngramSpark was an unpleasant experience. I’m not sure if it is because they were in the process of changing their site over, or what. But it took two days to set up my title, due to not being able to list a credit card with them to pay for the ISBN. The website was confusing and difficult to navigate. I had to contact customer support 2-3 times and I’m pretty computer savvy (my husband worked IT for years). I found myself frequently asking, “Why haven’t they done it how KDP does it?”
Fortunately, when I ordered my hardback copy to check quality, I was over the moon. The quality of IngramSpark’s books left me happy and made up for the trouble with the site.
Now, let’s talk about my experience with pricing. When you set your price on KDP for your print book, you make 60% of the royalties. What does this mean? Let’s use Talon the Black as an example. Talon is a huge book so it has a high print cost. The print cost is purely the cost of the pages, ink, and printing press operation to print the book. Talon’s print cost as a paperback was $7.50. I quickly found that I had to sell it for $15 if I wanted to make a mere $1.00 profit on each copy sold. Bah! For a book costing that much, I should be making a heck of a lot more. And it gets worse: If I want to sell the book as an expanded distribution, meaning, I want people to be able to go to Barnes and Noble and order the book from them, then selling it at $15 is not an option. Amazon requires me to sell it at a much higher price if I want extended distribution. I had to list my book for $18 just to allow it to be extended distribution. I decided to list it for a flat rate of $20. For every extended distribution copy I sell, I make about 50 cents. But now, if I sell it through Amazon directly, I make just under $4. Not much profit for a $20 paperback, eh? Disappointing…
Now, on to the hardback through IngramSpark. I had a lot more freedom with listing the price for this book. Instead of allowing bookstores to make a set profit off each copy sold, I can dictate the wholesale price and percentage they make. This means their margins are tighter and mine are bigger. I make more profit on selling my hardcopy through IngramSpark.
In order to independently publish, I had to do all of my own editing, advertising, etc. I made my own covers (and had some help from a friend). I had help editing from close friends and family, and people in my inner circle who are excellent at catching typos, etc. I could not afford to sink money into a hobby when I’ve got student loans to pay off.
Having to manage all the things a publisher would has been very hard. I’ve gone from 100% of my author time spent on writing, to about 20% of my author time devoted to writing. I have had to devote the other 80% of my free time to supporting my publications. That is a huge challenge. However, it is also very fulfilling, so I cannot complain.
Overall, I went with indie publishing because I knew it was going to take a long time (if ever) to find an agent and go the professional publication route. It didn’t seem like a good fit for me, because I already have strict deadlines in my full time career, so I cannot afford to take a hobby and turn it into a second career (right now). I also worried too much about editors wanting to change too much of my books. My books didn’t really fit the perfect cookie-cutter recipe most books do, so I knew there was a high chance they needed completely re-worked. I did not want to deal with that because I loved them in their form. Finally, I loved the ease and minimal commitment with indie publishing. Given that publishing isn’t my career, I knew I could put little to no time in when needed, and not fail with some important publication deadline. That freedom is important to me.
I hope the insights into my own experience helps for those who have little to no knowledge about the publishing world. It’s quite a journey no matter which road is taken, but a worthwhile journey, nonetheless.
Do you have any knowledge to add? Feel free to comment below.