You might be surprised to learn that Amazon is not the only way that an indie author can distribute a book to the world.
There are several options, and several distributors, each with its own set of complications and advantages. I spent months gathering all the possibilities, studying the online interfaces, reading their documentation, reading opinions by other writer/publishers, listing advantages and pitfalls. I also published some books for other writers using their strategies.
Finally, I decided upon my favorite strategy. You might do the same research and arrive at a different conclusion. You might also have a different goal. I will share with you what I believe is the best approach for a self publisher, like myself, who wants to make a living writing books.
Preparation & Marketing
Have you written a book that is ready to publish? Perhaps you would rather not wait for rejection letters, or share profits with a publisher. Self publishing could be just right for you.
If your book is submitted and accepted by a traditional publishing company, you assume that they will do the marketing for you. Well, if your books is lucky enough to strike a sweet chord in the market, they will spend more time on marketing that book. If not, your book will just become part of another catalog. In that case, you will end up doing most of the marketing yourself anyway, if you want to succeed.
Self publishing makes you available to readers, but it does not let them know you exist. To gain visibility in the marketplace, polish your work, and build an audience, you’ll need additional skills. I work with an editor. I am skilled at word processing, book layout design and cover design, and I know how to do contemporary marketing. I can handle the preparation for submission, and I will proactively do marketing and networking to sell books. You might want to hire someone with experience to help you with these tasks.
Today, I can publish a book in any of three formats: Printed, Ebook, Audiobook. It is worth the effort to produce and release my book in all three formats. Printed books are still extremely popular, ebooks have a huge and growing market, and audiobook sales grew by 21 percent last year. Since I plan to put a lot of effort into marketing, and the goal is to make a living as a writer, I want to be available everywhere in all formats.
There are many distribution platforms and online book stores available to me for self publishing my book in any format. You may know a few, such as iBooks by Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Baker & Taylor, Google Play, Amazon. The primary distribution outlets for audio books include Audio Republic from Great Britain, and Audible, owned by Amazon. Audiobooks are a separate market with different outlets and aggregators. For now, let’s just talk about printed books and ebooks.
A Book Distribution Aggregator is a company who will, when I follow their procedures, accept my manuscript and cover design, turn it into a printed book and an ebook, then enter it in nearly all major book catalogs and online distribution outlets in the world. When someone buys my book from any of these catalogs, the aggregator will print it, and deliver it to the customer, collect all the royalties and pass them along directly to my own bank account. I will enjoy having only one managing account and one revenue stream covering many distribution outlets, and I do not share royalties with any middle man, like a publisher. I am the publisher.
Founded in 2011, BookBaby.com has a comprehensive aggregator service that will submit my book to all the major outlets. In 1997, a service owned by Ingram called Lightning Source became the prefered online catalog for business to business relationships between publishers and bookstores, but it was not available directly to authors. Last year, 2015, the same company launched a service called IngramSpark that will compete directly with BookBaby, also serving self publishers with a fairly well designed online interface for book submission, and a lower cost for submission than BookBaby.
BookBaby, for a fee, will edit, cover design, and convert my book to ebook formats. IngramSpark expects me to have hired someone to do all this before I submit my book to IngramSpark. In either case, unless I do it all myself, I can expect to spend between $1,000 and $3,000 for the professional preparation chores. The price will depend upon how long my book is, the level of quality I expect, and how much work my manuscript really needs.
If I have completed all the preparation, I can publish a book on Ingram in print and ebook format for about $75, including the ISBN. At BookBaby, it is a minimum of about $425, and the price goes up depending upon how much preparation I already did myself. The best idea is to submit my book in PDF for print versions, and EPUB for ebooks and Amazon/Createspace. Ingram includes my book on nearly all the same distribution venues as BookBaby. BookBaby will put me on the Ingram catalog too.
Amazon/Createspace is not an aggregator. They sell printed books and ebooks directly from Amazon.com. The consensus is that if I want my book to be warmly welcomed at brick and mortar bookstores, I may want to avoid publishing it in print form on Amazon/Createspace. Most bookstores hold Amazon responsible for damaging their business, and even when there is a wholesale discount, they will not order from Amazon. Bookstores, such as Powell’s in Oregon, will order from Ingram because they have had a relationship for several years through Ingram’s Lightning Source.
However, if I skip Amazon, I am missing out on an enormous online marketplace. If my book is available on Ingram, and it is selling fairly well overall, I am hoping that the bookstores will want it anyway, since they stand to benefit from stocking the book. It is a risk I will take because sales at bookstores is certainly not the bulk of where books are bought by readers. Readers worldwide mostly buy online these days. Getting into a bookstore is more of a source of pride and an additional source of physical promotion through book signings and getting on shelves.
I have read a lot about pricing and royalty and shipping comparisons between BookBaby, Ingram and Amazon. Each are only slightly different and the comparisons are not particularly useful to making a decision. Since it became clear that the royalties are very similar in all three platforms, and I need to simplify my business operations, I decided that comprehensive distribution objectives are more important than the financial minutia. I need to sell in high numbers to make any appreciable revenue.
BookBaby and IngramSparks and Amazon become the print-on-demand (POD) printers and ship the orders directly to readers and bookstores. Their ongoing profit is built into the printing cost. Amazon/CreateSpace also prints and ships their own titles too, but when you add Amazon to your aggregator list, the aggregator will be the printer and shipper.
I am going to wait until I have a printed copy of my book to send to the copyright office at the Library of Congress before I apply for my official copyright. My rights are sufficiently protected after a copy is printed and bound with the copyright message on page one. Copyright submission in 2016 costs about $87. The copyright office website has a thorough tutorial for submission, but it is a big chore. If I wish, I can use Bowker’s copyright application service that makes the job easier, but will cost closer to $135 for a submission. Here are the links to both choices.
Bowker Copyright | https://www.myidentifiers.com/copyrightsnow
Copyright Office | http://www.copyright.gov/
My book will need an ISBN number. BookBaby and Ingram and Amazon all offer to acquire an ISBN for me during the submission process. All have an agreement with the one company who issues ISBN numbers in the United States. This company is Bowker. When I acquire my ISBN through Ingram, BookBaby or Amazon, then these companies are listed as the publisher of record in the ISBN. That won’t matter if I stick with these services indefinitely. If I want to be the publisher on the ISBN, I would have to buy the ISBN directly from Bowker, then enter the ISBN in the submission form for the aggregator. It is critical to be careful that I do not create two separate ISBN numbers for the same book. That is the kiss of death in the catalogs.
Bowker ISBN | https://www.myidentifiers.com/
I will publish using IngramSparks. It will cost a little less, bookstores might be more inclined to order my book, it will be available on all the major distribution platforms, and I can handle the level of expertise it requires to complete the preparation, submission and marketing.
Becoming a successful self published writer is a lot of work, even after the manuscript is complete. Companies like IngramSpark and BookBaby are trying to make self publishing easier and more consolidated. Perhaps my strategy will work for you.
Print & Distribution Platforms
The 2 most advantageous platforms for self-publishing and distributing paperback books are Amazon, and Ingram.
Amazon / CreateSpace
Amazon is a ginormous, global, online bookstore. They own a company called CreateSpace, which is where we go to publish a book that will be stocked in Amazon. Amazon receives orders from all over the world, prints them on demand, then ships them to the customers. Brick and mortar bookstores do not order books from Amazon, nor will they order them from you.
Ingram / IngramSpark
Ingram has a book catalog and order fulfillment service that is used by a large percentage of brick and mortar bookstores all over the world to stock their stores. Store owners can’t afford to manage tens of thousands of small accounts with little publishers like you, so they use the Ingram catalog to order books. If we want our book to be stocked at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland Oregon, we have to submit the manuscript to IngramSpark.
Once we have formatted your book for paperback publication, we can modify the manuscript for ebook publication and create an ebook cover derived from the paperback cover. Then we submit the book again separately to Ingram and Amazon/KDP to become an ebook on both platforms.
ISBN & Barcode
You need an ISBN Number and Barcode for each book you publish. When Amazon supplies the ISBN, you should not publish that book with that ISBN anywhere else. If you want to other choices of where to distribute your book, then you should acquire your own ISBN through the Bowker company, just like a professional publisher would. You then use that ISBN everywhere you submit the book for distribution.
If you have several books to publish soon, you should buy a bundle of 10 ISBNs, along with their BarCodes. The ISBN number and the Barcode are two separate items. The ISBN number is to distinguish your book from any other. The Barcode is managing inventory with a digital barcode scanner.
When it comes time to submit a manuscript to CreateSpace, or IngramSpark, or Nook Press, you will be asked for your ISBN number during the process of submission. The ISBN Number and BarCode is also a graphic you must include on the bottom right of your back cover design graphic.
You do not need a copyright to self-publish a book, and you do not need to publish a book to acquire a copyright. Your book is legally copyright protected the moment you put the following on your manuscript:
Copyright © 2016 Author or Publisher Name
The purpose of applying for a copyright from the Library of Congress (LofC) is to store a dated, public record that proves that you have owned the manuscript since that date. The quickest way to prove ownership in a court of law is with a copyright from the LofC. Without this step, the only proof you will have is the dated digital file on your hard drive, or a hard copy you may have mailed to yourself without breaking the seal.
As the writer and publisher, you will be able to order copies of your book directly from Amazon or Ingram at wholesale prices. For example, a 100 page paperback book wholesale from Amazon/CreateSpace would only cost you, the writer, about $2 per copy.
Definition of SEO
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization.” It is a buzz phrase for the process involved in making a website easy to find for search engines and making the website rise in ranking in the search results when someone types a particular phrase into the search engine. The most important thing to determine is what key words or phrase will someone type into Google to find information just like yours.
Anywhere from 300 to 300,000 websites might be competing for that same key word. To rise above them, you have to offer them the best information for that topic. You have to include that search phrase in several places across your website. The best place to put that phrase is in headers and titles. But it is also important to include it in all the text of all your information, and your information should continue to grow.
What Google Sees
A search engine only sees and considers the words in your website. The images won’t help you, with one exception; if you name your image files with relevant search phrases, you might appear in “image searches” which will then link back to your website. So that can help too.
If most of your customers are going to be local to you, then don’t target the entire country or the world. Include your location in your text. Let the search engines know where you are located. Embrace your location. If you want to go national, leave out your specific location and emphasize your country. If you want to go global, leave off the location altogether, but be aware that the larger the region you are targeting, the larger the competition for that search phrase.
How to use the Tag.
When you use a key search phrase in a Post or Blog Article, consider also applying Tag Phrases to that article that match the search phrases you included in the article. If the phrase is not in the article, using it for a Tag will not help you. Search engines like Google have gotten very good at discriminating between well written information and bogus ramblings with too many occurrences of the same phrase. Write well, write often, and write a lot.
The Journal is your SEO Power Factor
These tips are your best strategy for achieving high search rankings. Your website design should include a journal, or blog, to give you the tools to grow and improve your SEO. Your blog is your SEO power factory. Nurture it, grow it, be helpful and informative in all you write. The basic rules of good SEO are pretty simple to understand. However, putting them into practice requires a good writer and a lot of good writing.
Guidelines for Optimal SEO in Website Design
- Include your primary key word in page titles.
- Use key words in your writings.
- Use key words properly, not excessively.
- Write more and more content relevant to your field.
- Link to other websites with relevant content.
- Include relevant content of every media you can.
- Use only perfect grammar and clear language.
- Write a relevant meta description.
- Making sure your website is properly compatible in mobile devices.
- Build pages that load fairly quickly.
If you follow these guidelines, with all the regular effort it requires, your website will rise in the search rankings over time.
Of course, your website design is the most important feature of your marketing plan. Your website is the intended destination for all your customers, and it is where they decide whether nor not to buy from you. What is the second most important marketing venue. What are the options?
- Direct Mail | USPS Mail & Email Coupons and Invitations to past customers.
- Google Adwords | Buy Advertising Space on Google Search with Click Through Fees.
- FaceBook Advertising | Also with Click Through Fees.
- Social Networking | Creating Free Advertising by Networking with Friends and Associates.
Your past and present customers will always be your greatest resource for improving business. If you don’t have many customers yet, then it is time to reach out to your local community. If you don’t have one, then it is time to start building one. Bring your local community into your Social Network profiles as friends. Start with real friends. People need to connect on a human level, not digital only. But if someone is a friend of one of your real friends, you have a better chance to build trust and a new relationship.
Active Social Networking is Guerrilla Marketing. Your investment is time, the composition of well planned information, publishing to the network, and providing a good reason and a measurably result. Thanks to the internet, there are no barriers to global publication. The social network websites that are regarded as the most widely traveled and used in the USA are:
If you are wildly ambitious, or well funded, you will engage all 5 of these at once. If you are lean and practical, you will choose one to start and do a good job.
Everyone loves video. It has many applications. YouTube is a social networking venue. People collect videos and subscribe to your profile when they like you. You can communicate to them with comments and new videos. When you provide real entertainment or real information, people come back. They will learn what you sell. By setting goals of creating a series of interesting videos, you will be gathering valuable content to use on FaceBook and Google+. This exciting content will attract new people to join your network. The most advantageous creative content is video, usually accompanied by a title and synopsis in words.
LinkedIn, Google+, FaceBook, Twitter, can all be managed in one tool such as HootSuite. In a different way, it can be managed from your website if it is built in WordPress with the right plugin. I is certainly important that you fuse your social networks with your website. They are all supposed to be supporting your website by bringing you more traffic.
Seriously, your present and past customers and friends are your most important social network. If you can’t reach them on FaceBook or YouTube, then find a way to reach them. You best goal should be to meet face to face or talk on the phone with happy customers and ask for referrals. This is basically all that you are doing on FaceBook with a growing collection of strangers. Let them get to know you. Send them video that you have collected on YouTube or Vimeo. Give them a personal touch. Just because they follow your FaceBook page, doesn’t mean you have met them and that you are friends yet. Make and effort to make friends. That is social networking.
First of all, it is not free. The free trial is limited in functions and designed to make you want to pay the fee and get more tools. The cost is similar to a shared hosting service. Weebly, Squarespace, Wix, they are hosting companies. The difference between them and other hosting companies is that customers must use a website builder tool to build websites. Godaddy has a website builder too while also offering shared and dedicated hosting alternatives. Eventually, more hosting companies will provide website builders.
Here is a chart comparing the features of the top six companies:
Review Chart on Website Builder Hosts
Not all templates on website builders are fully compatible with mobile devices, and I find that the choices for templates are usually limited, and these themes have limited features too. There is a good chance that many other websites look a lot like yours. You will often get halfway into designing a website to find that a design feature that you wanted doesn’t exist in that template, and there isn’t much you can do about it. If you ever want to move your website from one of these site building hosts to another hosting company, it is not going to be as easy as it would if you had built your website with your own customer WordPress installation and a top of the line theme.
The real question is this? Do you want to build your website yourself, or hire someone else to help you?
You can also hire a website designer with experience in marketing design, information presentation and copy writing to build a better website for you than you could alone. A good designer doesn’t need a builder tool. He/she will have his own custom collection of tools and his own set of standards for how a website should behave. A good website designer can offer you many features that you won’t be offered on a builder tool and help you with photography and copy writing and overall presentation.
If you are a business, you must have a website. Websites are the primary form of advertisement on planet Earth in 2016. It should be important to you that your website is as good or better than your competitors. It will make a difference. It is hard to achieve the quality you deserve if you have no experience building websites. The way the information is presented is important. Can you write marketing copy well? Can you make interesting graphic representations of your information? Do you know what people expect to see on a website?
If you can reach your goals on your own, that’s good. If you want help, hire a website designer who can write market copy and design information and knows the rest of the online marketing world, and work together. You will get a better product with better ideas and land more customers.
Imagine you have become enlightened. You know that one of the top 3 most important platforms of advertising you could possibly add to your business is a state of the art, professionally designed website. The first website you had was thrown together by a friend or relative for free, but you know this will no longer be enough. You have matured and so have your business objectives. You are ready and willing to pay professional rates to a professional designer for professional results, but you still don’t want to pay top dollar. You want to keep the cost down as much as possible, while not sacrificing quality and effectiveness. Realize that nothing comes of nothing and that to save money, you have to save the designer some effort and time by doing some of the work for him. You just have to determine which components of that work you have the skills and the time to complete. This article should help you move in that direction.
Photography & Graphics
.We can schedule a time when all your employees are dressed nicely and on site. I can travel to your office and take photos of everyone, then return and crop them for upload, and you can pay me for all that time. Or you can tell all your staff that you need portrait photos by the end of the week and that the world is going to know what you look like, so make them professional.
If you have many products, or even a few products, you probably already have photography for those products. Find the original JPG files of all those photos and get them ready to send to your web designer. If you do not like the photos you have, maybe you could take new photos with your phone camera and send those. The most important rules for achieving excellent product photos is as follows:
- Set up a clean and intentional background
- Get close, include the entire item with a little room at the edges
- Set up bright lighting, or do it outside in the sunlight.
- Hold the camera very still, and take several shots.
If you follow these rules with any photos you take, I bet you 10 dollars you will succeed.
You might also have some kind of concept you need to convey using more than words, using a diagram or a chart or some kind of illustration. It is important that this graphic clearly respresents the information and has a professional look. AquaJazz can clean up these graphics for you, but if you take the time to clearly sketch some idea of how you wish to represent the information, this will save you money during the web design process.
If you want some kind of big, attractive slide show on the home page, this will require big, attractive photographs. To save you a lot of money, you should find those photos in your own collection, or ask someone you know who is good at photography to provide them for you. The alternative is that AquaJazz will spent several hours searching through large online collections for ideal candidates, then ask you to pay anywhere from $50 to $100 each to buy the rights to use them on your website. Again, I can stage and produce custom photos for you, but if you find them yourself, you will save lots of money. Web designers do not have a magical source for beautiful free photos. Free photos are usually free because they are not attractive.
Verbal Content | Market Copy | Sales Pitch
Perhaps you have a print brochure containing some literature. Start there. You might also have some literature from the wholesalers of your products. Gather that. Perhaps you recently wrote a powerful sales letter to a prospective client, and that letter sold them on your services. That letter could have valuable material for a page of the website. Include that in the material that you hand to your web designer.
Do you truly have a clear and organized description of your services, written by someone who can write well? If not, this is the time you need one. Be sure that the literature you want to put on your website contains the terminology relevant to your business and your customers. The words in your website are what search engines use to find you. Graphics make your website beautiful. Words do the marketing. Without words, you are an invisible hot dog stand in cyberspace with a missing objective.
Every website has a domain and a hosting plan. The domain may have been purchased at the hosting company, but the hosting company might be the wrong kind of hosting company to upgrade your website. In that case, we have to move you elsewhere. It takes time to extract your domain from a registrar to move it elsewhere. Sometimes all we need to do is change the DNS number of the domain at the registrar to point to a new hosting company. Allow time for this. There are many shabby, overpriced hosting companies. Some are not even hosting companies, but brokers taking your money for doing nothing. If you are on one, I will move you before I build a new website.
To determine all these details, and to get you set up, you will need to send the web designer your usernames and passwords to all related accounts. I have to enter those accounts to build the website.
Draft an Outline
Go find a website built by a competitor to your business, or something similar. Make sure that you actually believe that the website is well designed. Examine what they did. Take notes. Gather ideas. Pay attention to what pages they have. What is on those pages. Why? Are they useful pages? Do you want those pages on your website? Make a list of the pages you think you need and what should be on them. Write it all down.
Make sure all this material is in stored in the form of computer files. Now, attached it all to several emails and send it to me. If you have done a good job, my job will proceed smoothly and you will get a truly professional website for a reasonable price, and it will get completed quickly.
So there you go, Portland Oregon. If you want to save money, be prepared. I will help you with all these things any time you like, but there is a lot you can do too.