With triple-digit growth in self-publishing services, technologies evolving weekly, and advertising hype, it’s tough for authors to figure out which vendors to choose for which services. In the coming weeks, I’ll be looking at three popular paths to get your print and e-book to online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores, without going through the subsidy presses.

In this piece, I’ll explore what I call Path 1: E-book only or e-book first. By using either Smashwords and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, or a service like BookBaby, get your e-book aggregated to the online retailers.

In the coming weeks, I’ll also look at two other paths:

Path 2: Print (POD) – Getting your print book formatted and distributed to the online retailers and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Path 3: Partner with a pro – Finding a distributor, small press, publisher services company, book packager, or literary agent who will invest in and shepherd your book much like a traditional publisher in exchange for an exclusive distribution deal and significant royalty from sales.

How to publish via E-book only or e-book first

Using a combination of two services, Smashwords and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing happens to be one of the easiest, cheapest and fastest ways to get your e-book up for sale online, plus it gets your book into the most markets. With this combination, your book gets:

  • converted into the most possible e-book formats (including apps)
  • the widest possible distribution to online retailers
  • the ability to be read on all the important devices
  • a non-exclusive contract
  • only 15 percent commission on net

Using BookBaby gets your book into only the major stores — Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader and iPad — for $129 with a lot less work because BookBaby will convert your PDF and other kinds of files. They provide add-on services like book cover design, too.

Other popular options are also reviewed here, such as BookBrewer and Pubit. Authors of color and heavily-formatted books can publish their e-book as PDFs or get them converted to look beautiful in devices by paying (a lot) for fixed-layout formatting.

Smashwords

If you have a simply formatted, text-heavy book, Smashwords is the most effective option. Through its Premium Catalog, you get e-book distribution to more online retailers than any other service. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Format your e-book in a Microsoft Word doc file in compliance with the Smashwords Style Guide (templates are available), or hire someone to do it for you. (See the company’s FAQ to get a list of formatters and book cover designers.)
  2. Assign a unique ISBN to the Smashwords version of your e-book. (Instructions for buying ISBNs from Bowker and why you should not let anyone else buy them for you are explained in one of my previous articles.)
  3. Follow the instructions to upload the interior and cover, and include carefully chosen keywords as described in this article for your book.
  4. Join the Smashwords Premium Catalog and agree to all the contracts.
  5. Submit the document and check the boxes next to the formats you want the Smashwords “meatgrinder” to generate.

Once your book is successfully converted, Smashwords offers it for sale on its site within minutes. Once you submit it to the Premium Catalog, Smashwords makes sure your e-book is formatted correctly before aggregating (distributing) it to the online retailers. The only major online retailer missed is the Amazon Kindle Store (though there’s a deal perpetually pending, so stay tuned), although Kindle users can download the Kindle-formatted book from the Smashwords store.

Smashwords will also deliver your book as an individual book app offered to mobile device customers on Apple, Android, Windows Phone 7 and HP’s WebOS.

Amazon KDP

The Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing format (like the Smashwords e-book format) is based on an MS Word doc file, so it’s not a big job to edit it. Here’s how:

  1. Make a copy of the Smashwords doc file and rename it.
  2. Assign a different ISBN to the KDP version of your e-book.
  3. Make changes as required to comply with KDP formatting guidelines.
  4. Follow the instructions to upload the interior and cover, and provide keywords so that readers can find your book.

Alternately, if you are creating a POD (print on demand) book using CreateSpace, then you can simply pay a $69 fee for a perfectly formatted KDP file to upload to the Kindle store.

BookBaby

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Though using Smashwords and Amazon KDP gives you the widest distribution to online resellers, BookBaby gives you exposure to the major markets for less work. It also has a different pricing model. Instead of taking 15 percent of net sales, like Smashwords and Amazon, BookBaby charges a $129 fee to convert and distribute your book (plus $19 per year after the second year). To use BookBaby, you simply send them your properly formatted Word doc file. But if you only have a PDF, InDesign or Quark file, they’ll convert it for an additional $39.

Pros and Cons

  • BookBaby is a single-vendor solution — it creates your e-book for distribution to both Amazon and the major EPUB (shorthand for electronic publication) resellers.
  • Though your book will reach the most important retailers, the Smashwords/KDP combination reaches more.
  • BookBaby is great for authors with backlist titles — just send them the PDF.
  • BookBaby offers add-on services such as book design, whereas with Smashwords and Amazon you have to outsource these tasks..
  • BookBaby offers conversion of e-books with more complex formatting, graphics and color.
  • You only need one ISBN for the BookBaby version of your book, versus the Smashwords/Amazon solution, where you need two.

Other vendors

The solutions above are the most popular and comprehensive, but there are other popular services that have their advantages and limitations.

BookBrewer/FeedBrewer

BookBrewer and FeedBrewer charge up-front fees starting at $19.99 and 5 percent of net profits when your book is sold to online retailers. Their service is unique in that you can upload content from a blog or website and then edit or rearrange the document into final form. They also launched an ePub-to-Print solution for $60 that generates a POD book from the EPUB file.

PubIt

Pubit is an e-book creation service owned by Barnes & Noble that will get your book into EPUB format. Pubit distributes to BN.com for the Nook, iPad, iPhone, Android and PC. However, customers can only buy your book in the Barnes & Noble store.

Heavily formatted and color books

The more complex your book, the more complex it is to format for both e-book readers and print. With EPUB, you can link images with an associated piece of text so that they’re always shown together, but it will never format like a printed book or PDF file with text flowing around the image.

Fixed-Layout EPUB

Apple offers the fixed-layout EPUB format, which is more popular than formats offered by Barnes & Noble and Blio probably because it reaches a more popular device. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the IDPF, which manages the free and open-source EPUB standard, embracing this in the future. The difference between PDF and EPUB is that EPUB can provide features like searchable text and multimedia, such as ambient music and narration, which is great for coffee table, spiritual, and children’s books.

If you are simply illustrating your text with images to impart information, then regular EPUB will probably be good enough for you. But if you’re developing a heavily formatted coffee-table type book that’s meant to be a controlled reading experience, fixed format is important.

PDF vs. Fixed-Layout EPUB

Remember that more than 50 percent of e-book customers read e-books on their computer, so you may simply want to offer a PDF-formatted version, which is easy and essentially free (since it’s the file type you send to the printer). It’s also much cheaper than getting an Apple fixed-layout EPUB book (about $10/page), especially since it only targets one (albeit very popular) e-reader.

But that’s not all

Successful self-publishing requires more than just uploading a book to online retailers. It requires good publishing practices like editing and design, marketing and promotion, understanding and implementing SEO and other book discovery techniques such as being active in social media. The other articles in this series and a good workbook can help.

Carla King is an author, a publishing consultant, and founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994 and has worked in multimedia since 1996. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and as diaries on her website. The newest version of her ebook, The Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors, was released in August 2011 and is available on Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, and for the B&N Nook.

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