Self Publishing Platforms Pros and Cons
When authors are ready to self publish their own books, they have multiple choices to get their books to print and to market. These days, many are turning to self publishing platforms such as Createspace by Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing (for ebooks only), Smashwords (ebooks only), and Lulu.
But what exactly do these services do for authors and publishers?
What is a Self Publishing Platform?
A self publishing platform or service can provide any, many or all of the following services, either for a fee or free:
- Templates, tools or services to assist authors and publishers with formatting their books for production whether print or electronic.
- Conversion of manuscripts to ebook formats.
- Editing and proofreading services.
- Cover and interior design and layout services.
- Assignment of an ISBN number. International Standard Book Number is a 13-digit number that identifies published books for marketing, libraries, schools and book distributors. Learn more at ISBN.org.
- Printing of physical books, including Print On Demand services. Click here to learn more about types of book binding and printing.
- Making the book available to distribution channels who sell or purchase the book such as online book sites, bookstores, libraries and schools.
- Marketing services.
- Actual sales of the finished books to end users.
These companies make money by charging authors for these services and/or taking a cut of the book's sales and paying the author a royalty.
Is a Self Publishing Platform the Same as Online Publishing?
No! Self publishing platforms are not the same as online writing sites. Even though both could be classified as "self publishing," the platforms discussed here help create and sell books, not offer them as "content" online. The complete books are not posted and indexed online as articles are, though a book's title, description and a "sneak peek" type snippet may show up in search engine results.
Self Publishing Platforms: The Pros
Access to Markets and Selling Opportunities. Book retailers, distributors, libraries and schools will rarely contract with individual authors and small publishers for the purchase of books. Self publishing platforms can provide access to these distribution channels. As well, they can often provide authors with a link to a web sales page featuring the title so that individual customers can order a copy through the platform direct, eliminating the sales, packaging and shipping hassle for authors! For example, the Createspace platform gives authors the opportunity to have their completed books sold on Amazon, currently the leading online bookseller, for both print and Kindle (ebook) editions. As well, they automatically set up a Createspace sales page for each book published so that authors can send interested customers to the page and have Createspace handle the sale and shipping.
Reduces Formatting Guesswork. Formatting documents for print production can be challenging for even experienced graphic design professionals! Whether it's providing formatting tips and templates, or taking an author's Word document and getting it ready for a fee, these companies know the process and know what works. This reduces guesswork and helps create a more marketable end product. Plus, formatting text for ebooks can be tricky since it must be readable on a variety of mobile and electronic devices. Platforms can take an author's manuscript document (such as a Word document) and convert it to an e-publication format (such as ePub).
Eliminates Need to "Shop" for Printing. If formatting the book is tough, finding a good printer for short run books can be even tougher! Most local and quick print shops are not equipped to do a retail-ready perfect bound book. Plus, this requires authors to have the ability to properly format the manuscript for print. If not, the printer may charge to get it print ready. This also means that authors would need to understand how to purchase printing... a challenge in and of itself.
Reduces or Eliminates Need to Purchase Piles of Books if Print On Demand is Offered. In the bad old days of self publishing, authors often had to purchase large quantities of physical books from "vanity" publishing houses. Yes, these were really the bad old days when self publishing was associated with authors who were deemed unworthy by mainstream publishers. Self published authors were viewed as having a need to stroke their egos if they were willing to personally pony up the bucks to pay someone get into print (that's the "vanity" part). Now that Print On Demand (POD) technologies and equipment are becoming the norm, and advanced software and the Internet have enabled almost anyone to become a publisher, the vanity publishing stigma and expense are fading... fast. Click here to learn more about POD and other book production options.
Availability of Professional Marketing Services. These platforms also may offer a host of marketing services such as press releases, social media, book launch promotions and more on a fee basis. Since many authors may not have these skills, this offers them a one-stop shop for the entire book production and launch.
Did you know and/or understand what a self publishing platform was before you read this article?
Self Publishing Platforms: The Cons
Royalties versus Revenues. In exchange for their assistance, most self publishing platforms will take a share of all books sold and pay authors a "royalty" share for all copies the platform sells, as opposed to revenues for the full price of the book. Royalty rates vary depending on the sale the platform makes. For example, currently under Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program, authors can realize either 35 percent or 70 percent royalty, depending on where the ebook is sold and the price of the ebook. However, authors are usually given the opportunity purchase physical copies of books at a reduced or volume discount rate that the author can sell to collect full price "revenues." (Note: Authors may be required to collect sales taxes for direct sales to readers. Contact the appropriate local taxing authorities for more information.)
New ISBN May Be Needed for Future Editions on Other Platforms. If an author wishes to move his book to a new self publishing platform, he is usually not prohibited from doing so. However, the ISBN is still connected to the original platform and book if the author uses an ISBN provided by the platform. In that case, a new ISBN would need to be secured for the edition on the new platform. This can create confusion and may lose any sales momentum that may have been built up for the original book on the old platform. Some authors choose to provide the platform with their own ISBN number to help avoid this problem. Check ISBN options available on potential platforms and consider whether purchasing a separate and movable ISBN would be advisable.
Moving a Book May Lose Past Reviews. If an author does decide to move a self published title from its existing platform, the new edition's sales page will not automatically pull up reader reviews to the old one on sites such as Amazon. If there is a significant cache of reviews (especially positive ones!) for the old edition, potential readers will not see them which could affect sales.
New Cover May be Required. In addition to a possible change in ISBN and loss of reviews when moving an edition to a new self publishing platform, if an author received cover design help from the original platform, the platform may prohibit the author from using the same design when republished elsewhere. This may occur even if the author paid for the design help. So a new cover design may need to be created for a new edition on the new platform. This can incur additional expense and time. Any branding built up for the original cover design will be lost, too (although sometimes a relaunch of a revised edition can offer rebranding marketing opportunities). Click here to see when it might be time to rewrite an existing book.
Revisions and Corrections Can be Expensive. While many self publishing platforms allow authors to make corrections to their titles, it may be at a cost or free, depending on the platform. For example, Createspace and KDP currently offer authors the opportunity to revise and upload revised manuscripts for no cost if they are doing it themselves. However, other platforms may charge up to hundreds of dollars to make changes to an already published title.
Marketing Help, But Not Handoff. Some of these platforms offer a full menu of professional marketing and publicity services for a fee which can get expensive. And, as many traditionally published authors can even attest, the author STILL has to do much of their own marketing!
Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.
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© 2015 Heidi Thorne