Self Publishing Platforms Pros and Cons

Updated on December 14, 2017
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

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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?

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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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2015 Heidi Thorne

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      8 months ago

      Thank you.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 months ago from Chicago Area

      True that, Robert! I hope you're able to work with one that is a good fit for your work and your goals. Cheers!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 months ago from Chicago Area

      Glenn, that's my experience, too. That emphasizes the importance of carefully evaluating any self publishing provider prior to signing on. Thanks for jumping into the conversation! Happy Weekend!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      8 months ago

      Thanks for the info Glenn. It seems best to use self-publishing services that let the writer set the price.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      8 months ago from Long Island, NY

      Alan, that’s interesting. Even when you suggest a price, they change it. I have used Createspace and Lulu for my self-published books, and both of them let me have total control over pricing.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      8 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Heidi and Robert, Authorhouse first asked me what price I thought they should put on the book. I suggested around £10, preferably just under (there's this 'psychological' thing about shaving off pennies to make the product more attractive by pricing @ £8.95 instead of £9). On publication I found they'd tagged it @ £17.95. NGP gave it a price tag of £10.99 for the 384 page book. Subsequent books in the series were priced @ £8.99 and £9.99 respectively after a recent upward revision of costs.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      8 months ago

      Thank you for the clarification.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 months ago from Chicago Area

      Robert, overpricing of books should NOT be a common problem, especially on platforms such as Createspace or Amazon KDP because you, the author, sets the price. Do review all agreements with self publishing platforms--recommended with an attorney--to make sure your rights and interests are protected. Thanks for joining the conversation and have a great day!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      8 months ago

      Interesting that Authorhouse overpriced your book Alan. I tried out Publish America and they overpriced my book. When I saw the price they put on it I knew it had no chance of selling. Is that a common problem with self-publishing?

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      8 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      It wasn't me who hosted it, Heidi. It was the publisher, New Generation who organised and hosted it. I was there for the 'ride', so to speak, and it turned out quite good, although lapel microphones might've helped (couldn't hear them some of the time, and I was near the front row!)

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 months ago from Chicago Area

      Alan, thank you for sharing your insight into these platforms you use across the pond.

      And kudos to you on hosting that self published authors' summit! I tried to get a group going here in my area (a chapter of a national association). But with extreme traffic issues, it was a challenge getting people on a regular basis and I had to suspend it. Sad, because when we did get a group together, it was informative and fun. Hope you're able to continue your author networking endeavors. I'm glad I can at least network virtually with authors like you and many of the other amazing hub writers.

      Again, your support and sharing is always greatly appreciated! Have a great weekend!

      P.S. Can't tell you how many times I've been asked if I read the book or saw the movie of my namesake. And, yes, my parents were fans of both.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      8 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again Heidi (we know there's a book by that title as well, don't we), as Robert says below, a good overview of the business, although there are acres of pages written on the matter. I originally published my first book, RAVENFEAST through Authorhouse, who overpriced it. A year later I took the book to New Generation. True I needed a new cover and the ISBN changed. The original cover was fairly effective, although in the first place I had to point out that the way they counter-positioned the 'raven' symbol made it look comical. The new edition from NGP was much simpler and more striking as a stark black on white with blue edging on the cover title and white print on blue spine. Their art department worked well with me in producing six subsequent titles and now 'wrap-around' cover design on the last three. They hosted a self-published authors' summit last month (October 2017) at King's College on The Strand, inviting up to sixty authors and a raft of experts in various fields including cover design concept and marketing over the last Saturday of the month from 9.15 am-4.30 pm. I spoke to several authors in the post-lunch session, sounded them out and exchanged cards with several from a retired army officer to a retired payroll clerk. An enjoyable session overall, and interesting ideas. NGP is a 'print on demand' business (POD) that sells through Amazon and other major retailers (see also 'Bookbutler' online). I've created two separate blogs, one each for the UK and US markets with a link to the former on my own dedicated book page here, with the possibility of adding venues where I talk and sign books along with other authors. So far I appear annually at Battle Abbey (near Hastings) for the 1066 re-enactment through English Heritage. I've approached the Jorvik Viking Centre with a view to appearing at York for the mid February 'Jorvik Viking Festival', having been and met re-enactors who are familiar with my books. Networking is a must for authors. A 'marketing' kit is on offer through NGP, with bookmarks, business cards and postcards an option. Well worth looking into. Speak to Daniel Cook at NGP for a deeper insight.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 months ago from Chicago Area

      For those of you who are considering self publishing an audio book, I just wrote a post on that titled, "How to Create an Audio Book." Check it out!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Glenn! Times have DEFINITELY changed! I remember a first attempt at self publishing in the mid-90s where each book would have been around $19 for me to produce in small quantities. Yowsa! So glad we have platforms such as Createspace and Lulu in our corner. I agree, Createspace is an amazing platform. I'm working with some new authors to help them get going on CS. They're pretty amazed at the options it offers. Thanks so much for adding your experience to the conversation! And, of course, keep us in the loop on your publishing adventures. Happy Weekend!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I had used Lulu to publish two books. I also used Create Space for a paperback version of a user's manual for one of my office products. I do remember the bad old days of self publishing, as you called it, when I had to purchase large quantities of physical books for my product user manuals in my business. Times sure have changed. So much can be done online now, and created on demand when needed.

      You might recall, Heidi, my comment in your other hub a few months ago where you convinced me to relaunch a revised edition of one of my books. This has been a low priority for me. But when I do get around to it, I plan to use Create Space. After having experienced both platforms, I like the support and well-designed publishing tools they have on their site.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 years ago

      Thank you.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Robert! I've had friends that have received thousands in book advances which is probably more than what they would have received in self publishing income and royalties. However, traditional publishing is an entirely different, and often difficult, path. Check out this Forbes article which discusses pros and cons of each path: http://www.forbes.com/sites/juliapimsleur/2014/11/...

      And here are some stats from Digital Book World which is a great review of self vs. traditional publishing income: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/self-publishi...

      Thanks for asking that great question! (May be fodder for another hub.) Happy Weekend!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 years ago

      Good overview. Any information on how self-publishing fares when compared to traditional publishing profit wise?

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hello Kitty! Definitely take a look at Amazon Createspace. Through it you can produce a paperback and Kindle version of your book at a very reasonable cost... even free if you use their online publishing tools yourself. As well, you can create the paperback and Kindle book at the same time. Createspace also has fee-based services if you need additional assistance. If you really want a hardcover version book, Xlibris and Lulu have those in addition to the paperback and ebook versions. Take a look at all three of them and compare costs and services. Good luck with your book and please keep us posted on your publishing adventures!

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 

      3 years ago from Summerland

      Thanks for writing this, Heidi. This is very useful to me as I am planning on self-publishing my first novel sometime later this year. What do you recommend as the best for self publishing?

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Carrie Lee! Createspace is a popular and reasonably priced choice for self publishing and worth looking into. Marketing and editing can run into the hundreds or thousands for sure. So having a good purpose and plan will help keep those costs to a minimum. And it's hard to stand out even if you're active on social media! A consistent effort to build a fan base, whether it's on social media or not, is so important. Glad you found the information helpful. Keep us posted on your publishing adventures. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Cheers!

    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Carrie Lee Night 

      3 years ago from Northeast United States

      Voted interesting and useful! I have been researching how to get a book of my short stories published on create a space. My dreams would take a costly investment (thousands of dollars worth for marketing and editing). I guess it is all a gamble. Its hard to stand out when you are not involved in social media etc. Thank you for giving me something to think about :)

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi purl3agony! There are truly so many aspects of self publishing that it's tough to keep up with it all. And like everything else on the Internet, it keeps evolving... fast. Glad you found it helpful. We'll hope to see a book from you one day. Thanks for taking time to stop by and comment! Have a great day!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hello Suhail and my dog! Glad you found some new info for your publishing adventures. Thank you so much for reading and your kind comments! Have a great day!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi t aaron brown! Thanks for stopping by and checking out the post. Have a great day!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi FlourishAnyway! Glad you found the info helpful. We'll be on the lookout for your book one day. Thanks for reading and sharing! Have a great day!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      3 years ago from USA

      Thanks for another great article, Heidi! I had no idea of the choices and considerations of self-publishing. Technology has given us so many options and opportunities, but you point out some important considerations before taking the plunge. Great to know and thanks for sharing. Voted up and pinned!!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      First of all, I would like to thank FlourishAnyway for sharing this awesome hub.

      I was aware of self-publishing platforms thanks to Bill Holland's couple of hubs. Also, an adventure traveller from UK Alastair Humphreys has published many widely read books, including a best seller on Micro-Adventure through these platforms. Finally, my Kuvasz dog loving community's Gary Shar self-published a Coffee Table Book on Kuvasz that also features a picture of my K2.

      However, your hub brought new information to the fore that I wasn't aware of.

      Great hub! Voted up!

    • t aaron brown profile image

      t aaron brown 

      3 years ago

      Thanks for covering this topic. I will reference it again.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 years ago from USA

      This had so many great self-publishing insights. Keep sharing these valued learnings. Although I am certainly not at a point where I need it right now, I very much appreciate reading and learning about what hopefully is to come. Great stuff, Heidi! Voted up and more and sharing.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi AliciaC! Self publishing is one of those things that sounds simple, in theory. But there are a lot of moving parts. Glad you found the information useful. Have a beautiful day!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very useful hub, Heidi. I appreciate all the information that you've shared. The self publishing process sounds far more complex than I realized!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Belated Happy New Year to you, too, alancaster149! Yes, I considered one self publishing platform that would not leave me alone either. Ridiculous! Yep, we'll just keep on truckin' and keep watchin' for new self pub opportunities. Cheers!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Indeed, Homeplace Series, the entire subject could not be covered in the span of one hub. It would take a book! (Pun intended, of course.) Yes, each path has its pros and cons, depending on the purpose of the work at hand. Thanks for taking time to read and comment!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again Heidi, long time no 'see'. A belated Happy New Year is in order.

      Useful and interesting page, this. I found out the hard way after first publishing through Authorhouse. Kept getting pestered by them until recently to publish through them again, their costs being over 2X those through New Generation, who I go through now. I finally directed them to my Amazon author page. I think the penny's dropped.

      You know the song, 'Oh I wish I were a little bit younger...'?

      Still, four years further on up the road... Reminds me of an Eric Clapton number. Keep on truckin', Heidi

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Useful but far from complete information. Thanks for sharing. We should each consider all these factors, and more, in making personal decisions. I've used both Createspace and Lulu, in the past. Each has advantages and disadvantages, of course. As noted in comments, above, it depends on what direction each of us chooses to take.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Billybuc, I would say that your reasons to not self-publish would fill a book, not just a hub! It is a daunting task that seems so simple... in theory. But simple does not mean easy. :) Warm and rainy today which makes for lovely slush and slop everywhere. But it's all good. Have a great week ahead!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      All valuable information. Been there, done that, and honestly I don't know if I'll ever self-publish again. The reasons for that would fill a hub. :) I hope winter is treating you well this Sunday.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thank you for the insight and additional information, Robinbird_57!

      Platforms such as Createspace can offer Expanded Distribution which makes a title "available" to and through bookstores, libraries, etc., but, unfortunately, this does not guarantee "placement" in any particular outlet.

      What books are physically available for sale in any brick-and-mortar retail bookstore is a complex issue. Like any retail operation, bookstores hire buyers and merchandising professionals to determine what will be on the shelves for sale. Since some reports note that up to 1,000,000 new titles are published EVERY YEAR (add that to everything that's already in print), the chances of any new self published title making its way onto the shelves of a physical, large chain bookstore (or library for that matter) are extremely slim... regardless of whether it does or does not have a spine title or proper bar code. Competition for retail shelf space can be fierce. However, if the book is available to these outlets, customers can usually special order a title that doesn't appear on the shelves. Self publishers need to work especially hard at marketing and building a fan base to gain even minimal retail attention and demand for their work.

      As you work toward getting your titles into retail markets, I hope you'll share your experiences in a hub here on HP one day. Thanks again for taking the time to thoughtfully comment on the issue!

    • profile image

      Robinbird_57 

      3 years ago

      Be careful, some bookstore have requirements that CreateSpace is unable to meet.

      Barnes and Nobles requires a full bar code with a price bar code and "a human can read" price, printed on the book. Create Space won't do this, but will let you create your own for printing on the book. (Quite a project!)

      The deal breaker for Barnes and Nobel is that they request the title of the book on the spine of the book. Create Space will not place a title on the spine of any book unless it is more than 101 pages.

      So a self publishing writer has concerns and options.

      Go elsewhere if another POD will print the correct required bar codes, and title on spine. ( Most children's picture books are under 50 pages, many are under 25 pages.)

      Plead with Barnes and Nobel to waive or remove the title on spine requirement?

      Become a publisher and print your own books to the requirements?

      Write books longer than 101 pages?

      This is a big deal. Most self published writers WANT to get their books into libraries and bookstores, but now they are caught between the big brick and mortar bookstore (B&N) requirements, and Create Space's inability to meet them.

      Create Space says other bookstores work with their distributor, Ingram, and don't have the strict requirements of title on spine, or price code/ human read price on book.

      Create Space says they don't use the full price code or human readable price, because that would require changing the cover each time you change the price.

      I'm going to see if I can d a work around... I can put anything in my cover file I want... so I will try to add the title on the spine myself, and the needed codes...

      But, for the costs we pay Create Space, they should work to offer these requirements to self publishing authors, even if it's at an additional, one time fee.

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