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 Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, 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 Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) 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.
- 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).
- 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?
Know What You're Buying from Self-Publishing Companies
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 on eBooks, depending on where the eBook is sold and the price of the book. 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 number may 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).
- 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, Kindle Direct Publishing currently offers 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!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2015 Heidi Thorne