Draft2Digital vs Smashwords vs StreetLib vs PublishDrive: Which eBook aggregator is best? Our #AskALLi Member Q&A is hosted by Michael La Ronn and ALLi Director Orna Ross, and this month they'll be answering this question and more.
Other questions include:
- If I commission an artist to illustrate scenes from my book as a giveaway for fans, who owns the copyright: me or the illustrator?
- Help! My publisher returned my book rights to me and I don't know what to do next.
- What is the best way to republish a book?
- Should I format my own manuscript?
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About the Hosts
Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction & fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. You can now find his new writing course on Teachable.
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcript: eBook Aggregator and More
Orna Ross: Hello everybody, and welcome to our live stream self-publishing questions answered, where our members, the Alliance of Independent Authors members pose their most pressing self-publishing questions to me and to Michael La Ronn, who's with me here. Hi, Michael.
Michael La Ronn: Hey Orna, how are you today?
Orna Ross: I'm very good, and you?
Michael La Ronn: I'm fantastic.
Orna Ross: Great. Okay. So folks, the drill here is that our members have submitted some questions to us, and Michael has selected the questions that are most representative of the issues that most authors encounter. Of course, we have our member support desk for people's one-to-one questions, but these are questions that touch on problems that lots of, you know, we get lots of the same question over and over. We get a lot. So, without further ado, Michael, shall we launch into the questions?
Michael La Ronn: Alright, let's do it. Our first question is from Norm, and the question is, can I publish my book on Smashwords and Amazon at the same time?
Orna Ross: Yes, you can. The thing is that you don't use Smashwords to distribute to Amazon as well. So, if you're going to use any aggregator, be it Smashwords, PublishDrive, StreetLib, Draft2Digital, these are the ones that ALLi recommends, and that most ALLi members use. No matter which distributor you're using, or aggregator. So, just to pause for a moment and say, there are two ways to get your books out into the world, and we're talking eBooks here, if we're talking Smashwords and KDP, I think our questioner is talking about eBooks.
So, there are two ways you can get your book onto a platform. You either upload it directly to Amazon, to Apple, to Google Play, to whomever, or you use an aggregator who distributes to lots of different outlets on your behalf. So, Smashwords is one of those aggregators. As I said, others are Publishdrive, Draft2Digital, and StreetLib, all excellent distributors and all overlapping, to some extent.
So, what you have to do is make sure that you don't have two distribution channels feeding into the same place. So, if you're going to use Smashwords to distribute outside of Amazon, make sure you de-select Amazon within the Smashwords ecosystem, and same applies to any of the others. We have some members who use all of those aggregators, because each of them does things in a slightly different way and reaches different outlets. But in each case you must make sure that you don't tick the same box into different places.
Michael La Ronn: All right, perfect. Our next question is from Sharon, and Sharon asks, I have everything that I need, cover design, my book has been edited, it's been formatted, but I just have no idea where to self-publish or how to self-publish. Is there any guidance that you can give for someone who has no idea where to start?
Orna Ross: Sure. Well, start with our guidebooks because they will give you the basics, and as I'm talking to Michael here, let us mention Michael's book which is, 150 Self-Publishing Questions Answered, and it is broken down across the seven processes of publishing. So, editorial, design, formatting. You've done all that. Production. Now you need to look at distribution, which is the fourth stage, where do you actually put it out? And that connects to the question we just answered there a moment ago, about the aggregators and the going direct. And then after distribution, you'll need to look at marketing and promotion and eventually, a little while down the line, it seems impossible, but there will come a time where you will probably also look at rights licensing. But for now, what you're looking at is distribution. So, if you just grab Michael's book, it's freely available to all members in eBook form in the member zone. Or if you prefer a print copy, you can buy that at selfpublishingadvice.org or on all the retailers, because it's well distributed. In there, just go straight to the distribution section and all your questions will be answered there about eBook distribution, print book distribution, and indeed, audiobook also.
Best Way to Republish a Book
Michael La Ronn: All right. Our next question is a multi-part question, Orna. This is from Nadija, and looks like Nadija originally published his or her book through a vanity publisher and they got out of the contract, thank goodness, and they want to know what is the best way to republish this book? So, the first question is, if I republish it by myself, will it be considered a second edition?
Orna Ross: Yes, is the short answer, probably best to do that, to put some distance between yourself and the previous publication. You might even consider going so far as to change the title and change metadata completely, so it is seen as a different book. You may not want to do that, and it's optional, but other people in your situation have done that, because they really want to put clear blue water between themselves and that previous book. So, yes, if you keep the title, you have no choice but to call it a second edition, because you won't be able to go in and just upload on top of what they've uploaded already. They'll have different distribution streams to the ones that are available to you as a self-publisher. So, short answer is yes.
Michael La Ronn: Okay. And then the second part of the question is can I use the same ISBN number?
Orna Ross: No, neither for a second edition or if you change anything significant about the metadata, you need a new ISBN number.
Michael La Ronn: Okay. And then the next part of the question is, will it be worth establishing my own LLC company in order to publish.
Orna Ross: You don't need to get into that at this point in time, unless you really want to. So, you can just set up as a freelance operator for now, and when you have some money coming through in a while, you can look at the advantages and disadvantages of incorporation.
There are pluses and minuses on both sides, but unless your book is a non-fiction book, which might have legal issues associated with it, maybe liable issues or something like that, there's no need to rush to incorporation. I was self-publishing for almost a decade before I incorporated.
So, you can function completely as a freelance operator. It does vary in different territories, in terms of the advantages and disadvantages, and so you'd need to look at your own area, your own territory, speak to your own tax office and so on. But I think, at this point, where you're getting a book back into publication, all your focus should be on that. You'll have enough tasks to be doing without thinking about those kinds of managerial tasks, which, as I said, I think you're better off doing down the line. What do you think, Michael?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I agree. I mean, to me, I believe that there's a benefit to at least being a sole proprietor or a sole trader, I don't see anything wrong with that, and I would do that for at least tax purposes, you know, being able to claim some of those expenses on your taxes. But yeah, I wouldn't worry about incorporating. The question of whether you do a sole proprietor or an LLC, LLC is a pretty good thing to do, there are some administrative extra things that you need to do with an LLC. So, just at least make sure you understand what those are and then if you do set up an LLC, just do a little bit of research, YouTubing, Googling on ways to make sure you can set your LLC up correctly so that you actually get the benefits of the LLC, because a lot of people will set those up, but not really understand what they're doing with it. So, just make sure you understand that, but your choice on whether you do an LLC or sole trader. I would not incorporate until you start making a lot of money.
Orna Ross: Great, and Zachary has a side-question actually, based on the first part of the question, could it not be a marketing strategy to market it as a second edition, especially if it's non-fiction, perhaps revised and expanded second edition?
So, a great question, Zachary, and thank you for asking it. The answer to that is, it all depends on how the first book went, and I have to confess that I am assuming that because it was vanity published and because she's taken her rights back, that it didn't go anywhere. And unless the book has actually had some success, it's not a good marketing strategy to associate with the book.
So the answer is, in cases of successful first additions, absolutely, link them as much as you possibly can. Sometimes though, the first edition isn't something that we're rushing to claim, and in that case, it can make sense to just let it quietly fall away.
Publishing in a Magazine
Michael La Ronn: Agreed. So, our next question is from Millie this is a bit of a complicated question, there's some legal pieces here, but it's a right sales question. So, Millie had a piece that was recently published in a magazine that basically said that the published work in a magazine remains the property of the author, or gave the magazine a license to print what was in the article. The magazine is sold through Amazon and they gave her a code so that she can access the magazine for free. So that's, kind of, the setup. The question is, are there any legal restrictions on the author screenshotting those pages from the magazine to share them on, say the author's website, or with friends?
Orna Ross: It would be a tough old magazine that would come and not want you to do that, and come down hard on you for doing that. Having said that, the actual layout and the structure of those pages belongs to them and doesn't really belong to you. But they may very well be delighted to have the author going out on social media and spreading the word.
So, I wouldn't think of it as a legal issue so much as just a courtesy that you would just ask them, and let them know what you intend to do, and just run it by them and say, look, this is what I'm going to do, this is what I intend to do, I just thought I'd better check in with you first, make sure you guys were okay with it?
99.9 times out of a hundred, they're going to be only too pleased.
Michael La Ronn: Right, yeah. I would say, just knowing what I know, read your contract first and foremost, read your contract. It sounds like it's probably fine, but when you publish in a magazine, you give a magazine a license, usually, to be the first exclusive publication, it's called first serial rights for publishing your article. Now, if you're taking a screenshot to say, Oh look, mom, I got published in blah-blah-blah magazine. Fine. No one's going to care about that, and you share that on social media or you share it with your friends. A different story if you're taking screenshots of it to publish it on your own website.
I mean, typically you're going to want to give that magazine a courtesy, and first serial rights usually have a timeline on them. So, it might be for the first 30 days, you can't do anything else with it or that for 60 days, you can't do anything else with it. So, if you signed a license agreement with the magazine, just look at that. That usually will guide you. And when in doubt, reach out to the magazine and ask them. But if you're just sharing on social media to let people know that you're in the magazine, I see no issues with that.
Orna Ross: Yes. And regular listeners will know that Michael is our go-to legal man who always takes the legal line, which is great, so thank you.
Pricing Strategy for Ebook Aggregator
Michael La Ronn: All right. So, let's see, next question here is from Wayne. Wayne is in the process of publishing a book and he basically is trying to get reviews, but there are two questions. The first is with aggregators. What is the best pricing strategy for aggregators?
Because they're running into issues where if they do a 9.99 eBook and 12.99 paper, and then they set the Ingram price, they don't want to undercut Amazon, because Amazon has those terms of service, where they have to be the cheapest one in town. What is the recommended pricing if you're going to be pricing your book in eBook, paper, and on Ingram Spark?
Orna Ross: It's hard to give a general answer to this one, isn't it? I could only give, kind of, general principles. So, the first thing is, how are you actually deciding your share of the income, and that tends to vary across eBook, print, and audio. People have different ways of looking at it. So, you can either be saying, okay, I'm going to say, for example, with the print book, with Ingram and KDP print, you may say, okay, I'm going to set the price at a level where I get $2 commission payment. $2 is left to me out of what goes in there, and you set your book price up to that level when you're uploading it.
I suspect that you may also be referring to the issue that was there with Google Play, they were causing problems, a lot of problems, for independent authors and publishers in terms of what they were doing with prices. They would lower their pricing but still charged, you know, you would still get the full royalty, but they hadn't figured for the fact that Amazon assumes it's all lower price, so it's going to take its price down and, kind of, play around with you.
That issue is now, as to our knowledge, that is now okay, this is not happening anymore. So, it's much easier than it used to be to go in and set a consistent price across the board, keeping in mind, as you say, that Amazon likes to be the cheaper player, and also keeping in mind that buyers on different platforms are more or less price sensitive.
So, Apple buyers are known to be less sensitive to pricing than Amazon buyers. And in fact, on some of those platforms, actually pricing your book too low can lead to less sales rather than more. So, you don't have to have, this is the second or third principle in this answer, you don't have to have the same price on every store.
But without knowing more about your book and your aims for it, and the specifics around your own publishing situation, it's hard to say exactly what you should or shouldn't do in each of the different formats, but hopefully those guidelines were of some help. Anything to add, Michael?
Michael La Ronn: No, I don't have anything else to add. You answered that. That was actually a two-part question, and you answered the second part of the question.
Orna Ross: Oh, okay. Good.
Used Copies on Amazon
Michael La Ronn: All right. This is more of just a question in general. This is from Steve, and I'll read most of the question here. So, in these days of print-on-demand, is there an explanation for the extraordinary number of used copy sales, which supply books in perfect condition and even arrive with a new smell? I'm presuming he's referring to on Amazon.
So, on Amazon sometimes, you'll see with self-published books, for example, one of my books, I see this all the time, one of my books is available for a penny or, you know, less than what I typically charge for it and it is considered, basically almost perfect. Do you happen to have any insight into how that happens and why?
Orna Ross: Yeah, it does happen through the distribution chain and it is to do with print-on-demand. You can try to get, you know, if you have a specific book that is clearly undercutting your sales on Amazon, you can actually attempt to have that removed with varying levels of success.
So, what's happening here is you've got different sorts of ways of accessing the Amazon retail store, and we go in through KDP and through IngramSpark, which then, kind of, supply Amazon. There's also an overlap because a lot of KDP books are actually printed by Ingram as well.
So, it's all very confusing over there in print land, in POD land. So, you've got the Amazon seller marketplace, which is a different way for bookstores to actually sell books and then online bookstores can adopt the Ingram catalog and those books then end up being shown, and sometimes, as you say, the pricing can really go askew.
So, the advice is to take it up with Amazon and see what you can make happen there. And IngramSpark may be able to help, but they're likely to actually tell you to go to Amazon about it.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and then another thing you have to consider too, is that this is not exactly the answer to the question, but it's a n issue that comes up sometimes too, is that Amazon will not allow you to de-list a book, at least the print edition. So, for example, if you unpublish a book, the print edition will still remain, and that is because Amazon wants anyone who has a used copy of the book to be able to sell it at any point in the future. And so, it could be that maybe someone bought your paperback, and they want to sell it, you know, they don't want to use it anymore, which goes back to the used copy question.
Carol in the comment says that, I'm having that problem, Amazon are somehow selling my books in hard copy when I'm the only one who has the hard copy stock. So that kind of goes back to your point, Orna.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think in that situation, Carol what's happening is perhaps, if you used KDP print and IngramSpark, sorry, it sounds like you didn't use KDP print that you only printed for yourself, but did you use IngramSpark as your fulfillment? If you did, perhaps you neglected to opt out of Amazon, in which case the books will automatically go from Ingram to Amazon. So. That might have been what happened in your case. Again, a lot of this, the information we can give in this show about such questions have to be just general principles. It's a complex world out there, POD print and print books generally, and their distribution is an absolute minefield. So, it's impossible for us to say exactly what's happening in a particular situation, but it strikes me that might be what's happening with you, Carol.
Formatting the Manuscript
Michael La Ronn: Yep, exactly. Okay. So, we have another question here from Yolanda and the question is, I've recently gotten my manuscript back from my editor and I'm currently working on the final edit. Should I do my formatting myself?
Orna Ross: There is no should here, so it's really your choice, Yolanda. A lot of indie authors do their own formatting, for cost reasons and for control reasons, particularly their eBooks. It depends, if it's a simple straightforward, simple text book, nonfiction or fiction, then there are lots of great tools out there that will help you to format the book. I personally use Vellum, Michael uses Vellum also, but there are lots and lots of options for you. We've just recently, on the ALLi blog actually, we just realized, it was hilarious, we just realized we had never done a blog post which said, how to format an eBook.
Michael La Ronn: Really? Wow.
Orna Ross: It had been a complete oversight, it was so obvious we never kind of did it, or we did it so long ago, that it's no longer relevant. So, we have a very recent blog post, you can just go to selfpublishingadvice.org and search format an eBook, and you'll get the full drill on the different tools that are available to you, lots of feedback by our members on what they actually do, and also the option of hiring a formatter, if you just don't want to be doing with all that, you want to get on and write the next book, and you don't want to get involved with the production at all, time is more precious to you than money, then the option of how to hire a formatter, and how to instruct them, and what you're looking for and so on.
What is Print-On-Demand?
Michael La Ronn: Okay. Yep, I agree with all of that. Our next question is from Jill, and the question is, are there any newer printing companies with better prices and good quality that you're aware of, possibly?
So, the question is not specified in terms of what types of printing you're looking for. So, I guess maybe before we answer that, could you tee this up with a breakdown of what print-on-demand is, versus offset printing? Because I think that's probably an important thing to understand too, before going into answering this.
Orna Ross: Oh, okay, sure. So, the first thing is it's impossible to actually make a recommendation because we're a global organization, and we can't keep abreast of every printer in every English-speaking territory around the world. So, that's not a recommendation that we can give for consignment print. So, as Michael says, let's just talk about what we're talking about here. So, we've already discussed print-on-demand, POD, which is something that you do through Amazon KDP print or IngramSpark, that's our recommendation, not ‘or', ‘and' IngramSpark.
Our recommendation is to use both, opting out of Amazon in the IngramSpark system, opting out of expanded distribution in the Amazon ecosystem. So, once you've done that, you're properly setup for POD. But you may also want to supply your local stores or have a supply yourself. Depending on how you distribute your books, you may also want to order a consignment of print books, which you are going to maybe sell direct from your website, or perhaps you have a market stall at the weekends, there are lots of reasons why you might want to do that, and you certainly get better value per copy of the book. In other words, the book will have the same level of quality, and the same level of thickness of paper, robustness of cover and all of that kind of thing, it's cheaper to have a consignment print than it is to go POD, for obvious reasons. If you print-on-demand, you're printing one at a time, a printer who can do 500, a thousand or more, at a time could get you in a much better price per copy, and the more you print the cheaper that per copy price gets. But it can be extremely expensive as a lot of our members know because, fine, if you sell out all 500 or all 1000 or however many you have printed off, but if you don't, if you only sell 10, then the cost of those books is the full cost of the printer and therefore you're out of pocket.
So yeah, knowing the difference and knowing what your need is for print. So, what are you trying to achieve with your print book, what is the goal? That is the big question.
A lot of indie authors just automatically fall into print, thinking about print books and opting to do print books first, just because they've grown up with print or they assume that's the way it should be, but in actual fact, most of our members make far more money from their eBook and audiobook sales than they do from their print sales.
Print is the most complex of the three formats in terms of distribution. So, for lots of indie author's print is coming in at number three. But the thing is, what is your goal for your print book? Do you want it to be in your local bookstore? Do you want to be in a bookstore chain? Are you happy to just sell online? If you're happy to just sell online through Amazon, then you're best to not think about consignment print at all, just to POD, but if you have a different goal then you may well do better with a consignment run.
Adding the ALLi Badge to Your Site
Michael La Ronn: I agree. Okay. The next question is a great question, and that is from Linda. How do I add my the ALLi badge to my website?
Orna Ross: The instructions for that, I don't have them off the top of my head, but the instructions for that should be in your downloadable PDF that you got when you joined, you know, how to make the most of my membership. And you're able to find them if you log in to the member zone and you go to, how to make the most of my membership, then you'll find the full instructions are there for you.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, and don't forget to use your affiliate link with your badge as well. That's an important thing to not forget.
Orna Ross: Yes, good point, Michael, I'll pick up on that as you raised it. So, you can do your badge in two different ways. If you want to use it as an affiliate link, and Michael does, and lots of our members do because they get back, essentially, their membership fees through displaying the badge, then when somebody clicks on the badge and goes through, if they join, we credit our existing member with 30% of the joiners fee. So, lots of our members, as I said, some use it actually as a small little income stream each month, but lots of people find that they get their member fee back by using the badge in that way. So, both options are available to you. If you don't want to do that, and some people don't, I'm not sure why, but they don't, you can download the straight badge and you can also just go to the affiliate section on the member zone, and you'll find all the different badge options that we have there. And also a text affiliate option, if you would like to email your friends and tell them why they should join ALLi.
How to Submit to British Library
Michael La Ronn: Yes. Yes, indeed. And I think we've come to our final question, Orna. This is from Maria, and this is a very, I guess it's more of a UK question and that is that Maria has finished her book, independently published it, and discovered that all books are supposed to be submitted to the British library within a month of publication. She was not aware of that and was wanting to know first, does that apply to indies? And then second, what is the process of potentially doing that? And then third, is there a penalty for not having known and then submitting late?
Orna Ross: Okay. So, first question, yes, it does apply to indies. So, you are a publisher, just like everybody else, and the libraries of record want a copy of your book for the record. So, it is a legal requirement in the UK and in some other territories, not everywhere. So yes, you are expected to submit. If you just Google how to submit my book to the British library, or to the Library of Congress, I think it isn't in the States.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah.
Orna Ross: If you just Google, basically you send them a copy of your print book. We are lobbying for them to allow eBooks to be sent, because there is a cost. You have to send six here in the UK, because there are six libraries of record, and it's quite a significant cost for a small publisher. And also, where are they putting them all? And also, why aren't they accepting digital? So, I think there will be a shift to digital in time.
In reply to the third part of the question, it's fine to submit late. Don't worry about that. There are lots of people not submitting at all. It's a big headache for the library as to how they're going to manage this exploding world of self-publishing that nobody anticipated when it was all set up. So, if you want to bear with it and wait for a little while, you'll be fine, but if you want to fulfill your legal requirement, like Michael would say, do it, and do it now.
Michael La Ronn: Yes. Do it and do it now. And wow, I did not know that about the British library that there's six different… Wow.
Orna Ross: Yeah. Yeah. It's crazy.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. I guess, I suppose, say what we want about the United States copyright system, at least we can submit eBooks. That sounds like an administrative nightmare, you've got to give six different copies, in physical too. Wow.
Orna Ross: Yeah. It's got to be print. Yeah. So, Carol is kind of giving us all of them; it's Trinity college, Dublin, Cambridge university library, Edinburgh university library, Oxford university library, and The British Library in London.
So yeah, it's Ireland, Scotland, Wales isn't there for some reason, don't know why. That's okay, British library and other libraries, we have enough. Don't add any.
Michael La Ronn: Well, those are our questions for the month.
Orna Ross: Okay. So, thank you so much everyone for your questions. Sending them in to be publicly answered like this really helps other authors to make their decisions when they're in a similar situation to you, and every question that gets asked, there are hundreds of indies who are looking at the same thing at the same time. So, keep on sending your questions in please members. We are delighted to receive them, and we'll be back next month.
Michael won't be with us, he's taking a vacation, but somebody else will join me in the hot seat and we'll answer your questions again. So, until then, happy writing and happy publishing.
Michael La Ronn: Take care, everybody.