In my last post for beginning indie authors, I went into the reasons you might choose to publish your books through an aggregator who distributes them to various sales channels for you. In this post, I will take a look at three such sites in more detail, Smashwords, Draft2Digital and Xinxii.
When I first started experimenting with ebooks, the main options for marketing fiction were Smashwords and Amazon. Since I was a bit intimidated by all the programs needed to create an ePub file, and Smashwords had the added advantage of a very long and detailed manual on how to create a doc file that would pass the checks of their “Meatgrinder” (Smashwords term, not mine), I began my foray into indie publishing there with my previously published novella “Looking Through Lace.”
While as whole epublishing has gotten much easier since 2011, in my experience, the same cannot really be said for Smashwords. Smashwords nominally accepts ePub files, but since they are not eligible for Extended Distribution (everything outside of the Smashwords store itself), if you want to use Smashwords for distribution to multiple retailers, you have to format your manuscript as a DOC or DOCX file according to the Smashwords guidelines.
And those guidelines are over 100 pages long. So you can imagine that it takes a while to get a manuscript prepared for Smashwords, especially if you haven’t done it before.
Once I finally got my first attempt at an ebook approved for Expanded Distriubution through Smashwords (after a couple of tries), I used that file to create a template for future uploads. But even despite the template, I have often had to upload a file more than once. The Meatgrinder appears to be very sensitive.
Some details regarding my experience with Smashwords: The “Smashwords Style Guide” suggests copying and pasting the entire text of your document into Wordpad in order to strip the Word document of unnecessary coding. I find this much too time consuming, because it also takes out all italics (among other things), which then must be manually put back into the document. I have the advantage that I still do a lot of my writing in that old dinosaur Word Perfect, which doesn’t add as much junk formatting code. So in order to get a clean copy of the text without losing the formatting I still want, I convert my Word Perfect document to html and open the html file in a text editor. Using search and replace, I get rid of all the unnecessary formatting commands. Here I also change underlining to italics and replace the scene break I usually use (#) with the one preferred by Smashwords (* * *). Once the html file is cleaned up, I open it in my word processor, copy the text, and paste it into my template.
Royalty structure – From the Smashwords FAQs (http://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq): “For most retail distribution partners, Smashwords pays the author/publisher 60% of the suggested list price you set for your book. These rates vary by retailer for sales outside the US. Apple, Barnes & Noble and Diesel are 60% of retail price, though for Apple’s UK, France, Germany and Australian bookstores, Apple deducts a Value Added Tax (VAT) from your sales price, so your actual earnings share = 60% of (Retail price – VAT). Kobo is also 60% for books priced between $.99 and $12.99 for US and Canadian dollar-denominated sales. Sales in other currencies at Kobo are at 38% list. For the Baker & Taylor Axis360 library platform, libraries purchase a single copy at list price, for which the author/publisher earns 45% of list, and then the library is allowed to lend the book multiple times, but only allows one checkout at a time (patrons who want to check out a book that’s already checked out have option to purchase the book).” Books sold directly through Smashwords earn the author about 80% of the list price.
Channels distributed to – Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Amazon (limited distribution), Apple, Page Foundry, Baker & Taylor Blio, txtr, Library Direct, Baker-Taylor Axis360, OverDrive, Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd
Pros – The largest number of sales channels; the potential for sales through the Smashwords store itself; coupons for promotional purposes; easy to opt out of individual sales channels
Cons – Very stubborn Meatgrinder
D2D is a newer site for distributing ebooks to multiple retailers, and they don’t support as many channels as Smashwords. In my experience, however, they are much easier to use. In addition to DOC and DOCX files, they also accept EPUB files, which they will distribute directly to their retailers, as long as the file passes their ePub check. You can minimize the chance of your EPUB file being rejected by running it through EpubCheck yourself.
Since I always start with a correctly formatted EPUB for the sales channels I upload to directly, being able to also upload EPUB to D2D is a huge timesaver for me.
Another advantage of D2D is that they also distribute to CreateSpace for POD paperback books. Since formatting paperback is one of the more demanding chores of the indie writer (for me at least), this could be another helpful shortcut. I have only used the service through Draft2Digital once, however, for a collection of stories I wrote with Jay Lake, Almost All the Way Home From the Stars, because I wanted the royalties all in one place for me to make it easier to send Jay (and now his heirs) their share of the profits.
In order to generate the PDF for CreateSpace, D2D requires a DOC or DOCX file with a linked Table of Contents. I talk more about my experience creating a paperback through Draft2Digital here. Once I approved the PDF generated by D2D, I had to make the wraparound cover for the paperback, like so:
A disadvantage of publishing to CreateSpace through D2D is that you do not get a discount for author copies. You are not the publisher of the book, Draft2Digital is. So if being able to order discounted books directly from CreateSpace is important to you, you will have to create the PDF and upload to CreateSpace yourself.
Royalty structure – 60% of the book’s list price. From the D2D web site: “We only make money when you do. Our fee at most sales channels is approximately 10% of the retail price (it’s technically 15% of the net royalties). Everything else is up to you. You choose the book’s list price, you choose which sales channels you want to distribute through, and we’ll make it happen.”
Channels distributed to – iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Page Foundry, Scribd and CreateSpace. According to the web site, they are currently pursuing distribution agreements with Overdrive, Flipkart, Ingram, Omnilit, Tolino and Google Play.
Pros – Very easy uploads, no extra formatting needed, except for CreateSpace; the option to self-publish in paperback through CreateSpace
Cons – Not as many sales channels
Xinxii is primarily of interest to authors who want to get into European bookstores. Based in Berlin, Xinxii distributes to a number of important ebook retailers in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Spain, as well as offering distribution through Amazon and B&N. Since the level of English reading skills in Germany is quite high, there is definitely potential for sales of ebooks in English, as an excerpt from my Xinxii dashboard shows:
As the screen shot also shows, however, authors do not make as high a percentage on their works through Xinxii as through other aggregators. On the other hand, they distribute to international markets difficult to reach any other way.
I found publishing to Xinxii quite easy. They accept EPUB format, as well as quite a few others; according to their web site “a Word document, a PowerPoint presentation, an Excel spreadsheet, an audiobook or a document created in PDF or ePUB.”
Royalty structure – Approximately 40% of the list price of your book. From the Xinxii site: “Please check the information page in the “My XinXii > Manage Uploads”-section for the specific royalties on sales transacted via XinXii distribution partners. Generally, we pass on up to 85% of the amount, that we receive from them, to the author.” Or, as Patricia clarified in the comments below, “You keep up to 85% of net revenue through our retail partners (= 50% of net price) and 70% of net price for sales through XinXii.” It appears that 50% of the net price is a little over 40% of the list price.
Channels distributed to – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Casa del Libro, iBookstore, Kobo / Fnac, o2, Sony Mobile, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Thalia, buch.de, buecher.de, donauland.at, otto-media.de, derclub.de, Flipkart, e-Sentral
Pros – Distributes to European and other markets hard to get into; accept a wide range of file formats
Cons – Low royalty rate compared to other platforms
Next week in this series I’ll talk a little about the costs of ebook publishing. If anyone wants to contribute something in the comments about their own experience with the kinds of investments they’ve had to make before being able to self-publish, I’d be happy to quote you and link to your site. 🙂