Tag Archives: Starting out as an indie author

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author

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.

Smashwords

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

Draft2Digital

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

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:

xinxii

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. 🙂

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors

Aggregators and sales channels

In my last blog post for beginning indie writers, I wrote about various ways to format your manuscript for ebook publishing and some of the more important sales channels where you might want to upload your books.

The sales channels I mentioned there, however, are only a few of the very many online bookstores that have started cropping up in the last few years, such as OverDrive, Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd, Baker & Taylor, Page Foundry and more. Not to mention the genre specific eBook stores like All Romance.

The thing is, for every channel where you sell your books directly, you have to register, format your book(s) according to the store guidelines, and upload the file, cover, description, and whatever other information the site requires. That can be a lot of work for one measly sale a year. (I personally have never sold anything in most of the stores mentioned above.)

But if you don’t want to miss out on those possible sales, there is an alternative. A new business model that has sprung up since the beginning of the ebook revolution is what is now most often referred to as “aggregators” — an ebook publisher who will distribute your book to multiple ebook vendors, while you, the writer, only have to upload your book once, rather than registering at ten different sites and uploading your book individually to each one.

Some reasons for using an aggregator

Such a service naturally comes at a price, in this case, a percentage of what your book earns at the stores the aggregator distributes to. While Amazon, B&N and Kobo typically give the author 70% of the sales for books priced at $2.99 or higher, at the aggregators the return for the author is usually 60% or less. (By comparison, books under $2.99 on Amazon only earn the author 35%, and some aggregators make no distinction according to price, making the question of whether to use their services even more complicated …)

So assuming your book is priced at 2.99 or more, why would anyone want to allow a simple distributor to take a percentage off their profits?

1) Uploading directly is too much work for too little gain

As I implied in the first section of this post, where I described the service that aggregators provide, sometimes it just isn’t worth it in terms of time and effort to upload your books directly to every single store out there.

As an example: say you have a novel selling for 3.99. At 70% from a sale of the book (standard for Amazon at that price), your take is 2.79. At 60% from Smashwords, for example, it comes out to 2.39. If you sell one book a year each to Page Foundry and Oyster, you have handed over a total cut to the aggregator of 0.80 — and you have saved *at least* an hour’s worth of work, and probably much more — registering for and uploading to all those channels directly (since you had no idea where you might possibly make a sale). Of course, if you’re seeing hundreds of sales to these channels, it would be worth it to register and upload individually. But it is very easy to opt out of distribution on both Smashwords and Draft2Digital, if your sales on one of those channels start taking off.

2) You can’t get into the market otherwise (frex: iBooks)

As I mentioned in my last post about preparing your manuscript for various channels, some stores have high or even insurmountable hurdles for uploading your books there directly. The iBooks store only accepts files uploaded through iTunes Producer, which means you need a Mac running OS X 10.8 or higher (as of July 2014). As I do not use a Mac, I have to rely on an aggregator to get into the iTunes store. For authors with a greater sales volume, it might be worth it to buy a Mac in order to submit to the store directly. But when you calculate that you are handing over 0.40 to the aggregator for every sale of a book priced at 3.99, you would need to sell over 1000 copies of your ebooks on iTunes before breaking even on the purchase of a MacBook.

Another example of not being able to get into the market is Barnes&Noble. For a long time, only writers with a US address and bank account could publish directly to B&N. They have since expanded to the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, and Belgium. Nonetheless, that still leaves many writers who have to rely on an aggregator in order to reach readers with a Nook.

3) You can’t be bothered

I do not mean this in a snarky way. Some writers would much rather be writing the next book instead of keeping track of a dozen sales channels. They have no problem giving up 10% of their profits to an aggregator, as long as they don’t have to worry about uploading new versions of their ebooks to every single ebook retailer, and would much rather stick with only Amazon and one or two aggregators. This is a completely valid choice and something to consider when you start publishing.

4) You want to make a book or story permafree for promotional purposes

Most ebook retailers will not allow you to set your price to free if you upload it directly. For some mysterious reason, though, this is possible when using aggregators. Thus, if you have a first book in a series or a short story in a fictional world that you want to make free, you will have to use an aggregator. (I have discussed some reasons why you might consider giving a book away for free elsewhere.)

In my next post, I will include more detailed info about the three aggregators I have worked with until now, Smashwords, Draft2Digital and Xinii.

Changing your book’s categories (and why you should); plus an update

As I’m sure many people know, the categories offered when you publish a book through Kindle Direct Publishing don’t always match the Kindle store categories. Books published via KDP fall under two different types of categories — KDP uses BISAC codes to categorize books, but Amazon uses a broader classification. When you choose your two categories in the KDP Bookshelf, the book is mapped to the closest classification under the “eBook” category on Amazon.

The problem is, those default categories are (naturally) some of the most popular categories in the Kindle store — which means you’re competing with a lot more other books for those important top 100 category slots. Getting into the top 100 lists is an important way to keep from descending into oblivion and boost sales.

Take a look at this screenshot for the categories in Science Fiction in the Kindle store:

Now look at the numbers behind each category. When I first published Looking Through Lace as an ebook, I chose the categories “Adventure” and “Short stories” (ok, it’s officially a novella according to the SFWA definition, but close enough). What I didn’t know then, I had chosen the two categories with the most books in SF — and thus, the two categories least likely to get my book noticed.

Some time ago, I changed one of the categories for Yseult from epic fantasy to Arthurian — and it’s been selling fairly regularly ever since. Arthurian fantasy is a niche category, and it doesn’t take many sales for my books to remain in the top 10. And that in turn gives them exposure.

I hadn’t looked into changing categories for any of my other books until recently, though. And that was when I saw how unwise I had been regarding the categories for Looking Through Lace. By that time, I had also published the second novella in the series, Beyond the Waters of the World. I wanted to change both to “Series” and “Space Opera.” Space opera is available from the KDP Bookshelf, but not Series.

If you want your book to appear in any of the categories in the Kindle store for which there is no corresponding match in the KDP Bookshelf, here’s a nifty link you can use.

Hit “Contact us” at the bottom of the page, and you will get a screen that asks you for the following information:

Please fill in the following information:
ASIN or name of book:
Category to delete (optional):
New category (select two):

When filling in the categories, you need to list the complete path. So mine looked like this:

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > Series
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > Space Opera

Does it help? Looking Through Lace and Beyond the Waters of the World are not breaking any records, but they’ve been selling about a copy a day each since I did the category change combined with a freebie run. Before that, they were selling maybe 20 copies a month for both titles combined. On the second day of the freebie for Beyond the Waters of the World it had the following ranking:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #931 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > Series
#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > Space Opera

And it managed to drag Looking Through Lace with it, which ended up here:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,443 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#51 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > Series

So I would highly recommend taking a look at the numbers in your genre, and if your book fits in a category with less competition, consider changing it. Of course, if you’re already selling hundreds of copies a day, stay where you are. This advice is for the few copies a day crowd, like me. 🙂

* * *

In writing news, I’ve managed to get more done on Island of Glass in two days than I did all last week. Word count 13,700, coming into the home stretch for the first draft of the expanded version. *g* I’ve also been doing some brainstorming for the second novella of the series, tentatively entitled Facets of Glass. With all the promotional work I’ve been doing lately, I’m good with that.

Speaking of promos, don’t forget to check out the Dollar Daze 99c promo and giveaway that I mentioned in my last post!

Promoting Ebooks with a Free Run through KDP Select

Note, Nov. 2014: Now that I have returned to using free as a strategy for promoting my books, I am updating the list here again. If you notice any links that don’t work or have any suggestions for links to add, please let me know in the comments!

If you’re promoting a 99c sale rather than a free run, you can find my list of sites for that here.

During the month of February 2012, I did four free promotions with KDP Select, and I’ve started to get the hang of it. After the freebies, my ebooks have bounced into the top 100 Paid in their categories. As I write this, Yseult (which was free for 24 hours on Feb. 29) has the following rankings:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,468 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#48 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Historical
#59 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical

If you check the popularity ranking for Historical Fantasy in ebooks, it’s even #3. 🙂 (And Dragon Time is #8!)

I promised a bunch of people I would write a blog post about what I do leading up to and during a free promotion, so here goes.

There are several folks you might want to contact about your free promotion once you’ve scheduled it. These sites will announce your book either 1) if they think it’s worthy, or 2) if you’ve paid them enough. The sites that don’t charge for announcements usually don’t guarantee being listed. With the paid sites of course you do (but note that not all of them will promote everything).

Free:

Indie Book of the Day (No erotica.)

FreeBookSy (Free and paid.)

eBookLister (Note: If you’ve submitted a freebie for the same book before, you get an error message stating that your listing will be corrected.)

Book Angel – Book must be PG-13!

Ask David

Read Free.ly

The eReader Cafe (Free and paid. Book should have at least 3 reviews and a rating of 4 or higher.)

Choosy Bookworm (Free and paid. Book must be at least 70 pages long & have at least 8 reviews with a 4+ average.)

Free Books (Hands down the easiest place to submit the info for your free promo — only ASIN and dates!)

BookScream (While they’re in beta, all ads on BookScream are free.)

eBooks Habit (Free and paid; for a listing, books must have at least 3 reviews. No erotica.)

Reading Deals (Requires a minimum of 5 reviews & a 4.0 average rating. No graphic sexual content.)

SF Signal Free Fiction Tip Line (For science fiction and fantasy)

Frugal Freebies

Awesomegang (Free and paid.)

iLoveEbooks

New Free Kindle Books

eBooksaurus

Armadillo EBooks

Bookpraiser (Free and paid. Requires you to like, tweet, subscribe, etc.) Note: The last time I tried to enter a book here, it kept insisting that my book description could be no longer than 500 characters, even though my text editor said it was under the limit. The count it finally accepted was less than 250 characters. Go figure …

 

Paid:

(BTW, before booking any paid ads, you might want to check out my post about Alexa rankings for advertising sites.)

Bknights on Fiverr (As the location indicates, promotions here cost $5, plus 50c fee)

Ereader News Today (Prices starting at $30)

EBookDaily – Still in beta, and the price is donate whatever you think is appropriate.

Book Basset ($7.99 per day. Requires at least 10 reviews with a rating of 3.5 or higher.)

ManyBooks.net (Prices starting at $25. Requires at least 10 reviews and a rating of 4 or higher. Slots fill up early, so you should probably apply at least 2 weeks in advance, if not more.)

Ignite Your Book (99c for a listing on their page, and another $10 for the complete promo, including tweets and newsletter, which you need to order separately.)

Bookgorilla (Prices starting at $40.)

EBookStage (Must have at least 5 reviews and a rating of 4 or higher. Promotion packages starting at $12, but can be free with enough “promotion points.”)

Books Butterfly (A number of various pricing options depending on how many readers your ad will reach.)

Sweet Free Books ($5. At least 5 reviews and a 3.5 rating.)

Digital Book Today (Free and paid; books must be at least 100 pages long and have at least 18 reviews with a rating of 4 or higher. No erotica.)

BookRaid – Pricing per click, starting at 5c, with a minimum threshold of $2 — so at less than 40 clicks, the listing is free. Maximum charge $10. For fiction, the book must be at least 120 pages long. It cannot have been promoted in the last 8 weeks.
https://bookraid.com/

Good Kindles

Freebookshub.com ($8 donation for a listing)

Kindle Nation Daily (costs lots)

BookBub (Various pricing schemes according to genre and whether the book is free or not. VERY expensive, but most who have used it think it’s worth it.)

Robin Reads (Listings start at $40.)

One Hundred Free Books (Listings start at $75)

DailyFreeBooks

Booklover’s Heaven (Requires at least 10 reviews and a rating of 4 or higher.)

Kindle Spotlight Book Promo

Snickslist (Listings start at $1. Note: this can only be done while the book is free!)

xtme:englishbooks (A German site for English ebooks)

During your promo

There are also a number of things you can do during or shortly before your free days to help potential readers find your book:

1. Post it to Addicted to Ebooks (You need to register to be able to post here, and you have to post on a day your book is free.)

2. For erotica, announce it on The Naughty List

3. Announce your freebie on LibraryThing and Goodreads.

4. Blog it, natch.

5. Post about your free book on your other social networking sites (Linked In, Google+, etc.) I try to pace this, since I have the sites that allow it set to automatically post to Twitter.

6. Announce it on the Kindle Boards (Links To Free Books) while it’s free.

7. Post on Facebook pages on your free day(s):

Your Facebook Wall

Free Kindle Books
eReader1 US (Guidelines for posting are here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/ereader1-us/book-promotions-including-self-promo-by-authors-and-publishers-and-their-friends/448662358501661)
Amazon Kindle
EBook Korner Kafe (You have to like and share a Focus Post in order to be able to post here.)
Indie Kindle (You have to be a member to post to their promotion page.)

8. Tweet (use hashtags #FreeKindleBook #freekindle #freebook #free #kindlepromo). Don’t forget to thank those who retweet!

9. Send a message to @kindlenews on twitter (over 20,000 followers). If you write in the genre of fantasy and science fiction, send a message to @kindlefantasies (600 followers). Here are few more potential accounts to notify, but be judicious. No one wants to be spamming twitterverse with ads for your book: @DigitalBkToday @Bookyrnextread @kindleebooks @Kindlestuff @KindleEbooksUK @KindleBookKing @KindleFreeBook @free_kindle @FreeReadFeed @4FreeKindleBook @FreeKindleStuff @KindleUpdates @Booksontheknob @Kindle_promo @IndAuthorSucess @CheapKindleDly @KindleDaily (Note: in order for them to retweet, many of these require that you follow them first.)

All the promotion is a lot of work, but it can pay off. Even for someone who is writing in the unsalable genre of Arthurian fiction. 🙂 BTW, I update this list fairly regularly, so if you have a suggestion for a site to add or remove, please let me know in the comments below!

Related posts:

E-book promotions: Countdown – meh. Permafree – yay! (kinda)

Amazon trying to re-Kindle interest in KDP Select: The new “Countdown Deals”

If you found this blog post helpful, perhaps you would be interested in the book, Starting Out as an Indie Author! You can learn more here.