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Sending your books out into the world

Posted in Distribution, Just for Writers, and Publishing

ThrowingBooksI've been coming up the learning curve for the issues of distribution ever since I started writing in 2012. I thought I'd share with you some of my procedures, since my internal “tips” document has just stretched to 10 pages and shows no sign of stopping.

I'm not going to look at marketing at all here. Instead, I'll focus on just the mechanics of getting my books into all the distribution channels I can.

If you note any particular omissions, I'd be grateful if you'd mention them in a comment, or if you would bring up differences for other countries. (Keep in mind I'm based in the United States — your mileage may vary.)

Goal

Worldwide distribution (in English for now) in ebook, print, and audio without going to extraordinary efforts.

I want to create my books, and then fling them out to as much of the world as I can reach. That's the first step. What good is it to make the world's readers want to read them, if they can't lay their hands on them?

Materials – Getting organized

I produce my own covers based on Photoshop work from a cover artist to which I add Author Name and Blurbs. Before I start distribution, I make all the sizes of cover I'll need for the various distributors, and for my websites (author & publisher).

I create my own EPUB and MOBI files in Sigil. In the case of the MOBI file, there's one version for Amazon, and a different one produced by Kindle Previewer which is used outside of Amazon proper. Each format gets an ISBN. I have a spreadsheet with all the ISBNs and other identifiers by title by format.

I make print editions for both CreateSpace and Ingram (more on that below). They have identical content files, but slightly different covers to accommodate different spine widths for different paper stocks. I get an LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number) for the copyright page.

I only have one audiobook so far. I did the narration using a professional music studio and have both MP3 and CD files, and if I do another one, I'll use the same process.

I produce the book's description in long, medium, and short forms and make sure it's well formatted for the internal ebook description.

I have author photos and an author bio ready to use.

As you can see, I believe in doing as much of this myself as I can, but for what follows it doesn't matter where the finished materials come from, as long as you've got them.

Print editions – The longest lead time

CreateSpace is the best POD (Print on Demand) provider for Amazon, and Ingram (either LSI or Spark) is the conventional POD choice for everywhere else. Both of those providers go through a “proof” phase and even now, after 13 books, I check the appearance of my physical books for each of the vendors.

Color treatment for covers is different between them. Simplifying a complicated technical area grossly, CreateSpace does a good job of converting RGB (digital) covers to CMYK (print), better than the default that Photoshop uses, but Ingram requires you to provide a CMYK file, typically from a default conversion. About half the time, I find the CreateSpace book cover pleasing, and need to tinker with the Ingram one, usually to desaturate reds slightly. [see comment below re: RGB and CMYK]

There's a lead time to produce the proofs and get them in the mail (just using the digital proofers is not enough). Until you approve the proofs, the books won't be distributed.

Monitoring

To monitor distribution from CreateSpace, you need to check all the top Amazon country sites, and you need to confirm that the print and ebook editions are merged after a few days by Amazon. If that takes longer than 5 days, contact CreateSpace. Initial distribution only takes a day or two, but cleaning up the merged editions can sometimes take a while.

To monitor distribution from Ingram, look for your book to appear in downstream retailers or distributors. I use Barnes & Noble and IndieBound as test cases. This can take several days.

Ebook editions – Direct

I upload my ebooks first to my ecommerce site, Gumroad, because this helps me complete my website page for the new book for my author site (“How to Buy from the Author”). Like the CreateSpace edition, it may therefore go live (but not be announced) before the publication date.

On the publication date, I upload to Amazon (wide, not KDP Select or KU), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. In principle I would also upload directly to Apple iBooks and Google Play, but without a Mac the former is difficult and I haven't looked into an alternative, and the latter is a pain. Instead, I go to both those retailers indirectly (see below).

Monitoring

I maintain a folder of bookmarks for looking at all the sites to make sure the book appears, has a properly formatted description, is sorted into the appropriate series, is merged with print editions (Amazon, Barnes & Noble), etc. For Amazon, I check all the top countries, and also the author pages for those countries that have them.

Ebook editions – Indirect

Ebookpartnership.com – My primary distributor. They charge an annual per-book fee and take no royalties. I use them to solve the iBooks and Google Play issues, and my books generally show up on the downstream sites in about a day. Libraries included.

Smashwords – Since I'm there anyway, I use them for the small number of sometimes experimental channels not covered by Ebookpartnership.com or PublishDrive (need to check periodically). Draft2Digital would be similarly usable (they are direct competitors for distribution). Libraries included.

Ingram Spark – The fee structure for Ebookpartnership.com is too expensive for short stories (fine for novels), so I distribute shorts at Spark. It's best to do that when there's no fee for setup (special deals), since shorts earn so little.

PublishDrive – Focuses on European retailers not covered by Ebookpartnership (some overlap). I was using Xinxii but have just canned them on the grounds of old software & policies & limited partners, and activated PublishDrive instead for European retailers. Xinxii is working on a new site, and I will check again once that's available.

Monitoring

I watch for the book to appear on Google Play and iBooks (since I include links to those on my website book pages) as a way to check Ebookpartnership.com.

Every so often, I check channel delivery reports from Smashwords and take a look at my PublishDrive and Spark accounts. These are very minor parts of my business at this time, so it's just a housekeeping inspection every now and then.

Audio editions

AuthorsRepublic is a new distributor for audio produced outside the ACX system. They have several downstream partners, including Audible and Apple iBooks.

Monitoring

AuthorsRepublic has a decent setup on their site for monitoring their distribution, though some partners can take a month or two. I also check Audible, Amazon, and Apple iBooks until the edition shows up on their sites.

Summary

So, I've covered a fair part of the world, especially considering that Amazon & Apple & Kobo have many countries each, and distributors like Ingram & PublishDrive & Ebookpartnership have a hundred or more partners. What's the count?

  • Print – 2 POD creators/distributors
  • Ebook – 1 for direct ecommerce, 4 direct (5, if I had a Mac)
  • Ebook – 3 for indirect distribution (Smashwords already counted above)
  • Audio – 1 for indirect distribution

That's 11 organizations that I need to touch when I distribute a new release, and whose sales and payments I need to track and monitor. Many of them are low volume, but it's early days yet in the indie world.

Not bad, to give a one-author shop a global reach.

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4 Comments

  1. To expand upon the RGB vs CMYK reference above, here is an abbreviated definition of what those terms mean, as something you need to be aware of when preparing covers…

    The colors you see on a screen are made up of red, blue, and green light (RGB), blended to make up a very large gamut of possible colors, what is called a colorspace.

    The colors you see that come from a printing press are made up of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks (CMYK) that are blended to make up a rather smaller gamut of possible colors.

    The problem is in translating from one to another. All the work these days is done in RGB on screens and has to eventually be moved to CMYK for printing as the very last step, and when you try and jam many color choices down into fewer, you don’t always get what you want. For photography, you mostly don’t notice, and the default translation that many products (like Photoshop) do is adequate.

    For anything illustrated, however, where you have visible patches where all the pixels are the same color, a bad translation of a random color can be very visible.

    A pure green on a screen may require a mix of ink colors on paper, where the one-black-dot-every-so-often makes it very obvious and very ugly. There are all sorts of specialized translation methods out there, about which I can only read and shudder.

    There are also issues like ink saturation — if it takes too much ink for a particular printing situation/press limitation to “match” an RGB color using CMYK means, then the cover might be rejected on those grounds and need to be retooled.

    It’s good to be aware of the problem, even if you (or your cover illustrator) have limited means for dealing with them. It comes down to trial-and-error in the end.

    July 24, 2016
    |Reply
  2. Elsewhere someone asked how this works out for me. I can already tell you that sales outside of the US for me are… very, very weak. But I have hopes!

    To quantify that, check out this graph. There are many conclusions you can draw from this.

    1) ACTION ITEM: I don’t do enough marketing, esp. International marketing (very, very true).

    2) GOOD NEWS: Hey, that’s 6.5% I wouldn’t be getting if I weren’t present outside the USA. It’s in tiny dribs & drabs, but it’s real. And that’s without marketing.

    3) BAD NEWS: Those distributors who have annual fees (Ingram, Ebookpartnership) cost me about $416 (8 novels: $12 at Ingram, $40 at Ebookpartnership) this year, and the number will climb for each new book. Do I earn it back, with my relatively low volume? Only just.

    4) EVALUATION: The annual costs are fixed (per title), but the earnings potential should grow (per unit). Right now, they just balance, but there’s no reason to think the earnings won’t improve as I learn more about effective marketing and I have more product in the marketplace.

    5) EVALUATION: Right now, my ebook distributors overlap in market reach (Ingram Spark, ebookpartnership, PublishDrive). Of those, ebookpartnership has a fee but no royalty, Spark has both fee (unless you get some sort of coupon) and royalty, and PublishDrive has only royalty. Depending on how those services grow and how much overlap they end up with, I will keep evaluating cost vs benefit.

    6) EVALUATION: My ebook distributors are also responsible for things besides other countries. In my case, that includes Apple, Google Play, and Libraries. Some of that shows up in the USA portion, not broken out separately.

    ————–

    Here’s what it looks like By Distributor, instead of By Country.

    Physical = a deal between me and some bookstores
    Personal = friends/others buy directly from me

    July 24, 2016
    |Reply
  3. Thank you for this. We’re an independent shop too, writing, doing the covers, publishing the books, and doing the audio. The only thing we shop out is the editing because it always pays to have fresh eyes looking at that.

    We appreciate the detail you’ve gone into here. Very useful, and very good to learn we’re not the only ones who like to do everything we can ourselves. It’s work, yes, but so much fun!

    July 30, 2016
    |Reply

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