Trying to figure out which publishing platform or platforms to use as a new author tackling self-publishing? Let me help!
This post will walk you through the details of the most commonly used platforms: Ingram Spark, Kindle Direct Publishing, and Draft2Digital.
I’ll also throw in some bonus tips for other platforms.
Disclaimer: All of this is from my own experience, research, and bitching sessions with other authors. I am not claiming to be an expert in literally anything, and if you think I am an expert, you are wrong. This is not intended to be advice, or to tell you what you should do. I’m simply presenting a consolidated guide of all the research I’ve done.
Check out my other Author Resources blog posts as well. And if you’re looking for something specific, let me know!
Kindle Direct Publishing
Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP, is probably the most popular publishing platform for self-published authors. It’s run directly through Amazon and allows your books to be put up for sale in various formats on Amazon and all of its international stores. KDP can do eBook and paperbacks, and they now have an option for a case laminate only hardcover.
KDP allows you to put your Kindle eBook up for preorder up to a year in advance. At this time, KDP does not allow preorders for other formats. Meaning, if you plan to publish your paperback through KDP as well as your eBook, you’ll have to manually upload the paperback and publish it on your chosen release day (likely 72 hours before due to processing times).
Your eBook preorder can be set up to a year in advance. The release date can be moved forward, but it can only be extended by 30 days without penalty. If you elect to extend the preorder beyond these 30 days, you won’t be able to put another title up for preorder for one calendar year.
You can also set up your preorder for your eBook without uploading your file. This means you can set up the preorder before you even finish the book!
You could try emailing KDP customer support to see if they will remove the penalty, if the reason for delaying the preorder is extenuating or out of your control. Depending on which customer rep you get, they could remove the penalty for you.
For KDP, royalties are handled differently for eBooks versus print books. First, I’ll go through the eBook royalties program, and then we’ll discuss the print royalties.
eBooks have two options for royalties: 35% and 70%. Now, before you go “why on earth would I choose the 35%?” let me explain the differences. Directly from Amazon:
If you select the 35% royalty option, your royalty will be 35% of your list price without VAT for each unit sold. If you select the 70% royalty option, your royalty will be 70% of your list price without VAT, less delivery costs (average delivery costs are $0.06 per unit sold, and vary by file size), for each eligible book sold to customers in the 70% territories, and 35% of the list price without VAT for each unit sold to customers residing outside the 70% territories.
Choosing which royalty option to go for will depend on what markets you’re planning to sell in, how big your file will be, and how much you’re planning to charge. If you’d like another post going through this in more detail, let me know! I’d be happy to break it down further.
Now, for print royalties. These are much easier to calculate. For paperbacks, the royalty rate is 60% of your list price LESS your printing costs. So if you list your book for $18.99, it costs $8.99 to print, that’s $10. Then at the 60% rate, you would earn $6 for every book you sold. To calculate your estimated print costs for paperbacks, Amazon has a nifty calculator here.
For hardcover, the royalty calculation is exactly the same, but the printing costs are markedly more. That calculator is found here.
As a note for the printing costs: if you’re planning on having all black pages like those pretty trendy ones you’re seeing everywhere, you have to select Premium Color. I know, “but it’s black ink! Why?” Because of how much ink it uses. If you select black and white, Amazon will print it, see how much ink it uses, and then automatically switch you to Premium Color without telling you, meaning you lose royalties.
KDP only allows you to distribute to Amazon and it’s various international markets. However, you can opt in to what Amazon calls “expanded distribution.” This means that other retailers can buy your book through Amazon at wholesale prices. You make about 30% or less of your list price through this. Additionally, most retailers will elect to purchase through a non-competitor wholesaler, like IngramSpark, rather than buying from Amazon. That being said, it is an option.
Publishing through KDP also enables you to enroll in the Kindle Select program. This means that your eBook will be available through the Kindle Unlimited subscription program, and you are agreeing to be exclusive to Amazon (with your eBook). If you’re electing to enroll in this program, there’s a few very important things to consider.
First, you get paid by page read for books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. This per page rate changes monthly based on the “pool” of KU subscription revenue, meaning it is very difficult to predict what your earnings will be. Typically, the rate averages less than $0.01 USD per page.
Second, while your eBook is enrolled in KDP Select and available to readers through the Kindle Unlimited program, Amazon has exclusivity rights. This means you cannot have your eBook available on any other platform for sale or for sample (up to 10%). Amazon has bots that troll other eBook retailers, and if they see your content for sale somewhere else (even if it's pirated and you weren't the one who put it there), they’ll send you a really not nice email about it and could terminate your Amazon KDP account.
KDP Select terms last for 90 days. You can set your book to automatically re-enroll every 90 days if you plan on keeping it in KDP Select forever, or you can take it out after your term is finished. You can do all of that through your KDP dashboard.
KDP is one of the most commonly used self-publishing platforms, given that Amazon is the most popular place to get books from in the US and UK. Outside of these countries, Kobo and Google Play (Android's version of the app store) are leading the charge, so make sure to check out their sections towards the bottom.
Ingram is the other really popular publishing platform for self-published authors, specifically for physical copies. I do not recommend using them for eBooks. And I’ll explain why when we get to the royalties section. This information will only be about the physical publishing.
The biggest thing to note that is different from KDP: You have to pay $49 to publish anything through Ingram (a listing fee), whereas you can publish for free through KDP. This $49 fee is to cover distribution and other costs.
Often, Ingram runs “free title” campaigns that waive this fee, so be sure to subscribe to their newsletter to get these deals sent to you. You can also join a writer's organization, like the Alliance of Independent Authors or the Author's Guild, and get discounts and free upload codes that way too.
Personally, I am a member of ALLI. Membership is $89 a year, and if you plan to publish more than 2 books a year through IngramSpark, it pays for itself with the 50 free uploads/revisions a year that they offer.
The best thing that Ingram has to offer is the variety of formats it offers for printed books. While the paperback quality is similar between what is offered by KDP, the differences in the hardcover options are enough to make Ingram a huge contender for self-published authors.
Cover types available are
Matte Cover – Soft feel, no glare, polished
Gloss Cover – High shine, smooth finish
Digital Cloth™ Cover – Subtle, cloth-like look (available with or without dust jacket. Textured feel available for hardcover books only printed in the U.S. and U.K. only)
For hardcover books, you have even more options. The first option is the digital cloth cover with or without a dust jacket. The second option is a case laminate, meaning there is no jacket and the cover is printed on the hardcover directly. The last option is a jacketed case laminate. This means that there can be a design on the “naked” hardcover, and then a dust jacket over top of that.
There is also more options available for trim size through IngramSpark than through KDP. However, the most popular trim sizes, 5×8 inches, 5.5×8.5 inches, and 6×9 inches, are available through both.
You can also set up physical copy preorders through Ingram Spark. Like KDP, you can list your book for preorder up to one year in advance. With Ingram, unlike KDP, you have to have some form of files ready before you can submit your preorder.
However, you can change these files.
As long as your final files are uploaded 14 business days before your release date, you will be safe. Ingram says that 10 days before your release, all pre-orders will begin printing. Adding these extra days give you a cushion that will ensure only your final files get printed.
I do recommend putting your final files into Ingram as soon as physically possible, to account for any lag time. You can read more about Ingram’s preorder process here.
Ingram’s royalties are not fixed. They vary based on several factors, including what distribution channel you’re using, what format you’re printing in, how much of a discount you give for wholesale orders, and if you allow returns or not. While IngramSpark does have a calculator to determine your royalties here, this is by far the most complex royalty system of any publishing platform.
Printing costs are going to be the biggest hit to your royalties. To calculate your printing costs, use Ingram’s calculator here.
One thing I will note: Ingram gives you suggestions, especially for what they suggest for wholesale discount and that they suggest allowing returns. You do not have to listen to this. We're going to talk about this more in the Bookstores lesson, but just know that their suggestions are not law.
Perhaps the biggest win in the Ingram Spark column is their vast distribution network. According to their website, when you publish through IngramSpark, your book is automatically connected to over 40,000 distribution partners worldwide. This includes the bigger bookstores, like Barnes & Noble and Indigo, and smaller bookstores, libraries, and other retailers. For a full list of retail partners, check out this page.
D2D is the leading “wide” distributor of ebooks for self-publishing. Unlike Ingram Spark, D2D is free to use, and also includes access to a universal link creator called Books2Read.
Like KDP and Ingram Spark, D2D allows you to set a preorder for your book up to one year in advance. Similar to Ingram, D2D requires the final files to be uploaded 10 business days before your release date.
If you set up a preorder through D2D, it will automatically push the preorder listing out to the various retailer partners.
Directly from D2D themselves, this is how they explain their royalty breakdown:
The short answer is that our fee is approximately 10% of the price you set for your book (list price). That means most of our stores take about 30%, Draft2Digital takes about 10%, and you keep about 60% of the list price of your ebook.
For print books, you will make about 45% of the list price of your print book, minus the base printing cost. The long answer is that each store has their own specific policies and taxes are specific to your location. We inform you fully on the page where you set your price. Draft2Digital shows estimated royalties on a store-by-store basis based on your list price.
If you change your list price, these estimated royalties will live update to show you a best estimate of your take-home cut for each sale you might make at each specific store.
D2D also does paperbacks, but after using their calculator compared to Ingram, they charge a higher printing cost, though the decision is ultimately up to you and which platform you prefer.
If you want to see what your royalty for paperbacks would be, here is their print cost calculator.
Draft2Digital partners with all major book retailers, just like Ingram Spark, but all eBook retailers with D2D are opt-in. Meaning, you can control and choose which stores sell your book. The only popular eBook platform that does not work with D2D is Google Play. If you want your eBook available there, you have to go directly through them to upload, which I'll talk about more at the end of this lesson.
Unlike with KDP, you can set your eBook price on D2D to free. This is by far the easiest way to offer free eBooks in various stores. To get it free in Amazon requires a bit of a sneaky move, but short version: email support and have them price match to a store that’s displaying it for free.
Check out D2D’s list of retail partners here.
There are, of course, other options out there to publish your books. These three are just the most common, and thus, I went into the most detail about. But that being said, I'm not just going to leave you without all of your options.
Barnes & Noble Press: Allows you to publish directly to Barnes & Noble. This is an option, though the platform (specifically their customer service) needs work. You can upload eBooks, paperbacks, and hardcovers to B&N Press. There are limited hardcover options. You have potential to access exclusive Barnes & Noble promotions, if you can get support to add the promotions tab to your dashboard. It is free to upload.
Kobo: Allows you to publish your eBook directly to Kobo (rather than through Draft2Digital). Awesome customer support, and allows you to access Kobo Plus and Overdrive as well (but they're also available through D2D). Going direct to Kobo's biggest benefit is access to inclusion in their Kobo promotions, like Buy One Get One Free sales. Kobo is an eBook only platform, and it's free to upload to. Kobo is extremely popular in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and is gaining a foothold in the UK as well.
Google Play: Allows you to publish your eBook directly to the Google Play store. This is the only way to get your eBook into the Google Play store (Android's version of the Apple App Store). It's free to upload, and you can offer discount codes and coupons (instead of just lowering the list price). Google Play is available in many of countries not serviced by Amazon or Kobo, and is the leading book retailer for many of those countries.
Apple Books: Allows you to publish your eBook directly to the Apple Books store (rather than through D2D). While this gets you slightly higher royalties, setting up your account and uploading your book can only be done on a Mac device (for now, there's rumors they're changing this soon). Additionally, D2D has Apple promotions that authors direct to Apple do not get access to. It's free to upload your eBook to Apple.
All of these sites, with the exception of B&N Press, have extensive and well-written help sections, FAQs, and in-house blog posts detailing all the features of their platforms. I encourage you to do your own research and check out these pages. Take your time and weigh the details of each platform.
These are not all of the self-publishing sites available, of course, but they are the most commonly used ones. If you're looking for other options beyond these, I encourage you to go research and look for the equivalent information to what I shared here.
This is your decision, and ultimately it's important to do what is best for you and your business. I hope this helped! If you have questions, please feel free to let me know!