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Whether you've already tried the big publishing houses and gotten rejection letters or you just want to jump right in and take the do-it-yourself approach, self-publishing can get your books on people's shelves - both digital and traditional.
One of the first questions you'll need to consider is whether you want to publish your book in print, as an eBook, or both. Some services cater strictly to one or the other, so you'll want to give that decision some thought before you dive into selecting a self-publishing provider.
Friday, February 26th
When it comes to reputation, Outskirts Press has been at the top of our list for years. And we're not alone in our assessment: the company enjoys an "A+" rating from and is accredited by the Better Business Bureau over nearly two decades of being in operation. In an industry like self-publishing, where it seems like companies come and go overnight, that's very reassuring for nervous, new authors and experienced pros alike.
Outskirts Press is not the cheapest self-publishing option available today. But, if you're looking for the most trusted one-stop shop that can tackle print and eBook distribution with a host of helpful marketing tools, you'll get all of that and much more with this service.
Your book will be distributed through a strong network of channels when you use this service. Some of Outskirts Press' partners include Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, BookWire, Books-a-Million, Alibris, and many others.
So, let's take a look at the self-publishing packages offered by Outskirts Press. No, you won't find the ability to publish a single paperback: this service is designed as a full-fledged outlet to get your work out there like any established author, not a vanity service just so that you can say you've been published. That means that their packages are going to cost more - because you get more.
The entry-level print package is known as the Economy. For a one-time fee of $899, you will get the following:
Need more than that? Additional packages bundle more services together, many of which can be added as an a la carte upgrade to the Economy package. These services include Launch Bundle marketing packages, a personal marketing assistant, eBook formatting for Kindle, Nook and iBooks, and more.
No matter which package you choose, expect to pay an additional $25 per book in storage fees. This charge comes because of the partnership with Ingram: Outskirts Press makes that charge transparent, while most of their competitors roll that fee in with the higher percentage of profits that they keep. (Other sites may call it a distribution fee or hosting fee.) In contrast, Outskirts lets you keep 100% of the profits you make between the wholesale and retail price of your book, with no fees or charges taken out.
And, expect the same $899 pricing if you'd like a 3-platform bundle of eBook services (Kindle, Nook, and Apple). You can get individual formatting and distribution for each of those services, but you'll save around $200 if you purchase it as a bundle instead.
One novel - pun intended - service we found on Outskirts Press is their One-Click Suites geared towards 8 specific genres: Nonfiction, Fiction, Spiritual, Children (Illustrated or Non-Illustrated), Christian, Cookbooks, and Memoirs. Some of the features you'll get with any one of these packages are professional copyediting up to 75,000 words, access to a marketing coach after publication, and advertising within markets and publications related to the genre you selected.
In short, everything you could need from a self-publishing provider can be found at Outskirts Press. This company's strong reputation, excellent range of packages and a la carte services are just a few of the reasons why they remain at the top of our rankings. Outskirts Press continues to be our top pick among self-publishing services.
BookBaby was founded in 2011 and is the self-publishing company for authors, by authors. The team consists of authors, poets, artists and bloggers who dedicate themselves to helping writers across all genres to publish successfully.
Figuring out the process of publishing a book can be a hassle. That's why we appreciate how BookBaby breaks it down into five simple steps. You can download a free copy of their guide or click through the steps online; just look for the "How to Self-Publish" link on the site's main page. In a nutshell, however, here's what you'll learn:
And, as luck would have it, BookBaby is ready to help you with every step of the process, with professionals who can clean up your copy, strategize the marketing approach, and, of course, help you publish your book.
Naturally, pricing for self-publishing depends on the services you choose. Options range from editing services and image conversion to print options for one book or one thousand (or more!). The most popular package offered by BookBaby is the Complete Publishing Package. For $1699, here's what you'll get:
BookBaby offers "the strongest guarantee in the eBook and publishing business": if there are any quality or craftsmanship issues with your project, the company will work with you to make it right or issue you a full refund. This extends to your cover design and your book proofs: you can get your deposit refunded if you choose to cancel before production as well. That's a nice perk that isn't offered by every publishing service out there.
BookBaby has several different fee structures when it comes to royalties. If you're self-publishing your work as an eBook, you won't pay any royalties to BookBaby. On the other hand, if you sell your printed book through the company's BookShop, you can expect them to take 15% of your sales. Ultimately, BookBaby says that "depending on the retail price of your title and the specs of the book, most titles will generate between 10-30% royalties." Fortunately, the site has a helpful Royalty Calculator that can guide you to set the right price for your book. We also spotted a pop-up during our most recent visit, offering us free shipping on printed books if we entered our email address.
This self-publishing service has a strong reputation. Over more than 1500 reviews from authors who have used BookBaby to publish their works, the average rating is an excellent 4.5 out of 5 stars. The company also has a solid "A-" grade at the Better Business Bureau.
Self-publishing can be daunting - but it doesn't have to be. When you choose BookBaby as part of the team that will bring your work to life, you can rest assured that you'll have all of the tools you need - and any help required to know how to use them. Because BookBaby offers so many options for getting published and has such a terrific track record, we encourage you to consider them as one of our highest-ranked self-publishing services.
Virtual Bookworm, also known as VBW, offers you the best of all worlds when it comes to self-publishing. Whether you want to release your work strictly as an eBook, print a thousand paperbacks, or sell a glossy coffee table hardcover book, this self-publishing service has you covered. VBW was created by a frustrated writer who wanted to offer authors something different from rejection letter big publishing houses and pay-to-play, "take everyone" vanity presses.
We think it's worth mentioning that this self-publishing service doesn't accept every book for publication. Their staff reviews every single submitted manuscript and only approves the ones that meet their guidelines for quality and content. The way they put it is this: "This means that your book won't be selling on the same site as a book that has tons of errors just because the other author had enough cash!"
Be aware that if you select Virtual Bookworm as your Print-on-Demand publisher, you're signing an agreement to give them exclusive rights for 2 years. You can terminate that agreement with 90 days' notice, so it's not an ironclad commitment. If you choose their eBook packages, you will have to sign an exclusive agreement for the electronic distribution.
We had a hard time finding pricing on the VBW site. After some digging and clicking a lot of links, we finally found descriptions of the various packages offered:
With any Print-on-Demand package you select, you'll get the following basic services:
And, guess what? If you want help with marketing your book - because even the best books won't sell if no one knows about them! - Virtual Bookworm offers packages for that as well. The service costs anywhere from $400 to $1300, depending on your needs and budget. All marketing packages include business cards, professional press release and a personal storefront for two years.
Virtual Bookworm has a good reputation as a business, as shown by an "A+" rating at the BBB and no complaints filed over 19+ years in operation. Their pricing is competitive, their service is thorough, and we like the feeling that this service is run by helpful, knowledgeable people who want to make sure that authors get the guidance they need. VBW isn't the biggest self-publishing service on the market, but it's definitely one that's worth your consideration.
Draft2Digital is our first choice among self-publishing services that focus strictly on eBook distribution. Although they're a little newer on the block, the company has already made a name for itself. Why?
Draft2Digital may shock you - in a good way - when it comes to pricing. They'll charge you exactly zero for the formatting, conversion, distribution and sales tracking on your eBook. You'll still have to pay 15% on every sale, but the rest is yours to keep.
Yes, you read that correctly: you'll submit your .doc or .docx, and D2D's automated tools will detect your chapter breaks, headings, and anything else you may have, returning to you a perfectly-formatted eBook in epub, .mobi, and PDF formats. Compared with some of Draft2Digital's eBook-only competitors, who have lengthy style guides you'll have to follow in order to publish your work, this service tries to be as convenient and user-friendly as possible.
Of course, no automated system is perfect, so Draft2Digital has support staff in place to make any tweaks needed: call them during regular business hours or email anytime.
At the time of our review, D2D offered a distribution network of more than a dozen partner stores, including Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Scribd, and OverDrive.
What if you want print versions of your book? During our most recent visit to the site, we learned that D2D Print was in the beta testing phase, which will eventually offer print distribution through Amazon, other retailers, and libraries. In the meanwhile, Draft2Digital creates paperback-ready PDF files - still for free! - that you can take to any Print-on-Demand service of your choice.
So, while Draft2Digital isn't as comprehensive as the highest-ranked self-publishing services we evaluated, the convenience and affordability of its eBook services can't be beat. This is definitely the first company you should look into if you're focusing strictly on self-publishing your work as an eBook.
Smashwords serves as a global eBook distributor. Their distribution network includes Apple Books (in more than 50 countries), Barnes & Noble, Kobo (France, UK, etc.), OverDrive, Gardners, and more. Smashwords has helped more than 130,000 authors publish and distribute nearly 500,000 eBooks over the last 11+ years.
We were happy to see that Smashwords had an "A+" rating and zero registered customer complaints with the Better Business Bureau at the time of our review. We also found blog posts from published authors who said that they had excellent experiences using this service for their eBook distribution.
The Smashwords site is a little less polished than some of their eBook-only competitors. The "How to Publish on Smashwords" page is full of small text and bullet-point lists that can be tedious to read through. You may want to go directly to creating your free account, or download the Smashwords Style Guide to be sure your manuscript is properly formatted. (We thought it was nice that the guide is available in several languages, including Spanish, German, Italian, French, Dutch and Bengali.)
You'll get a ton of free services when you use Smashwords. ISBNs, author profile pages on the Smashwords bookstore, anytime updates to books and metadata, exclusive marketing and selling tools (like a coupon manager!), and much more. And, of course, don't forget about their extensive distribution network where you'll pay exactly zero to list your book.
Yes, you'll still have to pay royalties, though. What you make on your eBook depends on which channel sells it. On average, you'll keep anywhere from 45-85% of the profits made, which is better than many of Smashwords' competitors.
We also love that the company is very forthcoming about your likelihood of selling tons of books. In the Q&A with Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, he says that your sales will be determined by you, your marketing efforts, and the quality of your book - and if you need any tips to publish like a pro, you can tune into his Smart Author podcast.
Smashwords is fun and free to use, and is a good option if you're looking for an eBook-only platform with lots of distribution channels.
Lulu was one of the first companies to offer self-publishing services. Since 2002, the company has produced more than two million publications spanning 225 countries and territories, with services available in six languages. Their sub-brands include Glasstree Academic Publishing and Lulu Jr.
Despite Lulu's long track record in the self-publishing industry, we were a little underwhelmed when considering their services. It felt like we had to click all over the site to find the tools and resources we needed to walk us through the process: some were found under the Create heading, others under Sell, and still more under Learn. And, some of those subpages had URLs that weren't secure, which didn't leave a strong positive impression.
In order to use Lulu, we recommend that you start with the Create section. Your first decision is whether you want to self-publish a print book or an eBook. (Unlike many of their competitors, Lulu doesn't have a button that lets you opt in to do both types of book at once.) Whichever route you choose, it's important that you read the Creator Guide carefully and format your manuscript according to Lulu's requirements. Or, if you're willing to pay for publishing services, you can find links (also under the Create section) to options for editing, cover design/illustration, and all-inclusive packages.
Once your book is ready for publication, you'll head to the Sell tab. Again, pay attention to the formatting so that your submission will be approved for retail distribution. At the time of this review, Lulu offered only a handful distribution channels: their own, plus Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram for print, plus iBooks, Nook, Amazon Kindle and Kobo for eBooks. That's far fewer channels than most of the self-publishing services we evaluated..
Pricing varies widely, depending on the services and packages you select. We thought it was interesting that Lulu offers the ability to self-publish a single paperback for less than $2. During our most recent visits to the Lulu site, there was also a pop-up code offering a 15% discount on all print products on one occasion, and a 10% off on Print Books and Calendars.
When it comes to royalties, expect Lulu to take 10% of your net sales on eBooks and 20% on any print books. You'll also pay "hosting fees" to Lulu for eBooks listed on their proprietary bookstore, similar to the distribution fees charged by the other distribution channels. For example, if your eBook lists for $8.99, you can expect to make $7.20 if it sells via Lulu's bookstore, $3.46 if via Amazon Kindle, and so on.
Customer feedback on Lulu is mostly favorable: over more than 4000 reviews, 85% were either 4 or 5 stars. Looking at the comments, however, we found mixed results. Some people raved about the ease of the process and how quickly they got help when there were problems. Others complained that it took several days to get a response from customer reps, revisions and corrections that authors submitted weren't taken care of on Lulu's end, and that printing/shipping/delivery was slower than promised.
While we appreciate Lulu's place as a pioneer in the self-publishing industry, it appears that they've allowed themselves to be outpaced by their competitors in terms of price, ease of use, and overall customer service. The company still has a decent reputation with its users and isn't a bad choice for self-publishing - but you might find a broader distribution of your book with another service.
Kindle is probably the world's best-known platform for eBooks, and everyone knows that Amazon started out as an online bookseller. So, is KDP the best way for you to self-publish your novel, memoir, or biography?
You may like the tools available to walk you through the process. You can get step-by-step directions through KDP Jumpstart, or take advantage of the self-guided resources also available. There's even a comprehensive suite of resources called KDP University that can assist you through each stage of the self-publishing process. You won't be able to access any professional editing or formatting services, however; if you need those tools, you can take a look at KDP's list of recommended companies that specialize in those areas.
Also, if your book contains a lot of images, you may need to use the Kindle Create tool to tackle the formatting. You'll find a link to that tool in the KDP's Frequently Asked Questions section.
While KDP lets you get your book published for free, you certainly will pay your fair share in royalties. With respect to eBooks, you have to choose between two royalty options: 35% or 70%. Before you think "Of course I'd choose to get 70% of my royalties!" be aware that your book has to meet certain requirements to be eligible for the higher-paying option. These include list price requirements, selling your eBook for at least 20% below the printed book price, and so on.
Paperback royalties are calculated differently. You get a fixed rate of 60%, minus any printing costs. There's a calculator on the KDP site that can help you estimate your royalties and printing costs, but the example provided says that on a 333-page paperback that lists for $15, you can expect to earn a total of $4.15.
The biggest limitation with using Kindle Direct Publishing is that your work only appears on the Amazon-based platform. Other self-publishing services make it possible to distribute your book not only on Amazon but many others, such as Google, Apple, and OverDrive. Why go through the time and effort to format and publish your book through KDP if you can invest the same resources and have it distributed much more broadly?
At the end of the day, self-publishing with KDP is affordable, but your book will be seen much more broadly when you use one of the services that distributes it to a wide variety of channels.
PublishDrive prides itself on being the first self-publishing option to offer tiered subscription plans for global aggregated eBook distribution. All of their plans let you keep 100% of your royalties in exchange for a flat monthly fee.
Take a look at the four service levels you can consider:
When you choose the Tryout Plan, keep in mind that your distribution will be limited to the following platforms: Amazon, Apple Books, Rakuten kobo, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, OverDrive, 24Symbols, and Bibliotheca. The other plans include PublishDrive's full distribution network, which expands the platforms offered in the Tryout package with access to global markets, Google Play and 16+ other channels.
Signing up for your free account is easy: you'll just need to enter your name, email address, and desired password. From there, you'll be taken to your author dashboard, which gives you PublishDrive's free eBook converter (from .docx to .epub and .mobi), your distribution service, and access to the PD author community.
One feature offered by PublishDrive that you won't find with many self-publishing companies is what they call "PD Abacus". If you have a co-author - or more than one - this tool lets you easily track costs, share data and calculate how to split royalties. You'll get this capability for free on your first title, and then you'll pay $2.99/month per title.
Let's take a closer look at PublishDrive's distribution feature. You'll have to spend a few minutes answering questions about your goals, experience, and the book(s) you're publishing. You'll need to select a category for your books: Erotica, Fantasy, Health and Fitness, Horror, Mystery, Romance, Self-Help, YA Fiction, or Other (which seemed to be the catch-all genre for a very wide swath of book types, like Sci-Fi, Non-Fiction, Biography, etc.). Then, once you've chosen your pricing plan, you'll see your Distribution dashboard. After your first book is uploaded and published, you'll have access to your sales statistics and analytics on that page.
We weren't impressed to see that PublishDrive's FAQ page was completely blank. As we poked around in the links at the bottom of the site, our confusion only grew: why are there sales/marketing, IT, and general/administrative jobs links? We'll never know, because those pages were blank too.
And, it wasn't much of a surprise to see that the only advertised way to reach PublishDrive is via email: no toll-free number and definitely no street address. We're not sure what they mean by "24/7 support team", but email-only help is definitely not what we had in mind. There is a live chat feature in the bottom right corner of the site, but we weren't optimistic that the Zendesk-powered "customer service" would be able to answer our in-depth questions about publishing our book.
Plus, if you need any print copies of your book, this service simply doesn't make that a possibility. PublishDrive is, by design, focused solely on eBooks.
There's a lot of buzz about PublishDrive, but at the end of the day it seems like this not-so-new startup needs a bit more polish to compete with already-established self-publishing options on the market.
Xlibris has been helping authors get published for more than 20 years. The service allows you to retain all the rights to your book, have complete control over design, and distribute your book in paperback, hardcover, and eBook formats worldwide. Xlibris is one of two self-publishing companies we evaluated that is owned by Author Solutions. The parent company enjoys an "A+" rating and accreditation from the BBB, which is always a positive mark.
If you want Xlibris' free publishing guide, you can sign up for it in the pop-up you see when you first visit the site. Just be aware that it asks for your mobile number, and by entering your information you're consenting to receiving up to 10 messages per month. (That made us say "no thank you".)
Pricing with Xlibris is over-the-top expensive. Unless you have at least $900 in your budget, you won't be using their service. The most basic package includes a handful of image/text/design treatments, one round of alterations and corrections, three paperback copies, and 50 bookmarks/business cards/postcards. While most of their print packages include eBook formatting, we didn't find an option for authors who only want to self-publish their work digitally and not in print.
Xlibris' distribution network is very limited. They use Ingram Distribution, "the largest book distributor in the United States", as well as Baker and Taylor. Or, if you're publishing a black and white or full-color paperback, your book will also be listed on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and "online book retailers". Their distribution list for eBooks is even more vague: "to see where your eBook is being sold, please use a search engine". Really? Authors can't even know upfront which channels Xlibris will use to get their book out there? That's a huge disadvantage when you compare this service with the competition.
You also shouldn't expect to make much money if you use Xlibris to distribute your book. They'll keep 50% of the retail price on your eBooks, and as much as 90% when sold through partners like Amazon. And, by the way, Xlibris sets the retail price for your book - unless you buy the right to set your own price!
When you consider all of the self-publishing services on the market, it's easy to see that Xlibris can't compete with other companies who do so much more - for so much less money! You'll get more for your investment and a much broader reach for your self-published book with other services in our review.
iUniverse is one of two self-publishing services in our review owned by Author Solutions, an "A+" rated and accredited company with the Better Business Bureau. That's usually a good sign, but we wonder if having a large parent company - with a good track record - might be obscuring some of the negative aspects of using iUniverse for self-publishing.
Wondering what those negatives might be? Just take a look at iUniverse's pricing. They charge an exorbitant amount in royalties: 75-90% on every book! Just look at the examples on the iUniverse site: sell your paperback on Amazon at a list price of $15.95, get a whopping $1.60 in your bank account. Oh, but hey, if you sell it through the iUniverse online bookstore, you'll get so much more: $3.99! (We can almost hear your eyes rolling.) If you've read through any of the other self-publishing reviews here, you'll know right away that such high royalty fees are practically highway robbery. Why would you give up so much of your profits when other services let you keep most of the money you make?
Maybe those fees would be justified if iUniverse offered something in their publishing process that was light years beyond what other companies do - but no, iUniverse was equally expensive in that regard. Self-publishing packages start at $999 and include most of the same features you'd find elsewhere: cover design, 1:1 author support, worldwide book distribution, ePub formatting, and 3 softcover copies. But, just in case you'd still like an overview of how iUniverse works, you can enter your information on the site and request a free consultation with one of their publishing team members. Note that entering your contact details is giving the company permission to message you up to 10 times per month. (That's a "no" from us.)
Despite several testimonials and case studies on the iUniverse site, the company doesn't have nearly as many reviews as their rivals - despite a history spanning two decades. Looking at recent customer experiences, we were troubled to find people saying that they felt they got zero value for a huge investment of money when using iUniverse for self-publishing, and that customer reps were less than friendly or helpful when problems arose.
With so many competent, affordable and easy-to-use self-publishing services available today, there's just no reason to spend your time and money (lots of it!) with iUniverse. We strongly recommend you consider the higher-ranked companies in our review.
A related question is your budget. How much are you able - and willing - to spend to publish your work? If you're starting out on a shoestring, you may want to give more attention to the self-publishing companies that will format, publish and list your book at absolutely no cost; you'll just pay out of the royalties on whatever you actually sell. On the other hand, if the sky's the limit and it's your dream to see thousands of copies on the shelves at your local bookstores and beyond, you'll find many services that will give you everything from full-color packages to marketing and beyond.
The good news is that technology has made it possible to get your work published with very few of the costs formerly associated with the process. There's no need for a warehouse stocked with your books when Print-on-Demand publishing has made it easy and economical for copies to be made whenever needed. You can still access any add-on service you may want, like professional editing or book covers designed by graphic artists, but most of the process of self-publishing takes out the guesswork and hassle - which saves you time and money every step of the way.
As you evaluate the many self-publishing companies available today, you'll quickly see that they vary widely in terms of services offered, costs, and reach for prospective readers of your work. Here are several handy criteria to bear in mind, to help you make your decision:
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best self-publishing cmpanies available today. We hope this information helps you narrow down your options and find the perfect fit for getting your book published!
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