So, You Want to Indie Publish…

Most of you know that I belong to a local group of authors. We have a wide range of experience—from newbies to old-guard like me—and we get our books to market in a number of ways. Most of the members of our group have some experience with publishers, either digital-first presses, small presses or the big kahuna publishers in New York, but many of us also indie-publish our books. We have a few who have only ever indie-published their books, and still more who want to jump into that particular pond. I’ve been asked for a pre-release checklist from two different people this week, so thought I’d post it here.

When an author indie-publishes his or her work, that author becomes the publisher as well as the author of the work. That adds a lot of jobs to the To Do list. The interesting thing is that there are a number of ways to approach the publication of your work, so there’s no One Right Way to do it. You’ll have some decisions to make, too.

There are many steps to publishing a book independently. You can do all of them yourself, assign all of it to a service firm for a fee, or do some and delegate some. The choice is all yours.

• Prepare your cover
Your cover is the one thing that every potential customer will see. Spend some time on it (and some money.) Many people make their own covers, which works out better if they have a graphic talent and understand the licensing agreements for stock photographs. If you hire a designer to create your cover, research your genre thoroughly beforehand and provide some samples to him/her or what you like and what you’re looking for. Hire a designer who already designs covers for your sub-genre. I often have mine done several at a time, because I write in series and it’s the best way (IMO) to keep the look consistent.

No matter how you create your cover, be sure to size it down to a thumbnail (which is how most people will see it) and ensure it still conveys your message. Each portal has restrictions and specifications on cover size. Many designers are on board with this and will deliver a number of different sizes. Upload the highest resolution possible at each portal so the cover looks its best.

——>>>Ensure that you have a professional looking cover that is easily read in thumbnail (both your name and the title) and is clearly evocative of your sub-genre.

Decide upon your publishing identity
How are you going to structure your publishing company? This is the foundation of your business and will be a lot of trouble to change later. It’s better to decide upfront. Your business name, your financial data and your tax information all need to match.

Will you publish as a sole proprietor? If so, your personal tax identification will suffice. (Until recently, non-US residents needed a US tax number to collect revenue from US companies—which includes most of the book portals—without having tax withheld, but that’s no longer true. Yay for tax treaties!)

A couple of caveats here—your tax identity will be displayed on the book product page on some portals (iBooks)—so if you’re writing under a pseudonym, you might want to think about that. You might want to get a post office box to protect the privacy of your home address, and a “public” email account. Remember that domain name registrations are publicly searchable (unless you pay for private registration) and that ISBN# registries and copyright registries are also publicly searchable resources. If any of these items pose a concern, you may wish to incorporate or file a DBA to protect your personal information. There are a LOT of decisions to make in this arena.

——>>>Choose how to structure your business, and obtain the necessary documentation. Your tax identification must MATCH the legal name of your business.

Where do you want to sell your books?
You can make your books exclusive to one digital portal, or “go wide” and make them available in as many places as possible. Often, portals offer merchandizing and promotional opportunities for exclusive titles. Whether that’s worth the exchange of losing wide distribution is a personal choice and can be a strategic one.

An associated question—do you intend to publish directly to your portals of choice, or will you use an aggregator? Most authors publish directly to Amazon for Kindle. You can publish directly to iBooks and Kobo or go through an aggregator like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. I believe that GooglePlay is currently closed to new accounts. Barnes and Noble only allows US and UK writers to publish directly to Nook. If those last two are among your target markets, you’ll have to reach them through an aggregator. Sometimes aggregators can offer merchandizing and promotion opportunities to authors and books that are distributed to all portals through them. If you are writing romance, you might also want to publish directly to All Romance eBooks.

There are a lot of other portals and your book might end up in some of them without knowing how it got there. Kobo distributes to WH Smith in the UK, for example, and to FNAC in France. As aggregators, Smashwords and Draft2Digital allow you to opt in or out of a list of portals. Note that Smashwords is also a portal in its own right, while D2D does not sell to individual consumers.

One thing to keep in mind if you plan to start one way (perhaps through an aggregator) and later switch (to direct distribution) is that at some portals (iBooks) reviews and rankings will not transfer between editions of a book. You lose them all when you change distribution channels. Another thing to keep in mind—some portals don’t allow you to set a book to free when you publish directly. B&N is one of them. So, any book you intend to make free should go to B&N from an aggregator. Amazon doesn’t allow non-exclusive books to be set to free, either, but must be encouraged to price match the free at another portal.

——>>>You will need to create accounts at each portal where you intend to upload content, and provide your payment and tax information to each one. Some portals will allow you to publish works under multiple author brands via a single account, while others require each author brand to have its own account.

Do you intend to use ISBN#’s?
The ISBN is a tracking number for all book products. In traditional publishing, a unique ISBN# is assigned to every edition of the book. Most digital portals offer the option of providing your own ISBN# or using a portal-specific tracking code as an alternate.

Be aware that the portal-specific tracking code often cannot be used for distribution to other territories. Kobo, for example, offers such a code, but WH Smith in the UK will not accept digital books from them without an ISBN#.

——>>>If you choose to use ISBN#’s, you will need one for the digital book and one for the print/POD edition (if there is one). You can get ISBN#’s from some portals (Smashwords, Createspace) or buy them at Bowker. Canadians can get ISBN#’s free from CISS. You must register for an account, however you intend to get your ISBN#’s and acquire them.

• Compile your metadata.
Metadata is the information that travels with the digital book and is used by search engines to find that book. Metadata includes: the title, the author name(s), the date of publication, the series, the book’s number in the series, the ISBN#, the BISAC subject codes, the search keywords, and maybe more. It might include the cover, the author bio, and the book description. If you are producing a simultaneous print edition (or POD) some portals allow you to include the ISBN for the print edition in the metadata for the digital book. Different portals allow more information or less.

——>>>Collect your metadata and make it consistent with your other titles. It should also be consistent for each book across all platforms. I compile a lot of the metadata on the book’s product page on my website, then I can cut and paste from there into the publishing interface. Be sure to investigate key words in your genre and sub-genre.

• Do you intend to earn affiliate income?
An affiliate account allows you to earn a commission for sending shoppers to a digital portal. Amazon offers affiliate programs through their US, UK, CA and DE stores—the accounting is done separately—and iBooks’ affiliate program gathers commissions from all territories under a single umbrella. Rakuten offers an affiliate program for Kobo and I believe there’s also a program for B&N. When you publish a book on Smashwords, the product page that you can see when logged in includes your affiliate link.

If you are an affiliate, you add a bit of code onto the hotlink that takes the buyer to a product page on the portal’s website. Whatever that consumer buys after following your link in, is eligible for a commission payment. Each portal’s program has different rules and restrictions, so read the agreements before you click.

——>>>To become an affiliate at any portal, you must apply for an affiliate account. Usually, you must provide your website’s traffic numbers for consideration. Once approved, you will be given a code to add to your hotlinks. Some people choose to use a link shortening service like bitly when using affiliate codes. iBooks allows affiliates to also add a campaign code, so that various promotion methods can be tracked for their effectiveness.

• Do you intend to create portal-specific versions of your digital book?
People like to buy a book with a single click. It makes sense then to have buy links in your digital books for your other digital books, and (if you are an affiliate) to include affiliate codes in your links. The trick, of course, is that each portal wants only links to their own portal in the digital books distributed there—or “generic” links that go back to the author’s website.

——>>>Make a choice and a list of your formats and editions. You can create an EPUB that can be uploaded to every portal with links back to your own website; you can create portal-specific versions (with or without affiliate links) for every portal; or you can do something in between. Remember that if you’re going through an aggregator, you can’t have portal specific links, because the same file goes to all the vendors you select through that distributor. Remember that if you’re using Smashwords as your aggregator, they will take an EPUB for distribution but will need a DOC to generate other formats for direct sale from their site.

• Prepare your book
The two prevalent formats for digital books are MOBI (used by the Kindle family) and EPUB (used by other e-readers). Most of the portals offer a conversion engine, to convert your DOC or TXT file to the format that they distribute. This may or may not create an attractive digital book. You can also use an application like Vellum to format your own books, or you can hire a formatter to do it for you.

Here’s an interesting detail and option: you can upload a book file in DOC or TXT to Smashwords and their engine (the “Meatgrinder”) will create an EPUB for distribution. This EPUB, however, is proprietary – although you can download it to check it, you can’t legally upload it at any other portal. In contrast, you can upload a DOC file to Kobo (when you’re logged into Kobo Writing Life) and let their engine create an EPUB. You can edit this EPUB in KWL, and also download it to use it wherever you want. That’s another way to get an EPUB book.

When your book is formatted, you will have the option of adding other content to the book, like an excerpt from the next book in the series, the cover of this book or other books, an author bio, a newsletter signup link, a list of your published books and/or buy links for your other books. If you have the book prepared by a formatter, he or she may include the metadata in the book file. (You can do this yourself if you know how.) Draft 2 Digital has a new utility which will add the same end matter, book list etc., to all of your books and update it automatically.

——>>>Prepare all front matter, end matter, links, cover images and metadata for the book before sending it to a formatter or formatting it yourself. Ensure that your digital book includes a clickable Table of Contents (a TOC). Increasingly, Amazon prefers an NCX so the TOC can be displayed in the sidebar of a Kindle.

• Are you going to offer a pre-order?
A pre-order is convenient because you know exactly when your book is going to be available for sale. That can allow you to coordinate some promotion around the release date, and also to sell some copies of the book in advance of publication. Now, most of the portals offer a pre-order utility. Some are asset-less (that means you can make a book available for pre-order without a final book file) and some require a draft file. There are hazards in uploading a draft file, as periodically, one portal or another will deliver the draft file to customers instead of the final file. Those portals that accept draft files require that the final file be delivered by a specific date—Amazon, for example requires the final book file ten days before publication. There are many thoughts on the merit of pre-order, its pros and cons, so do some research and decide—or try it. YMMV after all.

Remember that there is some apparent skew as to the actual date of delivery of the book to consumers. The portals begin to ship out units at 12:01AM Greenwich time, so it appears to us as if they’ve shipped the night before. Depending on how many pre-orders you have, the deliveries will be scattered over that 24 hours period, AND some will disappear completely. Those are the people who pre-ordered the book, but whose payment information couldn’t be processed on the day of the transaction.

There are many pricing and promotion strategies for pre-order, so do some research before you choose your price and your on sale date.

——>>>If you intend to offer a pre-order, make the pre-order available at least two weeks in advance of the publication date.

• Upload Your Book to the Various Portals
This isn’t complicated but it’s time consuming. Log into each portal in succession and follow the steps to publish your book there. They all take the same information in a slightly different way. As the book “goes live”, add the buy links to your website, including your affiliate codes if you’re using them.

• Nits to Pick
Here are a couple of simple things that need to be done separately, after the book is published:
– when you publish a book on Amazon, you need to claim your book through Author Central so that it appears on your author page. Log into your Author Central account after the book is available for sale, search for it and add it to your book list. It may take several days to appear on your author page.
Check your series. All of the portals have started to add series information to their book product pages. This is comparatively new and not always automatic. Be sure you use exactly the same series title for each book in any given series. It has to be exact, because bots don’t see “The XYZ Series” as being the same as “XYZ Series”. At some portals, you must request that a series be created (iBooks) and at others, you have to request to have a book added to an existing series (Amazon). Some portals will provide a series page link: others won’t. If you write in series, double-check this.
Add your new book to Goodreads. To do this, you must be a Goodreads author under the same name as appears on the book. (Each pseudonym needs its own GR log-in.) Readers can be very helpful in adding this information for authors, but I find that adding it early myself ensures that it’s right.
List your book on your BookBub profile. To do this, you must first create a log-in at Bookbub and claim your profile (you might have one even if you’ve never run a BB ad.) Once you’ve been approved to claim your profile, you can add to the booklist that is automatically generated. You should also add new books to that list as soon as they’re published on all portals, because BB will send a message to your followers about your new release.
Register your copyright. A lot of indie authors don’t bother with this, but I think the registration is well worth the $35 fee. Register your copyright on the on sale date at the registration office of the nation of first publication. Because my Amazon.com edition goes on sale first in the US, I register mine at the US Library of Congress.

Phew! There’s a good start to an indie publishing checklist. Of course, I didn’t talk about having your book edited and polished, or about promotion, but just focused on the nuts and bolts. You can also think about publishing a print edition of your book or not, about producing an audio edition of your book or not, about exploiting other subrights to your book – like foreign translation – or not. When you’re the publisher, all of those decisions are yours to make.


Here’s the Tip Jar. If you found this post useful, please follow the buy links below to shop at your favorite portal, and make my day. Buy one of my books. Buy someone else’s books. Buy some new shoes if you’re on Amazon – but put a little something in my affiliate accounts as a sign of appreciation. 🙂 I thank you in advance!

The Crusader's Kiss, #3 in the Champions of St Euphemia series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

His dream of becoming a knight achieved, Bartholomew heads home to avenge his parents—only to find himself hunted and in need of the assistance of a most unlikely and unpredictable ally. Anna seeks justice with a disregard for the law that shocks Bartholomew, but the bold maiden’s tactics are as effective as her kisses are seductive. Does she truly wish to aid him in regaining his legacy, or is she using him as a pawn in some scheme of her own?
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