Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Amazon & Smashwords & Self Publishing - Oh My!

The ever excellent Richard Flores IV (and a fellow Hatracker to boot), put together a survey about independent publishing and received nearly 300 responses. The results are truly fascinating. Please take the time to visit his site, The Flores Factor, and read the whole thing.

The survey covers a broad range of topics from personal statistics to promotion using social media. Since most of us are working on novels here at the Prosers, the information about independent publishing was particularly interesting.

Of the respondents,  55% were unpublished, 5% pro published, 11% small press, and 30% self-published. This seems typical (maybe even a little high on the pro end) for authors out there, so I trust that the data on the survey is close to accurate.

When asked which companies were used to self publish, the majority (40%) said Smashwords, followed in a near tie, by CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Lulu was far behind, and PubIt! only garnered 1%.

This seems about right. The most successful self published authors try to reach the most markets. Using the above strategy, Smashwords targets both the .ePub devices and Amazon (KDP sells directly to the Kindle Market), and CreateSpace covers print sales.

The second question asked which company the respondents liked best. Here there was a virtual three-way tie between CreateSpace, Smashwords (which fell to 22%) and Kindle Direct Publishing. Nearly as many said they preferred doing it themselves.  I wondered if the rise in DIYers is due to dissatisfaction with Smashwords, or the growing abilities and confidence of authors in navigating the self publishing world.

 Here at the Prosers we’ve already had some great discussions about self publishing here and here, and I think this survey just adds to those. I hope that Richard will consider doing the survey again in a year to see how the results have (or haven't) changed. And, have I mentioned to please go visit his site for even more information on books sales, competitive pricing, and lots of other good stuff?

In case you were interested in a little of the nuts and bolts of the companies spotlighted in the survey, I've put together a little piece with links below.

Basics of Formatting

At the very heart of self publishing are the different formats used in eReaders.Though there are a plethora of eBook formats (see this Wikipedia article), two are dominant in the field. The fastest growing and most popular format, .ePub, is used by most major readers (Apple, i devices, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, etc.). The Kindle, however, uses a proprietary (.mobi) format. Getting a file from Word or PDF documents to a readable format is one of the key functions of ePublishers.

Basics of ePublishers 

Here’s a quick rundown of the major players in self publishing (focusing on those from the survey – there are many other companies out there): 

  • KindleDirect Publishing (KDP) – one of the self publishing powerhouses, Kindle Direct Publishing allows authors to publish books for the Kindle. Using a Kindle app, the platform also reaches (per their website) “iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android based devices” – i.e. pretty much everything. Authors can publish in five languages and can also be paid royalties in different currencies, making this an excellent choice for international authors. 
  • CreateSpace – offers publishing services for filmmakers and musicians as well as authors (on demand print materials).  Distribution is available through, through direct sales by an eStore, or using an Expanded Distribution Channel, which reaches retailers and libraries. 
  • Smashwords – is one stop shopping for an author’s publishing needs. Files are converted to fit all major platforms. While this may be fairly painless for authors, there is some grumbling that the formatting is not as high quality as could be achieved if done individually. 
  • Lulu – provides both print and eBook services. Lulu uses an ePub converter to format eBooks for use on multiple readers. 
  • PubIt! – Barnes & Noble’s offering to the ePublishing world launched in October of 2010. PubIt! allows authors to tap directly into the Nook market. However, PubIt! is hard to access by authors outside the US since a US bank account is mandatory to sign up.

It seems that when looking at independent publishing, there are a lot of options (a good thing!) and resources to help (an even better thing!). How do you see the future of publishing evolving? And how do you plan to approach self publishing (if it’s in your future)?

~ Susan


  1. Thank you for this, Susan! Although I'm very interested in self-publishing, it seems like a daunting new world to try and navigate. This was very helpful.

  2. Nice Summary Susan, and I'm glad you brought attention to Richard's survey. Lots of good information there.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you for spot lighting my article here. It was surprisingly difficult to put together, but it was a lot of fun.

    I did it for two reasons: First, people kept asking me, but I didn't know. Self education is key in writing, so I educated myself. Two, I may very well go into self publishing myself.

    Also, much thanks goes to Robert S. Wilson. Also a fellow Hatracker, he was valuable in providing the insight of someone who has self published a few times.

    Between he and I we plan to touch on this topic more with time.

    Richard Flores IV

  4. I think self publishing is such a boon to writers. It's a great way to go into business for yourself, and to get your books out there in just the way you want. I even think self publishing is a boon to writers who go the traditional route, because, in theory anyway, there would be less books in the Que, as many of the authors are choosing self publishing instead.

    Thanks for putting together all these resources, Susan. And thanks Richard, for the survey. Fascinating stuff there.

  5. The impression I've gotten so far is that learning to format stuff yourself really isn't that hard, and if you're a perfectionist (which all self-published authors SHOULD BE, don't we agree?) then you might as well do it yourself and get everything exactly right. I get a sick thrill out of fighting with software.

    I think anyone who is self-publishing is wise to make sure their book is available on Kindle and Nook, and the rest is kind of icing... but maybe I'm just out of touch with the other players.

    Thanks for all the information!


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