Trying to figure out which publishing platform or platforms to use as an indie 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 using Barnes & Noble Press.
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).
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 “Jess, 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.
Regardless, this is an option that’s available for you.
Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited
Publishing through KDP also enables you to enroll your eBook in the Kindle Select program. This means that your eBook will be available through the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. If you’re electing to enroll your eBook 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. So, unless you’re writing super long books, you’re not going to make much money.
Second, while your eBook is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon has exclusivity rights. This means you cannot have your eBook available on any other platform for sale or for sample. Amazon has bots that troll other eBook retailers, and if they see your content for sale somewhere else, they’ll send you a really not nice email about it.
Kindle 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 KU forever, or you can take it out after your term is finished. You can do all of that through your KDP dashboard.
Ingram is the other really popular publishing platform for self-published authors, specifically for physical copies. I do not recommend using them for eBooks, personally. And I’ll explain why when we get to the royalties section.
The biggest thing to note that is different from KDP: You have to pay $49 to even publish anything through Ingram, 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.
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.
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. I can do an entire post about the downside of allowing returns, but I encourage you to make these decisions for yourself based on your own personal circumstances.
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. D2D also helps you with formatting your eBook, if you choose to, but we’re not focusing on that for today’s post.
Unlike Ingram Spark, D2D is free to use, and also includes access to a universal link creator called Books2Read. We’ll cover that in another post, I just wanted to get it on your radar because it’s awesome.
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. I suggest only using D2D to go wide with your eBook.
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 does.
All 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.
Unlike with KDP or Ingram Spark, you can set your 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.
Bonus: Barnes & Noble Press
In one word, Barnes & Noble’s Press is trash. If you have issues, you’ll never reach a real human ever and it will frustrate you so much you just give up.
Also, you can accomplish the same thing by publishing through Ingram Spark (physical books) and D2D (eBook). The only thing that publishing directly to B&N Press has in terms of benefits is better royalties. But after seeing several authors struggle and struggle and struggle with B&N, I honestly don’t think that a few extra dollars is worth the absolute nightmare headache that trying to navigate their site is.
Maybe one day, they can actually be a good contender. I think if they put some effort into improving their platform it could be a real asset. But right now, it’s just a waste of time.
I want to make something very clear. This is not a comprehensive guide, and it was never intended to be. This is simply an information post explaining the differences and various features to the most popular publishing platforms. I do not even touch on the actual how to use these platforms to publish your book, which could be an entire blog series on its own.
If you are interested in me doing more guided walk throughs for the how to use each of these platforms, please let me know. I’d be happy to.
This post also doesn’t cover how these platforms work with each other if you choose to use more than one of them for publishing the same book. That could also be an entire post on its own. If you want to know more about that, let me know as well!
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.