Thursday, September 03, 2015

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Distribution Plan? Part One

By Jami Gold, @JamiGold

Part of the Indie Authors Series

We started the conversation last month about how there’s no “one right way” to succeed with indie publishing. Many indie authors are successful, and they didn’t all follow the same path.

So before we start following a “virtual mentor” or copying what someone else did to succeed, we need to go through the list of goals from last time and get ideas for what our goals are. Once we have a feel for our goals, we’ll be able to better analyze which indie publishing options make the most sense for us.

Step One: Think Like a Business Person

Indie authors are a unique breed. We have to keep in touch with our creative-artistic side to write our stories, but as indie authors, we’re also entrepreneurs establishing a business. Most of us don’t have experience running our own business, so Marcy Kennedy’s business plan series here at Fiction University can help us get started on that process. (On my blog, I also shared a worksheet for writing up a business plan.)

Marcy’s series asks us to consider many aspects of our business and marketing plan. That’s an important step because we need to make a lot of decisions as indie authors.

During the ready-for-publishing phase, every time we put our books up for sale, we have to decide on the where, the when, and the how much. Those choices will be easier if we’ve already thought through our goals and what we want to accomplish.

Working through our business plan is a great first step, but once we’re ready to publish, we have to put those plans into action. Throughout this series, we’ll focus on some of the actionable publishing-option decisions we need to make as indie authors, and I’ll point out when our goals might lead us to one choice over another.

Step Two: Analyze Distribution Options

One of the first choices we need to make before publishing our work is deciding where we’re going to put our books up for sale. Depending on our choice, we might face very different questions about the when or the how much.
  • Option 1: Sell direct on our website.
  • Option 2: Sell through a distributor (Draft2Digital, Smashwords, BookBaby, etc.).
  • Option 3: Sell direct through a retailer (Amazon KDP, Apple iBooks, Kobo, etc.).
  • Option 4: Sell through an exclusive arrangement with a single retailer (Amazon’s KDP Select, etc.).

The first three options can be mixed and matched, but the last option is all-or-nothing. Either we’re exclusive with one retailer or we’re not.

This month, I’ll cover Option 1 and Option 2. And next month we’ll continue with Option 3 and Option 4.

Option 1: Sell Direct on Our Website 

Pros to Selling Direct on Our Site

If we sell our work through our own site, we get the benefit of keeping all the money. We also don’t have to follow anyone else’s pricing rules. We can make our work free (take that, Amazon!), or we can price our work at an amount that doesn’t end in $.99 (take that, Apple iBooks!).

Updates take place as fast as we want them to. We can change prices, metadata, or even the book file itself as often as we want and have the updates take effect immediately.

In addition, because we have all the sales data, we know who purchased our work. We probably even have their email addresses to send out updated files if we want.

Cons to Selling Direct on Our Site

However, if we sell our work through our own site, we’re in charge of everything. That means we need to have a plan for fulfillment, which comes with many more questions:
  • How will we take and handle payment? Paypal, credit cards, a store add-on to our website, or working with a service?
  • How will we send ebook files to customers? Manual by email, automatic by a store add-on, or working with a service?
  • Will we sell print books (such as for signed copies)? If so, how will we handle the necessary physical fulfillment?

Obviously, each of those options will provide a different level of service and professionalism for our customer-readers. Depending on our goals, we might not worry about having as many bells and whistles as a real online store, or we might want to keep our visitors’ experience as professional as possible.

If we use a service such as Gumroad, e-Junkie, Payhip, or Selz, the payment and fulfillment (and sometimes even tax consideration) issues might be easier and more professional, but of course, their assistance comes at a price. Joanna Penn wrote a comparison of some of the fulfillment services that might help us understand what they each can (and can’t) do for us.

Unless we use a service that takes care of it for us, another big issue we have to deal with when we sell direct is sales taxes and other government paperwork. Some states or municipalities would expect us to get a retailer license, which generally means we have to file reports on a monthly or quarterly basis. Unless something changes with Europe’s VAT rules, we might have to deal with the VAT hassle for any European customers, no matter where in the world we’re located.

Also, if we’re selling direct, those sales aren’t being seen by Amazon or any other sales ranking organization, so we won’t build up visibility beyond our platform.

Things to Consider regarding Selling Direct on Our Site

As mentioned above, Options 1-3 can be mixed and matched. We can sell on our website and on retailers like Amazon.

So why might we want to sell direct? We might want to…:
  • simply give our readers another option
  • maximize our profit on sales from within our platform
  • ensure that we have as many sales paths as possible
  • retain as much control as possible
  • keep a closer connection with our readers offer personalized, signed print copies, etc.

Why might we not want to sell direct? We might want to avoid…:
  • the local tax and paperwork hassle
  • the VAT payment and paperwork hassle
  • “cannibalizing” sales from sales rankings on retailers or bestseller lists, etc.

Option 2: Sell through a Distributor 

Pros to Selling through a Distributor

If we sell our work through a distributor such as Smashwords, Draft2Digital, BookBaby, or IngramSpark, much of the work will be done for us. Using a distributor means we might have to upload our file, personal information, and book information only once, and they’ll take care of getting our ebook into multiple ebook retailers. Depending on how picky or fancy we want to get with formatting, some distributors will even take our MS Word file and format it for us.

Distributors can also broaden our markets. Some retailers won’t work with individual authors and will list our book only if we send it through a distributor. Some retailers won’t allow individual authors to set up pre-orders or set a price at free, but they will allow all of those differences if requested through a distributor.

Updates, payments, and reporting might be easier when funneled through a single gateway as well. We won’t have to log into individual retailer sites to change prices, metadata, or files on multiple sites or to check on how our sales are doing.

Cons to Selling through a Distributor

However, all of that convenience comes at a cost. In addition to the fees taken out of our sales from the retailer, the distributor also takes their cut of every sale. Some distributors charge an upfront fee before any sales are made.

Updates might go through more slowly than if we worked with the retailer directly. That can make coordinating sale prices across retailers difficult, or a slow response to a price increase might trigger Amazon’s price matching. In addition, the distributor’s file requirements might be difficult to work with, or the automated formatting might turn out wonky. Some retailers give sales or promotional preferences only to books sold through them directly rather than through a distributor.

We’d also have to trust a single company with a good part of our career. What if that distributor starts to go under and payments don’t happen? Or what if their support is slow or non-existent when we want to make changes? Or they might not let us choose which retailers to distribute to.

Things to Consider regarding Selling through a Distributor

Once again, Options 1-3 can be mixed and matched. We could sell direct through some retailers and through a distributor for other retailers.

Why might we want to sell through a distributor? We might want to…:
  • maximize our writing time by making the publishing process as streamlined as possible
  • get the best of both worlds by selling “wide” (at many retailers) without adding more work
  • avoid the hassle of setting up direct accounts for what might be just a small number of sales
  • gain access to restricted markets that we can’t sell direct through
  • take advantage of pre-order or pricing perks not available to authors selling direct, etc.

Why might we not want to sell through a distributor? We might want to…:
  • maximize income by avoiding unnecessary fees
  • retain as much control over our formatting, pricing, updates, payments, retailers, promotions, etc. as possible
  • avoid the “all the eggs in one basket” risk, etc.

Obviously, there’s no “one right answer.” What’s best for us entirely depends on our goals regarding income, control, convenience, etc. Join me next month when we continue with Option 3 and Option 4 in Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Distribution Plan? Part Two.

Until then, let me know if you have any questions in the comments! I can’t say what the right choice for anyone else would be, but with these posts, I hope we’re all learning what to consider before making our decisions. *smile*

After escaping Area 51 armed only with a ukulele, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in causing her to sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

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About Treasured Claim, the award-winning debut novel of the Mythos Legacy:

A shapeshifting dragon on the verge of starvation…

For Elaina Drake, sparkling jewels aren’t a frivolous matter. Without more treasure for her hoard, she’ll starve. On the run from her murderous father, she’s desperate enough to steal—er, acquire.

A modern-day knight seeking redemption…

Disgusted by his father’s immorality, Alexander Wyatt, Chicago’s biggest corporate titan, is determined to be a man of honor. Yet the theft of a necklace, stolen by an exotic beauty at his latest fundraiser, threatens to destroy all his charitable work.

A predator made prey…

Passion ignites between thief and philanthropist, sparking a game of temptation where jewelry is the prize. But when Elaina’s exposure jeopardizes Alex’s life, she must choose: run again to evade her father—or risk both their lives for love.


  1. Great information, thanks!

    1. I'm happy to answer any questions about retailers or distributors too. :)

  2. Thank you for claryifing that there is more than one path to publication and not everyone takes the same path, Jamie.

    1. Exactly. I've seen success take many forms. :) Thanks for stopping by, Tracy!

  3. For now, I plan to just go on Amazon kindle directly but will NOT do Kindle Select, so I won't have the 90 day exclusivity problem, yay! And I will use Smashwords to distribute to as many platforms as possible to save a lot of time and hassle. I know Smashwords generally won't help you distribute to Amazon, at least not yet.

    Oh and I just really like Smashwords because there are many file formats you can choose from (or we can include them all!), and I like the general positive and encouraging attitude of Mark Coker. I have a good impression of Smashwords too since I bought some books that I really loved from there--guess I was very lucky, haha.

    For Kindle Select, I choose not to use it because for me as a reader, 1), I wouldn't subscribe to Kindle Unlimited in the first place, because that would obligate me to get books very often and read pretty quickly, which isn't always feasible with my busy life schedule. :/ I mean of course I could get books less often, but I would be losing money in this subscription.

    2) Even if I subscribed to Kindle Select, because the books offered are for free, I would automatically not value the books that much. It's that psychological reaction to depreciate books when they're free. :(

    So maybe some people would call me a fool, lol, but I prefer to actually buy a book (ideally for $3 or $4 something, no more, no less) rather than to get it for free, because I know I would treasure the book much more if I paid for it. I wouldn't enjoy it as much if my mind already set up a "this book will be crap" belief.

    To show that I'm not the only reader with this kind of reaction, I remember a reviewer of a book I love saying that she got the book through Kindle unlimited, so she thought it wouldn't be very good (had very low expectations) but thankfully the book managed to move her emotionally. So it was fortunate for this author that this reader still enjoyed the book, but that the reader had such low expectations for this free book in the first place, makes me antsy. I wouldn't want readers to devalue my book in their minds from the start!

    Yes, I know not all customers will think like me and that reader, but I would still personally avoid using Kindle Select in case a reader believes my book will be of cheap quality before they've even read it! This is related to your survey of the perceived quality of ebooks at different prices.

    1. Hi Serena,

      I have a post in mind for my blog about the issues of "free," so I don't disagree. :)

      Personally, I find Draft2Digital easier to use than Smashwords, but like you, I appreciate Mark Coker's work and perspective. Thanks for stopping by! :)

  4. I think I will try to sell my books through distributor. But I think it will be hard.

    1. Hi Raven,

      Distributors--especially Draft2Digital--can make the process of publishing very easy. It's selling our books that will be hard, and that's the case no matter which way we go. :) Good luck!