Publetariat Dispatch: E-Book Self-Publishing Roundup

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, indie author LJ Sellers offers an overview of options for DIY ebook publishing.

For the second week in a row, Publetariat member L.J. Sellers garners a featured article spot for a post from her member blog. This week, L.J. offers a survey of ebook self-publishing options.

With Borders getting into the act, there will soon be four platforms on which authors can self-publish e-books directly to readers. I summarized them for comparison and thought I would share my findings.

Amazon: Digital Text Platform

This venture has been around the longest, has a reported 76% of e-book sales, and publishes content directly to the Kindle bookstore. Authors can upload a Word, html, or PDF file, which Amazon reformats as mobi file. Or authors can create their own mobi files to upload. The book’s cover must be included in the file.

For books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, Amazon pays a 70% royalty. For everything else, it pays 35% of the list price. Authors can price their books however they want, but Amazon reserves the right to discount the book. To keep the 70% royalty, authors can’t sell their e-book cheaper anywhere else. Amazon pays monthly and deposits royalties directly into the author’s bank account.

Most DTP e-books are purchased by people who own and read on Kindles, but Amazon has released applications that let iPad and mobile phone users buy Kindle books to read on other devices (except those of its competitors: B&N’s Nook and Borders’ Kobo). Authors can track real-time sales through their DTP bookshelf, and no start-up fee is required.


This publishing platform was founded by an individual, and it distributes content to many e-readers (Kindle, Sony, Nook, Kobo, etc.) and other devices (iPad, iPhone). Files must be uploaded as Word documents that must be properly formatted. Authors have complained about the difficulty of getting the Word formatting right and about the “ugliness” of the e-books produced by Smashwords’ software.

Authors can price their book (or short story) however they want, including offering it for free. For content sold directly from its site, Smashwords pays an 85% royalty—minus discounts and processing fees. It pays 70.5% for sales through its affiliates. Smashwords pays on a quarterly basis, 40 days after the close of each quarter. Authors can track their real-time sales on the Smashwords’ dashboard. Most authors report their Smashword sales to be only about 10% of their Kindle sales, but it is a way to reach the most distributors through one publisher.

Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!

The retail bookseller opened this platform recently and publishes an author’s work directly to its PubIt! bookstore, which supplies the Nook e-reader. PubIt! pays a 65% royalty on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 and 40% on everything else. Authors can set the list price, but B&N reserves the right to change it.

Imitating Amazon’s structure, B&N also pays monthly to the author’s bank account, but a full 60 days after the end of the month. For some reason, PubIt! also requires authors to supply a credit card number. Most of these venues require authors to provide social security numbers so they can report earnings to the IRS. There is no set-up fee.

Borders: Get Published

Trying to get in on the action, Borders has announced an e-book self-publishing platform, scheduled to launch Oct. 25. The venture is a collaboration with BookBrewer, which lets authors copy and paste almost any word content, including blogs (RSS feeds), into its software to create epub files. This venue looks like it will be the easiest for authors who have few technical skills.

Like Smashwords, Borders plans to publish its content to various devices, such as its own Kobo as well as the iPhone, iPad, and Android powered tablets (but not to its competitors: Kindle and Nook). Unlike any others mentioned here, Borders charges a set-up fee of $89.99 to distribute the books. Or it will sell you the e-book file it creates for $199 and you can do whatever you like with it. This makes the venture both a vanity press and an e-book creation service. But keep in mind there are several other e-book creators that offer this service for a lot less money. (Booknook is my personal favorite.) Borders has yet to announce royalty or payment terms.


This is a distribution company, rather than a publishing company. Authors have to supply both mobi and epub files to INgrooves, which then distributes the books to various e-readers and e-books stores, including Amazon, B&N, Sony, and Borders. For authors who want a one-stop experience, this could be the best choice.

Authors set their own prices and choose where they want their book sold. As a distributor with hundreds of books, INgrooves can negotiate higher royalties than an individual author may be offered. INgrooves charges a $50 set-up fee per book and keeps 5% of sales. It pays authors once a month, unless they have less than $200 in sales, then it waits until the author has accumulated $200.

It will be interesting to watch these ventures and see which ones thrive in a market dominated by Amazon.

Authors: What platforms have you used and what has been your experience?

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