This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.
Last time I talked to you about how I formatted my ebook and print books. Today, I’m going to cover the next step in the process—how to get my book out there so that people could buy it, namely what distribution channels I used.
But before we do that, let’s address one of the key decisions I had to make first.
Decision Point 1—Amazon exclusive or wide?
One of the first big decisions I faced was whether I wanted to be exclusive to Amazon in terms of ebooks or “go wide” and distribute via other retailers. I chose to go wide, which I’ve talked about in more detail here.
If I had decided to be exclusive, that would have made everything about ebook distribution much simpler because there would have been only one retailer to worry about—Amazon, or the big ‘Zon as some people affectionately refer to it.
But because I decided to play the field, that led me to my next big decision. . .
Decision Point 2—Go direct or use an aggregator?
There are some great aggregators out there who make things simple. They’re one-stop shops where you can load up your ebook and they take care of distributing it to the various eretailers, like Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and Google Play.
The upside is that they make it easy-peasy. You just have to do everything once and you get consolidated reporting and payments. The downside is that they take a cut of your royalties as compensation for their service.
The alternative is to go direct with each retailer. The downside is that you have to open separate accounts, fill out separate tax forms, upload things multiple times, and deal with multiple reports and payments. The upside is more money for you.
I chose to do a take a hybrid approach. Direct with some, via aggregators for others.
My hybrid distribution approach
So, here’s what I did. Keep in mind we’re just talking about ebooks right now.
WHO I WENT DIRECT WITH
1 – Amazon
This seemed like a no-brainer to me. I found Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to be really simple and straightforward to use, both in terms of publishing my book and in using the reporting.
2 – Kobo
This is another easy to use platform. Simple to set-up and manage. In addition to selling my books to people who have Kobo e-readers, I also use them to distribute to Overdrive (a library distribution service which they own) and participate in their Kobo Plus subscription service (kind of like Kindle Unlimited, but with a focus on the Dutch and Belgian markets).
3 – Barnes & Noble (Nook)
This platform is also user-friendly, however, it can take a while to get a vendor account set up. Something to factor in if you go down this route.
WHO I USE AN AGGREGATOR FOR
1 – Draft2Digital for Apple iBooks and Others
Unless you have an Apple computer, it isn’t easy to publish directly with them. Sure, there are workarounds (like renting time on an IOS system), but it really wasn’t worth it to me.
Draft2Digital makes it easy to distribute to Apple in exchange for 10%. They also provide a great, free, formatting system to turn your Word document into ebook file formats (MOBI and EPUB).
You can pick and choose which stores you distribute to via Draft2Digital. In addition to Apple, their current partners include Amazon, Kobo, Overdrive, Barnes & Noble, Scribd (subscription service), Bibliotheca (another library service), and Tolino. Because I don’t know much about the latter three and/or don’t think the time would be worth it to figure out how to go direct with them, I happily let Draft2Digital take care of them for me.
2 – PublishDrive for Google Play and Dangdang
I’d heard that it wasn’t possible at this point in time to go direct with GooglePlay, so I went direct with PublishDrive for them in exchange for 10%. I’ve since found out that GooglePlay is accepting applications to partner with them. I put my name down on the waiting list and the wait turned out to be less than 48 hours to be approved.
However, their user interface doesn’t seem all that simple and I don’t sell a huge amount of books on Google Play, so I think I might stick with PublishDrive for the forseeable. Plus I also like the fact that PublishDrive manages the discount issue with Google Play. Google Play likes to discount books they sell. The consequence of this is that Amazon will then lower the price of your book on their site to price match them. Publish Drive automatically increases the retail price of your book on Google so that any discount they apply never reduces your book price below what you have on Amazon.
Another factor playing into this is their new partnership with Dangdang, a Chinese ebook distributor. Who knows, maybe the Chinese love cozy mysteries?
PublishDrive can also distribute on Apple iBooks, but because I was already signed up to Draft2Digital for them, I passed on that option.
But what about print books?
I’ve been surprised how many paperbacks I’ve sold, including a few large print ones, so I’m really glad that I opted to go down the print book path. Unlike with ebooks, I’m only dealing with two companies for distribution—Amazon and Ingram Spark.
There are currently two ways into Amazon when it comes to paperbacks—Create Space and KDP. Create Space has been around for a while, KDP is the new kid in town. There are rumors flying around that Amazon is planning on shutting down Create Space and migrating everyone to KDP.
When I was ready to publish Murder at the Marina, KDP had just been introduced. I decided to go with that platform because I liked the idea of having my Amazon ebook and paperback reporting all in one place.
It was super easy to set up my print book on KDP, review proof copies (both online and physically), and get my paperback out for distribution on Amazon.
Some people use the extended distribution option on Amazon to sell to other stores. The upside is that you’re only dealing with one platform, the downside is that Amazon’s competitors really don’t want to buy books from Amazon.
I decided to go with Ingram Spark instead to distribute to all other online stores, such as Barnes & Noble (print only, I go to them direct for ebook), Books-A-Million, and The Book Depository.
I wish I could tell you that it was a simple, straightforward, user-friendly experience. It wasn’t. You’ll need a glass of wine or some chocolate (maybe both) to get through the whole process. But persevere, it’ll happen, even if you might have to finish off that entire bottle to keep your sanity.
The other downside of Ingram Spark is the reporting. I know people have bought paperbacks via them, but I have no idea where. They don’t provide reporting at a store level, just how many units you’ve sold.
So why bother with them, you might be asking yourself? Well in addition to the whole issue of retailers not wanting to buy from Amazon, I also get a better cut from Ingram Spark than I do from Amazon. That’s down in part to the fact that I’ve applied the minimum wholesale discount that I could, which is related to the fact that I’m not focused on selling my book in bricks and mortar stores. But that’s a huge topic for another day.
Want to know more?
Reedsy has a very comprehensive guide to ebook distribution. I found their aggregator comparison spreadsheet to be particularly helpful.
Elizabeth Spann Craig talks about expanding her book distribution on PublishDrive and StreetLib.
Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:
Where do you like to buy ebooks and print books? If you’re an author, where do you distribute your books?
A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.
If you’d like to pick up your own copy (ebook and paperback), you can do so at your favorite online retailer: