Self-Publishing Service Providers: Understanding Your Options

There are numerous publishing options for authors these days, providing an amazing opportunity for anyone to publish a book. Because of this, understanding the differences between the various options can be overwhelming and confusing. Major differences can include the amount of up-front money required, author’s creative control, royalties earned, and publishing time line.

Researching all of your self-publishing options can be overwhelming.Self-publishing, also known as independent or “indie” publishing, can be a good path for authors that want to maintain creative control and determine the release timing for their book. With self-publishing, authors hire service providers to assist with steps like formatting, cover design, editing, publishing, and selling their book, or, they use an online do-it-yourself platform. They might even use a combination of both.

Authors considering self-publishing need to determine what steps or tasks they are capable of completing on their own, and what steps will require outside help. Then, research the options to determine which is best for their skillset, budget, and book. Here are the three main types of self-publishing and some of the leading service providers for each:

1. Supported or Assisted Self-Publishing

With supported or assisted self-publishing, an author works with a company that offers a comprehensive list of services and packages, along with expert guidance throughout the publishing journey. This path is a great option for authors that want to focus on the writing and let experienced professionals handle all of the other steps involved in the editing, publishing, and distribution process. Many of these service providers also offer book promotion and marketing packages. Here are four of the top supported self-publishing companies:

Author Solutions: As the leader in supported self-publishing, Author Solutions has helped more than 250,000 authors publish 320,000 titles. Author Solutions’ self-publishing imprints span five countries and include partnerships with industry leaders such as Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins Christian, as well as distributors and retailers such as Ingram and Indigo Chapters.

In addition to its partner imprints, Author Solutions has three core imprints: AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and Xlibris. Publishing packages start at $999 and include services such as one-on-one author support, editorial assistance, ePub and paperback formatting, cover design, printing, worldwide distribution, promotional materials, and more. Author Solutions’ imprints offer a full suite of marketing services, and exclusive opportunities to their authors such as online bookstores, award programs, festival appearances, and book-to-screen Hollywood services.

Outskirts Press: Since 2003, Outskirts Press has been providing design, printing, publishing, distribution, and book marketing services to authors, and has published over 22,000 titles. Outskirts’ services come in the form of packages starting at $999, with customizable add-ons. There are also “One-Click” publishing and marketing packages tailored to specific genres.

Outskirts hosts an online bookstore for its authors and offers a wide range of marketing services including publicity, events, and promotions.

Xulon Press: Xulon Press is one of the largest publishers of independent Christian books, helping publish more than 15,000 titles since 2001. As a part of Salem Media Group, a leader in Christian Media, Xulon authors can access a large faith-based audience.

Xulon’s self-publishing packages start at $1,259 and include formatting, cover design, distribution, and some promotional services. Editorial, marketing, and other services can be purchased for an additional fee. Xulon hosts an online bookstore for its authors and its trade show catalogs reach thousands of book buyers each year.

BookBaby: BookBaby has helped 50,000+ independent authors across every genre create, publish and distribute their books around the globe. The online platform that offers a full suite of a’ la carte services including editing, formatting, design, printing, distribution, and marketing. BookBaby also offers supported self-publishing packages starting at $1,090. Authors can sell their books in BookBaby’s BookshopTM or pay an additional fee for distribution to major retailers.

There are many DIY online publishing platforms if you are comfortable with technology.2. Online, Do-it-Yourself Self-Publishing

Using an online platform to self-publish your book can be a cost-effective way to get your message or story out into the world. It can also be time consuming and challenging for those that are not tech-savvy. In addition, many online platforms don’t offer quality formatting, design, editing, or marketing services, so these tasks are the responsibility of the author before uploading a finished manuscript for publishing.

Online self-publishing platforms can be free to use or may charge a small fee per uploaded manuscript. They will then help distribute your book and take a percentage of each sale, which varies depending on the platform. For paperback and hardcover books, they offer print-on-demand services. This means that books are printed digitally only as ordered, so the cost per book is higher than if you were to order in bulk from an offset printer. Here are three of the popular DIY publishing platforms:

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: Amazon continues to be the world’s largest book retailer and for many authors, it’s where they make the majority of their sales. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is Amazon’s self-publishing platform that allows authors to publish eBooks and paperback books and make them available for sale on Amazon. The platform is currently beta-testing hardcover production. Authors have the option of enrolling in “KDP Select” to sell exclusively on Amazon, participate in exclusive programs, and earn higher royalties.

IngramSpark: For access to the book market outside of Amazon, IngramSpark can be a good option for DIY authors. When your book is set up with IngramSpark, it will be listed and available for order through one of the largest U.S. book wholesalers, Ingram. This means that brick and mortar bookstores and libraries can easily order your book. IngramSpark offers one of the largest selections of high quality print formatting through their print-on-demand service, including hardcover books.

Lulu: is a platform where anyone can publish, sell, print, and purchase all types of books. The site has its own bookstore, but also offers distribution services through major retailers for a fee. The “LuluDirect” service enables authors to sell directly through their own website using popular ecommerce platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce.

Self-publishing can be overwhelming when you look at all of the tasks you need to accomplish to be successful.3. General Contractor and Freelancer Self-Publishing

If you’d like to hire out all of the different tasks individually versus paying for a complete package of services with one company, you can find general contractors, freelancers, and printers on your own. For example, you can find an experienced professional to do the formatting for your book, another to design the book cover, a third to do the editing, a printer to produce paperback or hardcover copies, a publicist to plan a media campaign for release, and so on. This allows you complete control over every step in the process, but can be very difficult to manage. It can also end up costing you more time and money since you are purchasing everything a’ la carte.

Some authors hire contractors for the pre-publication tasks, use an online platform to publish, and then hire contractors for assistance with publicity and marketing. To identify reputable contractors, you can ask other authors whom they used. You can also check the acknowledgement pages of published books. A third option is to search contractor directories on popular websites like these: Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, and Reedsy.

What are Online Self-Publishing Aggregators?

A publishing aggregator is a service provider that allows you to upload your manuscript and then distribute digitally to multiple retail channels like Apple iBooks, Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, OverDrive, and more. Uploading to several different online retailers can require a lot of time and effort; so many independent authors use an aggregator to make an eBook available through the most popular distribution channels with just one upload.

While this can be an efficient way to expand a book’s discoverability, there is a cost associated with using these providers. They will take a percentage of each sale, on top of the percentage that each online retailer takes, and some charge a monthly fee. As with the DIY platforms, all of the pre-publication and post-publication tasks are the author’s responsibility.

Some of the more popular aggregators include Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and PublishDrive.
NOTE: As of March 2022, Smashwords and Draft2Digital are merging, giving authors access to their combined list of distribution channels.

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to publishing a book. Assessing your goals, skillset, and budget is an essential first step before choosing a direction. You might even find what worked well for one book, may not be the right path for subsequent books. We encourage you to research your options and work with experienced service providers that have a proven track record.

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