Author & Blogger How To, Hey Indie! How Not to Get Overwhelmed

How to Not Get Overwhelmed: Picking Your Publishing Platform(s)

take a walk (5)

This is the sixth article in the series: How to Not Get Overwhelmed with Indie Publishing. Below is the list, including links to the subjects we’ve already covered. Today’s topic is publishing platforms. These apply to most countries for accessibility as far as I know, but since most of my research has been about my own publishing, some of the info I share may only be useful to US authors.

Main Types of Book Formats

  1. ebook
    1. epub
    2. mobi
    3. pdf; etc.
  2. paperback
    1. varying sizes
    2. I prefer 5.25 x 8
  3. hardbound
    1. varying sizes
    2. I prefer 6×9

Depending on how you plan to make your book available you will have various options or combinations of platforms from which to launch your books. This list does not include vanity, small, or large presses. It includes ebook and print on demand (POD) book services where you are not paying them a bundle service to edit, format, and publish your book for you and you retain all your rights. I think BookBaby is the only one that truly verges on vanity press status, but only just.

Self-Publishing Platforms

Here is a non-exhaustive list by order of personal preference:

  • *CreateSpace (NOW Part of KDP) (POD paperback)

    • A Free service, but they do offer paid services for cover design, editing, formatting, etc.
    • The website is not 100% user-friendly, but it’s pretty easy to familiarize yourself with it.
    • Books can be distributed to many retailers or just Amazon & Createspace depending on which ISBN and distribution channels you choose.
    • Lots of choices for design and formatting, not to mention helfpul templates to make sure your book is perfect. In fact, I prefer to use their interior templates to standardize the interiors I create for IngramSpark.
    • Uploads PDF files (can be complicated if you have trouble converting files to PDF)
    • I DO NOT recommend using their pre-made cover templates. Design your own or pay to have one made.
    • Books purchased by retailers are non-returnable which adds a limitation to distribution, but this is true of almost all POD services.
  • *IngramSpark (POD paperback, hardbound, ebook)

    • $12/yrly fee (waived for Alliance of Independent Authors members)
    • $49 set up fee ($25 for ebook, unless included w/print book, then free)
    • $25/ea corrections to interior or exterior formatting of  paperback and hardbound and ebook
      • In my opinion ebook is better to sell directly through free services like Smashwords, KDP, & Nook.
    • Ingram lets you set up with distribution so that retailers can make returns on any unsold product which is the clincher if you want to sell your print books in retail stores like Barnes and Noble.
      • I prefer IngramSpark for the sheer fact that my books can be purchased by major book retailers and libraries, but the return on investment hasn’t yet panned out after just over a year, so we’ll see if it ends up being worth it.
    • For an extra fee ($60 per book) you can have your title added to one of several promotional catalogs.
    • As an extra note, IngramSpark is connected to Lightning Source which also handles POD book printing and ebooks, but with different allowances for book pricing, royalties, retailer discount, etc. Because I’m just starting out I went with IngramSpark, but I’m finding there might be benefits to using Lightning Source instead if one has a solid marketing plan in place. Let us know if you’ve got info on the benefits of one over the other.
  • *Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing KDP (only Kindle (mobi) ebook & Print Books)

    • Free and fairly easy.
    • Free ASIN (Amazon Sales Identification Number)
    • Check out this link for supported formats and it will also give info on how to set up which file type you use.
    • If you are selling your ebooks on Amazon, this is a “Must Set Up” publishing platform.
      • In fact, if you decided to only sell on Amazon, then sign up for KDP and join their Select program. Unless you plan to sell your book outside Kindle it’s actually going to give you the highest returns on investment if it’s the ONLY distribution channel you plan on selling in, but if you use any other publishing services then you can’t sign up for Select.
  • *Smashwords (epub, mobi, pdf, etc ebooks to various retailers)

    • Free & slightly complicated if you want to have your books in their Premium Catalog of distribution to Nook, Apple, Amazon, Kobo, etc.
    • Free ISBN
    • Free ebook conversion to formats (e.g. epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, html)
    • You’ll definitely want to follow their “Style Guide,” which is a step-by-step free ebook that walks you through formatting a Word Doc to fit within their required parameters. Start here at their How to Publish on Smashwords page. You can download the Style guide from there.
      • cool thing: they also publish ebooks for libraries and offer you the option of setting up a separate price just for libraries.
  • Barnes & Noble Nook Press (epub/nook book)

    • (There is a paper/hardbound book print service, too, but not for professional books to which you want an ISBN connected unless you buy your own barcodes, which we’ll talk about with ISBNs next time)
    • Like Smashwords, it’s free to set up and you get the best returns from nook book sales if you set up directly through BN, but it only works for Nook sales.
    • It’s pretty easy to use, and if I remember correctly, you can correct format issues from your Word doc or PDF file (can’t recall which) within the browser app.
  • Lulu (POD paperback, hardbound, ebook in epub or pdf)

    • I don’t use Lulu, though their prices are comparable to Createspace for POD.
    • They’re book sizes are limited, and after looking at the “US Trade” size of 6×9 in person I can tell you that it doesn’t look professional compared to other paperback books on the market. That size better fits a hardbound book, so I recommend 5.25×8 (my personal choice) or 5.5 x 8.5 max.
    • I feel like I have more freedom with Createspace, though Lulu looks very simple and clean, almost pretty in the presentation.
    • You’ll have to check out their website for more info.
  • Bookbaby (POD paperback, ebook to various retailers)

    • I chose Smashwords over Bookbaby mostly because I’d actually heard of Smashwords before finding it. I’ve checked into BookBaby since then, and the only thing I might find appealing about their services is that with their ebook package deal at $149 they guarantee “premium listings on Goodreads, Noisetrade, BookDaily, and Bublish” & free reviews from “. . . Reader’s Favorite, Story Cartel, and more.”
    • Bookbaby also requires a ISBN for your ebook ($29 through them or supply your own) where other ebook publishing platforms like Smashwords & KDP do not.
    • images in your ebook cost extra (e.g. 4 images costs $8), and I’m not sure about paperback costs.
    • That adds up like this: $149 (basically covers conversion to ebook & promo) + $2/image + ISBN + $249 Basic Cover Design (if you want their help, and more for pro design).
    • I guess the only thing I’d say is if you go with Bookbaby is pay attention to all the little hidden added fees, like if you need to do a correction to a sentence after it’s been sent for formatting that’s an extra charge.
    • But if you’re curious, here’s a great article (old info as the price as gone up $50) from Alli Self Publishing Advice by Giacomo Giammateo: Is BookBaby or Smashwords Best for Self-Publishers?
  • Blurb (POD paperback, hardbound, ebook)

    • Similar to Lulu in offerings, but maybe a little more limited. Their site reminds me of looking at Barnes & Noble’s book printing service they offer for simple printing (click the link for BN Nook Press above to see what I mean).
    • It’s nice that they have a special plug-in for use with Adobe InDesign which makes formatting your paperback/hardbound books for Blurb a simple transition, and they also accept pdf files as well as use their own special formatting program: Bookwright.
    • A Basic $9.99 ebook conversion fee and they seem mostly focused on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks but also cover other Android device use and computers.

      • *I’ve put in bold the ones I use

This info only scratches the surface, but I hope it gives you a place to start. If you have questions, let me know. And remember, you might only choose one of these or a combination. I’m sure I’ve even missed some of the other publishing platforms out there, but I also purposely avoided mentioning any that hover into the realm of vanity press. BookBaby comes close because of their fees, but I put them in a similar category to IngramSpark/Lightning Source (IS/LSI) when it comes to that because their higher start-up fee includes promotional assistance where IS/LSI doesn’t but has a lower set up fee.

More Resources:

When you combine this week’s lesson on platforms with the info that we’ve covered thus far in the series you might find that most of the free options will be in line with what you’ve already done to make your book amazing.

The one thing I will say for BookBaby about paying for their service is the promotional aspect and supposed guaranteed reviews might be worth the cost. Cost in indie publishing is always an issue, though. Since I’ve not used their service, I would love to hear from someone who has. Did you like it? Was it helpful? Do you only use BookBaby?

If you have already published your first book, or several, what has been your best experience? Which platform(s) do you use?

Also, would it be helpful to walk through the actual steps involved in using any of the platforms I utilize for publishing?

Thanks for sticking around! I hope this series continues to be useful.

82 thoughts on “How to Not Get Overwhelmed: Picking Your Publishing Platform(s)”

  1. I have tried Draft2Digital for distributing e-books to other places and they don’t have stringent formatting requirements as Smashwords. They also create a PDF of the interior for submitting to Create Space that works well (although one still needs a PDF of the cover). They keep adding new marketplaces, although if one publishes in other languages and other places, Streetlib and Publishdrive are also possible options. Thanks very much!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve been horrible at meeting any deadlines. I want to have it beta read before the end of July, but I haven’t even finished writing it yet. I’m in the home stretch, but between end of school year stuff with the kids, daughter’s therapy, and other stress I’ve had no time and issues with getting the words out of my head. The only real writer’s block is stress. That’s what I think. ugh. But I got six-thousand words down today and have about 1/3rd left to write. Maybe 25,000 words or so. The story is pretty much set in my mind. It’s just the task of getting it on paper/screen. You know? Ugh. Treasonous goes to editor the 2nd week of August. It’s coming up toooo soon!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oo, that is soon. I was thinking it would go to beta readers late August or September. What month are you aiming to publish it? This coming spring? Spring seems to be the popular choice for newly released books lately. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            1. That is a crazy busy schedule (but I’m one to talk, haha). I hope it goes well. You can always try for spring if things don’t make it in time. I think both Christmas and spring are great book selling times. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL WP is weird. That was a comment I made to someone else two days ago. I wonder where that came from? I’m on my phone typing so I wonder in their mobile app has done bugs.


  3. I used Lulu and Blurb for printing a couple of books just for my eyes. 🙂 I almost pulled my hair out trying to format the book in Blurb’s software. Lulu was a bit easier, from what I remember (it was a couple of years ago now).

    I’m hearing a lot about IngramSpark at the moment. They seem quite popular among indies.

    One question, what are vanity presses? I can’t seem to pin down an explanation anywhere.

    Another great article, though. Very informative. 🙂


    1. That’s good to know! Thanks, Phoenix. 🙂 Generally, a vanity press is one that you pay to do all the publishing and distribution work involved in producing you book. It can get very expensive and they provide only a limited supply of book copies in your original agreement. You get a discount on purchasing your books after that. That’s only a basic understanding, and it’s slowly becoming and antiquated term as more authors self publish and vanities move on to become something more like what’s now called a small publishing house.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. That makes sense. It sounds like vanities are something to be avoided, which I kind of understood already. But now I see why.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. 🙂 I’m am author of YA fantasy fic, mainly historical magical realism, but I blog everything indie publishing, interviews, short stories and blogging tips. Thanks for following, btw! 🙂


  4. Another informative post – this is a great series, Rachael! I used Createspace for my paperback and Amazon’s Kindle platform for my e-book. At the moment I’m enrolled in KDP select, but am considering not doing so for a stand alone book I’ll be publishing in the next few months, just to see if it makes much difference. And I agree, always either design your own covers or pay to get one done, rather than using the templates. One of the things I love about Createspace is that, if you set your book up there first, they then convert your cover file into a Kindle Ready file – they also do the same with your text, as you probably know, but I found it didn’t work as well. However, it’s not too hard to format for Kindle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great tips and info, Helen! 🙂 Do you see regular reading for your books through select? I decided not to go with the program so beyond initial research I didn’t delve into the details of it much. I used Scrivener for my Kindle formatting. I’m glad you mentioned that about the quality of Createspace’s formatting to Kindle.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It comes and goes with Select, to be honest. The stats definitely pick up whenever I launch a new title or run any sort of promotion. However, it’s not huge numbers by any stretch of the imagination. That’s why I thought I’d try my standalone book out of the program and see if I can put it onto Smashwords etc. It’s so trial and error though, isn’t it? The life of an independent writer 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes! A ton of trial and error. I try to learn from other people who have gone before, but the problem I experience is that the industry always seems to be in the flux. Sometimes one way works then five minutes later the other way is better. haha I like Smashwords, so you should definitely try it. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes! I try to do the same, but it’s such a subjective industry – one person can have great success promoting via one website, whereas I might not, or vice versa. The key is to keep trying and maintain a presence, but of course budget constraints don’t always make it possible for writers to do so. And I think I will give the wider e-book market a try for this next book – I can always pull it and go back to KDP select, one of the good things about being self-published.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Another informative article, thank you, Rachael! There are so many options and things to consider when publishing. I do have a few questions, if that’s okay:
    How do you use the createspace interior template?
    You mentioned maybe posting some walkthroughs. I’d love a walkthrough of IngramSpark.
    You mentioned Lightnjng Source might prove better than IS. In what ways is LS better than IngramSpark? I’m considering using IngramS, so I’m curious to know your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Phooey…this stick made my water all muddy again 😱

    Well, partly…thanks for the information on particular platforms….from what I’m seeing in the post and comments they are all pretty much all the ones that people here have either experienced or agree are the ones to target re indie publishing. I’ve trolled Book Baby several times and pondered yay or nay many times. For me Rachael a walk through of your steps would be invaluable…my problem here is making the decision on where to go. E-books yes…kindle exclusive not keen on although it seems fairly simple to get up and out there…POD seems attractive too and possibly accessing paperbacks for myself or wider audiences. My manuscript is being professionally proof read now and I’m going to have to have a cover designed…by whom or where is yet to be ascertained.

    Thanks for sending me the link to this…but walk through…need to see the process through the eyes of someone I trust and who has made that leap into a world I am about to enter with no map or compass 😱

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m going out on a limb and saying you can’t go wrong by doing ebook through KDP and Smashwords, and POD through Createspace. If you do nothing else, do those. I’ll see if I can figure out how to do a simple and easy walk-through of the process and post about it. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Isn’t createspace a subset of Amazon? But thank you for that…I think as a starting point that might be the best way forwards. I could prevaricate on this for months otherwise…now this walk through for dummies 🙃

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Ooh…that’s killing two birds with one stone…when you submit are your files in manuscript format with double spaced lines or single spaced and more or less ready for conversion?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Neither. It works best to download one of the book size interior format templates and just plugging your book into that then tweaking it. 🙂 I can explain more later. Maybe in a post.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. You can do that? Ooh…which site was it that lets you download the template? And yes..idiots guide postvworks for me 🤕


            3. Ok noted that…but they you go again…what size….they don’t have industry standards….shoot…solve one out pops another…. No doubt it will be silly imperial measurements too 👻

              Liked by 1 person

            4. haha! Um….yeah. kinda. I go with 5.25 inch x 8 inch, but lots of people choose 5.5 x 8.5. I say NO WAY to paperback as 6 x 9 as that is a hardbound size and just looks/feels wrong to me. Yes, saves on pages, but is that really worth the lack of professional comparison for the average consumer? Not sure the $0.80/book or whatever is worth it.

              Liked by 1 person

            5. Typical…what century are we in and still using ancient measurements…mutter…mutter..mutter….thanks Rachael…I soooo appreciate your help 💐💐

              Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re breaking it up into smaller chunks (parts) so that we can look at it in smaller pieces instead of trying to do it all at once, which is way more overwhelming if we try to do it that way. haha Thanks for commenting, Anna. 🙂


  7. I’ve used Lulu so can add a little there. Overall, I found their printed color quality to be superior to Createspace and you can go smaller than 6×9 by selecting pocketbook trim size. However, where they are, in my opinion, inferior to Createspace is the proofing process. The only way to approve Lulu proof is to order a physical book. In addition to turn over time, shipping charges also apply. While I strongly recommend that anyone considering self-publishing see their book in physically in print prior to pressing that final publish button, the cost of the proofing process can quickly add up in both time and money unless you are absolutely sure that the work you’ve uploaded is typo free and your cover template is exactly as it should be.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Such a great point, Allison! Thank you for adding that. I didn’t even think about that final proofing cost, but Createspace’s and Ingram’s digital proofing are both excellent features. And you are so right that after you’re confident with an digital proof it’s essential to get a printed one before making any large orders. So worthwhile. Thanks for sharing that info about Lulu’s color printing, too. 🙂


      1. Thanks for your efforts Rachael.
        This is very valuable information.
        Allie’s information on Lulu is spot on. They give you a nice product, but their editorial and promotion services seem quite expensive, last year’s quote was about $1,000-ish. ‘Horses for courses’ I guess.
        Best wishes

        Liked by 1 person

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