Writing a novel is never the work of one person only. We all know how every book ever published by traditional publishing houses has months of work behind it by editors of different responsibilities, designers and illustrators. Best case scenario, it even has a dedicated team of marketers working on photoshoots and facebook campaigns. But what are the options self-publishers face when deciding to publish a book? Do you have to do everything by yourself, or are there dedicated ebook publishing services helping you along the way?
This article is covering the most popular ebook publishing services available today and poses the question whether you need them at all. In the first part of the article, we go through the steps of publishing a book from the first idea to selling it. In the second part, we’ll have a look at the most popular ebook publishing services and see how, where and if they can help you. As we have already covered some services, we are not aiming to give you a comprehensive list, but only a selection of our favourites. Have you ever used an ebook publishing service? Do you prefer working with publishing service providers, freelancers or do everything by yourself? Let us know at the comments or start a discussion in our facebook group.
1. Write a book!
1. Writing services
I assume that you have already written one. But if you still haven’t, what is stopping you? Beginners often struggle with self-doubt (doubting the originality of their ideas or their writing abilities), lack of perseverance or writing-techniques. Sometimes you are just not sure whether your idea is worth exploring. Many writers keep drafts in the drawer for years and keep coming back to them. There is no easy way of writing a book: it is hard work, the first book can often take years – and a lot depends on your genre, experience and experience. Nobody can write your book for you. (Well, we all know this is not true, but let’s leave ghost-writing out of the discussion for the moment.) For many aspiring writers, it is only a bit of nudging that’s missing. November is a great month in this sense: it is National Novel Writing Month.
If writing 50.000 words a month is not your cup of tea, there are always free and paid webinars to sign up to. To be honest, I have attended a writing school before, and I could certainly see why it works for some people. But I also saw that there is no such thing as the best writing school. When choosing a writing school or signing up to a webinar, one of the most important things to keep in mind is what is your goal. There are different courses for those who are struggling to give their ideas a form and to those who need some expert help with production and marketing.
Dave at the Kindlepreneur has a comparison of four popular writing schools. If you would like to have a taster session, Chandler Bolt has a short free course on how to write and publish a bestseller in 90 days (full disclosure: this is an affiliate link). He also has podcasts and a blog with some useful resources. As in all cases, it mostly depends on you and your personality what do you take home from a webinar like this: what counts is how you implement what you learn. If you are still struggling: go and get some inspiration and write that book! The world needs it.
2. Writing and dictation apps
When it comes to writing software, most writers still swear by Scrivener. We already have an article on what we liked and didn’t like about it. But writing a book is actually a hard physical labour. You’ll have to sit at the front of the computer for hours at a time. It is slow and needs your full, undivided attention. Thankfully, there is a way around it. More and more professional writers decide to dictate their books: there are several software solutions able to do the job for you. This saves you from getting repetitive pain injury by the time you reach page 50, even if you can’t afford a secretary. Dictating your novel can be a great way to speed up the writing process and let your thoughts go fairly free – if it works well. What is the best dictation software to use?
a) Google Docs Voice Typing
As an Android user, it seems logical to try Google Docs Voice Typing at first. To use Google Docs voice input you have to open Google Docs with a Chrome browser, click ‘Tools’ and select ‘Voice typing’. (Or use the shortcut cmd+shift+f on Mac / ctrl+shift+s on Windows.) You’ll have to allow the browser to use your microphone in order start typing – I mean, dictating. There are also around 100 commands you can give the app, including New paragraph, move to previous column and more: check out the help center for a comprehensive list. Dictation works in around 80 languages and regional accents in total, even in Hungarian! Voice commands, however, only work in English, and only if both the account language and the document are in English.
While I dictated this paragraph in its entirety, I had to do a lot of editing afterwards. I also couldn’t get the Google Docs voice typing to do any punctuation (it knows commands like ‘period’ and ‘comma’ in six languages). Bear in mind, however, that I’m not a native speaker of English, and while my Google Assistant never has problems understanding my commands, when it comes to a longer text, my intonation can be difficult to follow for a machine. You can also use voice typing on any Android or iOS device with the GBoard (Google’s very own keyboard): I have never used GBoard to dictate anything longer than a note or text message but it works just fine.
Languages: 80 languages and dialects (knows several English, Spanish and Arabic dialects and multiple languages)
b) Dictation on iPhone, iPad and Mac
Since the birth of Siri, every Apple product comes with built in dictation. To turn on dictation on your iPhone, just open ‘Settings’, and depending on your iOS version look for ‘Keyboard’ or ‘Language and input’ to find ‘Dictation’ and switch it on. Once it is on, you will see the little microphone next to the keyboard: just tap it to start dictating! I find Siri’s dictation less trustable than Google’s: it has trouble understanding even the simplest of words (is there anything wrong with the way I say but?) and dictation lagged even a sentence behind me. I know the lag is necessary as the AI is using context to figure out what I was saying (lots of similarly sounding words in English), but it was so behind me that I started doubting if it is listening to me at all. Apparently the transcription of your voice is done at a remote server, so you’re better off if you dictate in 30 seconds long segments. This is something I’ll probably need to get used to.
Bear in mind that using a good mic (such as an iPhone’s own noise-cancelling mic you use for calls) or holding the mic close to your mouth can make all the difference! (And it helps if you speak slowly and clearly.) If your Apple gadget doesn’t understand you, keep trying: with time, it gets better at recognizing your accent.
You can also use Apple’s dictation on a Mac computer: go to ‘System Preferences’ and turn on ‘Dictation and Speech’. (Depending on your iOS version, it could also be under ‘Keyboard’.) If you enable ‘enhanced dictation’, your iOS will download a language package of around 400 MB, but it speeds up the recognition time and enhances accuracy.
Languages: around 40 languages and dialects
c) Dragon and Dragon anywhere
The best-known dictation software is Dragon – Naturally Speaking. Dragon is available for Mac, Windows and phones (Dragon Anywhere). It is the best app currently out by all accounts – but it comes at a price. Dragon for Windows and Mac starts at 300$ and offers no trial version – however, you have 30 days to ask for your money back. The app version offers a trial period of a week, then it is 15$ a month or 150$ a year; you’ll have to sign up online, then download the app and login. Don’t forget to cancel your subscription after the end of the trial period! For this price, Dragon offers 99% accuracy, custom words and extremely smart and intuitive editing options. Just watch this demo:
2. Get that book edited!
Once you have your first draft ready, you’ll have to finalize the content. Before you pay for an editor or proofreader, it helps if you find a ‘first reader’, a beta – and if this person is not your mum.
1. Find a beta reader
A beta is somebody who offers to read your book free of charge and give you some extremely valuable feedback. A beta can also help with developmental editing, scrap useless story lines and become your best friend. Or your worst enemy. It is not easy to find a good beta; or a group of betas! Our advice is to start looking in the writing community, simply because writers read with a different set of eyes than most ‘normal’ readers and are more aware of common mistakes in your genre. Writers are also happy to help other writers – this is why I love this community!
Her main points are:
1) Do some reader profiling before you send your book to betas. You can’t just send your book to people and hope that they’ll like it. Think about who your ideal reader is (age, gender, interests, favourite writers) and look for betas in this group.
2) Create relationships. You can’t ask a complete stranger out of the blue to read your novel and analyze the mistakes. Establish a presence in the group your ideal betas usually hang out, follow them on social media and comment their posts.
3) Offer to be a beta. This is just common sense: you can’t ask for something and offer nothing in return.
4) Be specific. What kind of feedback do you need? Do you have any specific questions you want to get answers to?
5) Do not rush them. It is possible that a beta will never get back to you: maybe they have never gotten around reading your book in the end, or they have read it but decided not to write anything. Do not pressure them, and never, ever post anything mean on social media. This is not a service you have paid for but a favor.
6) Accept criticism. Your betas are there to help you and improve your work. If you have received devastating criticism on your book, learn from it. I know from experience that it is very difficult to accept that your dear ‘baby book’ is far from perfect. But hey, don’t give up! Nobody starts out creating a masterpiece, but everyone can write one.
2. Find a proofreader or editor
Editors are responsible for turning your manuscript into a bestseller. They use a thick red pen (or rather the Track Changes feature in Word) to kill off all spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, streamline the sentences and find that word you were looking for but never found. A good editor is ruthless when it comes to inconsistencies in your terminology or style but respects your will as an author. Your neighbour who majored in English or your nephew who reads a lot are not necessarily good editors.
There are different depths an editor goes to for different prices. Usually proofreading is the cheapest, offering a very thorough reading for misspellings, striking grammar errors and unnaturally sounding sentences. Line-editing or copy-editing is deeper, the editor looks for stylistic errors, can reorganize sentence structures and can make suggestions within a paragraph. Developmental editing is usually the last stage: a developmental editor gives suggestions regarding the storyline and works closely with the author to create the final version of the story. Many authors decide to use both a line-editor and a proofreader for best results: four eyes see more than two. PublishDrive has recently started offering editing services to authors, connecting them with great and experienced freelancers.
3. Get your book cover sorted
4. Convert to epub
By all means: please use Sigil. There are other apps as well: many people go for Calibre or Vellum, both they both have their disadvantages. (Vellum costs at least 199$, and Calibre doesn’t always create a valid epub.) Validate your epub. Creating a valid epub is crucial if you would like to sell your books in several different channels. Your book can be all right on Amazon, but all shops have their own special requirements, epubs passing the validation process can be distributed anywhere. And finally, your book is ready to…
5. Go to the stores!
You can sell your book anywhere! Upload it to Amazon, Google Play, Kobo, iBooks, OverDrive, Odilo… Yes, it can get overwhelming. Changing the price, updating the description can get confusing and just simply too much. Luckily, there are ebook publishing services to manage everything for you.
Ebook Publishing Services
When speaking of ebook publishing services, there are actually several very different things in play. Firstly, there are companies pitching ‘author services’ or ‘publishing services’ for a price. These companies usually offer an all-round publishing service, starting from developmental editing to POD or e-distribution. While these companies can be similar at first glance, they are very different in terms of their approach to the author and their books. There is a thin line between genuine publishing services and vanity publishing, as there are steps that can be expensive if done properly (like editing or cover design).
Generally speaking, if a company charges you for publishing your book and is fairly vague about what they are spending your money on, be alert. Once you sign your rights away, it is difficult to get them back. Other than vanity publishers, there are several companies that act as retailers and/or distributors and offer some publishing services (conversion or editing) as well. There are some things you’ll need to consider before signing up anywhere:
- Who owns the rights (the IP)?
- Is the service exclusive?
- Who decides the pricing?
- Can you leave whenever you want to?
- Can you select which services to use?
List of Ebook Publishing Services
The following table contains some popular ebook publishing services ready to fill in the void left by Pronoun. We only consider services with no upfront payment or setup fees required. Unfortunately we had to leave Reedsy out, as they don’t offer distribution, but they have an all inclusive, pick-what-you-need publishing service with editors and designers.
|PublishDrive||yes||yes||Amazon, Google Play, Apple, OverDrive, Barnes &Noble, Kobo, Odilo, Tolino and others||Daily for many stores Monthly for others||Bank, PayPal||monthly|
|Streetlib||no||yes||Amazon, Google Play, Apple, OverDrive, Barnes &Noble, Kobo||Daily for many stores Monthly for others||PayPal||monthly in US, UK, CA and NZ, otherwise quarterly|
|D2D||no||yes||Amazon, Apple, OverDrive, Barnes &Noble, Kobo, Tolino||Daily for many stores Monthly for others||Direct deposit, PayPal, check||monthly|
|Smashwords||no||yes||Amazon, Apple, OverDrive, Barnes &Noble, Kobo||Daily for many stores Monthly for others||PayPal, check||monthly|
|Kobo Writing Life||no||no||Kobo and partners||Live for Kobo, delayed for partners||bank||monthly (high threshold)|
|KDP||no||yes||Amazon||Live||Direct deposit, check||monthly|
Do you use an ebook publishing service to edit, convert and distribute your books? Or do you prefer to hire nice freelancers and go to the stores directly? Is there anything else you take into account when choosing an ebook publishing service? Let us know at the comments.