If you’re just starting out, my set-up might seem complicated. But I started small back in 2008 and have expanded since then, taking each new step as I learned more and as further opportunities and platforms emerged.
You can learn any practical skill one step at a time.
If you want to start simple, focus on publishing an ebook and a paperback using Amazon KDP or use a helpful distributor with good customer service like Draft2Digital and progress from there, depending on your goals as an author.
My overarching publishing strategy
I own my company, The Creative Penn Limited, which has a publishing imprint, Curl Up Press. I am the only employee, and I only publish my books (and a few for my mum under Penny Appleton).
I am open to rights licensing deals with traditional publishers, and I have selectively licensed some rights for some books in French, Italian, German, and Korean, as well as doing some audiobook deals.
I use a windowing strategy for my books, releasing them in stages, which helps me make a bigger income at the beginning of a launch, as well as delivering extra value and beautiful products for my existing audience before publishing everywhere else.
For book projects, I launch on Kickstarter first with premium hardback editions, other exclusive products, and early access to the primary editions. You can see my previous campaigns here.
If you’d like to know more about selling direct, including my lessons learned, check out my interviews and resources here.
Finally, after another month or two, I publish wide on all platforms in all the basic formats, as well as distributing to libraries.
Here are the specific details for wide publishing per format.
Jane at JD Smith Design creates most of my covers, and you can find a list of book cover designers here.
I use Publisher Rocket to find the right categories and keywords for Amazon.
I upload the finished ePub files to the following services, most of which are free to publish on, as they take a percentage of the sale.
• Amazon KDP — kdp.amazon.com. You can access all the Amazon stores worldwide through KDP.
• Kobo Writing Life — www.kobo.com/writinglife. KWL is for the Kobo readers and apps, as well as global partners (for example, FNAC in France or Walmart in the US), plus libraries through OverDrive.
• Draft2Digital — www.draft2digital.com. I use D2D for Nook, Apple, libraries, and various other ebook retailers. You can use D2D for almost all retailers, as well as print publishing if you prefer.
• Google Play Books — https://play.google.com/books/publish/. I did use PublishDrive to get my books into Google Play originally, but now I am transitioning to going direct.
• BookFunnel — I upload to www.bookfunnel.com for selling on my Shopify stores, JFPennBooks.com and CreativePennBooks.com. BookFunnel has an annual payment for their services, and Shopify has a monthly fee as well as a percentage per transaction depending on the plan you’re on. You can also use BookFunnel for other direct sales options, like Kickstarter or WooCommerce.
Print — paperback, large print, hardback, special editions
You can also find freelancers for formatting and book layout in the Alliance of Independent Authors Partner Member list and on Reedsy.
I buy my own ISBNs (the price and company to do this varies by country). If you want more information on ISBNs, please read this guide from the Alliance of Independent Authors.
I send Jane the final manuscript and we go back and forth a few times to adjust, and then she delivers the print-ready PDF cover and interior files. We usually do paperback and large print editions as standard and then special editions and hardbacks for specific projects. Each require different files.
I upload the files to the following places:
• Amazon KDP Print — kdp.amazon.com for all the Amazon stores worldwide. I do not select Extended Distribution. It’s free to publish as they take a percentage of the sale. You can set your own price so you can choose what profit you make per sale.
• IngramSpark — IngramSpark.com for wide distribution to over 40,000 bookstores, libraries, and universities globally. They have free and paid options for publishing, and take a percentage of the sale.
• Bookvault — www.bookvault.app for books sold through my Shopify stores, JFPennBooks.com and CreativePennBooks.com, as well as my special editions for Kickstarter campaigns. They have varying paid options for publishing and distribution.
I work with professional (human) narrators as well as narrating my own audiobooks, and I am also experimenting with AI narration.
You can find extensive tips for audiobooks and podcasting in my book Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies.
I record and edit my audio files with Amadeus Pro, but you can use Audacity or Hindenburg Narrator.
Each chapter must be a separate file.
I master the files with Hindenburg Narrator, which produces the finished MP3 files to the correct specifications.
I upload the audio files to the following places.
• ACX — www.acx.com for Audible and Amazon. It’s free to publish and they take a percentage per sale. You cannot set your own price.
• FindawayVoices by Spotify — www.findawayvoices.com for 40+ audiobook retailers. I deselect Audible and Amazon as I prefer to go direct there.
• BookFunnel — www.bookfunnel.com for selling on my Shopify stores JFPennBooks.com and CreativePennBooks.com. BookFunnel charges an annual payment, and Shopify charges a monthly fee plus percentage per transaction depending on the plan you’re on. You can also use BookFunnel with other direct sales options, e.g. Kickstarter or WooCommerce.
How long does it take to do all this?
Most of the work as an author is writing, editing, and marketing, regardless of which publishing route you decide to go.
In terms of self-publishing, it’s certainly harder the first time you use any platform, but once you get the hang of it — and you’re using the right tools and freelancers to help — it’s really pretty simple.
Once I have the finished files per format, publishing means uploading them to the various services. It takes a few hours, sometimes up to a full day’s work per book, depending on how many platforms and formats.
As an indie author, if I make a mistake, it’s not an issue. I just fix the file and re-upload.
How does the money work?
In terms of expenses, you need to pay for an editor and a book cover designer if you want to make a quality product, but publishing on the various platforms is (mostly) free. Upload the files to the distribution platforms and they take a percentage of the sale.
For some services, you pay for a subscription or for upload, printing, or delivery, and depending on your situation, you may need to hire freelancers.
In terms of income, most services pay you monthly, up to sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale was reported. For example, if you sell a book on 15 March, you will get paid for that at the end of May.
If you sell direct, you receive income much faster, sometimes the same day or within forty-eight hours, depending on the payment method on Shopify, and within a few weeks on Kickstarter.
Every service has terms and conditions as well as help documentation and a customer service team, so please do your own research and make sure you are happy with the provider.
This sounds like a lot of work. Can someone else do it for me?
If you want someone else to publish and market your books, consider going the traditional publishing route or work with a (recommended) partnership publisher.
But if you’re willing to spend time learning new skills, and if you’re interested in writing more books and having more control over your author business, then you can certainly learn how to be a successful indie author.
If you need further support, I recommend joining the Alliance of Independent Authors, which has a lot of help and a vibrant community of authors, many of them new to self-publishing, so you can ask your questions in a supportive setting.
They also have a list of Partner Members, vetted services and freelancers that you can hire to help.
You can also hire freelancers who work specifically with authors through the Reedsy Marketplace, or start networking with other indie authors as we all share resources and are a welcoming community!