Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing & Book Distribution Tools

Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing & Book Distribution Tools

The Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing & Distribution ToolsIf you’re self-publishing your books, formatting the finished versions and distributing them to retailers can be a complicated process. To make this complex process simpler, several services are available to help authors distribute their books. And since the universe is perpetually on a mission to make your brain explode, all of the service providers are different: They partner with different retailers, offer different royalty rates, have different upfront costs, do or don’t offer formatting services, etc.

We don’t like it when brains explode, so to save our partners from this headache, we wanted to create the most comprehensive guide to choosing a self-publishing tool that is right for your publishing goals. Note that there is no single correct choice or combination of platforms you should use; it really depends on your personal publishing needs and preferences. We simply wanted to provide information about the most popular distribution services in one place for authors unsure of where to find this info.

Why you might want a distribution tool

Distribution tools, while not required for self-publishing, can help you reach more readers and save time. Here are some specific things these publishing and distribution tools can help with:

  • Ereader-friendly formatting. If you only have your manuscript in a Word doc and don’t know anything about how to format your book for ereaders, these publishing tools can help you format your book nicely and convert the files.
  • Centralized metadata management. Control your book’s metadata (price, description, categorization) at multiple retailers at once.
  • Easy addition and modification on worldwide retailers. Update your price across all regions and currencies at once.
  • Reporting tools. Keep track of book sales across retailers in one place (or two places, if you work with Amazon directly and use the distributor for everything else).

If you want to skip a lot of reading…

Before diving into the comparisons, let’s cut to the chase. At minimum, you want your book to be on Amazon Kindle & Barnes & Noble Nook, since they comprise 70%–80% of all US ebook sales, followed by Apple iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo (especially for Canada). You should make your books available on as many retailers as possible to cater to the majority of readers. Next, if you want to see your book in print, you should get a print on demand (POD) distributor to make sure your print book is available for purchase on the major online retailers.

Here is a combination of distributors we often see authors use:

  • Work directly with Amazon KDP (but not KDP Select) to get your book on Amazon.
  • Use Smashwords to get your ebook on all other major retailers.
  • Use Createspace to distribute POD on Amazon.
  • Use IngramSpark to distribute POD on all other major retailers for worldwide distribution.

The information in this post is based on a thorough review of the features and pricing each platform offers, dozens of online reviews and comparisons, and countless forum threads discussing the matter.

Click here to download a one-page comparison of each of the most popular distribution tools.

Distributor Comparison Chart

If you want to do more reading, here are the details:



Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of independently published ebooks. It has published and distributed ebooks for over 100K authors, small independent publishers, and agents. From our research, this seems to be the most popular ebook distribution tool among indie authors aside from Amazon KDP. The interface is easy to use, even if you need to format the book yourself.

Upfront cost: $0

Royalty per sale: They take 15% royalties on sales through the Smashwords store and other retailers take an additional 25%.

  • Author keeps 60% of the list price for sales through distribution network of retailers. More details here.
  • Author keeps 85% of the net sales at Smashwords.com.
  • Author keeps 70.5% of affiliate sales at Smashwords.com.

Payment schedule: Quarterly. More details here.

Distributes to: Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, Kobo, OverDrive, Oyster, txtr, and Baker & Taylor (Blio.com and the Axis360 library platform). Note: You must upload to Amazon KDP yourself.

Formats accepted: .doc (Word) or epub. More details here.

Formatting services: Format yourself, then upload it for automatic conversion. They have a comprehensive Smashwords Style Guide to help. Custom formatting services are not available. But you can also pay someone to format it for you, which costs $30–$60.

Print available: No. You’ll need to work with a print or POD distributor for this.

ISBN: Included for free, or use your own.

Preorder distribution: Yes. List your book for sale weeks or months in advance. More details here.

Ebook pricing changes: You can change your price at any time, fairly quickly. It takes 2–5 business days to update if you’re Premium Catalog approved, and Apple iBooks pricing usually changes the same day.

Reporting: Daily sales reporting. Barnes & Noble Nook updates every three hours, Kobo every 30 minutes, and Apple iBooks each day.

Coupon generator: Coupons only work on the Smashwords store, but these custom coupon codes are a handy way to give reviewers or contest participants free copies.

Customer service: They believe in DIY, which is reflected on their contact page. They only have a contact form available if you need to get in touch. However, if you get in touch with Smashwords’ founder Mark Coker, apparently he’ll answer your questions himself!


BookBaby is another self-publishing and distributor tool. Unlike Smashwords, it also distributes to Amazon, but many authors prefer to work directly with Amazon instead. The upfront cost can be off-putting for some authors. It would take at least 600 sales of a $0.99 book to break even, and that’s if the sales happen directly via BookBaby. If you also account for retailer revenue, this sales requirement is even higher. However, if you’re confident in your ability to sell thousands of copies, or hundreds at a higher price point, BookBaby doesn’t take a cut, so this pricing model could be better for you. They also offer POD and worldwide distribution, so you wouldn’t need CreateSpace if you wanted to consolidate your publishing partners.

Upfront cost: $299 for ebooks, POD starts at $199, cover design and other formatting services available. More details here.

Royalty per sale: They take zero in royalties. Author keeps 100%.

Payment schedule: Quarterly. More details here.

Distributes to: Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Copia, Gardners Books, Baker & Taylor, eSentral, Scribd, Flipkart, Oyster, Ciando, EBSCO, Vearsa. More details here.

Formats accepted: .doc (Word), epub, PDF.

Formatting services: The $299 cost includes ebook file conversion, formatting of up to 50 graphics, an ebook proof, and quality assurance testing on each ereader. More details here.

Print available: Yes. POD starts at $199, and they distribute to online retailers and bookstores. More details here.

ISBN: Costs $29 to get one through BookBaby, but you can also provide your own.

Preorder distribution: Not for ebooks. For POD books, yes, but you need to get in touch with their customer support team to get it set up.

Ebook pricing changes: You can change your price once every 60 days. Technically you can make more changes, but it takes 1–3 weeks for retail partners to make the adjustments requested.

Reporting: Their author accounting dashboard reports sales as soon as they’re available from retailers, but does not update daily. More details here.

Coupon generator: No.

Customer service: They offer email, phone, and live chat support, and have a comprehensive online Knowledge Base.


Draft2Digital is another option for ebook distribution. It handles the formatting, and you set the price of your books, get monthly payments, and see daily reports of your book sales.

Upfront cost: $0

Royalty per sale: They take 15% royalties. More details here.

Payment schedule: Monthly. More details here.

Distributes to: Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, Tolino, Page Foundry, CreateSpace. Note: You must upload to Amazon KDP yourself.

Formats accepted: .doc (Word), RTF, epub.

Formatting services: Conversion to epub, .mobi, PDF, and paperback included. More details here.

Print available: Yes. They’ll create a single paperback copy of your book for a fee, but there are no POD services.

ISBN: Included for free. They automatically assign an ISBN to your book, but digital stores will continue to show the publisher name you choose.

Preorder distribution: Yes. List your book for sale weeks or months in advance.

Ebook pricing changes: Change your price at any time. Their system also sends you an automated email when your book price changes at each retailer, which is handy.

Reporting: Includes daily sales reporting. Reports updates as soon as they’re available in dynamic, easy-to-read charts.

Coupon generator: No.

Customer service: They offer 24-hour phone and email support, and they have a basic Knowledge Base.

Amazon KDP

Amazon KDP
Amazon KDP lets authors convert and distribute their ebooks for Kindle. You can make changes to your book at any time, and the publishing process is fast — books appear on Amazon within 24 hours. There are two options to publish directly on Amazon: KDP and KDP Select.

KDP: This program allows you to publish your book on Amazon. KDP is non-exclusive, so you can use other retailers as well.

KDP Select: Enrolling a book in KDP Select requires the digital format of that book to be available exclusively through Amazon for at least 90 days. During the period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc. You cannot use another distributor like Smashwords, BookBaby, or Draft2Digital during this time, although you can continue to distribute your book in physical or audio format. However, this program comes with some benefits:

  • If you enroll your book in KDP Select, your ebooks will automatically be available in the Kindle Unlimited program, a subscription program where members can read your book for free. Authors earn royalties on every book borrowed through Kindle Unlimited.
  • KDP Select also offers authors two promotional tools: Kindle Countdown Deals and limited-time free book promotions.

Upfront cost: $0

Royalty per sale: Amazon offers two ebook royalty rates:

  • Author keeps 70% of the list price for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 in certain regions, including the US, UK, and CA.
  • Author keeps 35% of the list price for books priced between $0.99 and $2.98 or over $9.99 in the US. The range for the 35% royalty rate varies by region, but you can find details here. You can learn more about royalties here.

Payment schedule: Every 60 days following the end of the calendar month during which the sales occur. More details here.

Distributes to: Amazon only.

Formats accepted: .doc (Word), PDF, HTML, RTF.

Formatting services: Format yourself, and KDP will convert your book for Kindle. Learn more about Kindle formatting here.

Print available: Not through KDP, but CreateSpace, which is owned by Amazon, integrates very well for POD.

ISBN: An ISBN is not required to publish content with Kindle Direct Publishing. More details here.

Preorder distribution: Yes. Customers can order your book as early as 90 days before your book’s release date. More details here.

Ebook pricing changes: Change your price at any time. More details here.

Reporting: Real-time reporting lets you track orders as they’re placed and track royalties as payments are processed. You’ll also see a graph providing daily order totals to help you discern sales trends for your books.

Coupon generator: No.

Customer service: They only have an online form available, but they have an extremely comprehensive Knowledge Base.

CreateSpace (print only)

CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and makes it easy for indie authors/publishers to print copies of their books without needing to order in bulk. The quality level is high, and CreateSpace now offers the choice between matte and glossy covers. There are two basic levels of CreateSpace distribution:

  • Standard distribution: Your print book will be available at Amazon.com, Amazon Europe, and the CreateSpace eStore.
  • Expanded distribution: In addition to the above, your print book will be available at select bookstores (such as Barnes & Noble) and online retailers, CreateSpace Direct (which includes certified retailers), and libraries and academic institutions. This option requires a CreateSpace ISBN, and you cannot also use IngramSpark POD services if you have this enabled.

However, CreateSpace is not a worldwide distributor for retailers other than Amazon. For worldwide distribution, you’d need to use a combination of CreateSpace Standard Distribution and IngramSpark.

Upfront cost: $0

Royalty per sale: In most cases, CreateSpace takes 40% when you sell on Amazon and 60% for expanded distribution sales. More details here. You can also use their royalty calculator here.

Payment schedule: Monthly.

Distributes to: Amazon (standard distribution).

Formats accepted: .doc (Word), PDF, HTML, RTF.

Formatting services: Do it yourself with their easy-to-use guides and templates, or hire one of their consultants to help. They also have a variety of layout and design services available.

Print available: Yes. CreateSpace is print-only and is meant to be used in conjunction with KDP.

ISBN: Included for free, but you can also provide your own.

Preorder distribution: Yes.

Ebook pricing changes: n/a

Reporting: Via KDP.

Coupon generator: No.

Customer service: Via KDP.

IngramSpark (commonly used for print only)

IngramSpark is an easy-to-use POD platform and online publishing tool that provides access to Ingram’s global distribution network for print and ebook content. It’s a one-stop shop for print and ebook distribution, but has upfront costs and fees in addition to royalties.

The quality of their print books is excellent. Note that if you want to use Ingram in addition to CreateSpace, you must first remove your book from CreateSpace’s expanded services, and then wait up to two weeks until it is removed. Also, if you exclusively use IngramSpark for print distribution, note that authors often report that users who order their print book on Amazon are often subjected to delayed shipping.

Upfront cost: Their prices consist of one-time setup fees and annual distribution costs.

Here are the setup fees according to their website:

IngramSpark Fees

Here are the annual distribution fees:

  • Book and Ebook Market Access: $12.00 per title, per year (if submitted at the same time).
  • Book Market Access: $12.00 per title, per year.
  • Ebook Market Access: $12.00 per title, per year.

Royalty per sale: For ebooks, author keeps 40% of the list price if they use IngramSpark’s entire ebook distribution network, and keeps 45% if they opt out of IngramSpark’s Amazon agreement. For print, you will receive between 45%–70%, minus printing costs. More details here. You can also use their royalty calculator here.

Payment schedule: You’ll receive your first payment within 90 days, and after that all other payments will be monthly. More details here.

Distributes to: See their massive list of online retail partners here. Note that they cannot provide service to Amazon if you’re already signed up to KDP. Also, if you currently have ebook content available on Apple, you will need to remove those ebooks from the iBooks store prior to uploading those same titles to IngramSpark.

Formats accepted: PDF for print, epub for ebooks and a JPG for the ebook cover image.

Formatting services: Conversion to epub from PDF available for 60 cents per page. Page count is based on the source PDF. For example, a 100-page book = 100 x .60 = $60 conversion fee. More details here.

Print available: Yes, and this is the primary benefit of publishing through IngramSpark. They’ve partnered with both huge and independent bookstores, online stores, ebook retailers, local niche retailers, libraries, schools, universities, and just about anyone who sells a book in any format. See the full list of print distribution partners.

ISBN: Requires you use your own. You can obtain an ISBN from Bowker (fees start at $125).

Preorder distribution: Yes.

Ebook pricing changes: Change your price at any time.

Reporting: You will have access to detailed monthly reporting showing retail sales activity.

Coupon generator: No.

Customer service: You can contact them via web form, by phone, and they have comprehensive FAQs page and tutorial videos.

If you want even MORE information (hey, more power to you):

Here are the best reviews and comparisons out there from authors who have dealt with these distributors firsthand:

There are even more options out there, but again, we’re not fans of brain explosions. However, if you use another distributor or aggregator, or use a different combination of the above, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

From: http://bit.ly/2rLEod5

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