Sounds so straightforward, but 'formatting the manuscript' means putting it into doc, docx, html, pdf or epub format, creating a cover image and sections for the title, copyright, blurb, contents, acknowledgement pages, etc. The specific formats vary widely and depend upon the channel's requirements.
You also need to choose one or several pathways to reach the widest possible market, based upon what it's going to cost you in time and money, what parts you want to do yourself, and what you'd prefer others to deal with.
So what sort of channels are out there? Some are exclusive, some are non-exclusive. Some only format ebooks and distribute them to other online bookshops, others have their own bookshop. Almost all charge a small commission on each book sold, others want an upfront fee, and some want both. They all offer different levels of service.
The tables below cover ebook distribution, fees charged, manuscript file formats, and aspects of individual services. (See the Formats page for explanations of the file formats, and the Details page for how and when author payments are made, cover sizes and files, tax forms, ISBNs and Digital Rights Management.)
Note, the tables below consider only the four most prominent channels in each group, but new ones are coming along all the time. So let's bring some order to the chaos, dividing the channels into three major groups and then we'll consider potential strategies you might follow:
|Channel||Kindle Direct Publishing||iBooks Author||Nook Press||Kobo Writing Life|
|ebook Market Share*||74%||12%||8%||4%|
|Distributes to||Amazon||Apple||Barnes & Noble||Kobo||Usage fee||free||free||free||free|
|Fee on sales||30% on books $2.99-$9.99, rest 65%||30%||35% on books $2.99-$9.99, rest 60%||30%|
|Updates, changes||Self, for free||Self, for free||Self, for free||Self, for free|
|Formats in||html files||doc, epub via Author app (Apple only)||doc, docx, txt, epub, html||doc, docx, mobi, odt|
|Formats out||mobi||epub, ibooks||epub||epub|
|Extra Services||Print via Createspace, cover creator||App templates, widgets|
|Comments||Manuscript must be in html. Good help info, easy sign-up.||iBooks app only for Apple. Limited pre sign-up info.||Not available to Australian epubbers!||Limited pre sign-up info.|
* See AuthorEarnings.com
Three-quarters of ebook sales are made through Amazon, while Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play (2%) sell the rest. (Google Play is not covered here because it closed its services to new authors in May 2015.) Basically the Big Four – or the Big One and the Lesser Three – are the routes to market all epubbers needs to take. But dealing with retailers separately is hard work, so a niche has developed for the distributors.
|Distribute to||Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Google||iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Scribd etc.||iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Scribd etc.||Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Google|
|Sales fee||retailer + 0%||retailer + 10%||retailer + 10%||retailer + 0%|
|Updates, changes||Self, for free||Self, for free||Self, for free||Self free, packages extra|
|Formats in||docx, epub||doc, docx, epub||doc, rtf, epub||doc, docx, rtf, epub|
|Formats out||epub, mobi||epub, mobi, pdf||epub, mobi, pdf etc.||epub, mobi|
|Distribute time||Hours to days||Hours to days||Hours to days||Hours to days|
|Extra Services||Marketing data||Print option through Createspace||Bookshop||Bookshop, online editor, cover design|
|Comments||Good marketing info, easy formatting.||Easy formatting, limited pre sign-up info.||Extensive help guides.||Free service limited, pushes paid packages.|
Note the big difference between Pronoun/Booktango and Smashwords/D2D: the former distribute to Amazon but the latter do not, so for them you need to submit to Amazon separately to cover the Big Four. This is not necessarily a major drawback once you understand the requirements, and working with Amazon directly may provide other options.
Booktango, like Lulu, is a hybrid, offering DIY and package distribution. It is an older service from Author Solutions, with limitations on image uploads, no free author copies of a converted book, no BYO ISBN option, and out of date tax information, see Details page.
Lulu, like Booktango, is part DIY and part package distributor, tending more towards
package. It has outdated policies and won't provide Amazon or Kobo formats for
|Distribute to||Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, etc.||Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, etc.||Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, etc.||Amazon*, iBooks*, B&N, Kobo, etc.|
|Sales fee||retailer + 10%||retailer + 15%||retailer + 0%||retailer + 30%|
|Updates, changes||Self free, packages extra||They do changes or updates at $49 per hour||$100 resubmit, $50 for 1-10 changes||Revision fee $25|
|Formats in||doc, docx, rtf, odt||doc, docx, rtf, epub||doc, docx, pdf||epub|
|Formats out||epub, mobi||epub, mobi||epub, mobi||epub, mobi|
|Distribute time||Days to weeks||Days to weeks||Days to weeks||Days to weeks|
|Extra Services||Bookshop, cover wizard, print on demand||Bookshop, audiobooks, print on demand||Bookshop, print books, print on demand||Print books, print on demand|
|Comments||Won't do Amazon Kindle or Kobo formats for Australia.||No free service. Disorganised help system.||No free service. Limited pre sign-up info.||*Distribution limited. No free service. Limited pre sign-up info.|
There's no one-way-fits-all method of epubbing and the first time around will be hard whichever way you do it; there are so many new concepts. After that it's much easier. Here are some strategies you can follow, keeping in mind you can always choose another next time.
|Strategy||1. The Big One
KDP Select only. Can't use other retailers but get Kindle Unlimited benefits*.
|2. The Big Four
Work directly with all four exclusive retailers only.
|Channel||Kindle Direct Publishing||KDP, iBooks, Nook & Kobo|
|Pros||Single format, no distributor cuts.||Covers retail marketplace, no distributor cuts.|
|Cons||Miss 25% of potential sales with other retailers.||Four formats, four times the effort, four dashboards.|
|Strategy||3. Single Formatter
Format manuscript once, submit to all retailers at once.
|4. Double Formatter
Format for Amazon, format again for the rest, submit to all at once.
|Channel||Pronoun or Booktango||Smashwords or Draft2Digital|
|Pros||Single format, lowest cuts, pay retailer only. Pronoun easier.||Draft2Digital simpler, but lots of good info with Smashwords.|
|Cons||Booktango has limitations.||Two formats. Higher distributor cut, but still modest cost.|
|Strategy||5. Creative Luddite |
Do some yourself, but use packages for the rest.
|6. Total Luddite |
Get someone else to do it all.
|Channel||Lulu or eBookIT||BookBaby or IngramSpark|
|Pros||More support, less work.||Full support, minimal work.|
|Cons||High costs, unlikely to recoup through ebook sales.||Highest costs, extremely unlikely to recoup through sales.|
Choosing an epublishing channel is just one step. You also need know more about the various formats different channels prefer, requirements for cover images, and how the financials work, especially the tax situation for authors outside the US, see the Details page. But the next important step is understanding the formats you'll be asked to work in or convert your work to. Again, it's only hard the first time around. Go to 4. Formats.