Chip MacGregor

September 15, 2014

Ask the Agent: Which e-book publisher should I choose?


I’ve been one of those agents encouraging writers to consider becoming hybrid authors (that is, publishing with traditional publishers, as well as self-publishing some titles). That has brought me this question from several people: Which e-book publishers do I need to consider? 

There are a number of choices for authors who want to indie-publish a book. Everybody tends to immediately think, “I’ll just post it myself on Amazon,” but we’ve seen countless error-filled books done on Amazon, so if you want to take a step forward, there are some options to consider. Of course, you need to know what you want in a publisher. For example, do you want to pay extra for marketing help? Does your non-fiction book need photos or maps in the text? Will you want the capability of adding an audio version of your novel? There are a bunch of choices, so let me suggest some places to consider checking out.

1. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (you’ll find them at This can be a great choice, since it’s quick, easy, and fast. KDP will make sure your book is available on every Kindle and every computer or phone with the Kindle app, it allows you to be part of their unlimited lending program, and has some special features such as their “countdown” deal and their free book program. KDP pays you a royalty of 35% of the list price on most sales, with the opportunity of a 70% royalty if you follow some pricing guidelines. They pay monthly, and can do direct deposits. It’s a great way to go for many authors… but the big drawback is that they will have some Amazon-only restrictions. That means people who don’t own a Kindle won’t even be seeing your book. Still, KDP is great for reaching the Kindle crowd, which is roughly 60% of all ebook readers.

2. Smashwords ( This is who we almost always recommend to authors who want to reach beyond Amazon. Kindle is great, but Smashwords will get you into the iBookstore (for readers with iPads), the Nook bookstore (for Barnes & Noble devotees), the Kobo bookstore (which works with indie bookstores in this country, but is a big deal overseas), and Scribd. So instead of having to upload your titles to every company independently, Smashwords takes care of all the non-Amazon e-tailers, and converts your text into the various formats you’ll need. They also have nice extras such as free marketing help, and they’ll even suggest who can help you with the required formatting. They pay 70%, will send you checks quarterly, and we’ve never had a problem with the accounting at Smashwords. This is a company we trust, and if you do both Smashwords and self-publish a book on Amazon, you’re reaching all the major markets.

3. BookBaby ( This is a fast-growing company that makes it easy for authors. They offer three packages, charge you a flat fee, and take care of everything — formatting, distributing to all the e-tailers, and even helping with marketing. They have some great extra features (like an author bookstore page, or good cover design assistance) that cost more, but the authors I’ve spoken with have been very happy with their experiences at BookBaby. This is more of a one-stop shopping — so while posting your book on Amazon is free, the convenience of using BookBaby will cost you, but it might be worth it to you. They pay 85% of net. BookBaby isn’t as fast as the others, but they have good customer service, and offer some really nice extra features (that you’ll have to pay for, of course). We think they’re a good option for the right authors.

4. Kobo’s Writing Life ( This one might be new to you, but I mention it because it’s huge in other countries. Kobo currently says they are the world’s second-largest e-bookstore, and that they’re doing book in nearly 70 languages, reaching into almost 200 countries (that’s from their website, so I’m taking their word for it). I’ve known authors who have worked with them, and they rave about how easy it is — you upload a file, Kobo converts it, they pay you 70%, and they’re now starting to offer some marketing helps. But the big news is that they’re working closely with ABA bookstores, which means all those indie bookstores will be helping you to sell your titles. This is one of those companies you might be overlooking, so make sure to check them out.

There are certainly others. Apple has iBook Author (which people have complained is cumbersome to use, but can be great for children’s books, cookbooks, and projects with a lot of photos), NookPress (which replaced PubIt, and is easy to use, but only for those who own the floundering Nook), Vook (which can work with all the e-tailers, but works on a different economic model than the others), eBookIt (the competitor to BookBaby in terms of being a one-stop shop), and BookTango, iUniverse, Trafford, and Lulu, who are all owned or in partnership with the folks at AuthorSolutions. To anyone looking at an AuthorSolutions company, I always say, “Do your research.” There are good programs and bad programs, but understand that AuthorSolutions is too often accused of being there to sell services to you, as the author, not to necessarily sell books to consumers. 

My question to you: Which of these have you worked with, and what are your impressions?  Leave a note in the “comments” section for who you liked and why (or who you didn’t, and why not).

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  • Strawberry River Academy says:

    As a pastor and theologian I am not skilled to understand all the options in self-publishing, still less to make comparisons or evaluations. However, I do want to say that I have been greatly pleased with the labors of my good friends at Redemption Press, who have now gotten three of my (big, complicated) books back into print, both in hard copy and e-book format. They are trustworthy, competent, and attentive professionals, who have completed the job quickly and attractively, at a very reasonable price, and always with a human touch. May their tribe increase!

  • I’m dipping my toes into the idea of hybrid publishing. My first indie-published book “A Side of Faith” came out last month. I published it through KDP (I did NOT do select though so, while not eligible for the “free” download promos, etc, I can list other places, too) on Kobo, nookpress, and draft2digital for ibooks and a few other places it didn’t feel “worth” posting to individually.

    I also used createspace to offer a paperback. About 10% of my sales so far (maybe a little more) were paperback, so I’m glad I did that too. It cost me very little extra to offer it, although I make more on the ebook so that’s what I push in my marketing.

    Still pursuing traditional publishing though (My first book came out with Abingdon in 2012) but I viewed indie-publishing as a good way to get my name to stay out there and continue to build a platform while my agent works on selling my next book. It’s been an interesting journey, that’s for sure!! I’ve learned a LOT!!!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Glad to hear it, Krista. And thanks for mentioning CreateSpace (the side of Amazon publishing that allows you to offer a print version of your book). Not everybody wants your book delivered digitally, so having a print version helps you sell more books and make more money.

  • LisaGraceBooks says:

    I’ve self published eleven books so far, but I wouldn’t consider Smashwords, KDP, or any of the others mentioned as “publishers” (they don’t pay royalties, but rather take a cut for distributing your book) but distributors.
    Some other distributors to keep in mind are: All Romance, Google Play, and Drive Thru.
    Plus, audio books through (audible) present another avenue of income for writers.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Both Audible and Acx have helped many indie authors generate extra income, LisaGrace. Appreciate the comment. And GooglePlay seems like the one company that is growing but under the radar (if it’s possible to say anything about Google is actual under-reported). However, I think you’re splitting hairs with your difference between “publishers” and “distributors.” Smashwords and Amazon both make your book available, sell it, retain a portion, and send you the balance. Yes, that’s a combination publisher & distributor role, but it’s commonly understood that’s part of the new system we have. (Using that logic, it’s hard to say that Hachette is a “publisher,” I guess, since they don’t actually print the books any more, for example.)

  • Gary Neal Hansen says:

    I’ve not worked with any of them but have looked into IngramSpark, which can put the book into both paper and ebook formats, and for a small fee make it available on Amazon and many other outlets globally. It looks impressive, and I’d love to hear of someone’s actual experience with them.

    I know the Kindle Select program discussed here requires that one use only Kindle for ebook distribution — but can one use it for a period of time and then change the status of the book to keep it on Kindle and place it elsewhere through SmashWords or another service?

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I know of several authors who have tried the Ingram and other distributor programs, Gary. I haven’t found many to be satisfied, since those companies don’t seem to offer the support or marketing opportunities the etailers do — but that could be changing as companies become more savvy. Anyone here used IngramSpark and want to comment?

  • Ron Estrada says:

    My first won’t go up until November, but I may start with KDP select, then go with Kobo, B&N, and Apple. I’m thinking Apple sales may improve with the new phones that include an e-reader. In the meantime, I’m hoping to go traditional with my YA, which I’ve just completed, and my middle grade, which will be finished by year’s end.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yeah, I think a number of indie authors go this route, Ron — start with Amazon, then branch out.

  • These sound like great options. I’d like to offer advice for anyone looking at a publisher of any kind. Google the name of that publisher along with the words “lawsuit” or “complaint.” I’ve had friends get involved with less than ethical publishers. If they had done their research beforehand they might have saved time and money.
    Glad to see a list like this of options with a summary of what each has to offer. Like the music industry, barriers between the artist and the audience are dropping.

  • Nick Kording says:

    Great info. I’ve done Amazon with my studies but through Create Space, not digital yet. I wonder what you think about digital for studies? I like paper but digital seems to be the future for books (I’ll personally continue to read both paper and digital).

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Digital is certainly the future for studies, Nick. There are several companies working with publishers now to create interactive studies for students, small groups, business teams, etc.

  • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

    I want to sing the praises of Draft2Digital. It is SO EASY!! Anyone who can put page breaks between chapters can upload to D2D and make an ebook. They distribute to Kobo, Nook, iTunes, Scribd, and even have an agreement with CreateSpace. They’re working on one with Google Play.

    I started with D2D as my first upload so I could have preorder links to build buzz. I really can’t say enough about how easy their portal is to use. It’s easier than KDP, and makes Smashwords look so outdated it’s ridiculous.

    With the extra Kindle features you mentioned, writers just getting started need to be aware every one of those features REQUIRES enrollment in KDP Select, which means you can’t sell the ebook anywhere else. I refuse to enroll in Select, because I refuse to give Amazon total control of my author income. Not to mention the indie money pool related to the Select lending library and the new Kindle Unlimited stuff raises red flags for me. I don’t like the terms.

    The big thing, IMO, that Smashwords has going for it right now is the distribution agreement with Overdrive. That’s one of two reasons I’m doing Smashwords. The other reason is my romance sub-genre has a large presence there.

    I also chose to upload and sell in the Play store, because I’m one of those consumers who does a significant amount of my digital product shopping in the Play store. Around 60% of the ebooks I buy are bought there, and all of my digital music is bought there. It takes more tinkering and computer knowledge to successfully upload there, but I still think it’s easier than formatting for Smashwords. My genre is also not well represented in the Play store, so I’m getting in at the beginning there.

    • jillmariewilliamson says:

      I used Draft2Digital too, to get my books in iTunes.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks very much for this, Rachel. I’ve not used Draft2Digital, so it’s good to hear about them. And yes, if you want to be involved in those extra features with Amazon, you have to be with KDP Select, and that means you are ONLY on Amazon. Appreciate you pointing that out to everyone.

  • Sandra Glahn says:

    I’ve done books with Lulu, Smashwords, and Amazon. Lulu had the best tutorial support. For non-artists like me, that really helped with my first ebook, because I could watch a video of steps for formatting and uploading rather than reading words that used terms I did not comprehend. Smashwords gets me into more places than Amazon, as you mentioned. But payment quarterly is not as great as monthly…which is what Amazon does. And Amazon seems to have also gone after foreign markets aggressively, so I get separate payments for foreign sales. I seem to make more money on Amazon, even though they are in fewer places than Smashwords.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Sandi. Amazon does go after foreign markets more than any of the other companies, and they pay monthly. Lots of positives. They just don’t hit a chunk of the market. Nice of you to share your experiences with us.

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