To prepare for uploading my debut novel to the major retailers, I did a lot of research on what, who, where, how, and why in order to prepare for actually uploading the book. I was still not prepared.
First, I had trouble finding detailed information. Most of my searches returned very high level, general advice that didn’t get into step-by-step instructions.
I compiled the information in this post from both my research and my firsthand experience.
Clarifications and Qualifications
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s remind ourselves of some terminology and logistics.
Exclusive versus Wide
For ebooks, self-published authors have two distinct paths: KU or Wide.
- KU stands for Kindle Unlimited and refers to Amazon’s KDP Select program where your ebooks are published exclusively with Amazon and nowhere else.
- Going wide refers to selling your ebooks everywhere you can with no exclusivity.
These rules only apply to ebooks and not print books. (See this related article for a more detailed explanation.)
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is a unique identifier for a particular format or edition of a book. Ebooks, paperbacks, hardbacks, and audiobooks all get different ISBNs, as well as second (third, fourth, etc.) editions, large print editions, and books with new covers or titles. (This is the short version of the rules. There are more.)
You may purchase your own ISBNs through your country’s ISBN provider or use a free one from your retailer, if they offer it. Since ISBNs can be quite pricey, this is an inexpensive option. However, there are some things to consider:
- Whomever owns the ISBN shows as the publisher of your book. If you want your imprint/company to publish your book, you can’t use Amazon’s ISBN.
- I read somewhere that reviews are tied to the ISBN number. If you decide to move from KU to Wide and you get a new ISBN to do that, you could lose your original reviews. (I feel like more research is needed on this, but it’s something to consider.)
- I am U.S. based.
- I am publishing wide (not in KU).
- I am using my own ISBN numbers.
There are five big retailers and two big aggregators I’m addressing in this article. (Understand that there are more out there, but these are the ones that most self-published authors talk about.)
Aggregators are companies who provide a service to push your book out to these retailers. They can also offer services to retailers such as print-on-demand. It’s important to know who does what, so you’re not paying for something you could have done yourself via a different route.
The big five retailers are:
- Amazon KDP (ebooks and paperback)
- Apple Books (ebooks)
- Barnes & Noble (ebooks and print)
- Google Play (ebooks)
- Kobo (ebooks)
The two main aggregators (also referred to as distributors sometimes) are:
- Draft2Digital (ebook and paperback)
- IngramSpark (all the books)
The major difference I see when talking about publishing directly versus using an aggregator concerns your time and effort. You can manage five different dashboards in five different accounts and track your revenues from these disparate dashboards. Or you can pay an aggregator (they take a cut in terms of percentage of sales) to have it all in one place. You must decide what your time is worth.
Tips I’ve Read
I’ve read (and heard in a podcast) that several indie authors don’t publish directly with Apple, but go through Draft2Digital to publish with them because:
- You have easier access to Apple’s promotions using D2D than if you were direct with them.
- Some authors are wary of having to use their personal Apple ID to publish with. (Although when reading the site documents, it looked like you could set up a separate ID for your author business, so this one may be a fallacy.)
One of the main reasons people use aggregators is to have all of their assets and sales in one place. But I have stumbled across a tool that can pull that sales info for you. ScribeCount uses a browser extension that gathers the sales data from all of your accounts on the different platforms and produces a combined report. Basically, all your sales information is in one place.
While it is a paid service, the amount they charge is based on the amount you make. The monthly charge goes up as you earn more, with a max at $20 per month.
(05-Oct-22 Edit: As of October 2022, ScribeCount eliminated their free tier.)
My Experience in Setting Up My Accounts
My first piece of advice is to set up your accounts with the retailers and distributors as early as possible because they have verification processes in place that take time to perform. Aside from verification, technical issues can occur (I’m looking at you, Barnes & Noble) and they aren’t always resolved in a timely manner. So give yourself plenty of time before your publication date to have all this in order.
They all pretty much require the same information, but differ in how they collect it. Information you need to have on hand when setting up your accounts includes:
- Your name (whether it’s just you or it’s your company, they want someone to contact)
- Your contact information (address and phone number)
- Your tax information.
- This one is where things differ depending on which distributor you are setting up with. The little help buttons (question marks) on each field were invaluable to figuring out exactly WHAT information the retailer was asking for.
- One retailer let me use my company’s tax ID (EIN), but another forced me to use my SSN. They flat out said that my single member LLC was an individual, and that was that.
- Your bank account information (routing and account numbers)
Most of these went pretty smoothly. Some had a few extra verification steps before finalizing the account set up.
- Google Play requires verification of your bank account in their process.
- To use Google Play, you need a Gmail account or an account linked to G-suite.
- Barnes & Noble requires verification of your Vendor status, which includes emailing them a W9 form.
Pro Tip: When filling in the blanks, use the help (?) buttons above each field to see exactly what information they want. You don’t have to guess… they do a good job explaining what they’re looking for.
FYI, KDP and D2D completed my account set up and had them ready to go much quicker than the others. Kobo took a couple of days and Google Play took three to four.
Terms of Service
Another pro tip: When setting your accounts, save a copy of the Terms of Service contracts that pop up for you to review. It goes without saying that you should read and save any contract that you’re agreeing to or signing. But an additional reason to save them is that they include detailed payment information such as royalty percentages, territories excluded from the higher royalties, and how often the retailer pays royalties.
Overall, uploading the books was pretty easy. KDP has extensive help available that walks you through each step, which is why I recommend uploading with them first. Once you go through their process, the other retailers are really just “rinse and repeat” with a few slight differences.
Before You Begin
You’ll need this information before you register or upload your book anywhere.
- BISAC codes
- This is a standard list of subjects (genres) used on all the sites, often labeled as categories. You can look up the list of codes here. While you don’t really need the actual code (the sites let you click through the dropdown to get to the category), you should review them ahead of time so you’re familiar.
- ISBN number for each format (ebook, paperback, etc.)
- Title, Subtitle, and Edition of the book
- Series and series number (Is this book 1 or book 5 in the series?)
- This is the Author. Unless you have a co-author or illustrator, it’s usually only you.
- Book Description
- This is your blurb. It’s what users will see listed with the book in the stores.
- This one took me by surprise. I thought (especially on KDP) I’d be entering the Amazon categories, but it simply prompted me to find my BISAC category using the dropdown list.
- Note: This changed in 2023. KDP has changed this and now gives you the option of selecting Amazon categories.
- Age / Grade
- Cover Image(s) (You need different images for ebooks versus print books.)
- Publisher (This is your name or your imprint’s name.)
Tip: Copy and paste this information wherever you can. The key is consistency. You want the information about your book to be exactly the same on all platforms, not to mention error free.
Register Your ISBN
If you intend to use your own ISBN, the first thing you must do is to register your ISBN. In the US, you buy your ISBNs through Bowker and manage them through MyIdentifiers.com.
David Wogahn has an excellent book entitled Register Your Book: The Essential Guide to ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright, and LCCNs. It’s chocked full of excellent, detailed information. Here’s how he sums up the registration process for ISBNs:
- Assign the ISBN.
- Add it to the Copyright page of your book.
- Finish Registering your ISBN when you have the rest of your book info (blurb, genre, sales information, cover image, etc.).
Wogahn recommends this process because the ISBN registrar feeds book databases around the world, and not all of them allow edits later. Because of this, he recommends waiting until you have all the information handy before fully submitting.
Note that once you have clicked Submit to register your book, it takes some time to validate and accept. Build that into your timeline as well.
Tips from Other Authors
When I queried other authors about what to fill in for the ISBN registration, the consensus was to leave the pricing information blank. Several authors also stated they only fill in the required fields.
I split the difference and filled in the information I thought wouldn’t change. (Do your own research on this. Your decision may differ from mine.)
Order of Upload
When I asked about the order of upload, there were different strategies from the authors who answered. There didn’t seem to be a preference for ebooks, but there were definitely opinions on print books. Here’s some solid advice I got from Erin Wright’s video in the Wide for the Win Facebook Group specifically for print books.
For those who already own the ISBN, live in the US, are uploading to Amazon, IngramSpark, and BN, and have not yet uploaded, do your print books in this order:
- Publish on Amazon first using your Bowker ISBN and do NOT choose Expanded Distribution.
- Publish on IngramSpark using the same Bowker ISBN. (Amazon will block this ISBN from IngramSpark and avoid duplicates.)
- Publish on Barnes & Noble using B&N’s free ISBN, but answer “yes” when asked if you have published with a different ISBN and enter the Bowker ISBN when prompted. This avoids conflicts.
Once you’ve set up your account, you can upload your ebook. The retailer will have a button to create or add a book on the dashboard.
Follow the prompts and fill in the information for your book. Again, use those help (?) buttons to verify you’re entering the information expected.
Notes Specific to ebooks
- You can set the ebook up for pre-order. A lot of authors do this so they can use the pre-order link in their marketing copy prior to the go live date.
- Make sure you enter the ISBN assigned to the ebook!
- DRM (digital rights management)
- Most of the advice I’ve seen says don’t bother. The crooks will get it if they want it, and the only ones who suffer are your readers.
- Always use the Previewer (if one’s available) to make sure everything looks okay before saving.
- On Amazon KDP, do NOT click the button for KDP Select. (This is where you choose to go exclusive or not.) Leave it unchecked to go wide.
- Set your pricing according to the market.
- Popular advice from experienced authors: Most of the retailers will calculate the price for the territories you’ve selected. You should adjust these calculated prices to end in either .49 or .99. (It looks more professional and meets reader expectations.)
One unexpected feature was that once you entered the ebook details, retailers pre-populated that information for the print edition. (On the ISBN site, click the “Clone” button to kick off this process.)
There are, however, some additional fields you need to complete for the print edition. (Don’t forget to use those help (?) buttons if you’re unsure.)
Notes Specific to Print Books
- Make sure you enter the ISBN assigned to the paperback book!
- Select the print options like paper type, trim size, cover finish, etc.
- The manuscript upload for the print book is a PDF file.
- The book cover for a print book is a cover wrap. It includes the front cover, the spine, and the back cover.
- D2D has a cool new tool coming out that will create this for you from your ebook cover. D2D demonstrated the feature at a recent conference and it sounds very promising.
- Book Preview: Always use the Previewer to see how the book looks.
- On Amazon KDP, do NOT check Expanded Distribution. This keeps the print book in the Amazon universe and lets you use your aggregator to distribute your book to other retailers, which cuts down on duplicate listings.
- Always request proofs of your book so you can review for printing errors. They should only cost the cost to print, plus shipping and taxes.
There are two different verification processes the retailers perform on your uploaded book. The first is a technical verification. This occurs relatively quickly and is confirming some basics like format, correct file type and size, inclusion of images, etc. The second is a more thorough review that makes sure the book meets all the guidelines of the retailer.
These verification processes vary by retailer. Some complete both processes in a day or two and others take days. Kobo states on its site that it will take up to seventy-two hours to verify and Google Play told me it could take up to seven days. Another author said they told her up to fourteen days.
Either way, build time into your launch schedule to accommodate the verification process.
Whew! Okay, that was a long post, but I hoped it helped with some details.
In summary, here’s the overview of what we discussed:
- Open your accounts early at the retailers so they don’t interfere with your publication date.
- Gather your book details in one place before uploading it anywhere.
- Register your ISBN (if you’re using your own) before uploading anywhere.
- Plan the order of your upload process as doing certain things first (ebook before print book) will make things easier.
- Copy and paste your book details to avoid errors and maintain consistency.
- Upload your files (book interior and cover image).
- Use the help (?) buttons. They’re very informative.
Also, here’s a recap of the steps that can take more time than you planned:
- Verification of your account information on each retailer. (Set them up early! Some take longer than others.)
- Registering your ISBN. (This took about a day to change from “Pending” to “Assigned” for me.)
- Verification process for your book (both ebooks and print books). You also want to leave yourself time to correct any errors discovered during this process.
- For print books, if you want to upload in a specific order, you’ll need to plan a sequential upload process. I.e., one must finish before you upload the next. That also adds to your timeline.
Have you run across anything else that surprised you or delayed your launch when uploading? Please share in the comments below.
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