A Discussion on Publishing Platforms

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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The internet changed the ways in which we communicate with one another and opened up many avenues to publishing for unknown authors with rapid speed. And the publishing industry is continuing to transform on a daily basis, with many publishing platforms offering more and more publishing options for authors. But how do we keep up with this rapidly changing industry? How do we know which publishing platforms are right for us? And which route is the best one for individual authors?

Today on Ask the Authors, our author panel is discussing publishing options and the various publishing platforms available. Our panel members this week include DeAnna Knippling, RA Winter, Mark Shaw, Tom Johnson, Ashley Fontainne, Cynthia Vespia, Lilly Rayman, Jordan Elizabeth, Amy Cecil, and Margareth Stewart. Let’s thank them for their willingness to share and see what we can learn from their experiences.

Are you published independently, traditionally, by small press or some combination?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I am an indie with one small press title under my name and several under ghostwritten names.
RA Winter
RA Winter I’m published by a large publisher but it’s for my genealogy books under my married name.  For my fiction works I’ve chosen independent.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Traditionally as always.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture By small and large press, plus now mostly self-published.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Combination. All of my titles are independently published except one with HarperCollinsUK.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’m currently focusing on indie publishing.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’m independently published; however, I do work with an independent publishing company for some anthology stories.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I’m published by four small presses – Curiosity Quills, CHBB, Clean Reads, and Ellysian.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Independently


What factors influenced your decision to publish via the route you chose?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I got jealous of a writer I knew who was going indie, honestly. I felt like I was spinning my wheels with traditional publishing. I had just gotten a letter back from a publisher going, “Great book, but we need you to completely rewrite it and change the focus from one character to this other guy.” I couldn’t do it.  I had researched the market for this book and written something that I wouldn’t have otherwise written to see if I could get a foot in the door. (I know now that that’s a bad idea; you can get stuck writing books you hate that way.) And then, after I had jumped through those hoops, they wanted something else, but they weren’t going to pay me for it until after I’d already written it, and even then who knew if they would buy the thing. I just couldn’t force myself to jump through that hoop again. So I let it go, started writing what I wanted to write, and went indie.
I’m not saying that it’s the best thing ever or that I would never change my mind. It’s just that I had to go with the choices that let me stay in love with writing.
RA Winter
RA Winter When I signed to a publisher I didn’t read the small print. Ok, I didn’t see the decimal. I get a very small pittance for each book I sell and the amount hasn’t gone up in about twelve years even though my non-fiction books sell for ten dollars more than when they were first published.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Same publisher as The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, Post Hill Press with distribution by Simon&Schuster.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve only remained with one publisher through the years, all the rest of my books are being self-published. Personally, I am not a conformist. I go my own way, and write what I want, not what publishers want me to write, and that’s the main reason I self publish today. The publisher I have kept allows me to write what I want, and royalties are good. They have my print editions while I have the rights to my eBook editions.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne It was quite an honor to have a novel picked up by such a prestigious publishing house and something I will never forget. However, I do enjoy the independent route since it allows me more creative freedom and control. I love the entire artistic process from crafting the story to designing the cover and preparing the interior files.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I was previously published by small press houses and I found they didn’t do much more for me than I could do for myself. I may revisit traditional publishing in the future.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Impatience, lol. I wanted to share my first novel, and I didn’t want to wait for finding a traditional publisher. I like the control I have over my own work, and the flexibility I have to meet my own deadlines and move them as I need to by publishing for myself.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I don’t want to knock self-publishing, and in many ways I envy self-published authors for the freedom they have, but my dream was always to be published by a publisher.  Self-publishing just doesn’t feel right to me, but I know it works for many people.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I felt it gave me more control.


What do you see as the pros and cons of independent/traditional publishing?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak
Indie Publishing:
  • You get to decide all the things.
  • You have to decide all the things.
  • You’re less likely to get into bookstores and libraries.
Traditional Big Publishing:
  • Sanity checks.
  • Questionable people performing your sanity checks.
  • If you’re not already a bestseller, they aren’t going to do a lot for promoting your book, as far as I can tell.  They open a lot of doors, but they aren’t going to escort you through them.
I think small press publishing needs its own category:
  • DO YOUR RESEARCH.
  • The worst horror stories I hear are actually from the small press category.
  • Some will do you better than a big, traditional publisher; some will run off with your money and your rights!

RA Winter

RA Winter  Traditional publishers take a large bite out of your profits. On the plus side, if you sign with a big house, they do the marketing for you and can get your books into stores easily.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Traditional much better with promotion and distribution depending on publisher. Traditional self-publishing can make sense tougher way to go.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Naturally, you have more control over your material with independent publishers because you can fight for your control. Traditional publishers will take the control away from you. Many of my friends have gone the independent route, while some keep both.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy

Pros of indie: Freedom/Total Control

Cons of indie: You basically have to be marketing 24/7

Pros of traditional: A fraction of the load is taken off of your shoulders

Cons of traditional: It’s very hard to get past the gatekeepers and alot of them aren’t willing to take a risk on a new voice.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I guess I’ve already answered the main pro of being an independently published author, I can set my own deadlines and I have full control over my own works and can make my own choices.

I think a traditional publisher most likely offers authors the benefit of their experience and can help a new author to navigate the ins and outs of publishing.

The independent community, however, is a fantastic place, and if you get involved in writer groups, and interact with other authors, they can all help you and provide you with advice. I have a great network of other independent authors, editors and publishers around me, and they all help me when I need advice.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Well, definitely as an independent I can publish what I want when I want. No deadlines except those I set for myself.  I think the only downfall to that is marketing and promotion. A traditional publisher would have the resources available to offer a good marketing program


I’ve been a reader all of my life. I used to read by flashlight with my covers over my head on school nights, so my mom wouldn’t know I was up past my bedtime. Those were the days when a book was a book with a front and back cover and actual pages in between.

Today, there are many forms of reading. Although I still love the feel of a print book in my hands, I must admit that my Kindle Fire has made digital books convenient, and I now read books more in digital format than I ever did in print. Now days you can even read a digital book on your phone, I think. Also, the audio book is fast becoming popular, which I can see the advantages of because I have a long commute which takes up valuable time which could be spent in what I consider to be more productive endeavors. For me, audio books might be a valuable multi-tasking device.

As an author, it only makes sense to publish my work in as many different formats as I can manage, because different readers have different reading method preferences. I was thankful that my publisher put out Delilah in both digital and print formats, and they were looking at audio, but had trouble finding the right narrator. If I had published independently, I think I would consider doing my own narration. I recently had some experience in making audio readings that turned out quite well, but it isn’t my decision, since I agreed in my contract to leave those things in the publisher’s hands. 

Those are my thoughts on the matter, but let’s see what our panel members have to say.

Which formats are your books available in? (i.e. ebook/print/audio) Which file formats for eBooks do you provide?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I’m in ebook and print. I’m going to test out an audio version next year (goals!). I have .epub, .mobi/Kindle, and PDF files for my ebooks.
RA Winter

RA Winter So for I use Kindle and print. I’ll be going wide soon.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) New book Denial of Justice, hardcover, ebook, audiobook, large print.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Most of my books are both in print and eBooks.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Print, ebook and audio. I prepare both epub and mobi versions of my books to file electronically across several platforms.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I currently have both print and ebooks available with eyes on doing audio in the near future. It’s always best to have all your bases covered.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My books are all available in eBook, and my larger works, are also available in print. I use Instafreebie to help distribute outside of sales platforms for the purposes of giveaways or ARCs.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan All of my books, save one, are available in print and ebook. The other is only available in ebook as of right now.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Ebooks and print.


Which publishing platforms have you used? (i.e. Amazon, Book Baby, Smashwords, Lulu, D2D, etc…)
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Let’s see…
Ebook
  • Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing (initially).
  • Smashwords (initially).
  • Nook Press (initially).  This turned into B&N Press.
  • Kobo (added after the first three).
  • Draft2Digital (added after Kobo).  I initially added this only so I could get into iBooks, because I don’t have an Apple computer for direct uploads.
  • Stopped using B&N Press due to site issues (they were down and they were always slow), moved B&N access to D2D for convenience.
  • Moved all Smashwords channels available on D2D to D2D, because Smashwords payments are slower and I like the D2D interface better.
  • In process of moving titles from direct Kobo access to D2D, because I’m not making as many Kobo sales and it’s One More Thing that I don’t want to deal with for release prep.
I have a few titles in KDP Select to see how they’ll sell. I have one that’s doing really well, so I’ll probably leave that one alone.
Print
  • Initially used Lulu for print.
  • Moved to CreateSpace for better sales.
  • Now CreateSpace has folded into Kindle Direct Publishing.
  • I want to add IngramSpark soon, so I can get better distribution.  I can’t blame bookstores at all for not wanting to order from CreateSpace.  CS doesn’t take returns, and even if they did, Amazon has been hell on bookstores for a variety of reasons.

RA Winter

RA Winter Smashwords and Amazon.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Amazon and Lulu.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Amazon, D2D and ACX. I have used Ingram for a few titles but found their website too frustrating to navigate.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Amazon; Smashwords; BarnesandNoble.com

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I have used Amazon for my eBook distributions, and for my print books, I use Ingram Spark. I also use Smashwords for wide eBook distribution of my permafree – Smashwords makes it easy to set books available for free.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan  The majority of my works are on Amazon. I also have paperbacks on Barnes and Noble.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Mainly Amazon. I did try B&N, Kobo and iTunes for a while and it was a waste of time.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I have used Lulu and Smashwords and they work perfect for me. I have had a wonderful experience with Lulu.com. This is the fourth time I am publishing an Anthology with them and both the Ebook and printed versions have great quality. The platform is easy to navigate and they offer free download template for book editing. Besides, they ship worldwide and we can choose from different mailing options. On top of all that, I can share the Ebook version for free and that has been just what I needed for the Anthologies. As they are collaborative editions, they are free for download and only the paper version is paid for. If you wish to take a look at the anthologies, they gather contributions from over forty international authors; some of them also bring photos and art, and they go yearly now. The titles are: Whitmanthology, Womenthology, The Pain that Unites us all, and The Brave and the Afraid. I am taking the lead with this project which started back in 2015 during a MOOC Writing Course from Iowa University, and more than glad with Lulu.com for making it happen at no cost.


Amazon is everywhere these days and many authors publish through them exclusively, like Amy Cecil. In fact, if you sign up for KDP Select, you agree not to use any other outlets for your book. Although this does give you access to Kindle Unlimited, where you get paid each time someone flips through your book, and makes you eligible for free and discounted promotions, it makes more sense to me to publish widely across as many platforms as possible. So, let’s see how our author panel members view the different platforms.

What are the pros and cons that you see for each platform you have used?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak Amazon is the eight-hundred-pound gorilla; you have to deal with them one way or another, I think. But other than that, I was very fond of Kobo when they first started up, but am less so now–they seem like they’ve lost a lot of what made them extra friendly to authors. I’m really liking D2D right now. You can tell they’re playing with new ideas to benefit their authors, and they will handle a lot of persnickety formatting things for you, if you like.
RA Winter
RA Winter I like KDP. I think it is a great avenue for an unknown author, but it can be limiting. I would have gone wide earlier, but where do you market for wide?  Marketing for just Amazon is time-consuming.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Kindle is the easiest format to use. I find print editions difficult to work, no matter which company you go with.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy One major con I’m running into is that they don’t support each other’s formatting. So if you’re trying to upload to different sources you have to reformat your manuscript to publish which takes up alot of time.

I like Smashwords ability to run sales whenever I want to.

Amazon is obviously the publishing giant so you gain the most exposure there.

Because Barnes and Noble is one of the last book stores standing I really like having my work featured there.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Amazon is the largest available platform, but they also are a tricky platform to navigate when their algorithms change on a regular basis.

Ingram Spark is fantastic for getting the widest possible reach for paperbacks and ebooks, their only downfall is the need to purchase your own ISBN numbers. They do have a set up fee, but they often have a free set-up code, and if you ask around in writer groups, someone often has a code that’s valid for a year.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil  I really wasn’t with the others long enough to form an opinion on this. My books sell on Amazon, they didn’t on the other platforms.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I chose not to publish at Amazon, and I am comfortable in going absolutely against the tide. I wanted to have a high quality book, and I wanted it to go under the whole process of being accepted by a publisher—even if it is a small independent publisher, it had to undergo submission process, be edited and accepted by a publisher. Contrary to what most writers may think, I thought it was superb for my personal growth as a writer. For being away from Amazon, most readers and even writers who are readers are not willing to adventure themselves into an outside publisher, fill in a new payment file and have their Ebooks uploaded. “Oh, it is not in Amazon! Sorry, but I am not reading it, why don´t you upload it yourself?”, “Because I have signed a contract, and I am happy about it”.

Amazon is by far the easiest path to being published, and the most polluted as well – if I may say so. There is too much of everything in there! Basically, I am so much grateful to all my readers because they were really looking forward to reading my novel, and too all the efforts towards it. I may change my mind in the future, but I am quite sure the next two novels will go with publishers somehow. In the vast and competitive universe of getting published, do as you will; but quoting Marshall McLuhan: do not forget that “the media is the message”.


Even with traditional publishing, these days the tasks of marketing and promotion fall mostly on the author, and if you publish independently, it all falls on you. Advertising can get expensive, but inexpensive or even free advertising is out there if you look. Let’s ask our panel members how they handle these tasks and find out what has been effective for them.

Do you use paid advertising or just what you can do for free?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I’m using Amazon Advertising (paid), Book Gorilla (paid), and a paid newsletter subscription service. I plan to add a few more things. I also do a ton of free stuff, mostly on social media and my website.
RA Winter
RA Winter  You really need a series to advertise and the more books the better. I have used paid ads, but with a small catalog, it just isn’t worth it. Plus, my books are priced low for everyone. For Twisted, I only charge .99cents. I get .35 cents for each book sold, that doesn’t leave any money for ads.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Publisher promotion.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture All free areas. I’m suspicious of most of the outfits offering advertising services. I had a friend use one service that cost her a thousand dollars, and she basically got nothing for her money. And I’m the one who directed her to the service.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I have used BookBub and a few other paid sites before and they do generate amazing results. Unfortunately, the costs to advertise with the major marketing sites are outrageous so I try to only submit a title once per year.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I paid for a few ads, tours, promos, etc. but it really didn’t do much for sales or exposure.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I run off the smell of an oily grease rag when it comes to a budget, so, that means I advertise with free wherever I can. Occasionally I spot an offer for a more affordable paid advertising, but in all honesty I haven’t seen much benefit at this stage to any advertising – so maybe I need to review what I do, and review how I should advertise.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I do a mixture of both. I’m trying to not use money from my day job anymore (which isn’t working well) and just use royalties to fund ads.


Which platforms have you found to be most beneficial?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak It’s not so much a platform as an attitude: don’t let the water fall out of the bucket. Your efforts should coordinate with each other. The most important thing you can do is have good work published, with good covers, and good book descriptions. Second most important is a good website! You’re putting in all this effort into networking and promoting, but if your book sucks, it doesn’t matter how many people buy it–you’re going to have to start all over again with every book. If you have good books, then with every sale you make, you’re far more likely to acquire a fan.
Don’t promote your books. Earn your fans, and don’t lose them by doing something completely brainless. I have done many brainless things…like putting the wrong link to my newsletter in the back of about a dozen ebooks. I could go on.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My Kindle books have always made good sales, much better than my hardbacks and paperbacks, so I doubt very seriously that I will ever go back to print, except for small runs for book signings.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne BookBub, hands down. If you want to reach a large group of readers in your specific genre, BookBub is the best tool. Readers sign up for daily emails for discounted books in genres they enjoy reading, so when you run a campaign with them,  your target audience receives an email about your book with purchase links.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman The Kindle Book Review seems to be a popular site, and I have just invested in a paid spot on their website for December, so, I’ll be watching to see what happens to my sales in December.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Facebook ads have been a dud so far. Robin Reads has been the most profitable. (I could include a list, by my computer crashed and I lost the spreadsheet with my list of ad sites! Argh.)


The rise of digital publishing opened the door for a slew of small independent presses to emerge. But not all small presses are equal, and you have to beware of publishers who won’t give authors a fair shake or worse yet, don’t deliver at all. As with editors, we want to find one that is a good fit for both the author and their works.
What should an author look for when seeking out a publisher for their book?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Check to see what other authors think about that press. Look on the Preditors and Editors website, at a minimum. Then look at the covers. If a small press had crappy covers, they will suck all across the board. And when you’re thinking about signing a contract, go over it with a fine-toothed comb. Small press contracts can be bonkers, and often all you have to do to make sure they don’t take movie rights (!) is say, “Remove the line about the movie rights.”
RA Winter
RA Winter Look at the other authors’ ranks, that will tell you how much they market for you which is what most authors are looking for in a publisher.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture If you’re looking for a publisher, read the contract and make sure it fits your plans. If you’re looking for a printing service, check pricing from a variety of presses. And check them out.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy If they ask you for money up front…RUN AWAY! You should never have to pay for publishing services out of pocket. Other than that look at their current client list and do a search online before signing anything. Absolute Write forums have alot of info on small presses.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman How much money are they asking for and can they detail how they will be spending your money if you pay them to publish your work. You really should only be paying for editing, cover art and possibly some marketing.

Do they ask for you to submit your work or a sample of your work before they publish you? I have seen some new authors wanting to publish, but they need a little advice on how they can improve their craft, so they can publish a better story than what they originally have. I think a small independent press should be wanting to help develop an author that approaches them. Make their work stronger and shine like a bright star in a universe filled with stars.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan See if you feel a connection. Talk to other authors in a safe, candid way. Read reviews online. Sure, some people want to watch the world burn, but if the majority of authors warn you to stay away, take heed. There might be some credence there.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil A good marketing and promotional team.


Any publishing advice for new authors?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Before you sign any contract, do some freaking research on what should and should not be in them! Read the Copyright Handbook, published by Nolo Press. Learn about the business side. Those three things apply for both indie and traditionally published authors. And I always tell people to assume that your wonderful publisher/editor/agent is going to die of a heart attack soon and that your contract will be taken over by a scumbag lawyer for an heir. Assume you’re going to get screwed. But also assume that your book will turn into a million-dollar bestseller, too, and make sure you’re not groveling for peanuts. When it comes to business, get some professional advice before you sign anything. And don’t rip off your freaking cover artists!!!
RA Winter
RA Winter Publish then publish some more. Series make more money or at least have all of your books branded in the same genre. A larger portfolio is easier to market and creates loyal fans. Edit, hire someone even though it is expensive and do crit swaps of your work. Join groups before your work is out to see how other authors are making it then formulate your marketing plan. Also, I read once that most writers don’t make money until their eighth book is out, so write some more.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture For first time authors, I would highly suggest you go with a small press publisher to get your feet wet. But make sure they are publishing in your genre. I’ve been bitten at least three times by publishers interested in my manuscripts. They wanted SF and I obliged, only to see them all decide (after they had my contract) that they wanted to go erotica for the money. They had my books for three years and would not let them go; yet all they advertised was the erotica, so my books didn’t sell well. Traditional publishers may require an agent, or may hold your manuscript over a year before responding, and then you may be rejected. Get your book published so you won’t mind the long wait next time if you decide to go traditional. Agents are hard to get. Let’s face it they want the next Tom Clancy or Steven King. They’re not looking for untried writers. I’ve used two agents during my writing career, and neither did anything for me. You might find a good one, but the chances are slim. Good luck whatever you do.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Grow thick skin. You’ll need it. 😊

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy If you’re going traditional, do your research on agents and publishing houses. Find out what they represent, write a killer pitch, and stay consistent. Don’t give up after a few rejections. Traditional publishing takes time.

If you’re going independent, treat it as a business. Hire a cover designer, an editor, and set up a website and social media channels where you can connect with readers.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Ask for the feedback of someone already in the industry. See what they have to say about the strength of your story, your craft. Be open to the feedback and listen to the constructive information you are given. Use an editor, a proof reader. Get the most professional looking cover you can for your budget. Get your head around keywords, and blurb writing. Set up a newsletter, social media pages and have a presence online. Interact with your potential new readers, be seen – after all you want to be found.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Please don’t give up. Rejection letters can cut deep. The authors who keep trying are the ones who succeed. Also, if you are going to self-publish, make sure to hire an editor! A family member might be able to notice typos, but an editor for your genre will be able to help you shape characters, setting, and plot.


While traditional publishers may help authors out with things like editing, book covers, and marketing and promotion, they also take a bigger piece of the pie for their efforts. Also, it seems to me that the rise in independent publishing has shown them that authors are capable of advertising their books effectively, so they are offering less help on promotional fronts than in days past, and traditionally published and small press authors are expected to do more of this today. Small presses may offer a bigger share of royalties, but it varies greatly as to how much publishing support each one offers. While independent authors taking control of their own publishing processes, they also must take responsibility for turning out a quality book from start to finish by either hiring work out or juggling all the author hats required themselves.

I think many authors are scrambling to keep up with advances in digital media which enable us to bring our writing to more and bigger audiences through the different formats. While it makes sense to offer our work in as many formats as possible, many of us are still in the learning curve as far as how to go about it. Audio books are becoming increasingly popular, but this is still relatively new territory for many. The good news is there are also increasingly more publishing platforms available to help us explore our options, if we choose to publish independently.

That wraps up our discussion on publishing platforms and as always, I want to thank our author panel for their willingness to share. Be such a catch next Monday’s segment, when our panel will be discussing author platforms: what they are, why we need them and how to build them. See you then!

 

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