Best Self-Publishing Companies for Novels in 2020

If you are an aspiring or newbie author, you may be wondering where you can (or should) self-publish your novel and in what formats (hardcover, paperback, and/or ebooks). Or perhaps you are a veteran author who has been publishing books one way for a while, and you are looking to see what other options are out there. 

Before we get into publishing options, let’s talk about the biggest places readers are picking up books in 2020. (In other words, the places you want your books to be sold.) The biggest retail options for indie authors (also known as self-published authors or independent authors) in 2020 are as follows:

  • Amazon
  • Rakuten Kobo
  • Google Play
  • Apple iBooks
  • Barnes & Noble/Nook

Today’s discussion will center around hardcovers, paperbacks, and ebooks.

Please be aware that some of these publishing options only distribute physical books while others only distribute ebooks. In addition, if any of these options are marked as aggregators, that often means they take a percentage of whatever you make. When in doubt, do some extra research on your own. 

For paperback and hardcover options, I highly recommend looking for POD (print on demand) companies rather than companies that require you to order large volumes of your book. There are pros and cons to each option, which we won’t be able to get into today. But the business model for POD companies is to print books as they are ordered by customers. That way, no one has too much extra inventory lying around.

Self-Publishing Options

1. IngramSpark

  • Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook.
  • Distribution: IngramSpark is a book distribution company. They distribute to 40,000 libraries and retailers, including Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as major online retailers including Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etc.
  • Pricing: Pay to upload your book to the platform. (Click here to learn more.)
  • Pros:
    • You can offer hardcovers.
    • You can offer paperbacks and hardcovers for preorder.
    • *Distribution network.
  • Cons:
    • *Distribution network.
      • They can get your book to many different places, but your book isn’t always available to libraries and retailers.
    • Customer service & response time is notoriously slow (if they get back to you at all).
    • No real-time data. (For example, IngramSpark doesn’t offer any metrics for preorders.)
    • The platform isn’t user-friendly (confusing to use).
    • Receiving author copies or proofs can take months.
    • Printing quality isn’t consistent (either great or sloppy).

2. Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing)

  • Formats: Paperback and ebook.
  • Distribution: You can elect to enroll your book in KDP’s Expanded Distribution. However, they currently only work with US distributors. 
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
    • It’s free to create an account with KDP and upload your books. You only pay for proofs or author copies. 
  • Pros:
    • Good customer service/response time.
    • Real-time dashboard metrics.
    • Quick turnaround time for proofs and author copies.
  • Cons:
    • Doesn’t offer hardcovers.
    • Doesn’t offer preorders for paperbacks. (Only ebooks are available to preorder if you set up a preorder for your book.) 

3. Barnes & Noble Press (Nook)

  • Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook.
  • Distribution: Strictly to Barnes & Noble Press.
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • You can offer preorders on all formats. 
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 
  • Cons:
    • Barnes and Noble is a retailer, and book retailers have gone out of business in recent years. 

4. Rakuten Kobo (Walmart)

  • Formats: Ebooks.
  • Distribution: Strictly to Rakuten Kobo.
    • Rakuten (which owns Kobo) partnered with Walmart to distribute ebooks to Kobo readers. In other words, by distributing to Rakuten Kobo, you are also tapping into Walmart. 
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • Kobo is a Canadian company with a large reader base there. However, it’s also growing in the U.S.
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 
  • Cons:
    • It’s one more place to remember to upload your book.

5. Google Play

  • Formats: Ebook.
  • Distribution: Strictly to Google Play.
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 

6. Apple iBooks

  • Formats: Ebook.
  • Distribution: Strictly to iBooks
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 
    • The platform is growing in popularity in the U.S. 
  • Cons:
    • In the past, you had to have an Apple computer to upload your book directly to this platform. 

7. Draft2Digital

  • This is an aggregator. 
  • Formats: Ebook.
  • Distribution: Amazon, iBooks (Apple), Barnes & Noble, Rakuten Kobo, Tolino, Hoopla, Vivlio, OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Baker & Taylor.
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • You don’t have to upload directly to tons of different retailers.
    • They get your ebook into digital platforms for libraries that would be difficult to access otherwise. 
  • Cons:
    • They take a percentage of your sales.

8. SmashWords

  • This is an aggregator. 
  • Formats: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Distribution: Smashwords, Amazon, iBooks (Apple), Barnes & Noble, Rakuten Kobo, Baker & Taylor, OverDrive, Scribd, cloudLibrary, Gardners, Odilo.
  • Pricing
  • Pros:
    • They sell books directly on their platform. 
    • You don’t have to upload directly to tons of different retailers.
    • They get your ebook into digital platforms for libraries that would be difficult to access otherwise. 
  • Cons:
    • They take a percentage of your sales.
    • The platform isn’t easy to navigate. 

9. Working Directly with a Manufacturer 

  • Pros:
    • You have more flexibility for the format of your book and special features. You are only limited to what the manufacturer can do.
    • You sell directly to the consumer and have their information (vs. selling through a retailer who doesn’t share their customer info with you). 
  • Cons:
    • You may have to order books in bulk and store them at your home. 
    • Depending on your model, you may have to ship books directly to the customer (vs. having the printer ship the book to the customer). 
    • You can’t access an existing reader base (such as readers that are actively looking for books on Amazon or iBooks). You have to market extensively to bring readers to you. 

A few other publishing options that we don’t have time to get into today are:

  • LuLu
  • PublishDrive
  • StreetLib
  • BookBaby
  • XinXii
  • Blurb

I recommend if you use an ebook aggregator, use more than one. Often, these ebook aggregators distribute to different retailers or libraries. That way, if you use both (and uncheck publishing options covered by the other), you have a wider reach and your book will be available in more places. 

In addition, I personally do not recommend platforms that charge monthly subscription fees to use their services (at least when you are first starting out). Instead, I recommend platforms that take a percentage of what an author earns. Later on (if you are making more money on your books), a monthly subscription model might be more financially beneficial than having the aggregator or POD company taking a percentage of every book sold. But that will be subjective to each author’s goals and preferences. 

Which Self-Publishing Company Should You Choose?

In my opinion, this comes down to what you have more of, money or time.

If you have more time than money, then uploading directly to all of the “big five” platforms (Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, iBooks/Apple, and Nook/Barnes & Noble) might be the best option for you. That way, you don’t have an aggregator taking a percentage of your income on top of the percentage a retailer takes. 

The downside of going direct means it’s a lot more to do when tax season rolls around. You need to get reports from every platform you upload to and sell books through. It’s also more to track as far as expenses and sales. 

If you have more money than time, then using an aggregator might be the best option for you. In this case, a percent of your sales would be taken by the aggregator (usually around 10-15%). However, you only have to pull a few reports during tax season. 

In addition, if there is ever an issue in your manuscript (such as a typo) and you want to re-upload your manuscript or if you choose to change your book cover, you have to re-upload your manuscript to potentially dozens of platforms (if you don’t work with an aggregator). Some of those platforms, such as IngramSpark, charge upload fees. Meaning, every time you upload a new formatted manuscript or files, they charge you a fee. But if you work with an aggregator, you re-upload those files once, and BOOM. You are done. 

What publishing path that is best for you and your books will be subjective to your author goals, what your financial situation is, and how much time you are able to devote to the publication process of your book. 

Keep in mind that no publishing platform is perfect, and there will always be hiccups along the way. But there are many more publishing options today than there were a few years ago, and I anticipate there will be even more options for indie authors in the coming years. 

Meg LaTorre

Resident Writing Coach

Meg LaTorre is a writer, YouTuber (iWriterly), creator of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, co-host of the Publishable show, blogger, and she formerly worked at a literary agency. She also has a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. To learn more about Meg, visit her website, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, sign up for her monthly newsletter, and subscribe to her YouTube channel, iWriterly.
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Jen Elliott
Jen Elliott
1 month ago

Thank you so much for this article. It really has broken down the important stuff in an easy way.

Marcus Ako
1 month ago

Hi Meg,

Brilliant article which I will most definitely bookmark for repeat reading.

ANGELA ACKERMAN
Admin
1 month ago

Thanks for this look into some of the bigger options for self-publishers. It was good to have a refresher because you have just recently jumped into the pool!

I know with preorders, when we released the 2nd edition of the Emotion Thesaurus, we tried to do a print preorder through Ingram and an ebook one through Amazon. This was a nightmare specifically with Amazon Canada because for some reason something was garbled on Amazon’s end, and after a week or so of having the print preorder available, Amazon.ca removed it. When we tried to get them to look into the situation to fix the preorder’s status, they blamed Ingram, saying it was something on their end. And while Ingram tried to work directly to fix this with Amazon as soon as we notified them, they could clearly see everything had been uploaded correctly on their end (preorders were fine at other stores), so said, unfortunately, it must be an issue on Amazon’s end.

Amazon seemed uninterested in investigating further (possibly because Ingram was the distributor, not Amazon, but also perhaps because it seems like Amazon.ca functions differently than Amazon.com and we’ve observed getting them to “talk to each other” can be difficult). Eventually, the preorder unavailability in Canada went on long enough it triggered a refund to everyone who ordered the book, and a message saying we’d decided to not publish the book after all, and Amazon was sorry. This, of course, was not true and resulted in lost revenue for us and a huge headache as we had to deal with the fallout of Canadian readers asking us why we weren’t publishing the book, spreading misinformation online to let others know (not their fault – it was based on what they were told by Amazon)…UGH. So this was very frustrating and why we haven’t done a print preorder since.

Hopefully, our situation is NOT typical but just wanted to let people know that there can be issues with Ingram print preorders at Amazon. This book was a second edition of a very strong seller for Amazon, so it was baffling to us that they didn’t seem to want to help us get this resolved. Anyway, hiccups happen, so you have to roll with them in SP. 😉

G. J. Jolly
1 month ago

Meg, thank you so much for this pertinent information. I actually want to go the traditional route but I might get so frustrated with it that I’ll change me mind. I’m be keeping this post handy for this.

Deborah Makarios
1 month ago

I use IngramSpark and Smashwords, myself.
I’ve never had any trouble with print quality with IngramSpark (perhaps because being in NZ means the books I see are always printed in the Australian facility) but their reporting system is dreadful.
I haven’t had any trouble navigating around Smashwords, though.