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Going Wide – Draft2Digital

I was going to leave Draft2Digital to last in this series of examples of how to use various platforms to take your books wide but then decided it should in fact be placed at the start. This does not indicate it is the best platform, but rather that it is a great catch-all solution.

WARNING: I have tried to keep this as simple as I can, and Draft2Digital is pretty straightforward, but be aware that this blog post contains references to websites, URLs and Metadata, as well as asides on eBook formatting and other esoteric matters. If you’re uneasy with any of that I’d suggest something good on Netflix and a nice Amarone.

Draft2Digital provides a clean, simple to use interface and allows you to select which platforms you want to upload your eBook to. If you want a really easy life you can select every platform – possibly other than Amazon, but you could if you wanted to include that as well. If you do this, however, you preclude the use of some platform marketing opportunities, and also reduce your royalty rate from the “native” percentage going direct might offer. Draft2Digital takes 10% of the royalty paid for your book – in effect reducing your net royalty by 15%. This might sounds steep, but considering what they offer I would say it’s worthwhile for some authors who don’t want the hassle of uploading to different platforms.

ASIDE: Want to try it? I’ve uploaded to four separate distributors as I write this series of posts about going wide. I’m a pretty techy kind of guy, having worked in IT as a programmer and manager for 35 years. It has taken me four full days to get all my shit stuff together and upload 11 titles. And each time there is a new one I’ll need to add that in as well. In each of these posts I’ll offer a time range to upload from expert to novice.

Before I dive in I want to point out that there are a number of alternative aggregators that might suit your needs better. You can find a section for these at the end of this post. Each of these posts will consist of standard sections to make it easier for you to make a comparison. I’ll also include a Pros and Cons at the end.

CREATING AN ACCOUNT

Draft2Digital makes this really simple, as do most of the others. Click on the Sign Up button and you are asked your first and second name, pen name if you use one, email address, password (twice) and whether you want to sign up for their marketing newsletter. Once you sign up approval is almost instantaneous.

HOUSEKEEPING

On some platforms you have all kinds of barriers before you can sell your books (and yes, Apple, I’m looking hard in your direction). Some of these will include bank details, Tax information and so on. Draft2Digital makes this as simple as or simpler than pretty much any other platform. In particular, you can receive payments direct into your Paypal account, which could not be easier.

ADDING AND UPDATING BOOKS

Time to upload one book: 10 – 40 minutes
Unlike some other platforms Draft2Digital defaults to a simple page with, at the top, a great big button that says Add New Book. Go on, click on it, I know you want to. The screen you get when you do is shown below.

Adding your book title and front cover art

Pretty much everything you need to set is here. Title, Series, Optional Series number, search terms etc. A nice feature that not all platforms provide is it remembers the Series names so you only have to spell them right once.

The BISAC categories are simple enough to use, even easier if you make a note of your category references in advance – which sounds like a lot of fuss, but it’s fuss you only have to do once, bearing in mind every platform requires these.

The next stage is to upload your book content and blurb for display on sales sites. Click on the Start eBook button to go to the next screen

UPLOAD YOUR BOOK AND BLURB

Draft2Digital is one of the easiest and most flexible platforms for uploading your book. If you have a Word document upload that. An ePub or Mobi, go with that. In addition, if you upload the Word doc it creates both ePub and Mobi file for you and allows you to download them so you can use these on other platforms. It is also able to produce a print ready interior for you, but I have not tested that as Vellum already does a great job for me with that.

Browse for your source document and upload it.

Go to your already saved Blurb and copy and paste it in here. No – don’t even think about making it up here and now. You need to spend, in my opinion, several days honing your blurb. My excuse for the one below is I made it up on the spot. Oops. You know … do as I say … Normally I work on my blurb as I’m writing the book, tweaking, honing. In this instance I didn’t do that. So double oops.

Uploading book interior and blurb

If you have your own ISBNs – and if you’re serious about your writing business you should have – enter it here. Otherwise you can choose a free ISBN. If you do, bear in mind it will show Draft2Digital as the publisher of record. This might be an issue, it might not. Personally, I like my ISBN to be linked with my publishing imprint.

Click on Save and the system will check your upload file. If it finds anything wrong it will tell you. I’ve never had that happen, but I know it can and does.

LAYOUT

The next page shows you where you can modify the layout of your eBook. If you have uploaded an ePub already you will generally skip this. If you have uploaded a Word document you might want to tweak the settings here a bit.

Adjusting the layout of your interior – optional

Because I use Vellum my other books get compiled into my Also By section for me. Interestingly, Draft2Digital let you replace that section with their own. While I don’t do that, if you have uploaded a file produced from somewhere else you should let Draft2Digital create this section for you. It will provide links to each platform. This means the Apple version will link to Apple books, the Amazon one to Amazon books etc.

You can now move on to preview your content.

EBOOK PREVIEW

The next screen doesn’t actually preview your eBook, but it does allow you to download a copy in either .mobi and /epub format. Do it. Doesn’t matter which, but do it. Never, ever assume your upload file was perfect. One thing I’ve noticed is that some eBook distributors are great at showing what your book is going to look like while others don’t even show it you (yes, Apple, what’s that all about?). Draft2Digital is somewhere in between in that it wants you to download a copy to preview it before confirming is all right.

Accepting the eBook interior and format

When you’re happy with the book you can move on to layout and pricing. Please don’t ever skip on downloading and checking the files. Never assume what you uploadeded will look the same as you think. Always, always check.

When you are happy click on Approve and go to the next screen, where you select which Digital Stores you want to distribute to. If you are the ultimate non-techy person and don’t want anything to do with uploading anywhere else you can turn all of these options on. If you have even a small desire to earn an extra percentage on some sales I recommend you turn off Kindle, Apple, Kobo and Barnes and Noble. If you turn off Kobo check that Overdrive is also unchecked, as you get slightly better terms going to that directly through Kobo.

All right, nearly done. The final step is to set your price and submit the book for distribution.

PRICING AND PLATFORMS

There is a field at the top where you can enter your price in USD ($).

Pricing your book

Theoretically you don’t have to do anything else, but I strongly advise you click on the Manage Territorial Pricing button. At the bare minimum I would enter GBP (£) and EUR prices. This will cover your main marketplaces, but you can assign a price to any of the territories shown. This is a bit more complicated, but just wait until we get to … yes, you’ve guessed it, Apple Books.

In this instance you click into the box beside the territory you want to change a price for and overtype what is already there. Personally all my prices end in .99. It simply looks more professional.

Setting a price for other territories

Because Draft2Digital is an aggregator the lower portion of this screen shows you which platforms you can distribute to and what price you want to set on your book. In this section, as well as selecting direct sales channels you can also choose library services as well. If you do want to go to libraries, just note that if you intend to publish direct to Kobo do not select the Overdrive option here.When you’re satisfied you’re all done just click on Apply Territories.

SUBMIT YOUR BOOK

The final stage is to submit your book for publishing. You can come back at any time in the future and change anything you have entered.

How long does it take for your book to go live?

As you’ll discover when we come to the other platforms, uploading the book doesn’t mean someone can buy it immediately. Amazon KDP can take up to 72 hours, but generally much less. The other platforms depend. I reached out to Draft2Digital support and they got back to me within an hour with this response”

“Thanks for reaching out to us with your questions. Most vendors will have the book listed within 1-3 business days, vendors like Scribd and 24 Symbols can take 6-8 days to list, libraries take the longest to list usually taking 10-14 days.”

With Draft2Digital you’ll find the title published to each store at different times. For me Tolino – the German eBook provider – always publishes first. Some take an age, others not so long. You can’t hurry anyone up so be prepared to see your book appear over some time on various sites.

UNIVERSAL BOOK LINKS

At this point you think you might be done, but one thing Draft2Digital provides is a real game changer, and a fabulous feature. Once your book appears in your books list click on the cover and you can see most of the details. The one you want is Promotion, so click on this.

Ignore the next screen and find the button that says Edit this UBL.

UBL stands for Universal Book Link, and gives you the following screen.

Creating Universal Links

One really great feature of this screen is that when you click on Rescan for Links it goes away and searches for your book on all the platforms, whether you have selected them for distribution through Draft2Digital or not. On the screen above you can see it has found where the book is already for sale on Apple, B&N and Kobo. For some reason it objected to KDP, but all I did then was paste in the eBook ASIN and it found it the next time I asked it to scan.

You can also use a custom URL for this link. Personally, I do this, but there is no reason to as the one provided works just fine.

So – what do you get with this? Well, a link to a page you can provide to your prospective readers where they can select whichever platform they read on.

The Universal Book Link page

Even better, once they’ve done this once the screen will default to that platform the next time they go there. Great, or what?

SUMMARY

Draft2Digital is a great way for any Indie author to get their books onto a wide range of sales channels.

PROS

It has one of the simplest interfaces you are ever going to encounter
The Universal Book Links feature is fabulous.
The interface and set up is one of the easiest you will ever come across.
The support is very good, and I know from having met the main players heading the company that they are great people. They also write books.

CONS

You earn a slightly reduced royalty over going direct. Depending on how much work you want to do this might be worth it to you.
To some extent you are the mercy of Draft2Digital and their negotiating power over what new platforms get included.

OTHER AGGREGATORS

The following is a list of other aggregators. I have not used any of them, but know people who have and in general they all have a good reputation. This is by no means a comprehensive list but does cover the biggest players, and also some you may not know about which offer a slightly different range of marketplaces and offering.

Smashwords is the venerable old man in the room, and is still a good distributor, but its interface has not been updated since I first used in back in 2011. It works, but is quirky.

Bookbaby  is another option, but there is a fee to set your account up of $99. After that uploading and distribution is free.

Streetlib is another aggregator that charges a fee. I interviewed the CEO Giacomo D’Angelo several years ago for a post I did from Hamburg Book Fair on behalf of the Alliance of Independent Authors. They were a fairly new company then but have grown significantly since, which is always a good sign. If you want to publish to some of the more esoteric European marketplaces, particularly if you don’t write in English, then these might be a good choice.

Publishdrive is a relatively new aggregator but has a good reputation. I believe, but am not sure, that they also charge a setup or subscription fee.

Going Wide – Getting out of KDP Select

In this post I’m going to talk a little about how I managed to get all my titles pulled from KDP Select, together with a warning that this might not have worked and may not work for you. I talked about my reasoning for doing this in my first post, which you can read here.

I’ve decided to be up front about how I’ve been doing reasonably well on Amazon, and then show how my performance changes as time goes on. I am expecting to see a significant drop in overall income over the coming months as I lose page reads and it takes time for the other marketplaces to come on stream.

To start with though, rather than show overall monetary amounts I’ve graphed below the proportion of income from page reads and sales over the last two years. I chose that time period because hopefully it shows the effect of the Covid lockdown over the first half of 2020 where it seemed a lot of the people sitting at home decided to read more fiction.

Sales and Page Reads 2019: Average %age of income from page reads 40%

Sales and Page Reads 2020: Average %age of income from page reads 38%

For both graphs the red block shows sales and the blue upper area the number of equivalent borrows. It also shows peaks where I had a book launch, and it’s clear that my sales have increased this year since last, which is good. As you can see from the percentages, getting on for half my income has come from page reads. Which raises the question – am I totally crazy giving this up?

Well, the answer remains to be seen.

I want to point out I’m not doing this through any prejudice against Amazon. They have always treated me well and treated me fairly. A case in point is how I emailed them four days ago and asked if they could remove all my titles from KDP Select. They responded within 8 hours and said sure, it’s done. Had they not done so this experiment would have had to wait until into December when my last title dropped out of Select.

I do want to point out, however, that this response is not a given. Amazon are perfectly within their rights not to remove you from KDP Select in bulk, but I’ve heard of others who have had success and maybe it depends on how you have interacted with them in the past. Anyway, I’m now out of Amazon borrows and need to replace them with something else.

As you can work out from the graphs, I need to sell almost 10,000 more books over a year through Kobo, Apple, B&N, Google books, all other vendors and libraries to make up the shortfall from borrows.

I’ll say it again – am I crazy? The answer is still probably yes. However, assuming the worst case scenario and I can’t get anywhere near those 10,000 extra sales a year, I always still have the option of going back into KDP Select. I’ve come out once before and when I returned my page reads picked up almost at once. I have also heard some anecdotal reports that book sales increase on Amazon if readers cannot borrow the title but do want to read it.

So that’s about it for today. I’ve set a marker in the ground against which to measure my performance over the rest of this year and into next. How long I’ll keep the experiment running I have no idea, but if sales totally tank outside of Amazon probably not much more than 6-9 months, unless I see some pick-up that offers hope the strategy is working.

As soon as all the titles are live I intend to apply for a Bookbub for the first in series as it should be easier now the books are more widely available. This should kick-start readers on each platform into the series and lead to read-through and hence more sales (Thanks to R who advised this – you know who you are).

Interesting times…

Next time I’m going to talk about uploading to Kobo Writing Life and what you have to do to get an account and upload your books. I’ll also come back in a later post and discuss the marketing tools Kobo offer for Indie authors.