First—congratulations! It’s taken late nights, sacrifices, head-pounding moments of writer’s block, and more than a few cups of coffee (or something stronger). But you did it! From here, you have a lot of options in front of you, from deciding between self-publishing and a traditional contract, to deciding whether to go direct to a distributor or use an aggregator. This last is something Draft2Digital has strong opinions about, but that doesn’t make it clear cut.
In this post, we’ll look at the benefits of using an aggregator (like D2D) for distribution, and determine whether it fits your publishing strategy.
WHAT IS AN AGGREGATOR?
A publishing aggregator is a service that lets you upload your manuscript in one place, and then distributes your work to multiple channels—the retailers who sell you work, such as Apple iBooks, Kobo, Amazon, and more.
The goal of an aggregator (Draft2Digital, for instance) is to make your book available to retailers with as little fuss and stress as possible. An aggregator acts as a middle-man between authors and distributors. The best aggregators work with authors and distributors directly, insuring that both get a high-quality, mutually beneficial experience.
As an author, your expectation should be that the aggregator is representing your best interests. The aggregator should be as invested in your success as you are.
NOTE: When the subject of self-publishing comes up, things can sometimes get a little confusing. You should know that using a publishing aggregate for distribution is still self-publishing. You still own all the rights to your work, and you control where it is distributed.
Aggregators are meant to simplify your distribution, including getting you paid from a single source, rather than forcing you to track sales and royalties from multiple channels. In exchange, aggregator services take a percentage of your book’s royalties. In the case of Draft2Digital, that amounts to 15%.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF AN AGGREGATOR IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Determining whether an aggregator is right for you largely comes down to the type of publishing strategy you intend to use. The following points and considerations should help:
1. Keep all your rights
Getting into the tar pit that is intellectual property law is far, far beyond the scope of this post. But you should know that from the moment you write your book, you own certain rights. Copyright is yours by default. And for a low fee, you can officially register that copyright to protect your work. You do this through the Library of Congress in the US—check your local laws and resources to register your work elsewhere.
All that said, the various publishing options available to you all revolve around what rights you, as the author, get to keep and control.
A traditional publisher will ask you to sign a contract before taking on your book, and that contract almost always involves surrendering some or all of your book’s rights. These can include film, television, and audiobook adaption rights, foreign market rights, and the right to use your characters and settings in other publications, such as short stories and novellas.
In short, the publisher decides how your book is printed and used from the moment your John Hancock graces the paper.
Publishing aggregators, on the other hand, are non-exclusive. This means you keep your rights and can distribute your book beyond their distribution channels. When you publish through Draft2Digital, for example, you keep all your rights, and can distribute to some or all retailers directly, if you choose.
Traditional publishers currently offer the advantage of having experts on staff who can negotiate deals for adaptations or foreign distribution, so if those things are part of your overall strategy this is something to consider. However, a traditional contract isn’t required for these options. You can hire an agent, an entertainment lawyer, or other professional with experience in negotiating these rights, and handle the options yourself. So aggregators are not only still on the table, they take no cut of any contracts you negotiate in the future. Your rights are your rights.
2. Easily convert your manuscript to eBook formats
Once you’ve gone through the trouble of typing up your manuscript, editing it, getting a cover for it, and generally getting it ready for prime time, there’s generally only one obstacle left to surmount: eBook conversion.
Though there are numerous ways to do this, including software, templates, and even for-hire contract services, most aggregators will do conversions for you automatically, and for free. Some aggregators have special requirements for your files—asking you to format in specific ways, or include certain statements as part of your copyright notice.
Draft2Digital has an automated process that is built to convert a Word document into a clean eBook, and make it available in all the popular eBook formats. This includes EPUB, MOBI, and PDF. Our process takes all of the ‘junk code’ that’s embedded in your file, making it leaner and cleaner, and putting it in an eBook format that we have tested on every eReader device or app we could find. It takes about 20 seconds to do the conversion, and once it’s done the file is all yours, whether you distribute through us or not.
Every aggregator will help you convert your file into a digital book format, so that takes away at least one headache from your workflow.
If you are planning to traditionally publish, this might not be a useful resource for you. However, it can be very handy to have an eBook file to send out as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) for reviewers who prefer digital formats. And, if your contract allows, you can use this file as a free giveaway to attract subscribers to a newsletter, or to share with family and friends.
3. Control how and where your book is distributed
A traditional publisher will decide how, where, and when your book is distributed, including which physical bookstores or digital storefronts carry it. It’s in the best interest of the publisher to distribute your book to all the major retailers, most of the time. Some exceptions may apply, though, depending on contracts, vendor relationships, and more.
The point to remember: Once you sign a contract with a traditional publishing, you leave those decisions to their team. Traditional publishing companies have experience distributing, but they are focused on their own interests and bottom line, above those of the author.
Another option, for indie authors, is direct distribution. This means taking your book straight Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and anywhere else you can think of. You individually upload your book, making sure to pay attention to specific guidelines and requirements for each distributor, and then checking back with each later to see how your sales are doing. It can be a bit time consuming.
Generally, aggregators make this kind of distribution much easier, by letting you reach all distributors with just one upload. You choose which retailers you want to sell your book, based on the options available. Draft2Digital, for instance, distributes through:
- Barnes & Noble
- Kobo Plus
And more on the way.
You can choose to sell your book with all of these retailers, or choose some while distributing directly to others.
The advantage of using any aggregator, however, is in streamlining distribution so that you only have one sales dashboard to deal with, and one set of guidelines to adhere to. Most distributors will do the work of formatting your book and sizing your cover properly, so that you don’t have to worry about differences between distributors.
4. Control formatting and design
A traditional publisher will give you very little control over the design of your book. You’ll usually have very little say over the layout and style of your interior, and you likely won’t get to choose cover art. Traditional publishers employ designers and experts who understand the industry, so they operate by certain best practices.
As a self-published author, you have the advantage of controlling all aspects of your book, from the layout to the cover and more. For eBooks, a lot of the interior layout decisions are pretty much set out for you by distributor guidelines, but there’s always room for a few nice touches here and there. Using layout software, you can control exactly how your book will look for readers. And you have 100% control over what your cover looks like.
Aggregators simplify some of the process, at least from the formatting and design standpoint. The automated conversion process will lay out your book’s interior according to a template built around best practices. This means your book will work properly on various eReaders and apps, without any special care on your part. It tends to be as easy as hitting “upload” from a browser window.
While aggregators may not give you fine control over your book’s layout, they can at least make life a bit simpler, by giving you an eBook that is both presentable and free of complications.
5. Control marketing and advertising
Maybe you have a specific audience you want your book to reach.
Perhaps you’re great with social media. Or maybe you’re excited to learn.
It could be you just want control over your own marketing and advertising decisions and dollars. An aggregator allows this kind of control, letting you own your career from beginning to end.
Traditional publishers do offer an advantage to authors who dread the very word ‘marketing.’ As part of your contract with a publisher, there will often be a built-in marketing budget. Some of that overhead is taken care of for you, then, letting you keep your focus elsewhere.
The downside here is that you get only those marketing services that have been budgeted for. New opportunities—such as getting book signings, interviews with various publications, even free copies and mailers to send out in advance of your book, may not be covered by the publisher. If you want those, they’ll have to come out of your own pocket.
So that begs the question: If you have to pay for the marketing anyway, wouldn’t you rather keep all the rights to your book?
We know we’re a bit biased on the subject, but we’re just sayin’.
6. How quick do you want the publishing process to be?
In recent conversations with authors who are members of SFWA, we found that some authors were waiting a year and sometimes two years between finishing their book and seeing it published. In contrast, some indie authors write, edit, and publish their books within a single month, sometimes less.
Whether the concept of a one-month turnaround is appealing to you or it gives you hives, it’s worth considering that there are options for how quickly you want to see your book hit bookstores. Traditional publishing argues for a slow and steady approach, with multiple rounds of editing, cover design and approval, and layout all taking up some of the timeline. Marketing and distribution strategies are also in this mix.
For many authors, that’s what publishing is.
For indie authors, it can be something else entirely. Without gatekeepers and other challengers to your book’s quality or readiness, you can reach your readers much faster.
Aggregators make the process quick. Once the book is at your preferred level of readiness—with whatever editing, layout, and design done to your satisfaction—you can just upload your book, decide which distributors are right for you, set your price, and you’re selling.
7. What’s your budget?
We mentioned earlier that aggregators typically take a percentage of your royalties on book sales. D2D takes 15%, if you distribute your book through us. The advantage you gain for that percentage is a single dashboard, where you can monitor your sales and royalties in one place, as well as reduced headaches from trying to make your book meet various distribution requirements, such as layout, cover size, and copyright notifications.
If you go direct, you get your full royalty—typically 70% of your cover price. The tradeoff is that you have multiple channels to monitor, and it’s entirely up to you to make sure your book, it’s interior layout, and your cover all meet each distributor’s requirements. Plus, come time to get paid, you have to monitor every channel to make sure those payments are made—aggregators tend to stay on top of that on your behalf.
What may be most surprising to you, however, is that even if you publish traditionally, you’ll still need a budget. Since a lot of the marketing and promotion will still be on your shoulders, you’ll need to accommodate marketing materials, travel, accommodations, and more.
Still on the fence about using an aggregator?
Here are just a few more questions—simple considerations—that can help move you in the direction that’s right for you!
1. What services are included?
Most aggregate services include:
- Simplified sales reporting
- Ensuring the authors is paid for sales
Aggregate services tend not to include:
- Cover design
- Marketing & promotion
- Representation for rights management
Which is not to say that some aggregators aren’t working on ways to provide these services. A good aggregator is always developing and expanding their options, so that authors gain as many advantages as possible. Draft2Digital is always working on ways to add resources like these to our catalog of options.
2. What is the cost and associated fees?
Does the publisher keep a percentage of each sale?
Are all services included under one cost, or do you choose which services you want for your book and pay for them separately?
The best aggregators charge nothing for their ancillary services, such as conversion. Generally, the service makes money from a percentage of the royalty, in exchange for distribution.
Watch out for publishers who charge fees for services such as editing and distribution. Some may offer legitimate services, such as cover design, layout, and marketing. But be cautious. In fact, be downright suspicious. If the publisher tells you that you must pay for these services or they won’t distribute your book, nod politely and walk away. Come hang out with us at draft2digital.com—we’re happy to help you find the services you need, and you can publish through us regardless of how you get your cover or layout done.
3. What’s the turn-around time, from submission to sales?
When most businesses have their products ready, they put them on sale right away. They don’t tend to submit their product to someone else for scrutiny and approval, waiting a couple of years between finishing the product and making it available for customers (readers) to buy. Instead, they plan their release schedule, and they do it.
That’s you. You’re that business. You’re an author business. You’re a publishing business. You decide when your product is ready, and you put it on the market right then. No waiting. There’s no need to wait.
An aggregator maximizes your reach, without complicating things. That’s it. No wait. No fuss. No muss. Whatever a muss is.
You know what’s great?
You have options! Aggregators, small presses, traditional publishers—all have overlapping pros and cons. What you need to consider is your publishing strategy, and how each option fits your purpose.
And remember, there’s no shame when it comes to choosing the option that works best for you. All of your options are worthy of your work, if you deem them so. There will be detractors for all three that we’ve discussed here, but the answer is always, “What fits best for you?”
Consider your goals, and choose the path that best represents those goals. We recommend aggregate publishing because we’re in the business—and we happen to believe it’s the best option for giving you full control over your fate as an author. So that’s what we recommend. Now, go decide for an empower yourself. You’re the author here, after all.