Authors tend to gravitate toward four types of online platforms:
- Self publishing platforms
- Platforms for connecting with readers
- Platforms for connecting with other writers
- Platforms for connecting with publishers
Because your time is limited and you have a great deal of work to do, we recommend only focusing on only a small number of sites within the first two groups. Our specific recommendations are based each site's track record, namely:
- Whether the site is used and recommended by successful authors we interview
- Whether the site hosts a significant number of other successful authors
Self Publishing Platforms for Authors
There are many platforms through which you might publish your work, from Creativist, a platform-agnostic publishing tool, to Lulu, which helps authors format and publish printed books and ebooks, and Medium, a streamlined platform designed to offer simple, focused reading experiences that look great on any device.
The platforms through which we have seen authors gain the most value, however, are Kindle Direct Publishing (plus Amazon's CreateSpace and ACX platforms) and FanFiction.net.
Kindle Direct Publishing
We recommend Kindle Direct Publishing and its related platforms over other self-publishing sites and platforms such as Lulu and Blurb because:
- KDP boasts many, many success stories (whereas most other online publishing platforms and approaches have yet to prove themselves)
- Publishing through KDP enables you to access to a much wider audience (when you want to buy a book online, there is a pretty good chance you will start your search on Amazon)
- KDP is relatively straightforward and easy to use
- KDP has been the preferred publishing method of many, many authors we have interviewed
- KDP is bolstered by powerful supplementary platforms such as CreateSpace and ACX
To get started with KDP, you must have a finished book that has been worked into one of KDP's Supported Formats. KDP provides support in the form of a free ebook guide to formatting ebooks as well as a simplified formatting tutorial (not to mention guidance through the KDP community), however you may wish to avail yourself of additional publishing and distribution options offered by Amazon's CreateSpace and ACX platforms.
CreateSpace enables authors sell print-on-demand copies of their books and provides book/ebook formatting and publication support. CreateSpace's free tools will help you review your formatted ebook before running it, create attractive covers, and test previews with readers. Its paid services address design, marketing, and editing.
CreateSpace's Prices and Royalty System
CreaSpace's cover design services range from $399 to $1,199. Professional layout and design help ranges from $149 to $679. Baseline editing fees start from $160 to $470 for a baseline number of words and increase incrementally per each additional word. Marketing services (such as press release development or the creation of a video trailer for your work) range from $49 to $2199. We do not recommend using CreateSpace for the creation of promotional materials or business cards; there are other specialty sites (such as Moo.com) that are likely to offer higher quality, more control, and lower prices.
For more information on how royalties work through CreateSpace, watch the video below.
To get a more exact idea of the amount of money you may earn through different channels CreateSpace offers, visit the site's author section and click on the "royalties" tab. It has a detailed calculator into which you can enter the class of print publication you seek to produce (interior type and trim size), the number of pages it has, and the list price at which you want it to sell. The tool will use this information to reveal the final royalty amounts you would earn through Amazon.com, its eStore, CreateSpace's expanded distribution options, Amazon Europe books printed Great Britain, and Amazon Europe books printed in continental Europe.
ACX is designed to help authors produce audiobooks by connecting them with voice actors and providing simple options regarding production costs, royalty fees, and distribution options. Through ACX, you can upload and distribute existing audiobook files, create an audiobook independently (using your own voice), or find a producer, review voice actors' samples, review auditions to read your book, and make a deal to get that audiobook produced. For a more detailed overview of their process, visit KDX's author page.
ACX Prices and Royalties
The money you ultimately owe to producers and voice actors is contingent on the contract you create with them. ACX does not determine what producers and voice actors will charge. Money you owe to your team is to be paid via check or the Amazon Flexible Payment Service once they have delivered a complete product. You will only be able to distribute your audiobook after payment is complete.
ACX's distribution platforms include Audible, iTunes and Amazon.com. Should you choose to distribute your audiobook exclusively through Audible.com, your royalty rates will range from 50-90% depending on the number of audiobooks sold. Books on Audible range in price from $10 to $35, meaning that you will therefore make between $5.00 and $31.50 from each audiobook sale depending on the book's length (which determines list price) and popularity. Note that selling through Audible also involves selling through its affiliates (Amazon.com and iTunes included), so an exclusive deal by no means constrains your audiobook within the bounds of Audible.com. Should you choose non-exclusive distribution, you are charged with the task of distributing your audiobook independently.
FanFiction.net is the Amazon.com of the fan fiction / alternative book world. With 2.2 million registered users and 1.4 million monthly unique visits, FanFiction.net is the most popular fan fiction website in the world.
- The option to get feedback from beta readers before introducing your work to wider audiences
- The ability to publish work incrementally while enabling readers to access it and provide feedback as you go along
- The opportunity to build up a loyal and focused fan base that can follow you to larger, more mainstream channels
- The ability to experiment with fiction writing while leveraging existing characters and universes, which can serve as comforting training wheels
You cannot make a financial profit through FanFiction.net. It is entirely free to publish and read work on the site (this is a requirement, as most fan fictions would infringe on others' copyright were they not to use the Fair Use argument, which is effectively destroyed as soon as one begins profiting from the work in question).
While FanFiction.net is admittedly niche and does not boast beautiful web design, it works. Regard it as a potential experimental lab. Using the platform as a starting point, you can:
- Play around with a book concept chapter by chapter
- Refine it
- Eventually move it to your own website
- Begin self publishing it through a platform like KDP
- Go on to be picked up by publishers
The approach has most certainly been taken by other successful authors. E L James first published 50 what would evolve into Shades of Grey on FanFiction.net before moving it to a personal website and subsequently getting picked up by a publisher.
Why Popular Fiction Publishing Websites May Not Be Worth Your Time
As mentioned above, there are plenty of other websites through which you can simply publish fiction online. Many authors choose to publish through these channels to get feedback on incrementally-published work (as through FanFiction.net) and potentially build a small audience. We cannot recommend these platforms with any enthusiasm because we have yet to find many bestselling authors who used them. The vast majority of people we encounter who do use these platforms are aspiring authors who lack commitment.
Should you truly want to become an author, you must:
- Actually finish your book
- Get real, insightful feedback from people who give that book serious attention
- Get editing help from qualified editors (if not professional editors, at least English majors or other highly skilled writers)
- Format your book
- Publish your book independently or begin submitting finished manuscripts to publishers
While you certainly could achieve these ends while publishing on a fiction writing website, you could also achieve these ends independently. Sure, you might be drawn to the moral support from fellow aspiring authors these sites offer, but the people from whom you really want support are those who have successfully published books. You are not likely to find such people on these publishing platforms.
Platforms for Interfacing with Fans
You have limited time as an author and should only spend so much of it socializing online. We therefore recommend putting your resources toward platforms optimized for interfacing with readers and fans- not other aspiring authors. Consider building up a presence on Facebook, a personal blog or website, Twitter, GoodReads, and Google+. Use these sites to build genuine, long-lasting relationships with your fans and followers; not to flagrantly promote your work and drive sales.
Because "everyone" is on Facebook, you should be, too. Even authors that choose not to maintain a presence on any other platform tend to at least maintain a Facebook page.
Through their pages (as well as through platforms like Twitter and Google+), authors provide:
- Updates on books they're working on
- Information about upcoming events
- Book giveaways and other promotions
- Questions for fans
- Links to new blog posts
- Links to new books or sneak peeks
- Videos featuring talks and interviews
- General insights on their lives, their writing, and their fans
Be forewarned that posts made through Facebook pages only reach 16% of their fans organically (to reach more, you have to pay). Let this knowledge shape your investment in the platform (in terms of time and resources) accordingly.
Your Personal Blog or Website
Pretty much every author maintains a personal website (even if it is run on a free blogging platform) that offers:
- Bio information
- Contact information
- Book summaries and links to various product pages (occasionally along with links to free downloads)
- A personal blog (with in-depth updates on in-progress books, fans, writing, and life)
- Press information (often complete with high resolution images, links to reviews, and press releases)
By no means should you feel obligated to blow your budget on the creation of a super fancy website (even the most famous authors maintain surprisingly humble websites). Simple, free platforms like WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr will suit your needs just fine. Should you desire extra control, functionality, and customization, buy your own domain and hosting and use WordPress to configure themes and features independently.
Though Twitter is another channel through which you can share announcements and updates with fans, you will get more out of the site by exploring its capacity to grant you access to millions of experts and interesting conversations.
Many authors use Twitter when researching their books, as it is an excellent means by which one can shout out quick questions (or send a targeted question to a specific individual) and receive quick answers. Twitter is also an excellent platform to use when reaching out to fellow authors and bloggers in an effort to work on collaborative promotions or garner reviews.
Just as you may be delighted by the quick responses you get from interesting individuals you contact via Twitter, your fans will be delighted by responses from you. By using a Twitter monitoring tool like TweetDeck to track tweets mentioning your Twitter handle or your work (you can do this by setting up saved search feeds for the URLs of your site, blog, and book product pages), you can keep track of what others are saying about you and actively respond to their mentions and comments. Tracking others chatter about you and your work will help you get a better idea of what others' think of your writing while also enabling you to develop a stronger relationships with fans.
What's more, you can use Twitter to tap into live conversations about pretty much any subject imaginable. Say you want one of the characters in your book to build something cool using an Arduino microcontroller, but know next to nothing about the device. By searching "Arduino" on Twitter, you can tap into what people are saying about the microcontroller, how they're using it, and what they're building with it, then use your findings to create a far more believable fictional scenario.
Goodreads is a social network for book enthusiasts that enables them to write and read annotations and reviews of various books, as well as create and maintain customized lists of books they have read, want to read, and are currently reading.
Once you have published a book that gets listed on Goodreads, you can join the platform's Author Program (which involves claiming ownership of your author page and getting approval from the Goodreads team). Once in the Author Program, your regular Goodreads profile will be integrated with your official author profile, meaning that whenever someone clicks on your name from one of your books, they will be taken to a profile that you control.
In addition to featuring your photo, bio, and favorite books, your author profile can be used to:
- Share blog posts
- Promote events (such as local book signings)
- Share book excerpts
- Post video content
- Create and share quizzes about your work
You can also use Goodreads' Author widget to embed readers' reviews of your work into your blog or website, host a Q&A group through which readers can ask you questions, interact with fans through the site's forums, groups, and your profile, list book giveaways, or purchase on-site advertising. While we don't necessarily recommend going all out on the site and using all of its features, it is definitely worth your time to claim ownership of your official author profile and keep that profile relatively up to date.
On a basic level, authors use Google+ pages in much the same manner they use their Facebook pages (to share insights, make announcements, and post updates), however the platform boasts two significant additional perks: SEO benefits and Hangouts.
Using Google+ Profiles to Boost Branding and SEO
Being properly set up with Google+ can help you make your various online properties more attractive and distinctive in Google Search results.
Be sure to properly set up both your Google+ page and your personal Google+ profile, then establish the page's connection with your website and authorship with the various platforms on which you are present. Doing so can lead to your photo and your name (linking to your Google+ profile) to appear alongside your work in search results, thus making them stand out and strengthening your personal brand.
Using Hangouts as an Author
Should you not be able to go on tour and meet with book clubs and readers in person, Hangouts may very well be the next best thing. They enable you to meet with other people (from widely dispersed geographic areas) face to face without spending money or leaving your house.
As an author, you can encourage book clubs to invite you to their meetings via Hangout, hold Q&A sessions with readers on a regular basis, and hold interviews with other authors via Hangouts on Air that you can subsequently publish to YouTube. You might also use Hangouts to collaborate with fellow authors, provide interviews to bloggers who review your work, and hold meetings with editors, cover artists, and other professional partners.
Platforms for Interfacing with Publishers
We do not recommend reaching out to publishers online independently. Though some publishers offer submission portals and platforms on which authors can share their books (in hopes of catching the publisher's eye), they are typically flooded with competition and only populated by writers (rather than potential readers and fans).
As an author, you will be in a far better negotiating position if publishers reach out to you. Yes, you will have to achieve significant success on your own to be of interest to agents and publishers, but those parties even expect moderate success (a polished manuscript, a built-in audience, etc.) from those who submit manuscripts independently.
In short, don't bother with these platforms. Instead of poking around HarperCollins' Authonomy or Avon Romance's sample submission site, focus on building your own success- independent of old-school parties.
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