Self-publishing — or, as I prefer to call it, independent/indie publishing — has come a long way from the dark ages when your only options were spending a ton of money to print and store hundreds of paperbacks and hand-selling them from your garage, or wasting a ton of money on a deal with a vanity press. The technology around publishing now lets each author become an independent book publishing business.
While we see a lot American/Canadian/British/etc. authors enjoy indie publishing success, there’s no reason why we can’t indie publish here in the Philippines and distribute our books on the same platforms as these authors in the West. Not only can we distribute our books from the comfort of our homes on platforms such as Amazon, Kobo, Barnes&Noble, Apple Books, and Google Play, but also make our books available to libraries all over the world.
As the title says, this guide won’t be very comprehensive but it will help you get started. It also only covers the technical aspects of the process of publishing and distribution — documents you need, digital/web tools, file formats, etc. I won’t be going into how to write a good book or how to get people to buy your books, but I will discuss basic marketing tools you can use (author websites, newsletters, etc.)
This guide works for ebook and print book distribution of novels, novellas, and non-fiction books in English. You can also use this guide to publish and distribute books in Taglish, Filipino, Tagalog, Bisaya, Hiligaynon and various other Philippine languages. However, keep in mind that not all platforms will distribute Filipino-language books. For example, Amazon KDP does not support any of our local languages for either print or digital distribution. (Zara Irigo managed to get around this restriction when she published her delightful Taglish rom-com by keeping all the Tagalog within the characters’ dialogue, so you might want to try that if you’re publishing a book in Taglish.)
As for graphic novels, I can’t guarantee this guide will be useful for publishing them as I have no experience in that format.
The distribution platforms I’ll be presenting can be used for free— meaning, you won’t be paying any upfront costs for distribution. For every sale of a book, the platform will take a small percentage of the money paid, so they only make money if you make money.
If you’re planning to publish your book in the KDP Select program (a.k.a. Kindle Unlimited), skip all the parts where you publish your ebook anywhere except Amazon KDP. You can still distribute your paperback and hardcover books anywhere because KDP Select only requires ebook exclusivity. (If you don’t understand anything in this paragraph, it means you don’t need to worry about it and can disregard this entire paragraph.)
What will you need before you can set up your book for distribution?
- An edited/proofread copy of your manuscript (optional: a nicely-formatted EPUB file of your book)
- A JPG and PDF image of your book front cover, ideally 2,560 pixels x 1,600 pixels (optional if you want print book distribution: a PDF or PNG file of your print book cover, properly sized for the paper size you want for your print book)
- The blurb or sales description of your book.
- A government ID (your passport will work nicely, if you have it)
- Your Philippine taxpayer I.D. (T.I.N.)
- Your Philippine bank information (optional: a U.S. bank account, a Payoneer account, a Paypal account)
- Your phone number (even a prepaid mobile number works) and address
You might be thinking, hey Ansela, don’t you need an ISBN for your book? Well, yes, in most book distribution platforms, you’ll need an ISBN to sell your ebook or print book, but most of them will give you a free ISBN. In the case of Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), they don’t require an ISBN for ebooks but will assign an Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN) to your ebook. You don’t need an ISBN to sell your books from your house or office.
Basically, ISBNs aren’t something you need to think much about. However, if you’ve already acquired ISBNs for the books you want to publish, then great, have them on hand too. (Remember that you’ll need different ISBNs for the print and ebook versions of the same book.)
There are three important parts of publishing a book:
- Preparing the manuscript, book cover/s and sales description/blurb
- Setting up distribution, which may include sending your files to your local printer if you want to distribute print copies yourself
- Marketing your book — some people think marketing is separate from publishing but really, marketing comes into play in the first two parts above so I’m just including it here.
Preparing your manuscript
When I say “prepare” your manuscript, I mean “get it ready for distribution”. Writing the book itself is a great achievement — pat yourself on the back — and someone who reads it as it is might love it. But indie authors are professionals. This means we want to give our potential readers the best possible book, something they can enjoy and confidently recommend to their friends. So pay an editor to polish your manuscript (or try to do an ex-deal if your budget doesn’t allow for the editor’s fee), maybe get some beta readers or, if needed, a sensitivity editor. If your manuscript isn’t in a Microsoft Word file (DOCX), then create one. MS Word is expensive but you can use upload your file to Google docs and download it as a DOCX file.
You’ll also need a book cover and sales description — most distribution platforms won’t let you upload your book without these two. Remember what I said about marketing coming into play during the first two parts of publishing? Well, your book cover is a sales tool, as is your sales description. Make sure both of them will catch the attention of potential readers.
Setting up distribution
My books are distributed through various platforms, not all of them I would recommend to someone starting indie publishing now. This is because I started this gig in 2016 and we had fewer options back then. Here are the ones I do recommend if you’re starting out as an indie author in 2023:
- Draft2Digital (ebook + paperback)
- Amazon KDP (ebook + paperback + hardcover)
- Google Play Books (ebook)
- Snack (ebook)
- JMD Copy and Prints (paperback + hardcover)
I recommend starting with Draft2Digital first, especially if you don’t have a properly formatted ebook file (EPUB), a properly formatted file for the inside pages of your print book (PDF), or a print book cover (PDF/PNG). This is because if you upload your manuscript as a DOCX file on D2D, it will let you create both an EPUB file and a paperback interior PDF which you can freely use outside D2D (yes, they’re very clear about letting you do this).
Draft2Digital (D2D) is different from Amazon KDP because D2D is an aggregator for ebooks. While Amazon KDP lets you distribute your books as ebooks on Amazon.com, D2D will let you distribute to various other platforms, such as Apple Books, Scribd, Kobo, and others. It even distributes ebooks to Amazon.com, although I recommend that you create your own Amazon KDP account and upload your ebook there separately, just because this way allows you to use KDP publishing tools.
You’ll need to create a D2D account first. This means submitting your T.I.N., personal information like your address, and information they need to pay you. D2D payout options include check, bank deposit (US or international), Paypal and Payoneer). This is super important: when filling out your tax details, be sure to apply the tax treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines. With this tax treaty, D2D will withhold only 15% of your royalties as tax instead of 30%. You’ll get your royalties for a book sale around two months after the sale.
Once you have a D2D account, you can proceed to upload your book and set it up for distribution as an ebook and print book. I won’t be able to guide you step-by-step through the process, but if you’ve had experience filling out forms online, you should be able to muddle through it, the way I did. So long as you have your ebook cover, DOCX file (or nicely formatted EPUB), and your book sales description, you shouldn’t have any problems.
If you don’t have an EPUB file of your book, D2D will create one for you. If you don’t have your book formatted for paperback in a PDF, D2D will create it for you. If you don’t have a print cover of your book, D2D will take your ebook cover and turn it into a paperback cover. Here’s what the paperback cover of my book The Billionaire’s Price that D2D created from the ebook cover I submitted:
For reference, this was the ebook cover I submitted:
As you can see, it’s not going to be the absolute nicest paperback cover, but it’s decent and you can always change it later when you have a professional book cover designer create a paperback cover for you.
Draft2Digital will let you submit a book written in local Filipino languages. Yes, I checked.
However, remember that while D2D will accept your Bisaya-language book or Taglish-language book, it won’t be able to distribute it everywhere (such as Amazon). Still, you should be able to distribute your book in some places, so please go publish your Pinoy-language books. We need more of them in the world.
If you only have a DOCX manuscript file, after setting up your books for distribution on Draft2Digital, do these:
- download your book’s EPUB file from D2D
- download your book’s paperback interior PDF from D2D
When you submit your book for ebook and print distribution on Amazon and other places, you can use these files.
Draft2Digital has a really useful tool called Books2Read. It will give you a page for your book (with a customizable, easy to remember URL) which lists the links to every place your book is sold. You can login to Books2Read using your D2D login/password and create a page for your book. Once your book is live and available to purchase, add the buy links to your book’s B2R page. If you want to see how this works, this is my Books2Read page for my book The Billionaire’s Price —https://books2read.com/thebillionairesprice.
Recommended viewing: How I Publish Worldwide (and Everywhere Else) by Mina V. Esguerra (available for paid subscribers of the #RomanceClass channel)
Recommended reading: How I write and publish (as of 2020) by Mina V. Esguerra (free)
Recommended blog: Writer Beware (free)
Part 2: Setting up distribution on Amazon KDP (soon!)