An in-depth look at the best self-publishing companies (and how to choose one)

The centuries-old publishing industry has seen sizable shifts in recent years, with self-publishing at the forefront of this revolution. 

For example, the number of ISBNs assigned to self-published books grew nearly 1,000%, from 153,000 books in 2010 to 1.68 million in 2018. And based on the latest Bowker report, that number hit 2.3 million in 2021.

Self-publishing is empowering on many levels. You retain creative control over your book and own more of the profits earned. 

While self-publishing has become a game-changer in the book industry, your success hinges on choosing the right company to help publish and sell your book. There are lots of them, so we get how overwhelming it is to pinpoint the best self-publishing company to work with. 

Criteria for evaluating self-publishing companies 

When evaluating your options for self-publishing, consider the following criteria before committing to just any company:

  • Area of authority: Certain self-publishing companies have a reputation for their expertise in a particular domain. For example, Blurb is known for professional photography and visual books, while Amazon is for low-content books.
  • Cost: Assess the upfront costs, publishing packages, and any hidden fees. Compare the pricing structure with the services offered to ensure it aligns with your budget and publishing goals.
  • Distribution options: Evaluate the company’s distribution network, including online retailers and brick-and-mortar bookstores. A broad distribution reach can enhance the visibility of your book.
  • Royalties: Understand the company’s royalty rates for both ebook and print book sales. Compare rates across different platforms to maximize your earnings.
  • Quality of services: Research the level of editing, design, and marketing services provided. Reviews and testimonials from other creators can offer insights into the company’s performance.
  • Customer support: Know the level of customer service and support available to creators. A responsive and helpful support team can be invaluable, especially for first-time self-publishers. 

These criteria can serve as a guide to help you make an informed decision when selecting a self-publishing company that best aligns with your project, goals, and budget.

Comparing the top self-publishing companies

Self-publishing can feel like a massive ocean with an undertow of endless options pulling you in every direction. Together, let’s navigate the sea of self-publishing companies and explore what makes each player the best in their respective expertise.

Amazon KDP: best for maximizing reach and retail sales

There’s no question that Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) provides unparalleled reach. By publishing and distributing your book on Amazon KDP, you can access one of the largest reader markets available today.

Sure, Amazon’s sheer size is its biggest selling point. But it’s not just about volume; there’s also variety here. From graphic novels to cookbooks, children’s books to self-help guides, whatever genre your work falls under, chances are an Amazon audience is waiting for it.

Royalty options based on format

Amazon KDP offers various royalty options for paperbacks and ebooks. For paperbacks, KDP offers a fixed 60% royalty rate for books sold on Amazon marketplaces. The royalty is your set list price minus printing costs. There are also limited options for additional distribution channels for a 40% royalty rate—although most people wouldn’t recommend KDP for distribution beyond Amazon.

For example, if your 333-page black-ink paperback book’s list price is $15, you’d receive $4 in royalties on Amazon or $1 via other channels. Thats your royalty rate of 60% or 40% times your list price minus the printing costs.

You can choose between a 35% and 70% royalty option for ebooks. The 70% royalty option is available for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, while the 35% royalty option applies to books priced outside of this range. Amazon bases royalties on list price when you price your ebook within specified limits.

Ease of use and flexibility

With an easy-to-navigate interface that even first-time creators find user-friendly, Amazon has made self-publishing a breeze from start to finish. Their flexibility extends beyond ease of use, giving you formatting options based on how you want to tell your story.

The ability to print on demand means no upfront costs or storage worries, as books are printed only after purchase.

While KDP is an undisputed authority in self-publishing, many companies below offer distribution through Amazon, allowing you to leverage the same expansive reach with different bookmaking options.

Barnes & Noble Press: best Amazon alternative for retail sales

Are you looking to self-publish but want a break from Amazon? Barnes & Noble Press might be your ticket. As another big contender in self-publishing, Barnes & Noble Press has become a favored substitute to Amazon, particularly for retail transactions.

The appeal of B&N Press lies not only in its brand recognition but also in its commitment to creators. It’s more than just about bookselling. It’s about creating meaningful connections with readers and offering help when needed.

Creator-centric platform

Their creator-centric approach offers benefits like free ISBNs (which are otherwise pricey), comprehensive sales reports, and pre-order options for both print and e-books—something few other platforms provide.

But what truly sets them apart is their global reach via online distribution through B&N online bookstore or partner sites like Ingram—a major distributor reaching tens of thousands of retailers worldwide.

Straightforward pricing, royalties, and publishing packages

Navigating the self-publishing realm can be daunting, but Barnes & Noble Press’s straightforward pricing structure makes it more manageable than anticipated. 

With Barnes & Noble Press you determine the list price for each book and receive a 55% royalty rate of the list price minus the per-book printing cost. For ebooks, you set the list price and receive a 70% royalty rate regardless of the book’s cost. 

Overall, B&N Press is a cost-effective way to publish your book, whether in print or digital format. But, as with Amazon, many self-publishing companies on this list also distribute through Barnes & Noble.

Stack of self-published books on a wood floor

Blurb: best for visual book creators

If you’re an artist, photographer, or visually-centric creator, Blurb stands out as the best in the business. Sure, Blurb can print novels and text-based books. But it’s no secret that Blurb has carved a niche in supporting visual creatives with advanced bookmaking abilities and museum-grade print quality.

As an end-to-end solution with endless customization options, Blurb allows you to design, print, and sell high-end photo books, magazines, children’s books, cookbooks, and more. You can sell your book through various distribution channels, including Blurb’s Bookstore, Amazon, and Ingram, allowing for expansive reach and global visibility.

Archival quality print-on-demand

Blurb is built by visual creators for visual creators—meaning quality is of utmost importance. The company provides professional, archival-quality products and competitively fast turnaround times, ensuring that your finished product meets high standards. These print-on-demand services allow you to print high-end hardcopies as you and your fans need them with no upfront costs.

Free, easy-to-use design tools and templates

Unlike other companies, Blurb’s comprehensive platform provides free bookmaking tools like its proprietary software, BookWright. Add in professionally-designed templates for all kinds of books and features like auto-flow text and images, and you can create a well-conceived book in no time. 

Blurb also integrates with popular design tools like Adobe InDesign, Lightroom, and Photoshop—plus we have a PDF upload option—so you can use the tools you already know to design your book. 

Attractive pricing and royalty structure

Blurb provides access to global distribution channels without charging distribution fees or commissions. That’s why Blurb is an ideal choice for self-publishing without the profit-gouging fees of other self-publishing companies and aggregators.

Free ISBNs and access to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram’s reach of 39,000 online and brick-and-mortar stores all means it’s possible to get your book to audiences worldwide. You’ll set your list price, including the wholesale discount, base price, and your profits.

If you don’t want to pay those (at times costly) wholesale discounts set by distributors, you can sell your book through the Blurb Bookstore and keep 100% of the profit you set. Your only cost is the price to print your book, which varies based on its format, size, and page count.

BookBaby: best for comprehensive editing and publishing services

If you’re seeking top-notch editing services and complete publishing packages, BookBaby is a great option. A good edit can be the difference between a masterpiece and mediocrity in any writing project. BookBaby understands this and offers professional editing services, whether developmental edits or simple proofreading, that are hard to match. 

Publishing packages at your fingertips

Beyond excellent editorial help, BookBaby provides several well-rounded publishing packages designed to cater to diverse needs. These bundles include cover design assistance to print-on-demand options, making them a one-stop-shop solution for aspiring creators.

Choose from various tiers depending on your budget and requirements, whether you’re looking for basic ebook distribution or complete support for digital and physical copies worldwide. The flexibility these tailored plans offer is another reason writers appreciate BookBaby so much.

Pricing considerations

While BookBaby’s comprehensive offerings are impressive, they come at a price. BookBaby’s print-on-demand packages start at $149 for its bookshop and $399 for global distribution. They also offer a Complete Self-Publishing Package, priced at $1,790, which includes cover design, two ISBNs, and print-on-demand distribution. All self-publishing packages are fully customizable and backed by a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.

As far as royalty rates go, you will get 50 percent of the list price of the printed books you sell through your BookShop page. If you sell via other retailers, you’ll generate between 10 and 30 percent in royalties.

IngramSpark: best for global brick-and-mortar distribution

If you dream of seeing your book on the shelves of physical stores worldwide, IngramSpark is a top choice for global brick-and-mortar distribution.

What makes IngramSpark unique is its comprehensive network of over 39,000 retailers and libraries across the globe. But it’s not all about quantity. Their partnerships with key players in traditional publishing allow you to tap into resources typically reserved for conventionally published works.

A comprehensive self-publishing resource

Alongside its impressive reach, IngramSpark offers print-on-demand services, so there is no more worrying about unsold copies gathering dust or spending upfront on large print runs. This feature also allows your book to remain available indefinitely without additional costs. Plus, they offer an array of customizable options, like different paper types and bindings, so that every detail aligns with your vision.

IngramSpark positions itself as a learning resource that instructs on self-publishing successfully, especially if making money is your goal. Between their blog, podcast, and learning academy, IngramSpark equips you with the knowledge to thrive as a self-published creator.

Competitive pricing structure

“Free” isn’t often heard when discussing self-publishing platforms, but IngramSpark sometimes surprises us. They occasionally run promotions offering free title setup—a huge help if your budget is tight.

In typical circumstances, some base fees are involved—$49 for print books or $25 each for ebooks or audiobooks—or go all-in-one with both printed book and ebook packages. 

When it comes to royalties, IngramSpark operates on a wholesale model. This means you are paid based on the retail price of your book minus printing costs and a wholesale discount (which you set between 40% and 55%). Your earnings will fluctuate based on the specific details of the book—and with the wholesale discount large enough to entice bookstores, your earnings can diminish quickly.

Lulu: best for beginners

Lulu is a friendly companion for those taking their first steps into the world of self-publishing. Known for its simple interface and easy-to-navigate tools, Lulu is an ideal choice for beginners. But don’t let its simplicity fool you. This platform packs quite a punch in terms of features.

One major advantage of Lulu is you have complete control over your work. You decide on everything from your book’s design and format to setting your price. The process is as straightforward as can be, letting newbies feel like pros right off the bat.

Publishing packages and global retail distribution

Lulu provides cost-effective access to a global readership. Their free ISBNs and global distribution network mean you don’t have to spend a fortune trying to connect with readers worldwide.

Lulu’s distribution allows you to sell your book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, and more. It reaches over 39,000 book retailers. You also have the option to distribute exclusively on the Lulu Bookstore, which doesn’t incur any distribution fees. However, this limits your book’s availability through major retailers.

Lulu also offers a variety of packages catering to different needs. For those who seek professional assistance with editing, design, or marketing, Lulu has something to suit every need.

Transparent pricing and royalties

Lulu offers free publishing options. That means no upfront costs (other than a single proof copy), which is a big plus when starting out. Their royalties are pretty transparent, too. You keep 80 percent of net profit for print books and 90 percent for ebooks when selling directly through the Lulu bookstore. When you’re selling through other distribution channels, there is a hefty fee associated plus the smaller Lulu share.

The level of transparency that Lulu provides is refreshing, which stands head and shoulders above many companies that often take larger cuts or tuck away fees in the fine print. 

Outskirts Press: best for royalty control

Outskirts Press is a small player that delivers big results. Known for their comprehensive publishing packages, they give you the reins regarding how much you earn from each book sale.

This Denver-based publisher allows you to keep up to 100% of your rights and royalties, which is rare in the industry. Their model empowers creators financially while providing top-notch services like design help and marketing support. It’s clear Outskirts Press values creator independence without leaving them stranded.

Flexible pricing options

The unique selling point here is its flexible pricing structure. Instead of adopting one-size-fits-all packages, Outskirts lets you choose what fits your budget and needs best with its custom-made package options. Their plans start at $899, which includes printing costs, ISBN assignment, barcoding, and more.

Moreover, if you’re looking to go big with hardcover books or specialty printing, like color interiors or larger sizes, then guess what? You won’t have any issues finding those options, either. Just remember, these add-ons come at an extra cost but can significantly enhance your book’s appeal.

Ebook and audiobook options

In addition to printed books and ebooks, Outskirts also provides audiobook publishing. This service includes professional narration and distribution to all major audiobook platforms, including subscription services like Audible. So, if you’re looking for multimedia diversity in your book’s format, Outskirts is a comprehensive choice.

Royalties done right

You’ve put a lot of time and energy into creating something meaningful, so why shouldn’t you get rewarded adequately? At least, that seems to be the philosophy behind Outskirts’ royalty structure.

Selling directly via Outskirts Press Direct gives you 100% of your book’s profits (retail price minus production cost), a massive plus. With sales through Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you’ll add in the distribution fees, which will reduce your profits.

While Outskirts’ royalty model and flexible pricing are attractive, they present unique challenges. For example, they don’t offer certain services depending on the package and distribution channels you choose.

Draft2Digital: best for ebook distribution

When it comes to ebook distribution, Draft2Digital stands out as an authority. Why? Their extensive reach includes impressive retail partners like Barnes & Noble and Apple Books. Plus, they’re known for getting your book in front of the right readers.

Unlike other self-publishing companies with a steep learning curve or complex pricing models, Draft2Digital keeps things simple. You won’t need a finance degree to determine your earnings from each sale because they keep 10 percent of your ebook’s list price.

Powerful marketing and promotion support

Their user-friendly dashboard lets you easily track sales and earnings across all distribution channels. Plus, with automated conversion tools available at no extra cost—like transforming your manuscript into different ebook formats—making sure your book looks great on every device is hassle-free.

Need help with marketing? They’ve got you covered there too. Their promotional tools include automatic end-matter (think “Also by this Author” pages), which can increase reader engagement and drive more sales.

Simple, straightforward pricing

Draft2Digital makes it incredibly simple to price your book. In short, you set the price to whatever you want, even if you’re going to give it away for free. When a reader purchases a copy of your book, Draft2Digital takes 10% of the retail price. They also have no fees or charges for formatting or making updates.

However, when you list your books on their retail partner networks, those distribution channels also take 30 percent. You can expect to walk away with 60 percent of the list price of your ebook.

Potential book printing downsides

One downside is that Draft2Digital doesn’t offer print-on-demand services directly. Instead, they partner with another company (you guessed it), Amazon KDP. In turn, offering both digital and physical copies of your book could be challenging, as Draft2Digital does not offer print-on-demand services directly.

And while their royalty rates are decent, they don’t distribute to every ebook store on the planet. Notably absent from their distribution list is Google Play Books, a platform becoming increasingly popular with readers worldwide.

Self-published creator looking at their book sales on a computer.

Tips for a successful self-publishing journey

Regardless of the company you choose to help create your book, consider several best practices when self-publishing your book. Here are some practical tips to make your endeavor successful.

  • Craft an engaging narrative: The heart of any book is its content. Spend time refining your content and creating a compelling story to captivate readers.
  • Know your audience: Identify who would enjoy your book the most and tailor aspects (from design to marketing) towards them.
  • Invest in professional editing: Don’t skimp on this step! Even the best creators need editors to catch mistakes, polish language and visuals, and give feedback for improvement.
  • Design an attractive cover: A good-looking book cover can attract potential readers and signal professionalism. Consider hiring a designer if you’re not confident about doing it yourself.
  • Get reviews early on: Encourage people who have read advance copies of your book (try beta readers) to leave reviews when it launches. These initial testimonials can boost sales significantly.
  • Develop a marketing strategy: Strategize a cohesive marketing plan that includes social media, web, email, and other methods to reach your audience. 
  • Offer competitive pricing: Too high might discourage buyers, too low may undervalue the work put into creating the masterpiece.
  • Develop relationships: Build connections with bloggers and influencers in genre-specific communities online. They can offer invaluable amplification and exposure.
  • Have patience: Success won’t happen overnight, but perseverance pays off!

Lastly, it’s important not to get lost in the business of selling books. For many self-published creators, it’s about sharing stories that resonate deeply with people. By achieving this, success will come naturally.

Bring your book into the world with the right partner

Choosing the right self-publishing company can make all the difference in your book’s success. From providing top-notch design and editing services to ensuring proper distribution and support, these companies are pivotal partners on your journey as a published creator. 

Each offers unique features tailored towards different needs, whether it involves publishing a photo book or an ebook. Remember that understanding what you need from a publisher is as important as comparing their offerings. As you venture into the exciting world of self-publishing, remember that patience, research, and careful decision-making will pave the way for a fruitful endeavor.

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Blurb provides everything you need to create, print, and sell your self-published book. Leverage our free and easy-to-use bookmaking software and take full ownership of your book’s creation process from start to finish. Choose from a wide range of sizes, formats, paper options, and cover types, and utilize powerful tools to assemble an exceptional product. Not only do we provide bookstore-quality printing services, but we can help distribute and sell your book across major retail channels. Sign up today to get started.

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