Who Gets to Distribute Your Books?

A somewhat new indie author said to me recently, “I know either Draft2Digital or Smashwords can distribute my books.  Is there any other big distributors I should consider instead?”

I’ve never tackled on this blog the various distribution options indie authors have.  At first glance it doesn’t have anything to do with productivity. 

In fact, your choices about which bookstores and aggregators to use has nearly everything  to do with productivity. 

But first, let me get back to the original question.   Unpacking the assumptions in the question could keep me here for a week, so let me deal with the errors in the question before I move on. 

There is a rash of formerly KU authors emerging into the Wide marketplace and distribution is a wild prairieland for them.  They’ve never had to consider it before.  Even among established wide authors, there are some common misbeliefs. 

So let me sort them out first.

Draft2Digital is an aggregator.  The D2D service will publish your book to whatever bookstores they are in partnership with.  It’s quite an extensive list and D2D have other services that you might find very useful, including formatting of ebooks, and their universal book link service, Books2Read.

But D2D does not work with Google Play Books, which is considered one of the major bookstores. 

Smashwords was an aggregator, and it is still a bookstore.  In late 2022, D2D acquired Smashwords, and now, to publish your books there, it’s easiest (by far) to upload via D2D.

Neither D2D nor Smashwords is a distributor.

There are other aggregator services available, including PublishDrive, who take a flat, up-front fee each month.  Here’s a short list of the currently available aggregators.





IngramSpark (ebooks & paperbacks)

Lulu (paperbacks)

All aggregators have a short or long list of stores they will upload your ebook or print book to.  None of those lists includes every store.  None of the aggregators upload to fiction apps for you, either. 

Each of them have pros and cons.  IngramSpark charges $25 USD per book you upload, for example.

If you want to use an aggregator, do your research.  Figure out which aggregator reaches the stores that are important to you, and which drawbacks you can live with. 

The one thing I can guarantee is that an aggregator is not a one-stop shop.  No matter who you choose to use, you will still end up uploading your books directly to bookstores and book-selling services and applications that aren’t included in that aggregator’s roster.

Also, the commonly accepted wisdom in the indie publishing industry is that you should go direct to Amazon, no matter who you use.  This is wisdom I agree with.  Amazon is fussy to upload to, but it is ten times more difficult if you have an aggregator do the work for you. Amazon puts restrictions on what the aggregators can upload that don’t impact direct uploading.

So if you’re going to be direct-uploading to at least one account anyway, why use an aggregator?

Direct uploading for yourself.

If services like D2D will do all the work for you, why would you consider doing it yourself?

  1. You keep the 10% (or more) that the aggregator would take off the top.

    This can add up to significant amounts over a year. 

  2. You can fully control the appearance of your book on the bookstore.

    When I check my books on the stores that D2D uploads to, I frequently find that the covers are missing, and the formatting on the blurb has been lost or is so messed up the blurb is near-unreadable.   Sometimes, author listings are wrong and other meta data is scrambled.

    My only recourse, in these situations, is to appeal to D2D to try and fix it.  I have never yet been successful, doing this.

  3. You can participate in in-store promotions.

    All of the bigger bookstores – Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google Play – run in-house promotions that you can only participate in if you’re uploading directly to the store and have a publishing account with them.

  4. You can publish AI Audiobooks via the bigger bookstores.

    Google Play was the first to offer AI Audiobook creation services to indie publishers, but only for books published directly through them.

    In early 2023, Apple announced a similar service with a similar requirement—your book must be published direct with them to take advantage of their AI Audiobook creation service.

    Future AI technologies may well follow this same pattern.

  5. You can place your book where you want, well beyond the list of partner vendors that aggregators use.

    If you want to get in on BookTok, or Radish (a fiction app), or sell direct from your site, you can.  There are dozens of places where you can upload your book for sale, that requires merely that you open a publisher account.    And there are more book-selling sites, apps and services opening up each year.

    Monica Leonelle coined the phrase “aggressively wide”.  It’s a good statement of intent.  Direct uploading lets you go as aggressively wide as you can.

Where I upload.

It might surprise you to know that I use Draft2Digital to upload to the micro markets, despite my general antithesis toward aggregators.  D2D comes with some good tools (including royalty splitting) that make them a worthwhile service. 

I don’t use D2D to upload to any of the big stores, or to Overdrive (Kobo does that for me), so my sales on D2D are miniscule.  But they do trickle in. 

I direct-upload to everywhere else, including:

  • Amazon
  • Apple Books
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Google Play Books
  • Kobo Books
  • My own bookstore site

Later in the year I will be adding fiction apps to my roster. 

What has this to do with productivity?

Ultimately, direct-uploading will save you time. 

Yes, it will take a while to learn the ins-and-outs of a new bookstore’s dashboard and their way of doing things.  There is also an upfront investment in time while you set up your publisher account and financial information.

But once you learn the ropes, it takes very little time to (re)upload to a single bookstore.

You also save the time you would have otherwise spent dealing with the aggregator to try to untangle presentation issues, missing covers, and responding to restrictions in publishing on which the aggregator will report back to you.

I speak from experience.

D2D will split royalties for me, so last year I published three anthologies via D2D and asked them to upload to everyone, including Amazon, and also including the print edition, so the royalty-splitting was handled by them.

It was a nightmare.

Amazon challenged almost every single aspect of the anthologies, including a flat refusal to publish one of them because a story title was the same as a short story already on Amazon and they won’t repeat content.   The story was by a different author, but their algorithms threw up a red alert, and they shut down the anthology.  It took a week to unsnarl the tangle.

I have published anthologies and co-written books directly to Amazon in the past and never had any of these issues.

For these reasons, I direct-upload wherever I can.  Some of the micro-markets don’t allow authors to direct-upload, and I go through D2D for those. 

To upload a new book to all the bookstores and D2D takes me about 60 minutes.  It’s quite a few minutes longer than it would take to upload to a single aggregator, but that small investment in time pays off in the long run.

So who will distribute your books?

This is actually a trick question, because you are the distributor. 

There is no aggregation service anywhere that will give you a one-stop solution, so you may as well embrace the inevitable:  You will end up uploading to more than one dashboard.

Once you have accepted that, then you can research and carefully choose your mix of aggregators and direct-uploads, so that your books are distributed exactly where you want them to go.

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