As the sun sets on Pronoun we can continue to enjoy its benefits while evaluating the alternatives. Since their inception as Vook, through their evolution as Pronoun, and their acquisition by Macmillan, all parties have upheld the highest standards for independent publishing with tools, services, royalties, and data that has up-leveled the industry as a whole. I'm sorry to see them go.
Short Window of Opportunity to Switch
Even if you’re not using Pronoun, this post will help you figure out how best to distribute your eBook. If you are using Pronoun, it'll help you make the switch with suggested solutions and a tutorial on how to get your files. But there’s no need to scramble for an alternative just yet. Thank Macmillan for giving us a couple of months to adjust our strategies. We have until January 15, 2018, to figure it out. Let’s explore the options starting with the practical stuff, and ending with the reasons Macmillan might have shut down Pronoun.
I think that the easiest and most profitable way for most authors is to go directly to Amazon. Just upload your ebook to Amazon KDP. Be sure to follow the instructions for modifying your doc or EPUB file for the best results. Pair Amazon KDP with Smashwords, which has the widest ebook distribution in the industry, for a complete ebook distribution solution.
Do Your Own Formatting
Some people find it difficult to get their manuscript accepted by Smashwords. I don't really understand why, especially when Book Design Templates do all the formatting for you. (I know that a lot of authors don't know how to use Word "Styles," but I think all writers should know how to use your writing tools. See my previous post on how to use Styles.) And there are people who can do this for your for as low as $40 on Mark's List. But the lack of motivation to learn styles explains the popularity of automated ebook formatting services supplied by Pronoun, Draft2Digital, StreetLib, and PublishDrive, among others.
Automated Formatting Services
If you were attracted to the automatic ebook formatting that Pronoun offered, you'll look to Draft2Digital (D2D) for its cloud-based formatting tool and great customer service. They're seeing a big spike in business since Pronoun's announcement.) StreetLib, which is based in Italy, and PublishDrive, based in Hungary, are also popular eBook creation and distribution services. They're all promoting themselves as Pronoun alternatives right now, the latter two with tools that convert Pronoun files directly into their own systems.
Once you've created your files with D2D or the other two, you can download your book files and distribute wherever you wish, but these companies hope you'll make your book with them and use them for distribution, too.
I tested D2D and StreetLib services last week. I created a book using the StreetLib book creation tool, pasting my manuscript, chapter-by-chapter, into their book creation tool. (I would have simply uploaded a Word doc but my manuscript was in InDesign.)
Then I chose a theme and uploaded the cover. From StreetLib Write I downloaded the MOBI to my desktop and then uploaded it to StreetLib Publish. (They told me they're working on a one-step Write-to-Publish process.) I selected Amazon distribution only and made it free. I was really impressed with the quality of the formatting. You can see it here.
Like Smashwords, StreetLib gives you a simple storefront for direct sales. Mine is here.
The next day I uploaded the StreetLib book to D2D, which was easy. I wanted to remove the "Created by StreetLib" note on the copyright page and so I used the free Calibre program to open the EPUB and make that simple edit. (See my previous post on using Calibre.)
I also tested the D2D book creation service with an unfinished book I have in Word. It found and separated the chapters perfectly and I liked the formatting options and the automated front- and back-matter generation opportunities, too.
For those of you who want a centralized solution for your ebooks and print books, you might consider IngramSpark. You'll need to provide your own EPUB file (and print book files, too).
As you see, there are lots of choices, and many other ebook distribution companies I haven't listed. (If you want to investigate further, the Alliance of Independent Authors has published a lengthy post that evaluates other services in great detail.)
Here are my recommended options for distribution to Amazon and the major retailers.
— Amazon KDP (takes 30% list) plus Smashwords (takes 40% list from distributed books and 20% from direct sales)—widest ebook distribution network.
— Draft2Digital (takes 10% list)—easiest EPUB creation, distributes to 10 major retailers, including Amazon.
—StreetLib (takes 40% net) or PublishDrive (60% list)—easy EPUB creation, very wide Euro-centric distribution, including Amazon.
(Note: You may also use Draft2Digital, StreetLib, or PublishDrive to publish to Amazon only and use Smashwords to publish everywhere else.)
— IngramSpark ($49 setup fee and 40% list)—largest book distribution company in the world. Provide your own files.
— Gatekeeper Press ($249, eBook distribution only)—a la carte and full service and great distribution with no royalty split.
— BookBaby ($1299 complete publishing package)—full service, wide distribution with no royalty split (and, as an aside, superior print quality).
How to Make It Free & Why
It’s a great idea to offer your book for free, permanently or periodically, as part of a marketing campaign, and Pronoun made that easy. You don't have to use Amazon's exclusive KDP Select program to do this and besides, they only let you offer it for free for five days. Both the exclusivity and the five-day limit are big negatives. I think you should offer it for free a lot more often than that. See The Power of Free: How to Sell More E-Books for insights.
Even though Amazon KDP doesn't allow you to set your book price to free, you can force them to do it. Just price your book at 99 cents on Amazon and price it for free elsewhere (such as Smashwords). Guess what? Amazon will price match! Mark Coker of Smashwords published details on this workaround way back in a 2015 blog post.
If for some reason you don't want to use Amazon KDP to make your eBook free on Amazon, you can use Draft2Digital, StreetLib, or PublishDrive. They all allow you to pick and choose where you distribute your book and they let you set your book’s price to free.
How to Get Your Files from Pronoun
Before January 15, 2018, log in to Pronoun and download your assets to your hard drive. Pronoun gives you the EPUB, MOBI, and docx file, plus the metadata text file to upload to any service you wish.
Here’s the procedure in seven easy steps.
1. Log in to Pronoun and click Migrate off of Pronoun…
2. The next screen offers you tools to get your assets (your book files) so you can upload them to another service. Choose Email Me My Assets. Later, when you’ve uploaded them to Amazon KDP (or wherever), you will need to return and click Remove Books From Sale.
3. You’ll receive an email a little while later. Mine looked like this. Easy!
4. Click the link and save the zip file to your hard drive.
5. Now find the zip file on your hard drive and click to unzip it. In the resulting folder, you’ll see your EPUB, MOBI, and docx file, plus the metadata text file.
6. You can upload your EPUB for distribution to any service you wish. (See the Amazon KDP instructions on uploading. Their how-to page is super explicit.)
7. Once you’ve uploaded and tested your book you’re ready. Don’t click PUBLISH on your new service before you’ve removed your books from sale on Pronoun. (See Step 2.) But go ahead and upload and test it, and make any adjustments needed in Calibre.
Why Did Macmillan Shut Down Pronoun?
In my May 2016 post on the Macmillan acquisition, I surmised that Macmillan bought Pronoun for their data and analytics. Turns out, that’s true. According to Jeff Seroy, Senior VP of Publicity and Marketing at Macmillan, they’ve spent the last year and a half investing in further development of that side of the business and dropped the unprofitable self-publishing platform.
Seroy confirmed by email that “We continue to invest in the data and analytics side of the company as we have found it of great value in everything from acquisition decisions to marketing decisions.”
He wrote that “After acquiring Pronoun early in 2016, we invested in further development of the technology. While we received terrific feedback from authors who used the platform, we came to the conclusion that there wasn't a path forward to a profitable business model and decided to shut down the platform.”
Pronoun started as Vook, a video book creation company that was founded as a service for traditional publishing houses, then morphed into an ebook creation company when it became clear that there wasn't a big market for video in books.
Hey, it's not like dozens of self-publishing services pop up and shut down every year, but I'll miss Pronoun more than most. Thank you so much for doing your thing. I loved watching the Vook-Pronoun-Macmillan evolution and admire the skills, vision, and transparency of all the players. It's been a class act.
Are You Using Pronoun?
Do you use Pronoun? Does this shutdown affect you? Are you new to ebook distribution? I'd love to hear about your plans in the comments section below.
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