As an alternative to Amazon and Google, you could try out the platform “Leanpub.” Leanpub is designed to provide you with just enough to get your book properly published, marketed, and sold. You can read more about how Leanpub applies Agile principles at https://leanpub.com/about. In this section, I will compare Leanpub to Amazon and Google.
Leanpub is still a niche platform (Amazon has around 70% of the e-book market, while Leanpub has maybe 0.25%), so you should examine the drawbacks but also the potential advantages of publishing on Leanpub. The good news is that there is much less competition, meaning that advertising is much easier on Leanpub than on Amazon or Google. The biggest challenge is to publish a book on a topic that interests Leanpub’s audience. In considering the likelihood of your book finding readers on the platform, check out its bestsellers at https://leanpub.com/bookstore/book (as of 2019, these are mostly non-fiction books about project management and software development).
Leanpub operates with a relatively low overhead compared to its competitors, which results in higher royalties for you, the author (80% with Leanpub, 70% with Amazon, and 52% with Google).
Like Google, Leanpub does not provide a print option: you can sell only e-books on both platforms and have to link to other services to sell a printed book. For editing your own work, you might want to have a printed copy in front of you to work on. Even if you do not plan to publish on Amazon, for the option of printing a draft copy of your work, it is worthwhile to use Amazon KDP. If you plan to publish your work exclusively in e-book form, printing it out yourself is probably the easiest option.
Leanpub currently (2019) provides no ratings. From the reader feedback I received on Leanpub for my books, I learned that some potential buyers will check out a book’s rating on Amazon before making a purchase. Google also provides a rating system but currently most people use Amazon to rate books.
Leanpub provides a direct way of contacting you and a basic forum. It uses a different comment system than Amazon, though: visitors do not have access to the forum until they have bought the book.
Leanpub is more lenient than Amazon about description texts in the shop. Feel free to link to your website or even to Amazon so that potential readers can check out the ratings there. On Amazon, book descriptions have to adhere to the rules stated in https://sellercentral.amazon.com/gp/help/external/200390640.
On Leanpub, linking to your book is simple, you can even choose a custom URL. For example, this book is available at https://www.leanpub.com/BBWLTAW. By contrast, linking to your e-book on Amazon can be a challenge as you have to know which of the many local Amazon platforms your visitor uses (Amazon.com, Amazon.co.jp, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, etc.). For example, if you send visitors from Germany to the Amazon.com shop, they cannot buy your book there without being redirected again to the German site.
The upload and publishing process on Leanpub is very straightforward. Your book is available immediately for purchase after you have uploaded the files. You can offer a direct PDF, MOBI, or EPUB download and you can customize the PDF preview. The obvious downside is that you have to create the PDF preview yourself, while Amazon and Google automatically create one for you. Likewise, there are no automatic checks of your files on Leanpub. If there is a problem with your book, customers can contact you directly from the Leanpub website for help.
Leanpub allows you to set up a minimal and recommended price. Buyers can choose whether to donate additional money. This might be a good idea for your fans to show their gratitude but do not expect many strangers to use such an option. Still, compare that to Amazon and you notice how impersonal Amazon’s shopping page is. You do not feel connected with the author when purchasing a book, while Leanpub offers a few options (e.g., mailing list, forum, mailing the author) to connect.
Also, Leanpub allows you, the author, to contact your readers (at least those who opted in to e-mail updates). This is possibly one of the best options as you can directly advertise updates or new editions of the book they have purchased. Leanpub even offers to connect your readers to your external mailing list (if you are using Mailchimp).
Leanpub allows you to offer parts of your book before the book is complete. Selling the book as you are writing it gives people access to your research without having to wait for you to finish editing the entire book. This is especially relevant to books about current topics or technologies. In addition, this approach provides funding through pre-orders, and early feedback from readers which is an essential element of writing a book the Agile way. Amazon’s pre-order option is completely different: it is limited to placing an order for a book up to three months before the actual launch and a customer does not have access to any early drafts. Google’s policies are somewhere in between. There is no time limit for pre-orders but visitors have access only to a preview and customers cannot access the full book before launch day.
There is an advertising “shelf” to which you can add your book at no risk (you do not have to pay for advertising if the book is not sold). The conditions will probably change as the platform becomes more popular. As of 2019, you can buy a shelf position for $49 per month. A shelf means your book is advertised prominently on the main page, reaching a lot more people than on Amazon. One drawback is the shelf purchase page is not very easy to find; you can check out the description at https://leanpub.com/shelf/buy. By comparison, on Amazon, without advertising, your book is usually only found if people search for specific key words and if your book is already popular.
Leanpub has a 45-day no-questions-asked return policy—significantly longer than the seven-day return policies at Amazon and Google. As the founder of Leanpub, Peter Armstrong, explains: “The primary reason is that it makes people more comfortable buying an in-progress book. It removes all the risk of buying an in-progress book, and it will lower the refund %. If a book is not updated in 20 days, is it dead, or did the author just get busy for a few weeks?” (see https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/leanpub/Z17mvHboYaA).
Setting up Your Book on Leanpub
Setting up your book on Leanpub is straightforward:
- 1.Sign up for an author account at https://leanpub.com/sign_up.
- 2.Click on Store / Author (https://leanpub.com/author_dashboard). This is the overview for your royalties earned.
- 3.Click on Metrics / Books / Create Book (https://leanpub.com/create/book).
- 4.Fill out Title, choose the Book URL (the URL you can link to your book from your website), and set Language, and Book Theme.
- 5.Leanpub offers you a book editor, a connection to Google Docs, a text upload, or uploading your book files (Bring your own book). Having created a MOBI and PDF file with Overleaf, choose the last option.
- 6.Leanpub offers three subscription models. For up to 20 updates of your books, choose the Free plan. This should be enough to get you started. Custom themes are only of value if you design the book itself on Leanpub instead of using the imported files from Overleaf.
- 7.Click on Add to plan to finish the creation. Once finished, your book title is accessible in the menu (Books / Your Books).
- 8.Now fill in the rest of the info. That is, author name, book category, contributors, copyright, ISBN number, language, teaser text, book description, meta description (for search engines), and the table of contents. You can open the HTML version you created for your MOBI conversion, copy and paste the table of contents into the text field, and format it as you see fit.
- 9.Further options are to show the reader count, page count, the “Also By” list, and a way to contact you. My recommendation is to be as transparent as possible.
- 10.Finally, upload the book’s front cover, set the pricing, and upload the book’s content. For the preview PDF, the quickest way is to go to your main.tex file in Overleaf, use % to temporarily remove all but the first few chapters in the main matter, press Recompile, name the PDF file something like (your book’s title)-(date)-preview.PDF, and upload it to Leanpub.
- 11.Double-check your uploaded files by downloading them and checking if they are the right version. That is it!