Skip to content

To play, or…well, why wouldn’t you? I mean Google of course.

Just a quick note to folks who might want to publish their own book.

Many people upload to Amazon and call it a day (personally I like creating a .mobi for the purpose, using Jutoh). And those who want a bit more exposure–and who are not interested in Amazon’s KDP program–often go through Smashwords to reach other retailers.

Well, I like Smashwords. But I also like diversification, and I’ll probably use Book Baby for my next novel (shooting for 4/1 on that). Their business model’s a little different: an up-front fee to distribute books (to a slightly different list of retailers than Smashwords’) instead of a percentage, and they say they pay authors right away instead of quarterly.

I think both business models have value. And since they both have a degree of customer lock-in on titles submitted, it’s probably a good idea to use both services if you have multiple books.

But I digress, as you can probably tell since the headline doesn’t really mesh with any of the foregoing. Also you can tell because it’s me, and for some reason I like beating around the bush. (Which just now made me think of lion hunting. Not that I’ve done that myself. I just like reading Peter Capstick.)

Here’s the thing: writers rarely talk about Google Play. And it’s not all that hard to use. A few caveats:

  • You’ll be happier if you buy and use an ISBN. If you don’t, it can add several weeks to their “processing” time.
  • Yes, weeks. No matter what you do, expect weeks to pass before anything happens.
  • Their Java-based uploader flat doesn’t work for me, but it wasn’t hard to use the plain-jane web browser version.
  • After you sign up and submit books, expect to be asked to “attest” to copyright ownership after a few days. I have no idea why this is a separate step. But anyway, don’t fall for their claim that you should submit ISBNs “one per line.” Submit the form once per ISBN, or you’ll get weird email and nothing useful will happen.
  • There’s nothing to make this obvious, but you’ll need to go set up all sorts of account-management stuff, probably to include a bank account, before anything will actually be sold.
  • Seriously: nothing will tell you that you need to set up the financial bit first. But you gotta.
  • Google Books in general is set up to assume they’re getting a print book. They base their app’s user interface on that assumption. So you’ll have to tell them specifically to use the same ISBN you already gave them for an ebook.
  • For the same reason, pricing is awkward. If you have a print book (or several) and you’re happy letting Google price everything at 80% of the print book’s list price, it’s easy. Otherwise, you have to do currency conversions and set up each “market” individually.
  • And if they’re not getting a print book, they mostly expect a PDF. I have no idea why, but you’ll probably end up with a better-formatted EPUB if you just create your own.
  • Speaking of pricing (weren’t we?), they reserve the “right” to discount the price you give. But they will pay you based on the price you set if they do this. So Amazon, or another retailer, may then choose to match Google’s price. (Google may also raise the price, but that hasn’t happened to me yet.) (And so far Amazon hasn’t impressed me with their price-matching…I think they may be cutting down.) (Pun intended, but I’m also fairly serious about this.)
  • Book descriptions don’t show up any time soon. After some googling on my part, I’ve come to suspect they may show up (or not) after 6-10 weeks.
  • Yes. Weeks.
  • I have no idea how book descriptions would ever show up if you actually sent a PDF. At least with an EPUB you can include one. Because there is no part of their application that will let you give them a description of your book. But some books are shown with descriptions. Hmm. Maybe I’ll find out more about this…eventually.
  • Books will show up for sale in “Google Play” before they’re finished processing in the Google Preview program. Possibly weeks earlier.
  • If you upload everything to Google in advance of the date you plan to actually begin selling a book, they’ll allow customers to pre-order. It’s possible that book descriptions will show up in time, though that’s just a guess on my part. This fits the legacy publishing model fairly well, but no so much the indie thing. On the indie side, once your book’s ready to go…you lose money every day it’s not for sale. At least potentially. This is actually true for the legacy model too, but they’ve decided not to care about that.
  • In theory, you can also get paid for user-clicks on ads shown next to your book’s listing. Which requires setting up all the financial stuff again–but separately. You may be able to opt out of this if you think ads are icky. I haven’t tried it yet.
  • Almost forgot: remember the thing about expecting print books? Well, if you give them a “buy link” for your book in their Preview program, they’ll put up a button telling people that link is for a print version. So if you’re selling ebooks on your own site, or you want to link to an Amazon ebook version, or whatever…it doesn’t quite work.
  • [UPDATE: Maybe this is already obvious. But if you do something within Google’s app, don’t expect an acknowledgement for a few days…at least. It wants you to do stuff, but it’s shy and won’t say exactly what–and then it doesn’t want to admit you’ve already done it either. Pity the poor socially-awkward beast if you can, but don’t hate it. I’m fairly sure it means well.]

Okeydokey. I didn’t say they were perfect, or even understandably awkward to use. If you let yourself think about the layers upon layers of silly decisions embedded in their app, you might become cross.

Don’t. Just jump through hoops, and eventually your stuff will be in one more place. Which just might be more important than those easy-to-get Amazon listings in the long run.

YMMV. I just cursed and giggled and googled a lot, and came back to tell you guys about it.




Published inPublishingWild-Ass Speculation


  1. Thanks for the nitty gritty details!
    Curious though, for you do people actually buy from Google books at any level compared to say B&N (about 5% of my sales) or Kobo (maybe 2 total in 3 months ?? way less than 1%) Thx.

    • You’re welcome! Ha.

      But to answer your question…I can’t answer your question. I have no idea. The books have only been up for a couple of days & there are no descriptions so far. I’d expect sales to be between nil and none at this point. But beyond that, I’m not checking sales figures till November anyway.

      I’m at least as curious as you are, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.