Because I decided not to distribute my books exclusively with Amazon, I used Nielsen for two specific parts of my self-publishing process:
- Buying ISBN numbers
- Their Title Editor Service
Here’s my experience of doing that. Bear in mind, as I write this, I am still three weeks away from my publication date and I have made some mistakes along the way, but I hope it’s useful for you to learn from my errors. (Remember also, if you solely use Amazon’s KDP service for ebooks and POD paperbacks, then you won’t need to do all this. If you want to know why I decided not to go exclusively with Amazon then read my blog on Printing Paperbacks with Clays.)
I started this process about four months before my publication date (partly because I still needed my copy-editing completing and because I knew it would take time to get the books printed), but in theory, you could do it more quickly. You can see in each of my sections below how long each process took.
Buying ISBN numbers
This was very simple. I need an ISBN number for each format of my book, which in the first instance is a paperback and ebook (and if I produce an audiobook then I’ll need one for that too). It costs £89 for one ISBN, or £164 for ten, so that was an easy decision. You can see more information on Nielsen’s website. Once you’ve paid, they send you the ISBN numbers within a matter of hours.
What is Nielsen’s Title Editor Service and why do you need it?
If you want online bookstores to be able to find your book (including Amazon for paperbacks in my instance), then you’ll need to register with Nielsen’s Title Editor service. The good news is that the Standard service is free. The registration is simple enough but it took six working days for them to process me and provide a login and password; a fairly standard timeframe I believe. You can then add your book’s details in their online database. Nielsen then provides an automated “data feed” of all their books which online bookstores register to use, and when the stores receive the data feed with your book in it, they will add it to their listings. See below for how long this takes.
When you do register, you need to decide if you are going to use a name for your imprint – i.e. a Publisher Name – or publish under your own name. Personally, I feel it’s more professional to create your own unique name for the imprint – you can see how it looks on Amazon’s book listing in the image here. You don’t have to register the name as a trading company but you might decide to do that depending on how you want to receive income, your legal requirements etc (talk to a qualified lawyer/accountant about that if you want!); but you do need to make sure it’s unique and you’re not “passing off” as another publisher. I did also buy a domain name for my imprint.
You also need to consider how you are going to distribute the book and enter that information in Nielsen’s form. I’m using Clays’ agreement with Gardners to distribute mine, and there are other similar companies to Gardners.
A few other tips:
- The standard service enables you to enter a Short Description for your book which some of the online stores will pickup – but see below for limitations/issues with this. This description is limited to 350 characters and you can’t incorporate any HTML for formatting (italics, bold etc).
- The Publication Status will be ‘Forthcoming’ until your publication date.
- You can enter the price, publication date, the categories the book falls under etc; that’s all fairly self-explanatory.
- You add ‘jacket photos’ of the book for each version by uploading a JPG for each one.
- If you don’t know everything at this time, you can come back and add/update the information later.
Finally, the Availability field is important; see the section below on this.
How Long Does it Take For Online Stores to Add it to Their Listings?
On Nielsen’s website, it says “The book trade standard is [to send new title information] at least five months ahead of your publication date,” which worried the heck out of me, as I thought that it might take the online bookstores five months before they listed my book! The good news is that this isn’t the case (or at least, wasn’t for me). It does vary by website, but for me, Amazon was very quick and had my paperback listed on their site in a matter of days. However: it is now less than three weeks before publication and at this point, although they’re listing it, Amazon are still not letting people buy pre-sale copies, which is very frustrating!
But the good news is that other websites also soon picked up my book in their updates, and BookDepository and Waterstones also added it within a couple of weeks, Foyles and Blackwells soon after that. But Hive and Bookshop.org didn’t list it on their sites until about four weeks before publication date, and WH Smith also did after that. But all those bookstores, as soon as they had it listed, were offering to take pre-orders, which was good for me.
May 4th: Amazon update: I contacted Amazon support to ask them why they weren’t accepting pre-orders when all the other stores were, but I got nowhere with them. But: rather wonderfully, Belle from Clays then emailed me to say that she had noticed Amazon weren’t selling it yet, so she asked her contact at Gardners to contact Amazon, and they sorted it out for me! Just shows that if you build-up a relationship with your suppliers, people will help even when they don’t have to!
A Note on the Availability Field
When you enter your book’s details in the Title Editor, you need to select an Availability status from their list of options. I couldn’t find anything about this online so I hope I have done this right. I initially selected ‘Not Yet Available’ for the paperback version, which was correct at the time as my books were yet to be printed. When I had received the printed paperbacks, I changed it to Available – but within one or two days of doing that, Book Depository started to show on their site that people could now buy the book and they would send it out to them now, even though the publication date was still three weeks away! Not a complete disaster for me, as I only had a few pre-orders of the paperback as far as I was aware, but not ideal. So I changed the Availability to ‘In stock’ instead and the other stores are now showing that it is still available for pre-order. (NB I contacted Book Depository and that is all sorted).
On publication day (or maybe a couple of days before), I will change the Availability to Available.
(If anyone can tell me if this is the right way to be using this field, please do email me or leave a Comment below!)
How to Get Your Synopsis on the Bookstore Listings
Although Amazon picked up my short description on their listing for my book, some of the other stores didn’t; e.g. Waterstones. See the image to the right here for how it looked initially. I discovered that some stores only seem to include Nielsen’s “Long Description” (aka Synopsis for stores such as Waterstones), and to use that you have to pay for Nielseen’s Enhanced Title Editor service, another £79 per year per edition! (i.e. a paperback and Audiobook would be two editions). So, I bit the bullet and bought that for just my paperback. I think it will be useful for at least the first year of its publication. That has worked – sort of – and all the online stores now incorporate that in their listings. The Enhanced service does also mean you can add far more information about books, and Nielsen claims sales will increase. See their page on the Enhanced Service for more details.
You can also add HTML formatting on the Long Description, such as italics, bold, different size fonts and so on. That works fine within Nielsen’s interface. BUT none of the online stores where I’ve seen my book seem to incorporate that formatting, which is very frustrating. In fact, some just run all the text into one long paragraph. I’m sure there must be a way to make the formatting work on their sites, but I haven’t found out how yet. If anyone knows, please do tell me!
One final caveat to this: I did wait several weeks after first using the free Standard Title Editor service to see if Waterstones et al would pick up my Short Description on their site, but then I gave in and bought the Enhanced service. I don’t know whether, if I had waited longer, those bookstores would have eventually incorporated my Short Description. If so, that would be fine maybe; but if not, then sadly I don’t think there is a choice – you need the Enhanced Service. Again, if anyone knows differently or has a different experience, please do add this in the Comments below.
Where I am Now
I will update this section in the future, but at this moment, it is just under three weeks til my publication date. All the online stores are taking pre-orders, I can tell from my stock levels at Gardeners that a few have been sold (which is exciting!) and hopefully Amazon will start selling the paperback soon too. Time will tell if this was all worth it, or whether I should simply have used Amazon’s POD service. I’ll let you know!