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How to Choose an Ebook Distribution Platform (And Self-Distribute With WordPress)

If you’ve finished writing your ebook and are now looking for ways to get it out there, then you’ve landed on the right page. I wrote my first ebook in 2012, and that same ebook is still making me a few thousand dollars in passive income every year. Needless to say, I’ve also learned a thing or two about ebook distribution over the years.

In this article, I’m going to guide you through a decision-making process. Along the way, I’ll explain the various options you’ll have at each stage and the ones that I recommend.

However, as you can see below, there is no way we’ll be able to go into a deep explanation for each and every possibility.

Flowchart demonstrating the entire decision-making process of choosing an ebook distribution method.

There are simply too many!

Not only that, but I’m personally not an expert on all of them. I know they exist, so I’ve shared them as a resource, but I also need to be practical here.

What this means is that at each “intersection,” I will continue down the path that I took (and that I recommend based on my experience).

📚 Here’s what we’re going to cover:

✍️ Part 1 and 3 ebook series:

This is part two of a three-part series on writing, distributing, and selling an ebook.

Go to part one if you need help with writing and editing your ebook.

Go to part three if you need help with designing your website to increase sales.

I intentionally ordered the sections in terms of hierarchy. We’ll start with the most top-level decision and work down from there.

Let’s get started!


Self-distribution vs third-party distribution

This is one of the most important decisions you will make in the entire process of writing and selling your ebook. It will have profound implications both for your profit margins and for the things you’ll do to get up and running.

Let us first look at the benefits of both methods.

Advantages of self-distributing your ebook

  • You have complete control over pricing, marketing, and customer interactions, allowing you to tailor your approach to your audience.
  • Your profit margins are significantly higher because, in most cases, you only have to pay a processing fee to whichever payment processor you use. In contrast, third-party platforms take a cut of each sale, and it’s often exorbitant. For example, if you pick Amazon, they may take up to 65% of each sale!
  • You build and maintain your customer base; in other words, you own your email list, and any successful internet marketer worth their salt will tell you that “the money is in the list.”
  • It’s easy to update your ebook or adjust the content as needed without waiting for approval from the platform hosting your ebook. Using Amazon as an example again, they actually limit what you can and can’t update after you go live with your ebook:
Amazon limits your ability to update your own ebook after it's published.
Amazon’s platform limits your ability to update your ebook.

These are some pretty compelling reasons to go the self-distribution route, but using a third-party platform also comes with its own set of upsides. Let’s take a look at those next.


Advantages of using a third-party platform

  • You will benefit from a built-in audience, which means a lot less work on your part to get eyes on your ebook. Amazon gets more than two billion visitors every month, which averages out to millions on a daily basis [1]. Nobody can compete with that kind of traffic.
  • Third-party platforms will accept payment for your ebook and will provide a digital home to store it so that customers will be able to download it after they pay you.
  • You’ll get help with customer service if there’s a problem with downloading or payment, since those issues will be directly connected to the third-party platform.

So which method should you go with?

Like many things in life: it depends.

Mainly, it depends on what’s important to you and where you fall on the spectrum of instant versus delayed gratification. Let’s take a look at who would benefit from each method.

Third-party distribution

If you want to start seeing cashflow as soon as possible and you don’t mind sacrificing control and long-term profit in exchange for traffic and exposure, then third-party platforms are your best bet. Three popular options you can go with are:

Self-distribution (✅ my recommendation)

I personally chose to self-distribute and I would still recommend this as the best approach today.

If you’re in it for the long haul and you want your ebook to continue making you passive income years after you finish writing it, then self-distribution is the way to go. You’ll need a little patience in the beginning, but it’ll pay off in the long run.

Assuming you take my advice, then at a very high level, you’ll need to decide between two routes: don’t have a website versus have a website. I recommend the latter, but let’s take a closer look at both.

No website + somewhere to store your ebook + payment processor
GoDaddy's Pay Links service lets you accept payments for your ebook without a website.

Going this route means that you’ll need to find a place to store your ebook. This isn’t the primary drawback – since it’s pretty easy to use a free option, like Google Drive, Dropbox, or TeraBox. But it is one additional thing to worry about. The main downside to not having a website is that you’ll have to rely on social media and video platforms to market your work, or possibly pay an influencer to do it for you (via platforms like Fiverr or IZEA).

If that’s alright by you, then you can consider using one of the following:

  • GoDaddy Pay Links: This service lets you easily create and share links to collect payments without a website. You can customize pay links with the name of your ebook, logo, or even a domain name. If you end up using this service, I would suggest investing in a domain name since it will look more professional, and if you do decide to build a website later on, then you’ll already have the domain for it. GoDaddy charges a fee of 2.9% of your sale plus $0.30 per transaction.
  • Shopify Starter plan: This plan enables you to sell through social media, emails, and other digital platforms without a full online store. It includes product pages, a mobile point of sale, and the Linkpop tool for managing product links on social media. It costs $5 per month, along with transaction fees of 5% of each sale.
  • Gumroad: With Gumroad, you can quickly set up a simple landing page to showcase and sell your ebook. The platform streamlines the selling process, allowing your readers to purchase and instantly download your ebook after checkout. It also has a feature called Gumroad Discover where you can request to have Gumroad recommend your ebook across various sections of their website. The fees are somewhat high, though. They take 10% of each sale + transaction fees.
  • Taplink: If you’re an Instagram user or are considering using it to promote your ebook, then Taplink should be on your radar. It’ll turn your Instagram from a promotion method to a full-on distribution method. With Taplink, you can create a micro-landing page that accepts payments (via third-party integration). There’s a free plan, but you still have to pay transaction fees to the payment processor (e.g., Paypal).
Website + payment processor (✅ my recommendation)

This is the preferred route.

Why?

Because an ebook is written content, this means that your primary form of providing free upfront value should match the thing that you’re selling. Being charismatic in a YouTube video or Instagram reel doesn’t automatically translate to being a good writer – and you’re not selling a video course. You’re selling an ebook.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t rely on other formats outside of your primary format to showcase your competence on the subject. In fact, I would argue the opposite. But you need to convince your audience that your writing is valuable – valuable enough that they’d be willing to spend money to get more of it. And that means writing lots of quality blog posts on a website, which means you need to build one. Let’s talk about that next.


Website builder vs CMS

Website builder vs CMS decision-making flowchart.

These days, you have what feels like an infinite number of options to build a functioning website on the internet. Even though the number is obviously finite, in practical terms, there is no way you’d ever want to spend time exploring all of them.

At the highest level, the first decision you need to make is whether you’d prefer to use a website builder or a content management system (CMS).

Let’s examine both.

Advantages of website builders

Website builders are intentionally designed to cater to first-timers who want to get their website up and running as easily and quickly as possible. To accomplish this goal, they offer the following:

  • Website hosting is bundled in with the service, thus eliminating the need to find a hosting service on your own.
  • An extremely simplified interface designed for easy site creation via “drag-and-drop” systems. These let you pick various website elements and “drop them” on the page.
  • Ecommerce and payment processing capabilities are often native to the website builder platform (especially on higher-level ecommerce plans), rather than requiring the integration of third-party plugins.

Overall, website builders are attractive to beginners because the learning curve to get started is extremely low. However, they also come with some negative trade-offs – namely cost and flexibility.


Advantages of content management systems

These are the gold standards when it comes to building a website to distribute your ebook. They’re marginally cheaper than website builders for what they offer in return. They are also more flexible in many ways.

  • The fact that everything is not all bundled into one package might feel inconvenient at first, but down the line, you will most likely appreciate the granular control that a CMS will give you.
  • It’s easier to scale your website over time according to your needs. This once again comes down to having more control. With website builders, you might find that one aspect of your site will outgrow your current plan, but your only option will be to jump into a higher plan that has way more than you need (and that you’ll be stuck paying for as part of the deal).
  • While website builders have significantly improved in terms of their template offerings and overall design capabilities, they still aren’t as robust as content management systems. Put another way, you’ll be able to achieve whatever look you want with a CMS, versus just settling for something “good enough.”

In the end, if you don’t mind spending a bit of time learning how to navigate your way around a CMS and buying your own hosting, then a content management system will reward you with more control and customization capabilities at a marginally lower price.


So which option should you go with?

I’m going to sound repetitive here, but just like with the decision between third-party distribution and self-distribution, this also depends. It mainly comes down to how much web development experience you already have or how generally tech-savvy you are versus how much time you want to invest in learning new things.

If you have absolutely no experience building websites and you don’t consider yourself a very tech-savvy person, then undoubtedly going with a website builder will make it faster and easier for you to get started. Some of the most popular choices currently available are Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, or Webflow.

On the other hand, if you do consider yourself to be tech-savvy and/or don’t mind a learning curve, then choosing a CMS is the better bet.

Content management systems (✅ my recommendation)

My recommendation is to go with WordPress. That’s not to say that some of the other CMS aren’t good – they are – but unless you already know how to use them, then your time is better spent learning WordPress.

Here’s why:

Nearly half of the websites on the entire internet are built using WordPress [2]. This means you can feel confident that the underlying tech powering your website isn’t going to become obsolete. In addition, if you ever run into any speed bumps, there’s a very high likelihood that whatever problem you encounter won’t be unique, and a solution to it will already be posted somewhere.

I don’t want to turn this into a full-scale “why you should use WordPress” article, but you should use WordPress. 😆

Since WordPress is self-hosted, it also means you’ll need to choose a hosting provider and then install the WordPress software on your own. Luckily, because of its immense popularity, there are lots of options that offer simple one-click WordPress installs.

💡 Quick note: The WordPress I’ve been referring to is the one you can find on WordPress.org. There is also a WordPress.com, which uses the same underlying CMS but bundles hosting into it. While this simple explanation might seem like .com is the better choice (it’s not), there is more to it than that. For a detailed look, check out this comparison between the two on our sister site.


How to build a website for your ebook

When I first built my website back in 2012, I purchased hosting from HostGator. I stayed with them for many years but recently transferred to Namecheap due to an unprecedented and overly aggressive price hike. I went from paying $77.70 USD every six months to $118.74. That’s an almost 53% increase for the same exact service. It was hard to look at it as anything other than a case of price gouging.

Now, let’s build your site!

First things first, head to Namecheap’s website and sign up for their entry-level hosting package. It’s called the Stellar Plan. As part of the registration process, you’ll be asked to connect a domain name to your hosting plan:

Namecheap hosting registration process.

The domain name you choose is going to be the name of your website – like www.yourwebsite.com.

Ultimately, it will be up to you what you want to name your site, but I’d keep the focus on the subject matter of your book. For a deeper dive into this, here’s a good way to pick a domain name.

After you finish the process of choosing your domain and paying for the hosting plan, you’ll want to install WordPress on your new site. You can follow Namecheap’s guide to get that done easily.

Setting the foundation

With WordPress installed, you’re ready to log in and set up your basic website.

💡 The default WordPress admin login URL is www.yourwebsite.com/wp-login.php – just don’t forget to replace yourwebsite with whatever your site’s domain name is.

Once you get inside, you’ll be greeted with the WordPress dashboard:

The WordPress Dashboard.

It might feel like there’s a lot going on at first, but you don’t necessarily need to learn everything right away. The two main areas that I want to show you are themes and plugins.

Themes

You can think of WordPress themes as the foundation for your website’s design and layout. They come with pre-designed templates for various pages, such as the homepage, blog, about page, and more. This allows you to quickly set up a cohesive and visually appealing website without starting from scratch. Additionally, many themes are highly customizable, enabling you to tweak colors, fonts, and other design elements to match your ebook’s branding perfectly.

These days, the top-level decision you need to make when deciding on a theme is whether you want to use a block theme or a classic theme.

Block themes are the newer generation of WordPress themes, built around the block editor (Gutenberg). This is the default WordPress editor, which replaced the classic editor in December 2018. Block themes provide a more modular approach, allowing you to construct pages and posts using reusable content blocks. They offer greater flexibility, making it easier to create unique layouts and designs without extensive coding knowledge.

Suggestions: Raft (this is the theme I use for my ebook site), Inspiro Blocks, Jadro, Tove, Neve FSE

Classic themes follow the traditional “old school” WordPress theme structure, with set content areas and predefined layouts. They often rely on widgets and custom fields to add functionality and content blocks. While classic themes are time-tested and still widely used, they offer less flexibility compared to block themes.

Suggestions: Neve, Astra, Sydney, Divi

To access the theme repository, use the left-hand side menu inside the WordPress dashboard. Hover your mouse over Appearance. Then click on Themes, and then Add New Theme.

Accessing the theme repository via the WordPress dashboard.

From there, you can use the search bar to check out the themes I suggested above or simply browse around to see if any other themes catch your eye. There are even specific ebook themes available, but in my humble opinion, they aren’t better than the tried and tested themes I recommended. You’re welcome to check them out for yourself, though.

Plugins

Have you ever played Super Mario Bros? In that game, Mario would run into certain power-ups, and those power-ups would unlock new abilities. Well, that’s basically what plugins are. But instead of letting you shoot fireballs or fly like a raccoon, they let you do things like accept payments on your site for your ebook.

That’s just scratching the surface, though. There are quite literally tens of thousands of plugins in the WordPress repository that will let you enhance your site in ways that you’ve never even thought about. Here are the ones that I recommend to get your site off to a strong start:

  • Optimole: This is arguably the best image optimization plugin available, with a generous free plan that will suit you perfectly when launching your site.
  • Otter Blocks: The native WordPress block editor has a lot of basic blocks that make a good foundation for your site. Otter Blocks builds on that foundation by adding 30+ new blocks.
  • Wordfence: Criminal hackers suck. Wordfence keeps them out of your site. Need I say more?
  • WP Fastest Cache: Slow websites also suck. This plugin makes your site faster. Get it.
  • Yoast SEO: While the SEO game has recently been hit with some major changes – to the point where many pros today are encouraging people to ignore SEO for better results – the Yoast plugin is still useful for its readability suggestions.

Just like with themes, you can find all of these plugins via the dashboard. From the left-hand side menu, go to Plugins ➡️ Add New Plugin. Then just use the search bar to find the plugins I suggested above. After you type the name of each one, you’ll see it populate. Click on Install Now. Wait a few seconds. The Install Now button will change to an Activate button. Repeat until all of the plugins are installed and activated.

Accessing the plugin repository from the WordPress dashboard.

Selecting a payment processor

You’ll notice that in the plugin recommendations I made above, I didn’t mention a plugin to accept payments. The reason for that is that you don’t necessarily need to do it that way. You can also use a third-party platform – which is what I did.

I took this approach for two primary reasons.

First, when I launched my site and before I had a lot of testimonials, I thought that overcoming the trust barrier was one of my biggest hurdles. By choosing an external provider with a good reputation and a built-in refund policy, I felt that it would put potential customers more at ease than if I were processing the payments directly myself.

Related to that, I didn’t know as much about WordPress security at the time, and so I also didn’t feel 100% comfortable with having people enter their financial information on my website.

So resorting to a third-party payment processor felt like a natural choice.

I decided to use ClickBank. This was for four main reasons:

  • It’s easy to use.
  • It has a trusted reputation.
  • It has a very fair commission structure for payouts.
  • It has a built-in marketplace with an affiliate network that will promote your ebook (thus increasing your sales).

👉🏻 If you decide to follow in my footsteps, then please see this comprehensive see this comprehensive tutorial that explains how to add your ebook to ClickBank.

I’ve been with ClickBank for more than ten years at this point, and I’ve had no issues. They always pay on time. They have a nice interface with good analytics, and you can adjust your payout thresholds and payment frequency easily. Overall, I would recommend them, but they are certainly not the only game in town. Let’s look at some other options.

Alternative ways to accept payment

You may have realized this already, but this is actually another decision-making intersection where you can decide between using a WordPress plugin and using a third-party provider like I did. I already told you what I did and why, but if you’d like to take the plugin route, here are some options to consider:

I made them clickable links but you can also just use the same search feature in the WordPress dashboard like I described for the other plugins.


Adding an ebook to your WordPress site

After you choose your payment processor, you’re going to want to upload your ebook to your site and provide a way for people to access it – but only after they’ve paid you, of course.

I’m going to show you how to do it with the assumption that you will also choose ClickBank as your payment processor. If you end up using a WordPress plugin instead, the process might be different in some ways. This is because some plugins will have their own built-in methods for generating a payment confirmation screen and for secure file storage, which are the two pages we’re going to manually create.

Creating a payment confirmation page

From the WordPress dashboard, go to Pages and then Add New Page (you can click on it in either the sub-menu or the button up top).

Adding a new page from the WordPress dashboard.

Once inside the new page, you can choose to add some images or other design elements, or you can keep it really simple. The main thing is to put a note that provides a link to the page where the ebook itself will be stored and a password to open up that page:

An example of a simple payment confirmation screen on the backend.

You won’t have the link yet because we’re going to create that page after this one, but you can either type it in manually (knowing what it will be) or hold off and come back to it afterwards. Beyond that, if you’re going to be using ClickBank, then you’ll also need to add three other required elements to the page. These are:

  • Your contact information
  • A disclaimer clarifying that ClickBank does not endorse your ebook
  • A note that the customer’s purchase will be reflected as “ClickBank” or “CLKBANK*COM”

With that out of the way, scroll down to the bottom of the page until you see the Yoast SEO section on the bottom left.

💡 Remember that Yoast is a plugin you have to install first – otherwise, you won’t see it.

Look for the sub-row titled Advanced. Open it up and change both options to No:

Telling Yoast to inform search engines to not index your payment confirmation page.

This will instruct Yoast to tell Google and other search engines not to index this page, which is important because otherwise it might show up in search results.

If you install some other SEO plugin instead of Yoast, it should have a similar option (but will obviously look a little different).

That’s it for this step. Just hit Publish on the top right when everything looks good to you, and the page will go live.

Creating a file storage page

Now you have to make a very simple page to store your file. To begin, add another new page in the same way we did before. Once you’re inside the WordPress editor, click on the + button to open up the block search box. Then type in “pdf,” and you’ll see the File block come up. Click on it:

Adding a PDF file of your ebook to your file storage page in WordPress.

It’s pretty self-explanatory from here. Just click on Upload to upload your file:

Uploading the PDF file of your ebook.

After that, you’ll need to password-protect the page. Look on the top right of the screen for a section titled Visibility. Click on Public and then change it to Password protected:

Changing the visibility settings of your file storage page from public to password protected.

Make sure you put the same password that you instructed your buyers to use on the payment confirmation page in the previous step. And also, if you didn’t manually type out the link to this page on the payment confirmation page, then don’t forget to go back and add it in after you publish this page.

The last important part of this step is to scroll back down to Yoast again to tell it not to index this page in search engines.

In addition, Yoast has a section where you can set the slug for the page – that’s the part that comes after your main domain name (i.e., www.yoursite.com/this-is-the-slug). I recommend making your slug a long string of absolute gibberish so that nobody can guess it:

Setting your slug in Yoast to be absolute gibberish so nobody can guess your file storage page.

If you do everything successfully, you’ll wind up with a good basic foundation for distributing your ebook using WordPress. You’ll still need to create helpful blog posts and play around with the look and feel of your site, but your base will be set.


Did you make it to the finish line?

If you made it this far, congratulations! That was a lot to get through. I hope it gave you a solid overview of all the different ways you can distribute your ebook.

Take a look at the entire decision-making flow from start to finish once more – this time with the recommended choices highlighted:

Flowchart demonstrating the recommend choices to take for distributing an ebook.

As you can see, the path I took and recommend is only one of many. If, for some reason, it doesn’t suit you, you’ve got plenty of other options to explore and the resources to do it.

Be sure to check out the third and final article in this series, where I review how to design your website to get the maximum possible sales.

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