eBook Publishers: Google

March 13, 2015

It’s time once more for another installment in my ongoing series on the different platforms I used to publish my first eBook, Satin & Sutherland – The Golden Curse. Here I recount what I went through on each of the different platforms in order to get my book into the wild.

In this, my third posting on the topic, I’ll be discussing Google Play.

Account Creation

The login page for Google is the Books Partner Center, but that name isn’t very prominent being a subtitle for Google Play. Google requires a free online account be setup to submit books to be released. Google has done a lot of work to unify all their different services and so if you already have an account with them for something else (like Gmail or YouTube) you use that same account here. The basic account only needs a contact name, contact email address, and country.

Beyond the basic account details you will also have to setup your payment information. You have to create at least one payment profile with Google. This involves filling in your banking details including your institution, transit, and account numbers. All of these can be found on your cheques if you have a chequing account and Google provides a handy cheque diagram showing where the numbers come from.

An interesting note about the banking details. Once you’ve set up your bank information, Google will make a small deposit into that account of a few cents. Once that happens you need to go back into your banking details on Google and verify that you received the deposit. This is a step that Google takes to ensure the bank connection is correct. Until you’ve verified the link, Google won’t allow you to sell your books, so you’ll want to get this in place early.

You also need to fill in your tax details. I was glad I had chosen to release my book on Amazon first as it outlined the options for being a Canadian author. As with Amazon, Google is a U.S. based company. As such, ebook sales are taxed at a rate of 30% by the federal government. However, being a Canadian author I was able to fill out a digital W8-BEN form, which is usable by Canadian citizens with a SIN number, to prevent that withholding tax from being withheld. This is the same process that Amazon uses, however Amazon explains it more clearly than Google. Had I started with Google I’d probably be losing 30% off my sales now.

As with the other publishing platforms, Google has their standard agreement that you have to accept in order to publish with them. I really recommend taking your time going through this one as there are a number of unique features here.

Not unique is that if you’re listing on multiple platforms then when you list on Google your price must be comparable to the other platforms. The tricky part here is that when you enter your price in, the price that Google will list for is automatically discounted to 75% of your actual price. This is described in the agreement and you will see the result of this price adjustment when your book becomes available in the Google Play store; however, you will not see any indication of this discount within the Book Partner Center itself. This is especially important as at least Amazon compares against Google to ensure prices are roughly comparable. Letting Google discount your price to 75% may cause the other platforms to do the same.

Another thing to be aware of when putting your book on Google is that they make a minimum of 20% of your book available as a preview per IP address per month. This means, in theory, that if a person is really familiar with Google searching tools, then every month they can read another 20% of your book for free until they’ve read the whole thing (They can do this even faster if they have access to multiple computers with different IP addresses). It’s up to you to decide if that’s a concern or not.

Finally, Google’s standard royalty rate is below industry average. Google only provides a 54% royalty on your book sales as of the time of this writing.

Book Submission

Once you have your account in place with Google, you’re ready to submit your book. Even if you’ve submitted your book on a couple of the other platforms, be prepared for this to take some time. I found the Google submission process to be very awkward and rough around the edges. Unlike with Amazon and Kobo, it seems as if the designers on Google Play did not work with actual authors to design their submission process.

First you’ll enter your online Book Catalogue and from their hit the “Add book” button to start the process. Adding a book will ask for an ISBN number to be filled in before you can proceed. This will be the ISBN for the ePUB version of your book if you obtained one (this is a different edition number from the ISBN for any physical copy you may have printed). Google also allows you to create a book without an ISBN, in which case it is assigned a unique GGKEY identifier by Google.

Google’s process then takes you through a series of five steps where you fill in the details of your book, upload your files, and set prices. Google does not indicate which fields are required as you enter the data and I’m uncertain exactly of which ones are required. The onus appears to be on the author to ensure that all necessary information is filled in.

The first step is to fill in general details. These consist of the following.

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Description – Your back cover blurb. Some limited formatting, such as bold and italics, can be included.
  • Contributors – Here you can add the names of any number of contributors to the book and choose their role. Minimally you should add an Author contributor line.
  • Biographical Note – Your bio information. Again you can use some limited formatting, such as bold and italics.

The second step is where you provide your content. Google classifies your ePUB document and your cover image as content files. In this step you hit an “Upload content” button which gives you a dialog where you can select your ePUB file and your cover image. Multiple files can be uploaded at the same time but must each be under 2 GB in size.

The upload page doesn’t give you any information on cover image size and dimensions. For my book, I used a 1600x2400 JPEG image. Google accepts JPEG, TIFF, and oddly PDF as cover image formats.

Once you’ve uploaded your content you’ll probably want to preview it to ensure everything transferred correctly. Unfortunately, with Google you are out of luck. Google does not provide a previewing tool for your eBook.

In order to review your book you must complete the publishing process and wait for the book to become available in the Google Play store. At that point, as Google’s separate FAQ describes, you can assign a “reviewer copy” of the book to yourself. You can then go into Google Play to receive your reviewer copy in order to check that the cover image and ePUB have uploaded properly.

Once you’ve uploaded your content (and crossed your fingers that it has arrived safely) you move onto the third step, which is setting prices. Here you can add in a single price for the entire world or you can choose to add in separate prices for all regions. Entering a price requires you to fill in the following.

  • Currency – You must type the abbreviation for the currency you want to use. For example, if you want to use Canadian dollars you’d type CAD. As you type, a dropdown will appear with items matching what you type from which you can choose the specific currency abbreviation you want.
  • Amount – The amount to charge for the book. IMPORTANT: Remember that Google will list your book for 75% of whatever you actually enter. To get the amount that you really want to charge (and that you may be charging on other platforms) you will need to multiply your price by 1.33. This counters the 75% discount Google gives so that your book lists properly on Google Play. If you do not do this, then other sites, like Amazon, may discount your book to 75% as well. The Google interface does not indicate that it will discount your book 75% anywhere. You will only see this value when you go into the store itself.
  • Territory – By default, when you add a price it will be assigned to the entire “WORLD”. You can change this, but you must manually type in the territory name. You do not select it from a dropdown.
  • Tax included in price – A “more details” link lets you indicate if your price includes taxes for the territory you are setting the price for. This is unchecked by default.
  • Optional start and end date for your promotional price – Using a calendar dropdown you can choose a start and end date for a promotional price. If you set two prices for one territory, then the promotional price is used for the period you set here before reverting to the non-promotional price.

The fourth step in the process is called “Settings”. This is where you’ll enter all the real book details that are familiar from the other publishing platforms as well as a lot of stuff that is specific only to Google. These details are made up of the following.

  • Book Format – From a dropdown you choose whether the book is related to a hardback, paperback, or digital edition. You can only choose one of these and if your book has an ISBN then it should be a digital ISBN so you should always be selecting digital here.
  • Related ISBNs – Google allows you to enter in any number of additional ISBNs that relate to your book. These could be for physical copies or for other digital editions (such as the Kindle and iBook editions).
  • Subject – This is a really awkward part of setting up your book on Google. This subject matches the international standard subjects that you’ll choose on other publishing platforms. However, unlike the other platforms, which give you a nice tree to choose from, here you must first select from a dropdown the standards body you want (this can be different regionally) then you must type in the specific code for the subject. You can type in the numerical code or part of the name. What you can’t do is see all the available types in a convenient list. The easiest way to fill this out is to publish your book on another platform first and then use the subject names from there as reference for typing them in correctly on Google.
  • Language – This is another awkward part of setting up your book. Instead of choosing the language of your book from a simple dropdown, Google requires you to manually type in an ISO 639-2/B code that represents the language. For English, this code is “eng”. Google actually directs you to a Wikipedia page to scroll through a list of these codes to find what you’re searching for.
  • Age Groups – You can add as many age groups for the book as you want. You select these groups from a dropdown which gives you different age ranges in three year increments (0-2, 3-5, 6-8, etc.) up to 18+.
  • Publication date – This is the publication date for the book, but there’s a catch. This date does not control when new books become available in the store. This date is purely for informational purposes. The release of the book on Google Play is controlled by the “On Sale Date” further down the page.
  • Page Count – You can type in an official page count if you have one or you can leave this as 0.
  • Series Name – If your book is part of a series you can enter the name here.
  • Volume in Series – You can type in the number of the book within the series. So if your book is the second in a series you could type in 2 here.
  • Publisher Name – If you’re independently publishing then you can type in your name here or the name of your company.
  • On Sale Date – The date you want the book to actually be made available in Google Play. You can leave this blank for it to be available immediately.
  • DRM Enabled – A checkbox to control if digital rights management is added to your book or not.
  • Show Photos in eBook – If your book contains images then this indicates that you have the rights to publish those images as part of the book. A checkbox controls this.
  • Only Display Flowing Text From an ePub I Provided – I believe this is in the case that you have a physical copy of your book. Google has undertaken a project (Google Books) to scan books in and make parts of them accessible under fair use laws. By correctly identifying additional ISBN numbers higher on the page, you can use this checkbox to indicate that you are the official source for the online version of the books and that only your ePUB should be made available and not any scan that Google has made. I think.
  • Include Scanned Pages – Check this box if you want Google to convert your ePUB to a PDF and make the PDF available as well. This is turned on by default.
  • For mature audiences? – Check this box if your book contains mature content.
  • Copy/Paste Percentage – When a person buys your book, this controls how much of the text they can copy out of the book with their computer and paste elsewhere. This is selected from a dropdown of percentages and defaults to 0%.
  • Preview Type – From a dropdown you can select how much of the book is available as a preview in ten percent increments starting at 20%. You can even choose 100%, but I believe in that case you must make your book available for free. When you submit your book for publishing on Google Play it is also made available on Google Books. This percentage controls how much of the book can be viewed on Google Books by a single IP address each month.
  • Territories – Here you must type in the territories where you have rights to publish your book. By default this is set to “WORLD” but you can change this. Google does not build this automatically from the territories you chose on the Prices step. Instead, if your territories are not global you must follow Google’s guidelines to successfully type in on a single line the territories you have rights to.
  • Buy Link Text – When your book goes live, it appears on Google Books (as well as Google Play). You can use this Buy Link Text to type in the name of your website if you are directly selling the book from there so that it will appear on google Books. Otherwise you can leave it blank.
  • Buy Link – Again, if you’re making the book available from your own website you can use this to include the web address of your site.
  • Publisher Website – The web address of your publisher’s website or your own website if you are not publishing through a publisher. You can fill this in whether you are selling a physical copy of the book or not.
  • Publisher Logo – You can choose to upload an image for your publisher’s logo to go with the publisher website link. Unlike with cover images, Google provides a direct link to its guidelines on the logo formats.
  • Preview Details – This consists of two checkboxes which allow you to indicate if photos can be shown in the preview and if a PDF of the preview can be downloaded. The first is turned on by default, the second is turned off.
  • No Preview Before On Sale Date – If your sale date is in the future then you can check this box to indicate that the preview should not go live until the sale date has been reached.

Finally, you will be able to move to the Publish step. Here you click the Ready to Publish button. When you do so your book will be shown to you in the Book Catalog section of the Partner Center. Here it will be displayed with a status of “Processing” until the book becomes available in the Google Play store.

Google doesn’t send you any notification of when your book becomes available so you will have to keep checking. Try as I might, I couldn’t find anywhere where Google says how long it takes for a book to be published. For my book, I submitted in the morning and it was available at least as early as 3:00 PM that same day.

After the book has become available in the Google Play store you will finally be able to preview it to see if it uploaded correctly. To do so, go to your Book Catalog from the main dashboard and edit your book. This will put you back into the series of steps that you saw when you first entered the details for your book, but a few things will have changed.

Switch to the Content step in the publishing process. At the bottom of the page you’ll now find a “Quality Reviewers” section. Here you can press an “Add” button that will cause Google to prompt you for an email address of the reviewer you want to send the book to. To review the book yourself you’d fill in your own email address and click “OK”.

Once you’ve done that, you can navigate over to the Google Play store. Switch in to the Books section of the store and then go to “My Books”. If all goes well, you should see your book there and you can access it online to review that the cover and content have both uploaded correctly. If you find any problems, you can edit your book from the Partner Center book Catalog again and upload your corrected files.

Post Publishing

The Partner Center is your main navigational point for reviewing and managing your books. After you have a book published, you can access the Analytics & Reports section to see how your book is doing. Google’s reporting is pretty primitive, especially when compared to the other publishing platforms. For example, you won’t find anywhere in the dashboard where your number of sales is reported. You can work this out from the exportable reports, but it is a little bit of extra work on your part to do.

When you enter the reporting section, the first and most prominent thing you will see is the percent of books you’ve uploaded that are live in the Google Play store compared to the ones that are not. I’m not sure why this is considered the most important piece of information. The only thing I can think of is that other authors have reported problems with getting their books past the “Processing” state when submitting.

At any rate, the next section you see will be Monthly Revenue, which is a bar graph that shows approximately how much you’ve earned per month in your local currency. For your first book, this section will be blank until the fifteenth of the following month has gone by. This is when Google updates these stats.

Below the two charts you’ll reach the Custom Reports section. Here you can generate several different types of reports for a given date range and for specific books and territories. At this point, you can choose those territories from a dropdown instead of having to type them like when filling in your submission details.

When you generate the report it is not displayed visually in your web browser. Instead a CSV (comma separated spreadsheet) file may be generated. You can open this file with any simple text editor, like Notepad, but for best results you’ll want to use spreadsheet software like Excel (Microsoft offers a free Excel viewer so you’ll at least be able to see your report by using that). The details in the reports are very terse, but do provide number of sales and returns depending on which report you select.

You may have noticed that I wrote that your CSV file may be generated. I’ve had a lot of difficulty with exporting Google’s reports. It seems to be about 50/50 as to whether or not the report will generate and download. Even when it does generate, it tends to take quite a while to do so. To give you an idea, I’m usually able to login to all the other publishing platforms I use (Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes) and review their online reports before Google’s CSV report even starts downloading. I have tried Google’s reports with a variety of browsers, including their own Chrome browser, and all browsers have the same generation and download delay. So just a note that you may have to be patient and try multiple times to get your Google reports.

Final Thoughts

I found Google’s platform for publishing books to be the most awkward to use. As a software designer myself, I do look at some of the choices that Google made and have to cringe. When filling in the book details there were many fields I had to not only type in, but go to external websites to look up what the values were. This was especially annoying since the other publishing platforms give you these same values in easy to use lists.

Google’s 75% discount on book prices also slowed me down. The calculation to get the correct price entered is not a hard one to perform (multiplying by 1.33) but it’s another unneeded step in the process. Computers are good with numbers and they should deal with them. I can’t believe that anyone would want to fill in one price only to have another display without any indication that such will happen.

Google’s lack of an effective previewing tool is also a concern. The fact that they have to include the steps to review your uploaded file only after publishing is certainly a red flag.

Finally, Google’s reporting leaves much to be desired. Given that Google is striving to be a company where their goal is to have all their services and software available online, it’s both odd and cumbersome having to export your report to a CSV file and then use third-party software to view it. Especially since every other publishing platform I used makes their reports conveniently available online.

After the simple experiences I had using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Kobo Writing Life to publish, I thought I would zoom through publishing on Google. I had all the information and files I needed going in. Even so, it took about 50 minutes for me to fill in everything and publish. And then some extra time later to review the uploaded files once they became available through Google Play.

All right, three down, one more to go. Come back next month when I’ll discuss the final publishing platform I used, Apple’s iTunes. Will the company that touts its user friendliness provide the best experience? We’ll find out in a month’s time.