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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lim

MF 246 : Self-publishing platforms and the “smile test”

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

On this episode, we take a look at self-publishing platforms outside of KDP and what the “smile test” is when it comes to your manuscript. More at

Moving Forward is also available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

Part 1: Moving forward past a crappy week

Last week, I lost it. I don’t know what it is, but this summer has felt off-kilter and out of whack. I’m normally a pretty chill, laid back guy but last week I was short with everyone, getting into arguments over mostly stupid stuff. One of my colleagues and I, a friend from business school, got into a tense exchange over what turned out to be a simple, stupid misunderstanding over a scheduled conference call. We got into such a heated exchanged on text messaging that I had to step back and check myself – I was about to launch a ballistic verbal missile when I held my finger over the screen like a scene out of a movie, took a deep breath and suggested we talk it out over the phone. The misunderstanding was cleared up within two minutes. Dumb, just dumb.

Last week, I hit a breaking point and I had to step back. I went radio silent for a day or two so I could be less radioactive-reactive. A friend of mine recommended that I try meditation with the Calm app. I’ve used it before but didn’t stick with it as I find it hard to sit still. He suggested a great hack: use it only when you feel stressed and need it, rather than on a regular schedule.

This week, I’m feeling better now and trying to stay positive. Have you had a funky week(s)? If so, how do you recalibrate yourself?

Part 2: Self-publishing platforms and the “smile test”

[NOTE: the books mentioned in this episode are out of print. For more, check out episode 388.]

Self-publication platforms

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been on this book-writing journey, I’ve mostly focused on self-publishing within Amazon’s KDP platform. However, if you’re self-publishing your book, you have a lot of options.

My journey as an author started with a coloring book that I released in 2016. I worked with two friends to create the Corporate Cliches Adult Coloring Book. We used CreateSpace, which was owned by Amazon but at the time, separate from KDP. I had read that it was a go-to platform for many coloring books creators and so we went with it. It was easy for us to get our book up there and within an hour or two of hitting the publish button, our coloring book was available for sale on December 1, 2016.

So, when it came to writing this book, I decided to stick with Amazon. Since CreateSpace merged with KDP about a year ago, my coloring book had since migrated there, so I was already familiar with. Moreover, I stuck with Amazon because it has such a wide reach. Since its April debut, the book has sold throughout the US, Canada, and Europe. As I write this, I just got an email from an enthusiastic fan in Israel.

As you’re writing your book and getting it ready for publication, you have a lot of choices of where and how to distribute your book. Let’s cover some of these below:

  1. Amazon KDP: You can publish in both paperback and for Kindle with no upfront publication fees. Amazon takes a percentage of sales and uses POD (print on demand) for the paperback so there’s no inventory for you to manage. You can also opt into KDP Select and put your book into the Kindle Lending Library for additional ancillary revenue.

  2. Apple iBooks: Apple has over the years become a formidable publishing platform in its own right. iBooks allows readers who are fans of the Apple ecosystem to buy and read your book for IOS and Apple devices.

  3. GooglePlay: If you’re more of an Android and Google person, GooglePlay has its own self-publishing platform.

  4. Barnes and Noble: One of the biggest retail chains for books and media, B&N now has a self-publishing platform for independent authors.

Other prominent platforms for self-publishing include (but are not limited to):

  1. Kobo

  2. Smashwords

  3. IngramSpark

There are many more out there. As you explore these, keep in a mind a few things.

Restrictive covenants and exclusivity

If you publish on one platform, you may be able to format and distribute your book on others (eg if you publish on KDP, you can also release your book for iBooks provided you don’t opt into KDP Select, which requires a 90-day exclusivity period). Check the terms and conditions of the specific platform for any restrictive covenants on distributing your book elsewhere.


Many self-publishing platforms, including KDP, do not have any upfront fees for publishing. Instead, they take a percentage of sales and deduct printing and production. However, some platforms charge publication fees so check to see what the financial terms and conditions are.


Each platform will have specific requirements for file format and some, like Apple iBooks may require you to download additional software. Check the technical requirements as well as formatting requirements for your manuscript.

The “smile test”

As you’re finishing your manuscript and thinking about a self-publishing platform, use what I call the “smile” or “laugh” or “nod” test. A friend of mine texted me that he recently completed a fourth pass on his manuscript, read it over, and smiled. That’s a good sign. We’ve talked a lot about technical benchmarks such as folders, documents, and BME. But you should also pay attention to the intangible – what is your gut telling you? If you read through your manuscript and you nod, smile, or laugh, then your gut is telling you that you’ve got the components and a complete arc. You may still have a lot of polishing to do with an editor but the smile (or laugh or nod) tells you the core elements are there.


Explore self-publishing platforms and see which one(s) may be a good fit for your book. Also, read through your manuscript (again) and make sure it passes the smile, laugh or nod test.

[NOTE: the books mentioned in this episode and in the book writing series are out of print. I am leaving these episodes mostly as is and strictly for informational and instructional purposes only. I have retracted my story from the book discussed in this episode and its sequel with full reservation of my copyright. For more, check out episode 388.]

What I’m reading

The Little Book of Market Wizards: Lessons from the Greatest Traders by Jack D. Schwager (****): a great primer on investing in the stock market, written in plain English. Schwager interviews many successful investors and traders to pick apart their investment strategies and discovers that there’s no one size fits all. The most interesting lesson I gleaned is that investing should be tied to the personality of the individual and you shouldn’t force yourself to adopt someone’s strategy if it doesn’t comport with your personality. Schwager also shares some interesting insights related to market trends and external forces. A quick, informative read.


Scrivener (available for Mac, Win, IOS) is a book writing program that auto formats for self-publishing on Amazon’s KDP and other platforms. It’s a great tool with rich features that allow co-writers to collaborate through Dropbox. Scrivener has a bit of a learning curve but I’ve been a fan since 2017 and have talked to many authors who use it as their go-to. If you’re interested in Scrivener, you can use the coupon code MOVINGFORWARD to get 20% off your purchase (for Mac or Win). It’s a one-time license fee and available for Mac, Win, IOS.

Note: this section contains affiliate links and coupon codes for which the author may receive some compensation.

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