Working with IngramSpark

(This article was originally published as part of the August 2017 RWNZ Newsletter.)

Many self-published and indie-published writers are connected with Amazon’s CreateSpace and KDP. They aren’t bad options, but they aren’t the only options either. When I started down the road of setting up my own publishing house, I seriously looked into what CreateSpace and KDP had to offer. It was then that I quickly realised that CreateSpace and KDP had some major drawbacks for myself living all the way on the other side of the world.

Enter IngramSpark.

Before I delve in the specific reasons of why I chose to print my books, and distribute the printed and eBook versions through IngramSpark, I better explain what makes IngramSpark different to CreateSpace and KDP.

IngramSpark is solely a printer and distribution centre. If you choose to work with IngramSpark, you become the publisher—and that means everything that goes with it. There is the editing, the formatting, the typesetting, cover design, ISBN numbers, marketing, and every other aspect of the publishing venture. The only aspect that IngramSpark handles is the printing and distribution—that is it.

Files that are uploaded must follow strict formats, and I will gladly admit that massaging your manuscripts into those formats can do your head in, but they are industry standard. ALL printers and distributors of eBooks (except Amazon and Smashwords) require the same file formats.

Let’s start with eBooks. Submission of eBook files needs to be in EPUB3 format. (Those using Scrivener to output EPUB files, be advised that Scrivener is still formatting using the EPUB2 protocols.) EPUB3 is the format required by iBooks, Nook, and Kobo. These eBook distributors might distribute in a custom format (iBooks certainly does), but they will reject any file you submit to them that doesn’t follow the EPUB3 protocol.

For printed books, PDF files must be uploaded, with all fonts embedded. For those using MSWord, you will instantly curse Word, because saved PDF files do not embed in the file Times New Roman, Arial, Courier, or any other font that is common to all operating systems. You would think that this wouldn’t be a problem, but it is. IngramSpark is a printer, with machines that do not need a traditional operating system to function. Hence, why ALL printing information needs to be included in the files. And creating said file requires software that is either expensive, such as Adobe, or not part of standard configurations, such as doPDF.

It will be these file restrictions that will be one of the biggest allures to CreateSpace and KDP. You can upload a DOC file and be done. However, file formats are not the only thing to consider.

Other authors that I have spoken to have all said that Amazon has been their largest source of sales. It’s not surprising considering the reach they have. However, companies like iTunes are fast on their heels. As such, you want to get the electronic version of your book into iTunes, if possible.

Enter the first major problem I had encountered.

You can upload your digital book to iTunes as an individual supplier, but only if you have a Mac. For those of us on Windows, you’re out of luck. I could tap on the shoulders of friends with Mac machines, but…

Online stores such as Barnes and Noble require that you live in the United States, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands or Belgium. If you live in Canada: no joy. Australia: nope. New Zealand? You’ve got to be kidding.

Both IngramSpark and Smashwords provide avenues for all books in their network to be listed on iTunes and in Nook (the eBook branch of Barnes and Noble). However, Smashwords is digital only. Let’s face it, there is nothing like the feel of a real book in your hands.

So back to CreateSpace we go, only to encounter the next distribution hurtle.

Printed books purchased from Amazon are expensive to ship to New Zealand. As such, a large number of book fans turn to Book Depository and Fishpond to purchase their books. So, how does one get their books listed on Book Depository and Fishpond?

With IngramSpark, printed books are automatically included on the catalogue for both stores. Instant bonus. But the aspect that tipped it over the top was the costs associated with bringing printed books into New Zealand for conferences.

Hidden Traps by Judy L MohrFor the RWNZ conference, I ordered a box of 32 books (the largest number that would fit in a single carton). This box cost me just over AUD$250, and was shipped from Australia. If I had been with CreateSpace, the same number of books would have cost me approximately US$270, and they would have been shipped from the US, taking longer to get here. In addition, with a purchase of US$270, one sits on the threshold of being slammed with GST charges (nearly NZ$120 because of the administration costs too). Umm… I don’t know about anyone else, but I would rather pay AUD$250 any day, than pay US$270 and run the risk of an additional NZ$120.

IngramSpark has printers located throughout the world, keeping the cost of postage down, regardless of where in the world books are being sent to.

It was the cost of the printed books that was the main reason I chose to work with IngramSpark. And I get, in my hand, approximately the same royalty for printed books as I would have if I had gone with CreateSpace.

The distribution network associated with IngramSpark is… Huge is not quite the right word for it, because it’s much wider than I had imagined. My book, printed and electronic, is listed on all the common online bookstores (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Book Depository, Fishpond, etc.), but my curiosity searches has found the book listed on a Japanese online bookstore, a French bookstore, as well as a number of independent bookstores. I have even found a small little independent bookstore in the Middle of Nowhere, USA, that has elected to stock the book on their shelves. How far the book has gone has just blown me away. And ALL of the distribution to date has been handled through IngramSpark.

And there are other hidden advantages of going with IngramSpark.

You can list both the printed and electronic versions of your books for pre-orders. Yes, you can achieve this with KDP, but pre-orders with CreateSpace are nasty and confusing. With IngramSpark, you just set your publication dates properly and the rest is all happy and cheery.

In addition, because YOU become the publisher, you can set yourself up as the publisher properly, eventually taking on books from other writers, if you wanted to go that way.

But with every bright cloud, there is always the moisture that threatens to rain on the parade.

IngramSpark costs US$49 to list both your print and electronic versions of your book. Revisions to a version that has gone live costs US$25 per upload. This can be a costly venture if you don’t do a proper editing and typesetting job in the first instance. Yes, revisions are sometimes unavoidable (such as the poor resolution or contrast on a graphic that didn’t get picked up until it was printed), but if you are going to use IngramSpark, one needs to think of the entire process as a publisher would. You never send something to the printer for mass printing until you are 99.9% confident that you are ready to go live.

I’m still trying to work out all the ins and outs of working with IngramSpark. I have yet to discover how to offer discounts on the various networks, without fiddling with the list price. Give me time, and I’ll have that one answered too.

Is IngramSpark the better option over CreateSpace and KDP? Well, in terms of printed books, in my opinion, IngramSpark wins hands down. The distribution network is amazing and the cost of importing books into New Zealand is a massive bonus. For the electronic books… That remains to be seen.

Based on the costs set on IngramSpark, I’m looking at approximately US$2 per unit on royalties. I have no idea if the prices were set too high, or too low. I have no idea how well the book will sell on any channel, or if I will sell more printed books than electronic books. With the official release set for August 1st, the answers to all these questions is still a mystery. In truth, because of the way IngramSpark reports its figures, I won’t know any of this for at least three months after release at the earliest.

It is possible that the best solution is actually using a combination of KDP and IngramSpark, giving you more control over the situation on Amazon for your eBook. However, do remember that if you do use IngramSpark, you CAN NOT use KDP Select. It goes against their exclusivity clause.

I have been asked whether I will sell my books through my website. At this stage, the answer is no. If one elects to sell books through their personal (or business) website, then one also needs to consider the costs associated with that particular venture. I’m talking about the cost of an SSL certificate and the appropriate credit card handler. I’m also talking about the cost of postage and distribution. Yes, IngramSpark makes that somewhat affordable, the distribution side anyway, but is there sufficient financial gain in heading down that path? I’m getting US$2 per unit through the sales using IngramSpark. I don’t honestly think I could do much better if I did it on my own.

Publishing a book is a business. Hence, whatever decision you decide in the end NEEDS to be taken with this viewpoint. It’s all about numbers and profit margins.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017

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