IngramSpark Part 1: Homework

You may have noticed I haven’t been very active here recently. Part of the reason is that I made the decision to switch my print book distribution from CreateSpace to IngramSpark. I did this because…

1. CreateSpace closed its online store, now only allowing authors to sell through Amazon and its Expanded Distribution. This not only affects how authors will earn royalties, but also distribution strategies, like the one I had planned, which now got flushed.

2. IngramSpark is the go-to distributor for Indies and small publishing houses because, unlike CreateSpace, it is not in direct competition with the bookstores and libraries that order through them, which increases the likelihood of getting a physical book onto store shelves.

3. My print sales through CreateSpace were almost nonexistent, so I figured a change was in order. Whether it pans out or not is yet to be seen, but doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is not in the stars for me.

I figured, since I have this website, and it’s meant to help other authors, I would document this journey for posterity. Frankly, I didn’t realize until I started how much work it would actually be just to shift 8 existing print titles, so this is going to be a series of posts, rather than one big one.

This being the first, it’s naturally about homework. Because I actually did months of it before I took a single step toward my ultimate goal. When the idea took shape in my head, I was hesitant to do it, largely because of the cost involved (Spoiler Alert: the cost is steep). So I didn’t do anything for months, thinking I was fine where I was, and there was no reason to change. But, me being me, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I started reading up on IngramSpark. What follows is what I learned…

The Ingredients

To publish through IS, you need 4 things:

  • An account set up with all your imprint, tax, and payment information
  • ISBNs for every version of every book you want to publish
  • Interior files
  • Cover files
  • Money

The setup itself is a little roundabout, and I suggest you check the generated tax forms to make sure your name and identification numbers are all correct. You will also need to provide a valid credit/debit card which is saved into the system. Since you pay for each file upload, you won’t be able to do anything until you have this information completed.

ISBNs are not provided by IS. You will need to purchase your own before you begin the setup process. If you plan to publish more than one book, the most cost-effective solution is the 100 ISBN bundle. Since you need a separate one for each book format (eBook, audiobook, paperback, hardcover, different sizes, editions, etc.), those numbers will go fast, so plan ahead. Luckily, it’s a one-time expense this way, so there is that.

IS is very particular about interior and cover files. They have to be PDFs with very specific parameters, and they suggest using InDesign to create them. I have spent about 3 months researching other, cheaper or free ways of doing this and have not found a solution that works anywhere near as well as InDesign, so while it may seem like they are trying to rip you off by forcing you to use a paid program, trust me. In the hands of someone who knows what they want, this tool is worth every single penny.

All of this will cost money. You need to pay for ISBNs, for formatting, for file uploads, for proof copies… it is not a cheap trick to get a book published through IS, let alone 8 at once. If you do start this on your own, plan out your costs ahead of time, and plan for sufficient time to get it all done. You will need to set a publishing and distribution date when you upload your files. Give yourself at least 2-3 months to make sure you have enough time to make changes or corrections if necessary.

Helpful hint #1: IS provides you with free guide books on how to use their platform and how to create your book files. I highly suggest you download them and study them in detail before you begin. It’ll clear up a lot of questions you may encounter along the way.

Helpful hint #2: You know those annoying “sign up to receive news about…” check boxes none of us ever check when creating accounts because we don’t want spam in our inboxes? Do yourself a favor, and check that box for IngramSpark, Adobe, and Bowkers. They send periodic deals and offers that can save you literally hundreds of dollars along the way.

Helpful hint #3: Study the make-up of your favorite print book and try to copy its formatting. There are specific rules that apply to print publishing, which every professional publisher should follow. They include things like font sizes, front matter, headers and footers, page numbering, paragraph indents (or lack there of), etc. My next post will go over these, so stay tuned!

The Tools

Take my word for this, you will need InDesign to format your book yourself. InDesign is a subscription-based program through Adobe, and it ain’t exactly cheap. It also has a learning curve, so unless you’re paying someone to format your interior and cover files for you, plan for several months of work to get them all done. I will say this: With the number of tutorials and training videos available online, it may be a labor-intensive process at first, but it’s absolutely doable, and the resulting files are leaps and bounds above anything you can export from MS Word or the like. You also get the peace of mind of knowing before you upload that your files meet the required specifications.

To create your cover, you can use GIMP for the heavy graphics, but you will still need InDesign to export it in the proper PDF format.

Helpful hint #4: Watch as many tutorial videos as you can stomach before you purchase a subscription to InDesign to save yourself time and money. Look for ones specifically dealing with book formatting, and take notes if necessary. It’s easier than trying to figure things out while you’re working on your book live.

Helpful hint #5: IS provides you with a cover template specific to your book. You input your criteria and your ISBN, and they email you either a PDF or an InDesign file template. Use it, and get both versions. You’ll need the InDesign one to finalize the file, but the PDF one is much easier to work with in a graphics program.

The Process

As mentioned above, you pay per file upload in IS. That means, each book setup will cost you a minimum of $50. You need to approve the digital proof for production before you can order a physical proof. This is actually my biggest pet peeve with IS. Once you approve the proof, the book is “live,” which means (depending on the publishing/distribution date you set) it will now be discoverable to bookstores and/or readers and they’ll be able to (pre)order as well. Hence, set your dates well into the future. Once you check the physical proof and decide you need to make some changes, you will be charged $25/file to do so. That is $25 for the interior, and $25 for the cover. You will also be charged for changing your cover finish, even if the cover file itself remains the same.

This can get very expensive if you work in iteration cycles, which is why you need to make sure that your files are as perfect as you can possibly make them before you upload. It also cuts down on processing time, since it takes 24 hours for IS to check your digital files, and around 2-3 weeks to get a physical proof in your hands. Hence, again, set your dates well into the future.

A lot of the setup will be judgment calls. Everything from cover design, to page layout, to pricing is all on you, and it’s not just a matter of preference. This is where a good part of your homework will be spent. Study your favorite books, books in the same genre, just books in general, so you have an idea of how they’re set up, and most importantly how much they cost. You won’t be able to match traditionally published books for price–print on demand is much more expensive, and some of that cost, unfortunately, has to get passed on to the reader. But you can get close enough that, with the right book, the price discrepancy won’t matter.

The rest of your homework will be getting all of your information together, down to the blurb, tag line, any reviews you want to highlight (because IS lets you do that), etc. Have it all in one place so it’s ready and available for you once you start the setup process.

There. That’s more than enough for an intro, don’t you think? Tune in next time for a break-down of how to properly format your book interior.

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