There is a virtual gallery of options when choosing a self-publishing service provider. With many available to choose from, the choices may seem more like a minefield if you don’t know what to look for and what is reasonable to expect.
It can feel like there are too many choices and not enough clarity on which one is best for you.
Don’t feel overwhelmed, though.
Getting clear on what you want and then matching it to a self-publisher is simpler than you think. Let’s take a look at one of the main providers, IngramSpark (IS), and compare them with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to give you a quick and simple overview of your options.
The Difference Between KDP and IngramSpark
While there are loads of differences, it comes down to whether you want high-quality specialty printing or more printed, hardcopy books in bookstores, libraries, and other retailers (IS) or to sell mainly online (KDP).
Digital books are easy to store and access on one slimline reader, which is great for when we are on-the-go. But some of us also like to collect books, breathe in the book smell, and hear the rustle of the pages.Costs
Both IS and KDP deduct print costs before paying out any earnings.
- IS has a once-off setup fee and a re-submission and revision fee, as well as annual fees. The last I saw the fees were around $49 per print book, $25 per ebook, and they have other special offers at around $49 for an ebook and print combined. Revisions are $25 per time. You will also need to pay for your own ISBN per book format; e.g., one each for print, ebook, audiobook, etc.
- KDP has no setup, revision, or annual fees.
- IS can do hardcovers and paperbacks, with more binding, cover, and finishing options. They do saddle stitching for that old-world look. They rate higher on quality and print options.
- KDP do paperbacks only, with soft covers. The quality of the prints is good.
Distribution of printed books
- IS has a wider distribution to physical bookstores worldwide, most of which won’t order stock from Amazon.
- KDP accounts for over 40% of all physical books sold directly to the public. They can also partner with IS to offer expanded book distribution if you wish. If you only print through KDP, your royalties are higher than if you choose to go online with KDP and print through a partner system with IS.
Royalties can vary from country to country and depend on whether you publish exclusively with one provider or spread across both.
You calculate them as the percentage royalty rate x the listed price minus the print costs of the book. Your print costs will depend mainly on the number of pages, color vs black-and-white inks, and the country where you are printing.
Both IS and KDP give reports on sales and show you what your earnings are less deductions.
- IS is a book distributor, and everyone in the book distribution chain will need their cut, which will mean lower royalties for you. They talk about compensation earnings rather than royalties.
From what I can see, it ends up closer to around 40-50%. They have a calculator to help you see what your earnings will be. Your print costs vary depending on covers and bindings as well. They also deduct any discounts offered to their distributors.
There is roughly a 120-day wait from the sale of each book until payment into your account as distributors pay IS anything up to 90 days after they make the sale. IS then has to pay you, and your bank has to clear it.
- KDP can offer higher royalties as they sell directly to the customer. At the time of writing, it’s about 70% for standard and 40% for expanded (i.e., including IS) distribution. If KDP price-matches your book, in the case that another seller is selling it at a lower price, you get a royalty on the list price, not the sale price. You get paid monthly based on sales made in 60 days plus beforehand or longer if you have chosen expanded sales.
Editing, formatting, proof-reading, book cover design, and all pre-publication services are not the focus of either provider. This is where a provider like The Urban Writers can help, instead.
- IS offers a lot of calculators, guides, and checklists to help you. You get support for the services they offer, and they also refer you to experts to assist with those that they don’t.
- KDP and Amazon prefer authors to use self-service options, which they do provide, like KindleCreate. They do reply to emails, and I have found them fairly helpful. They are streamlined when it comes to handling all orders, customer service to readers, and shipping, so I think that’s great service right there.
Each publisher has unique formatting for covers and book interior, so if uploading to both, you will be doing this twice.
- KDP gives free formatting assistance when creating kindle eBooks. This covers most simple ebook formats and book interiors.
- IS requires you to do your own formatting, and this can be heavy going for newbies.
Ease of Use
Hopefully, you only have to upload your book once per publisher, but it helps to be prepared.
- IS is known for its tricky upload process. Users complain of it timing out if they step away for too long, and then having to start all over. It’s better to have everything ready upfront before starting.
- KDP users all say it is fairly straightforward, especially in comparison with IS.
ISBN numbers are required by libraries and bookstores to identify your book with a unique number. It’s important for listing, ordering, sales records, and stock control.
Most of the time, the ISBNs you get free through self-publishers are linked for use on their platforms only. So, if you go with several platforms, you could end up with multiple ISBNs for one book title, which could be confusing.
It is best to just organize your ISBN first. It costs around $125 and takes about a week. In other countries, you will need to find the local ISBN agency there and use that same number internationally.
- IS needs you to provide your own ISBN number.
- Amazon provides an Amazon-linked ISBN (ASIN) number free of charge. If the book goes to print, KDP gives you an ISBN as well. You can also provide them with your own ISBN.
You cannot use their ISBN when uploading to any other self-publisher.
- With IS, you have instant links to an international network of libraries, universities, bookstores, chain stores, and wholesalers. IS lists your book on Amazon and with other online sellers as well.
- KDP lists your ebook on Amazon only, which is a pretty excellent eCommerce platform and where many people go to find reading material.
- IS will charge you for any returns, that is, any books unsold and returned by bookshops. You can opt that returns are destroyed (at the wholesale cost of the book) or shipped to you (wholesale plus shipping).
While they also do print on demand, there is still a chance a bookshop may order several books expecting sales, which never happen. Until the final book sale happens, you could personally be liable for any shortfall if that bookstore decides your book isn’t selling and wants to give it back. You can say you don’t want your book to be returnable, but then many bookstores won’t give it shelf space at all.
- KDP prints on-demand, direct to the customer. They have a 30-day return policy. If a customer returns a book, you will lose that royalty. They put returns back into the system, but if no-one ever buys that copy, Amazon bears the loss. If they do sell it again, you make the royalty on that sale. So, you won’t sit with a surprise bill for returns.
Ultimately, your end goals, marketing strategy, and also what you prefer as an author will help you decide between the two, and there are loads of reviews and comparisons out there as well.
Publishing Your Book on IngramSpark
Once your masterpiece is written, edited, proofed, designed, and ready for print, and you have decided on Ingram Spark as a publishing platform, what happens next?
Whatever you do, don’t rush the next bit. Self-publishing is not a race; it’s a marathon. Mistakes made in the formatting and printing will haunt you forever and can be costly. So, it’s worth taking the time to get your manuscript picture perfect.
1. Check your formatting
IngramSpark requires that you upload a print-ready manuscript. They have an in-depth file creation guide you can use to ensure you have met all formatting requirements.
They process your files as received, so the onus is on you to make triple sure it is ready. The interior needs to be in EPUB 3.0 and the cover design is given as a .jpeg or. jpg at a minimum of 1,600 pixels on the longest axis and in RGB color.
If you wrote your book in MS Word, you can convert it into a pdf file. If you have pdfs, they will help you convert it to an EPUB and .jpeg file for a fee.
2.Book metadata - title and description
We need to advertise using the book title and also make sure the description, which pops up in the online marketing and often on the back cover too, is attractive to readers. You want them to buy, after all.
IS has some great tips for you on how to do this. But basically, it needs to be original, memorable, and searchable. Do a quick internet search for your title and see what comes up. Is it too general to rank online, or too far out for anyone to be searching for?
Your description needs to use active voice, as well as emotive and attractive language. It must be simple and easy to read, using bullet points, paragraph breaks, and bold or italics to separate the text.
3. ISBNs and BISAC codes
Several companies will assist you. Bowker is well-known for doing ISBNs and you do need to arrange one in advance before you upload it to IS. If you are doing an ebook and print book in soft and hardcover, you will need three separate ISBNs, one for each format
The ISBN will sit on the back of the book in the barcode and everyone uses it, so there is no way around this. If you are intending your book to be ordered and sold in stores or used in libraries, you need to order your ISBNs complete with a barcode.
If you are not selling your book to anyone, you can ask IS to assign an SKU number instead.
BISAC codes identify the book genre and theme. You don’t have to pay for these; you simply choose your codes (at least three per book) and have it ready for when you upload the book to IS.
4. Plan your book - the look and feel of it
You will need to plan:
- The cover design
- The interior design
- The trim (size of pages)
- The back cover
You want your book to stand out and be attractive to the eye. Titles and other text need to be clear and legible and the colors need to be appealing.
People totally do judge books by their covers. What might look great on your pc screen might not work out quite as well in print.
Visit a local bookstore and look specifically in your genre for how other authors have packaged their books. Get chatting to the bookstore owner about trim, paper weight, paper color, and so on. They might have some useful insights.
Or just look at and compare these things for yourself. A local printer might also have some time for you if you explain why. This is something you need to experience in real life, practically, to get a sense of your preferences.
The lamination, binding, and quality of inks used, as well as the weight of the paper, will decide the quality of the book. It can be disappointing to put loads of effort into your masterpiece, only to find you have chosen the cheapest options and it barely stands out against the other books on the shelf.
Hiring a cover designer is a good idea; after all, their experience will ensure your book shines on all levels. But if you have some desktop publishing experience there are also loads of cover design apps online. You will also need to pay some attention to the back cover, which requires a book description, reviews, perhaps a bio of you, and the ISBN barcodes.
Interior design will also need some thought, not only what type, color, and weight of paper but also how the type will be set and ultimately look.
5. Final proof of it all
Right before uploading, take some time to go back and check it all once again. Or hire a proofreader to do so. Remember that any changes after upload will come with a revision fee and also that an error in print can be with you for life. Even if you fix it, someone will be sitting with the faulty copies.
6. Upload it on the IS platform
Set up an IS account, complete with payment method, and your email address. It is all online and it does take you through a process. There is support available if you get stuck, but the key here is patience. IS is known for its tricky uploading process.
IS distributes catalogs and information to its distribution channels worldwide and informs everyone your book is available for order. It is then up to these retailers and wholesalers to make a decision and place orders.
You can help things along by doing your own marketing of your masterpiece. An author website, social media launches, advance copies sent out to garner reviews, and promotion events are all up to you to organize and can be loads of fun to do.
Although this is nearly last on my list, I highly recommend thinking about your marketing strategy during the writing process. Get some expert advice if you can. Part of this will be the pricing of the book, too.
8. Print and ship
IS charges for printing and shipping costs; once the orders start rolling in and I believe these are deducted off the sale amount, you get your earnings less these costs, instead of paying upfront. Remember you will foot the bill for any returns.
Using Both Book Distribution Channels
KDP and IS both offer different things, so you might want to combine the services. It definitely would give you greater market access all round. So, if you’re wanting to blitz the world with your words, go for both if you can afford it.
KDP is great for simplicity, fewer costs, and more royalties. But what is offered on Amazon, mainly stays there.
Whereas IS gets you into big-name book stores globally and is known for their high-quality printing options.
I think it works for you to include both in your marketing plan. Sure, you may get fewer royalties from KDP as a result, depending on how you do it, and some of your costs may be higher, but it gives you a far wider reach in the end.
IS and KDP are used to working alongside each other, and both allow extension and migration across from one to the other.
Or you can simply publish separately with both. That would be my choice. Just get your own, independent ISBN upfront, and don’t select the extended marketing when loading to KDP for this to work.
Transferring From KDP to IngramSpark
If you have already uploaded to KDP and now want to broaden your marketing reach, you need to:
- Get an independent ISBN.
- Create your IngramSpark account.
- Deselect the global distribution/expanded distribution option on your KDP site; don’t worry you will still be able to distribute everywhere Amazon reaches.
- Send KDP an email stating you are transferring and requesting they unlock your ISBN.
- Fill out a transfer form and send it to IS.
- It can take 30 days or more for transfer and IS is pretty good at updating you.
- Once complete, you can load and publish via IS.
The process may vary a bit when you get here, but both providers can answer in-depth questions and assist you with it all.
The Final Choice
Doing a little research can help save you a lot of time, money, and frustration. There is no reason, though, why you can’t change your mind or add extra publishing options down the line.
Take your time to get the process right. It is easy to think once you’re past the hard work of writing and editing that now you are on the home stretch. You are, but this is the time to take a rest, gather up your energy, and focus carefully on the process. Rushing this step will only lead to regrets.
I think my key learning is to be patient. Don’t expect to have your book all uploaded and earning in one day. See the self-publishing route as the next phase in a bigger process to avoid disappointment and stress.
The effort you put in now will pay off later.
TUW can assist with preparing your book for self-publishing, complete with cover designs, formatting, editing, book descriptions, and proofreading. Finding the best support team on your self-publishing journey can make all the difference.