Self Publishing Answers You Can’t Find on Google

Or self publishing answers I couldn’t find on Google, more accurately. (Update about pre-order mishaps here!)

Ah, the Age of Information. How nice that we don’t have to know all the answers, but we can always look them up and find exactly what we were looking for. Right?

Well, without diving too deep into that obvious fallacy, you probably can tell by the title of this little blog post that I definitely don’t believe that’s precisely the truth. Yes, we can find many definitive answers and it makes life a lot easier, but it’s become painfully clear that not all answers are easy to find. Today, I’m going to tackle some of the things I could NOT find with a google search, hard as I tried. I had to rely on the knowledge and experience of some good friends to get most of these answers. And I figured, you might want to know them too. Maybe after I write this, google will ease up. Who knows?

So here’s the low-down: if you don’t hire a savvy professional or have an incredibly knowledgeable and charitable friend, you’re on your own to figure out how to self-publish your book effectively. I want to be perfectly clear that I do NOT know everything there is to know about this stuff. I’m not even all the way through the process at the time of writing this, which will probably show. But I’ve learned a fair bit and I thought it was worth sharing.

Barcodes and ISBNs

So this is one that’s easily checkable, but there’s one thing I didn’t know, so I’m including it. Yes, you should buy your own ISBN from Bowker ONLY. You need one for each “type” (ebook, paperback, hardcover). You don’t technically need an ISBN for KDP ebooks, though (I still used one in case I want to use IngramSpark’s ebook program later). You do need barcodes for print books, but here is the kicker: IngramSpark and KDP will give you one. When you upload the cover, you will either place the generated barcode (with InDesign) or they will. So, don’t do what I did and buy them yourself, unless you need them for some other reason.

Pre-order problems (UPDATE)

Ok, so you’ve seen all those cool indie author friends of yours do fancy countdowns and social media events for the day their book opens for PRE-ORDERS *gasp* but there’s a trick to this, and it is worth knowing. First of all, you can do pre-orders for all types (ebook, paperback, hardback) through IngramSpark. What you must do is set the publication date for the date you want to start pre-orders. The publish date is when it actually releases. So keep those separate in your mind. LIES!! (Here’s what happened. Late I will go more in-depth on this specific problem.)

As for KDP, your only option for pre-orders is ebooks. Paperback copies don’t have that option. I’ll dive into this a little later, but if you decide to use KDP and IngramSpark, then you’ll have to set up and pay fees for both companies. And you’ll want set them in motion at the same time.

Metadata research effort

This one really got me! In this case, it was the overload of information on google that was confusing. So here is my one paragraph explanation of what I know about metadata:

Metadata is the information attached to your book that’s used by booksellers and libraries, just like product descriptions and merchandizing. If this is your very first time publishing, you will definitely want to set aside a few hours to research and create the metadata for your book. You have to write a full description, come up with the right keywords, get familiar with categories and topics and so on. You should also consider writing a short description and an author bio and you may have other bits and pieces of metadata that you’ll want to utilize. DO NOT go into this expecting to be in and out. This is how people actually find your book, so it’s just as important as the “buy now” button. The most difficult piece of this for me was the full description. The suggestion is to use “consumer-friendly terms”, keywords, and make it engaging so someone reading it will want to buy it. The best piece of advice I got was to RELAX and just describe my book the best way I could. I highly suggest looking up the Save The Cat blurb formula for this as well.

Wholesale discounts & pricing

So this was a big ball of confusing information. The deal is you get to decide the price you set for your book. Also, you get to decide the wholesale discount, meaning you can choose what discount you want to give to booksellers (if they pay 45% of the sticker price, the discount you set is 55%). Here’s where it went real sour for me: I decided on a competitive price for books of the same genre. I set that price. I also set the “suggested discount” available in IngramSpark. And then I got my calculation for how much money I’d be taking away when all was said and done.

-$0.51. If I did that, I would OWE money for each sale… obviously taking all the advice at once was not going to work. Lesson learned. Thankfully I had time to figure this out, but what was I actually supposed to do? Here’s the deal: IngramSpark is not super honest about their “small bookstore” claim on the 55% discount. IngramSpark the printer sells your book to IngramSpark the distributor (technically a different company but also not) and then sells it again. So in the end, that mom and pop shop might only get like 5% of the cover price… not 55%. Don’t fall for that nonsense. You can buy your own books and distribute them yourself, setting whatever discount you want for the shops you sell to. This could have limitations but if it’s too limited, you can still change the discount later. As for the discount you should set, it’s up to you. The lowest you can set it is 30-35% depending on geographically where you sell it. Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Book Depository etc. will all sell your book if you choose the lowest discount. The consumer won’t pay more just because the seller makes less. The difference with KDP is you don’t get to set the discount. Amazon has a discount of 40% for paperback, and 30% for ebook (though you have to meet certain requirements for that discount). Again, I will cover more about using both KDP and IngramSpark together, but my advice is to try to make the most money on the most reasonable price for your book, unless you have a reason not to.

Interior and exterior formatting

Chances are you already knew before you finished writing your book that you would have to get a book cover. You might’ve found out that you need to format the inside, because, I mean, books don’t look like word documents. Unless you have extensive knowledge on how to do these things OR you’re ready to spend many hours learning (probably also paying for programs in the meantime), you should hire these out. In the words of the knowledgeable Monique Mensah with Make Your Mark publishing services: You’re not a book cover designer, unless you are. You don’t need me to tell you that you don’t want your book to look homemade. So, once you’ve gotten your lovely book cover and clean, beautiful interior formatting, you can just upload the files to KDP and/or IngramSpark and call it good, right? Not exactly. Unless your people got every detail correct (which is entirely possible if they are SUPER knowledgeable about self publishing), you might still have some legwork to do. For me, the first issue was that my book cover file had to be put into two different templates (you cannot use one for both). I had to use a program I did not have. I could have asked my cover designer to do it for me, but I wanted to see if I could solve it myself. So, I googled and YouTubed and used a free trial of InDesign to get it done. Then, my formatted manuscript had a couple of unforeseen issues. Now, to be perfectly fair, both of these issues were ones the IngramSpark stated could be solved in the printing process, but they could not guarantee it would look the way it was supposed to. So I set out yet again to solve the issue myself, repeating the earlier process. I cannot tell you with 100% certainty that all is well because I don’t have my proof copies as of writing this. But it looked great on the computer and neither KDP nor IngramSpark said there were issues.

Again, give yourself a couple of hours (perhaps even days) to handle unforeseen issues, just in case!

Using BOTH KDP and IngramSpark effectively

Okay, so this was a bit surprising to me. What you will find if you google these are multiple comparisons of the two POD (print-on-demand) services. You will likely find people saying it’s good to use both… but they don’t exactly tell you how. So here is what I’ve learned that I couldn’t just google.

Ebook: I’m using KDP only for my ebook. Later on, once I am past the 90-day exclusivity and price freeze, I can decide to set up my ebook through IngramSpark if I really want to. The reason I decided on this was because books in my genre are nearly always available on KindleUnlimited, so clearly that’s a market I should be in.

For paperback, I am using both IngramSpark and KDP. There’s quite a bit more consider for this.

Pre-orders and fulfillment: This is where it gets tricky, because I haven’t pushed the publish button yet. I’ve read that KDP takes issue with an ISBN registered with IngramSpark, but I’ve also heard you can set up both places no issue. I’m not sure if this is because the person I asked published right away or not. However, since KDP does not do pre-orders for print books, the ONLY way to set that up is to register the book with IngramSpark. Then (perhaps separately, we shall see), you must push “publish” on KDP 3 whole days before you want to sell the book, otherwise people won’t be able to order it on release day. IngramSpark will factor in the timing of your publish date when printing books for pre-order in order to have the book delivered by the release day. Amazon won’t. However, Amazon will likely fulfill orders faster once the book is published, meaning it’ll go into readers’ hands more easily. There is the issue of print quality difference (IngramSpark is consistently better but also more expensive). Is your head spinning yet?

Priorities for POD: Basically, you have to decide how to prioritize quality and availability. With KDP, you have fast but limited availability, slightly lower quality and no pre-order option. With IngramSpark, you have (perhaps very) slow but expanded availability (to any country or book seller essentially), pre-order available, and better quality. Also notable is that IngramSpark’s customer service is basically nonexistent and KDP’s is good. Personal experience. When you use both, you get the best of both worlds, but you don’t have consistency in printed books. Also, you might have to unregister your book from IngramSpark in order for KDP to accept the ISBN, which is a problem, but I can’t confirm or deny that quite yet. I might have to give up on KDP print-on-demand if that’s the case.

Pricing and profit: one other difference between them is the pricing and discounts, like I talked about earlier. You have a lot less control over Amazon’s wholesale discounts, but the books are cheaper to print and the KU program is seriously beneficial for some ebooks. With KDP, you cannot sell your book in certain countries and it’s likely you won’t sell them anywhere but Amazon. IngramSpark books cost more to print but you have more control over discounts and you can sell your book anywhere, which means there’s a good chance you will make MORE per sale and MORE overall in the marketplace. I AIN’T THE EXPERT, FOLKS! Just a reminder. But I would suggest doing your best to use both of them. They both have major benefits you can’t ignore.

Here is what I am doing (with update here)

⁃ Use KDP Select for the ebook at least for the first 3 months to get a feel for how I like Kindle Unlimited.

⁃ Register the paperback with BOTH IngramSpark and KDP (within a few hours of each other) in order to utilize the pre-order function and expanded availability of IngramSpark while also utilizing KDP’s quick fulfillment.

⁃ DO NOT CHECK THE BOX ON AMAZON’S EXPANDED DISTRIBUTION! You will give exclusivity to KDP and be unable to use IngramSpark. (KDP’s “expanded” distribution is not nearly as extensive.)

⁃ “Publish” on KDP 3 days before release. Allow IngramSpark to fulfill pre-orders so readers can (hopefully) receive the book on release day.

At this point, I will prioritize IngramSpark’s paperback POD before KDP’s if I’m forced to do that. Hopefully that won’t happen!

There you have it, friends! Lots of issues, lots of thought, endless googling. If this helped you in any way, please comment or share! And please enjoy your life 😉

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