A little over two years ago, I had a partial draft of a paper about roofed graves which I’d been working on, off and on, for over a year. I vaguely planned to submit it to a historical journal or similar publication. It was dry—academic, professional, accurate, and rather boring, not only to read, but also to write. I don’t recall exactly when I decided to turn the manuscript into a book, to give myself more freedom in the writing process, but it didn’t take long for me to decide to self-publish. It was doubtful that even a regional publisher would be interested in the obscure subject—a specific style of grave marker documented in only seven cemeteries in two counties on the Delmarva Peninsula—and I had no interest in so-called hybrid publishing, or paying a company thousands of dollars to produce the book.
After looking into self-publishing options including CreateSpace (now KDP), Lulu, and IngramSpark, I decided to go with IngramSpark, primarily based on reviews which agree that the quality of their printed books is superior to other options. Their distribution to numerous retailers is also attractive, although I expect to sell most of my books locally.
One of the biggest cons—it was said—was that it would be difficult to create the required files for IngramSpark, they wouldn’t help, and I’d have to pay for each submission of a revised file, whether a cover file or interior (text) file. These turned out to be nonissues. It was relatively easy to use Adobe Acrobat Pro and Adobe Distiller to convert a Microsoft Word file into the specific kind of PDF file required by IngramSpark. (I purchased Adobe InDesign, but ended up using it only in the creation of my cover file.) My very first file submission went through without a problem, and although I did have to make several revisions, I was able to use a promo code each time, and have yet to pay IngramSpark a dollar for file uploads.
The next step was to order a print proof. I ordered two, so I could give one to my dad, a careful proofreader, while I looked over the other copy. This turned out to be a good decision for a different reason, which I’ll explain in a moment. It was $3.15 per book for rush service—“usually prints in one business day”—compared to $2.43 per book for economy service—“usually prints in 5 business days.” I paid the extra $1.44 to speed things along and chose ordinary residential ground shipping. Although I’m not complaining, I got a bit impatient during this process, as the order showed that it was “printing” for two days before I got an email from IngramSpark stating that it had shipped, with a UPS tracking number. The tracking number didn’t work for two full days, which is when I think UPS actually got the package, so the literal shipping date—when UPS scanned the package and began transporting it in my direction—was February 3rd, for an order placed on January 30th. The package arrived on February 10th. Again, I’m not complaining, but I think it might be helpful for other users to know that “rush service” isn’t all that fast. In my case, it didn’t matter. I was just eager to receive a print copy. It’s just something to keep in mind if you’re really in a hurry for some reason, and it would probably be a good idea to allow plenty of time if you’re ordering copies ahead of a specific event or date. In today’s world of Amazon delivering packages within one or two days of receiving an order (or sometimes sooner), twelve days feels like eternity when you’re excitedly awaiting your book.
Anyway, the books arrived. I was thrilled when I opened the box and picked them up. The text and images on the cover were perfect, even sharper than they looked on my computer screen. (One cover seems slightly darker than the other, but both look good, and a reader would never notice or care about the slight difference.) The matte lamination looks and feels professional, because it is. The spines were—off center. Womp, womp, womp. My book is short—only 102 pages—and the cover template called for a .211-inch spine. In reality, each book’s spine was slightly wider, and not entirely uniform from top to bottom. I’d designed a solid black spine with white text, in contrast to the black-and-white historic images on the front and back covers, but this black area was not perfectly centered on the actual spine of either print copy. One was just a little off—no big deal—but the other was far enough off that I wouldn’t have wanted to sell it to a reader. If the book had been significantly thicker—say, a few hundred pages—it probably wouldn’t have been noticeable. But when the spine is already pretty thin, a margin of error of a few millimeters makes a big difference, visually.
That’s why I’m glad I ordered two copies. If I’d only received one or the other, I would have assumed that all future copies would look like one or the other. Seeing the differences between the two copies gave me a better understanding of the variation that occurs in the print-on-demand process.
After thinking it over, I decided that the best way to avoid this would have been to design a cover with a spine that matched the front and back covers with little to no contrast. Perhaps a background color or image that wrapped around the entire book. In fact, I discovered that that’s exactly what BookBaby, another self-publishing company, recommends. I didn’t want to redesign my cover from scratch, so I widened the black background of the spine slightly, hoping that would compensate for the margin of error somewhat. After making several other minor changes, I ordered three proof copies, and nervously awaited their arrival, worried that one or more would be unacceptable.
When I received them, I breathed a sigh of relief. They were fine. Not perfect, but much better than the one copy that had caused concern. I now suspect (or hope) that that one was an anomaly. Still, when I receive copies to sell locally, I plan to simply remove any that I deem unsellable. Maybe I’ll be able to get them replaced, or maybe not. However, I am mildly concerned about online orders; I’ll have no control over what customers receive. That’s an unavoidable con of the print-on-demand model, which is otherwise filled with pros.
Once I was satisfied with the book, I enabled distribution through IngramSpark. The book appeared on Barnes & Noble’s site by the next morning, and on Amazon later that day. Interestingly, Barnes & Noble offered a pre-order discount of 30% for a couple of days, which then disappeared.
I’d read about weird things happening to IngramSpark titles on Amazon, like books being wrongly labeled “out of stock,” and that sort of thing. Some people think it’s a conspiracy, since Amazon and IngramSpark are competitors. Whether there’s any truth to that or not, there was, indeed, some weirdness during the first week that my book was on Amazon. After being available for pre-order for a couple of days, its status abruptly changed to “usually ships in 1 or 2 months.” This was somewhat true, since my initial release date was about a month away—but the listing no longer said anything about pre-orders. The typical customer probably wouldn’t realize that the book hadn’t been released yet. And who’s going to buy a book that might not arrive for two months? Fortunately, this status only remained for a day or two. Unfortunately, it was followed by “temporarily unavailable,” which was followed by the dreaded “out of stock.” At this point, there was no option to place an order at all. Not good.
Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble’s listing for pre-orders never changed.
Seeing no reason to delay the online release of the book any longer, I changed the on-sale date to February 20th. Thankfully, this step seemed to solve the Amazon problem. The updated listing even shows an estimated delivery time of about five days. However, I’m going to keep an eye on it. I don’t buy the conspiracy theory, but there do seem to be some kinks in Amazon’s listing process.
At the moment, I’m waiting for a bulk order of copies, which should arrive in a week or two. With the creation of the book behind me, I’ve shifted my attention to promoting it. I’ve found IngramSpark to be incredibly useful during every step of the process, from setting prices to uploading files to making the book available to retailers, and I would not hesitate to recommend the company to any author considering self-publishing.
– Chris Slavens