Welcome to the Real Fast Results podcast! Robin Cutler, from IngramSpark, is here to share her secrets on print on demand (POD) publishing. So, without further ado, let’s welcome Robin…
Our promise today is to talk a little about print on demand and what your options are as an author as well as the different platforms in which you can make your book available. Most importantly IngramSpark, but also CreateSpace and some other options that you might have. What we plan to do today is to bring clarity and to offer you some real solutions for how you might move forward with your self-publishing plans.
Defining Print on Demand Publishing
Print on demand, as a technology, has been around for, actually, about 20 years. It really started at Ingram 20 years ago, when Ingram started a company called Lightening Source. That was actually done by John Ingram 20 years ago, and Lightning Source is now the state-of-the-art print on demand company of the world. Print on demand is just like it sounds, where instead of an author or publisher having to stock inventory, through print on demand, you can actually print as you need to and pay as you go.
What’s so great about print on demand is that it allows you, as an author and as a publisher, to bring your book to the marketplace and reduce the risk of doing so. We aren’t actually printing until we actually get orders for those books, and those orders can go directly to the customers in many cases. The minimum order in a true print on demand model, like what we offer through Ingram Spark, is one copy. So, isn’t that phenomenal?
To me, this is the heyday for self-publishers. They have as much, and as many, the tools at their disposal as the traditional publishers have always had. You know, they have access to IngramSpark, which is the world’s largest book distributor. You can put your content out into the marketplace very easily and inexpensively, through print on demand, and just see what happens without having to sell the family farm, which was not always the case in the old days.
How to Start a Print On Demand (POD) Project
First of all, you need to have worked with an editor to create a published book. You should work with a designer. Although, if you have the skill to design yourself, that’s fine. Most people don’t, however, so you would probably need to work with a designer to actually format your book in a trim size that can actually be printed as print on demand.
Book Trim Size
There are some limitations on what you can do when it comes to print on demand. You will want to check and make sure that the trim size that you and your designer have selected is one that actually can be manufactured through your print on demand process. There are a lot of choices, as far as what those trim sizes are. The smallest is 4×6, and it goes all the way up to 8.5×11. There’s color, there’s hardcover, paperback, and a couple of different options in bindings that are available now. Even in hardcover, you can have a cloth-printed look to your hardcover book with a jacket on it.
6×9 is the one that’s most heavily chosen by all publishers. That size is the one that’s most commonly seen on most bookshelves, and 5.5×8.5 is another one. For children’s books, we’re starting to see sort of a square trim size. There’s an 8×8 and 8.5×8.5, and also 8.5×11. But, what’s great about a squarer kind of trim size is that it gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of your illustrations. Most illustrations will fit on that sort of format. We are always adding, and I think we’re about to launch a 10.5×10.5 square trim size through Ingram here in a month or so. You can always check and see if we’ve added anything recently.
There’s just a lot that’s available. An author, as they are writing their book, they tend to have an image of what they think that finished book should look like. Often times, that image or vision that they have is a non-standard trim size because they think that makes their book unique in the world and on a bookshelf. Unique isn’t necessarily a good thing, in terms of cost, and also, how you distribute your book. In fact, you want it to be standard and part of a format that booksellers can sell easily.
So, I say, don’t get hung up on the format. Make sure it’s standard. Make sure, especially as a new author, it fits a print on demand trim size. You can go onto the IngramSpark site, and I’ll give you this information. There are also other places you can check out what various print on demand providers offer. So, I would say that’s Step #1. I think that it is smart to look at similar books in your genre. Not only the trim size, but you also want to look at the pricing of your competitors and books in the marketplace.
Making Changes In Your Book After It’s Published
Another thing that I wanted to mention about the value of print on demand, and this is a big, big thing, is that you can easily update your book. If you’re a published author, you know that it’s hard to get it right initially. Invariably, no matter how good of an editor you have, or how good of a proofreader, you’ll find something that you want to change. And, it could be something for the good.
Let’s say that you won an award. That’s something that you would want to include on the cover of your book. Maybe you’ve gotten a great review. Well, if you’ve printed 5,000 copies, and they’re in your basement, and you’ve gotten this great review or this great endorsement from James Patterson, you’re kind of screwed. You want to add that to your book. Print on demand allows you to easily do that. So, you just update your file, and everything that’s printed after that is the new information on the book.
You can also easily update the metadata. There’s a lot of information out there, especially in the self-publishing world, about metadata and the importance of that. So, POD allows you to easily update all of the book information, the pricing, the description, anything you want to update.
Next Step: PDF
You’ve edited your book, picked the correct trim size and evaluated your competition. Now, all you need to get started are the finished PDFs of your book for print on demand. You need a PDF of the cover and a separate PDF of the interior. In creating those PDFs, that’s why It’s really valuable to use a professional who understands how to create a PDF for print. Just a Word version of a PDF, maybe, is not going to work. It definitely won’t work for the cover. It may work in the interior, but it definitely won’t work for the cover.
IngramSpark offers a cover generator template. Once you decide your trim size, you can use that template. The cover gets placed on it so that it will fit perfectly. And then, you just create an IngramSpark account, upload your information about your book, and what we call the metadata. Then, at the end of that, you upload your files.
We have this great validator tool. On the screen, this scrolling thing happens, and it will show you if you have any issues with your files. If you do, you can go back and have your designer fix them and re-upload them. Once it goes through, you get a proof, you look at it, and if you say, “Gosh, this looks fantastic,” you turn on the distribution for that book. What that means is that your book actually goes out into the world via these data feeds. One of the primary ones is Ingram’s catalogue, and from there it goes out to Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, Gardners, and the UK. You know, it goes all over the place. So, it’s really fantastic.
Just to bring clarity, one of the reasons why Ingram is so important for a self-publisher is because booksellers and libraries want to purchase books across a multitude of publishers from a single source. They don’t want to have to go directly to these publishers. They want to just have one or two vendors that they deal with, and so Ingram’s one. Once your book is in the Ingram catalogue, it’s like your book is right there beside all of the Random House books. There’s nothing that marks your book as being self-published. It just looks like any other book in the Ingram catalogue. So, when you are promoting your book to libraries and to booksellers, it helps to elevate you into the realm of professional authors.
If you can say, “My book is available from Ingram,” you don’t have to say that it’s self-published. You don’t really have to say a whole lot more than about the book itself and where it can be purchased, and you say that it’s available from Ingram. When you say that it’s from Ingram, it’s implied that it’s been vetted and is of a good quality. That brings up another point, and that is to make sure that your book really is a good-quality book, which, by the way, is not that expensive.
I say spend your money in creating, formatting, and marketing your book. Don’t spend your money on inventory. You can always do that. If your book takes off, you have a lot of other options, but especially bringing the book to market as a new author, don’t invest in inventory. Invest in creating your book and bringing it to market.
The Difference Between Ingram and CreateSpace
Just for full disclosure, I used to actually work at CreateSpace. I loved working for CreateSpace, and for Amazon, and I feel really proud of the work that I did there. I mainly worked with publishers, not so much with authors, like I do now at Ingram. But, I have nothing but great things to say about CreateSpace. I will say, because this is probably the #1 question that I get. Authors often ask, “What’s the difference between IngramSpark and CreateSpace?” So, I think we can have a discussion that can help bring clarity to authors that are sort of wondering the answers to that question.
The difference is that Ingram has much broader distribution. CreateSpace distributes just to Amazon. Although, CreateSpace has a program that they call “Expanded Distribution”. Guess what “Expanded Distribution” is? It’s Ingram. It will put the book in the Ingram catalogue, which is a good thing, but it actually puts the book in the catalogue at a disadvantage to the author. Your book is listed with what we call a “short discount, non-returnable”. It doesn’t really get you what you need if you’re planning to sell to libraries and especially to booksellers.
By putting your book into IngramSpark, you make your book available to Ingram and everywhere that Ingram sells; which is about 40,000 retail and library partners around the world. Then, you control and can specify how that book gets listed in the Ingram catalogue. You want that kind of control as an author, and I would advise you to have that control. You can set up the same book, using the same ISBN, and we’ll talk in a minute about ISBNs because I have a lot to say about that. But, you can set up the same book, with the same ISBN, that you own, in both platforms, with the same files. Then, you’ll be pretty-well set.
What’s great about having your book on CreateSpace is that your book will always show up as being in stock within Amazon’s catalogue, which is a great thing. You want that as an author as well. What’s great about setting it up with IngramSpark is that in the Ingram catalogue there’s no mention of CreateSpace being associated with your book. Booksellers don’t like to see that. If you walk into the store with a CreateSpace book, you’re likely not to be warmly welcomed. So, you don’t want that.
You just set up your book under your own imprint in the IngramSpark catalogue, and you’re good to go. If I had to pick one platform, because a lot of people just want to have one place where they keep everything, I would suggest it be IngramSpark just because it’s the broadest distribution.
The Use of ISBNs
To distribute a book, you do need an ISBN, which is the international book identification number. You attain an ISBN from, in the US it’s Bowker. In Canada, the Canadian government gives free ISBNs. So, it’s kind of country-specific, but in the US, you can obtain them from Bowker. To me, owning your ISBN is like owning your name. It travels throughout the life of your book, and there’s a different ISBN for every format of the book that you have, and that identifies the format as well. So, you want to own it just because you don’t want your book tied to any one distributor.
Anytime your book is given a free ISBN, your book is tied to whoever gave you that free ISBN. You never want that for the life of your book, or even for a short length of time. You’ll regret it in the end, and it’s not a good thing to do. Just to be clear, CreateSpace does offer the use of their ISBN in your book, but you can’t use that ISBN on any other platform but CreateSpace. In addition to that, the publisher is then listed as CreateSpace, which is not necessarily a good thing. On Amazon it’s one thing, but off of Amazon it’s a whole other matter.
You should really use the same ISBN on both your IngramSpark and CreateSpace edition. Otherwise, it creates confusion in the marketplace. For instance, you’ll suddenly get Barnes & Noble interested in your book, and they go to the Ingram catalogue. Well, you’ve set up your book via CreateSpace using your free ISBN, and you’ve turned on “Expanded Distribution,” so they see it listed there, but you’ve also assigned your own ISBN to the one that you set up with IngramSpark. So, it takes Barnes & Noble a minute to see that. Then they’re confused, and it doesn’t necessarily put you in the realm of a professional author. Instantly you will kind of have a mark against you.
You want to set up your book exactly with the same ISBN that you have purchased and that you own. It will travel along the life and the format of that book on any platform. Like, you don’t want exclusivity anywhere. We don’t require exclusivity at IngramSpark, and I don’t advocate exclusivity for the author. I think you should be as broad as you can and make your book available as widely as possible.
Print On Demand Tips
Remember this process:
- Use POD when you’re launching as a new author. It’s there to really make it easy and affordable for you.
- Purchase your own ISBN. Make that investment.
- Make the investment in working with professional editors, designers, marketers, and spend your money like that.
- Set your book up, at least in IngramSpark and CreateSpace. If you’re only going to choose one, I would choose IngramSpark.
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