This is the first post in my series discussing all the tips and tricks I’ve learned about going wide. We’re starting with print editions because you can go wide in print whether or not your eBook is in Kindle Unlimited. So, for any authors looking to sell their print books outside of Amazon… listen up, because this one is for you!
This post is going to be a little more unorganized than my posts usually are, and that’s because there’s just a lot of overlap and a lot of considerations and there’s no easy way to organize it.
With that, along with my usual caveat of “this is my opinion, built from my research and my personal experiences with my books, and it may or may not apply to you” statement, let’s go!
*Gasp* Jessica! Why are you talking about branding right now? This isn’t a branding post! Well… it is now! Branding is important across all aspects of your book-ish-ness, and that includes in your print (and eBook) covers. Would this probably fit better in a branding post? Sure, but we’re going to talk about it now.
To keep your author brand recognizable and consistent, keep your author name in the same place on the cover, and in the same font across EVERY cover of EVERY book you publish, regardless of the series and it’s connected-ness. This again helps with a recognizable brand identity.
Readers should be able to look at your covers and be like “yep, that’s a Jessica cover for sure” without even reading my name at the bottom.
Note: this doesn’t mean your covers all have to look aesthetically the same. Variety is good! Just keep certain things, like the font and placement of your author name, the same.
PRINT ON DEMAND VENDORS
Alright, now we’re getting into the good stuff. There are four main POD vendors that most people are aware of. We’re going to talk about all of them. At the end of this post, if you are considering selling direct, I’ll list 2 more options for POD that are ideal for direct selling/dropshipping models.
Each of these vendors has some nuances that are important to know and understand before you make the decision of which one (or which combination) to use.
This post will not be covering ISBNs. If you live in the US, get your ISBNs through Bowker, they are the only legitimate ISBN seller for the US. If you live outside the US, please refer to your country’s guidance for ISBNs.
- Only gets your print book published on Amazon
- Limited trim size options
- Highest royalty rate
- Automatically links to your eBook without any work from you
- Limited hardcover options
- No preorders for print (yet)
- Use your own ISBN or their free ASIN
- Pushes your book to retailers, libraries all over the world
- Doesn’t play nice with Amazon
- Lower royalties
- Can set returnability status and retail discount (for physical bookstore consideration)
- Delayed payouts, delayed reporting
- Quality concerns
- Allows preorders
- Most expansive trim and print options
- Prints through IngramSpark printers
- Uses IngramSpark distribution channels
- Lowest royalties
- Cannot control returnable status or retail discount
- Best customer service of the main 4 options
- Great if you already have your eBooks up on D2D as well
- Uses IngramSpark printers
- Only distributes to BN.com market
- Cannot control returnable status or retail discount
- Higher royalties
- Will not guarantee you placement in physical stores
- Non-existent customer service
- Locks your ISBN into exclusivity
I want to expand on that last point from Barnes & Noble. They are the only main POD retailer who does this, but it’s very important because for US residents, ISBNs are very expensive. If you want to put your print up on B&N Press (and you shouldn’t, but I’ll get to that in a minute), you’ll need a SEPARATE ISBN to use there. You will not be able to use the same ISBN like you would be able to with AmazonKDP and IngramSpark. I know it’s not fair. I know it’s not right. You will never be able to get in contact with a human at BN Press to argue about it though, so just don’t bother.
For more about ISBNs, head to my ISBN Guide post.
Now, let’s talk about which vendors can be combined with which to get the most distribution coverage, and how to logistically make that happen.
It’s smart to use more than one of the above vendors to ensure you have the most widespread distribution, but some of them will overlap and you don’t want to double up.
If you are going to publish through IngramSpark, you cannot also publish through Draft2Digital Print (this is for PRINT, not ebooks). So, first you choose IngramSpark OR Draft2Digital Print, then, you can also publish via Amazon KDP and BN Press if you’d like.
Before we get into how to do that, I’m going to discuss why I think you shouldn’t publish your print via BN Press. At all.
BN Press uses Ingram’s printers, meaning the quality is the same as IngramSpark books. BN Press does NOT let you control returnability or retail discount, it automatically sets the returnable status to NO and the retail discount is fixed. This means that even Barnes & Noble stores will not order your print books from BN Press, because they require the books to be returnable. They will order from IngramSpark.
So, if your goal of uploading your print to BN Press is to get into physical B&N stores, that’s not going to happen. Additionally, the ISBN locking issue is annoying and asinine, and the customer service there is non-existent chat bots that just send you the same email over and over and never answer your questions.
I am deeply, deeply of the assumption that you are much better off just publishing your eBook directly to BN Press and letting IngramSpark deal with them for your print books.
Now, I will get off my high horse and tell you how to use the same ISBN to upload your print to both IngramSpark (or D2D) and Amazon KDP. This is going to require you to have everything prepped and ready and have a monitor big enough to do split screen windows.
USING THE SAME ISBN ON INGRAMSPARK AND AMAZON KDP
If you are not planning on doing a print preorder, this is going to be the easier process. Pull up two internet screens and split them side by side on your monitor. Then, here’s the steps:
- Input your metadata information and ISBN into KDP, get to the last screen, but don’t hit submit
- DO NOT CHECK EXPANDED DISTRIBUTION. This will not work if you check expanded distribution. Expanded distribution adds it to Ingram’s catalog, which is what you’re about to do yourself.
- Input metadata and ISBN into IS, get to the last screen, but don’t hit submit yet
- Go back to your KDP window and hit submit. Immediately, switch over to the IngramSpark window and hit submit. This will ensure that both submit at the same time and neither vendor communicates back to the ISBN dealer that the ISBN is in use.
Doing it this way will ensure that Amazon supresses the IngramSpark listing (because they have the same ISBN number) and any orders through Amazon will be fulfilled by Amazon instead of IngramSpark.
This will only work if your print metadata matches (i.e. title, subtitle, author name, blurb, page color, trim size). If you use a print option only available on IngramSpark, like a dust jacketed hardcover, this will not work as Amazon only offers case laminate hardcovers.
If you are planning to do a print preorder, this process is a little more complicated, and may not be guaranteed to work.
- Follow the same steps as above, but stop when you have filled out both screens to the last page.
- When to last screen on KDP, save as draft instead of hitting publish.
- Submit all the way through on IngramSpark.
- 3-5 days before release, go back and hit publish on your KDP draft.
Again, there’s no guarantee this will work, as Amazon and IngramSpark do not like to play nicely. If KDP comes back and says your ISBN is already in use, don’t fear! Just use the free ASIN they provide, and then when it publishes, you can contact Author Central Support (NOT KDP SUPPORT) and they can link the KDP version to your ebook instead of the IngramSpark version.
Again, you need to contact Author Support’s customer service, not KDP’s customer service to get them linked.
Okay, now, let’s talk a bit more about IngramSpark. It’s the complicated one.
IngramSpark is the most complex of the print on demand options, but it’s also the current self-publishing industry standard. It’s a bit unfortunate, but it’s still one of the best options out there if you’re doing POD. In this section, we’re going to discuss IngramSpark’s returns, retail discounts, and other interface considerations.
For more info on uploading to IngramSpark, check out my guide here.
IngramSpark distributes to a variety of retailers, and retailers want to be able to return stock that doesn’t sell. It’s an expectation for them, and so self-published authors have to consider this as well.
Your options for returns are to allow returns and destroy any returned copies, allow returns and ship you the returned copies, or to not allow returns at all. The two allowing returns do cost though, so you need to consider if you can financially support the possibiltiy of returns.
Return, Destroy will charge you for the wholesale price of the book (not the print cost, the price retailers actually paid). Return, Deliver will charge you the wholesale price of the book AND the shipping costs to get them to you.
It is not recommended to have Return, Deliver for a couple reasons. The first one being, the shipping costs are fluxuating and even if the books are shipped Media Mail, depending on how many books are returned, the weight can result in high shipping costs. The second one being, they are returning books that didn’t sell in store, and have often been shelved for a while, so they may not be in any good condition to resell by the time they get to you anyways.
So, if you’re going to allow returns, set them to Return, Destroy.
Another consideration is that bookstores are moving more and more towards paperbacks. If you have your book available in both paperback and hardback, I recommend only have returns turned on for your paperbacks. If a bookstore orders your hardbacks specifically, either for customer request purchase or for an event at the store, they likely aren’t planning on returning them anyways.
Another thing that retailers expect when ordering stock is that there is a retailer or wholesale discount for ordering. The typical trade discount is 55% off the list price, but you have the freedom to set your discount rate to whatever you want it to be. So, what should you set it at?
That depends entirely on your print strategy.
If you’re planning to focus on getting stocked on physical bookstore shelves, you’re going to want to offer the full 55%… but actually, not really.
You can set it to 53% and it will still show up as a full 55% discount.
I know, I know, it doesn’t make sense. But, reliable sources say that the discount for booksellers in the Ingram catalog shows as either FULL or SHORT, it doesn’t show them actual percentage you’ve set. So, if you set it at 53%-55% it will show as FULL. If you set it below 53%, it will show as SHORT.
Therefore, if you’re not going to offer a full discount, you might as well offer the lowest you can go, which is 40%. If you set it at 45%, you’re losing money on royalties, and it’s still showing as SHORT on the bookstore purchase.
Ingram’s choice to let you pick your discount can really be narrowed down to this: Short or full? 40% or 53%?
Ignore any other numbers, because those are the two you need to choose between.
Similar to the returns, bookstores are mostly stocking paperbacks, so it’s recommended to set your paperback discount to the full 53% and your hardback to 40%. But, if you sell vastly more hardbacks than paperbacks, you may reconsider my advice.
Remember, this is a PERSONAL journey, and I am providing you the information and my lessons learned, but you are always welcome and encouraged to do what’s best for your specific situation.
IngramSpark is a little notorious for a few things. The main one being quality control issues. Supposedly, they are working on this, but for now, just be prepared that your books will vary in quality and they have a large margin of error in their printing.
The second item is more focused on author copy orders. They give you options to choose for printing and shipping times, but they also caveat with “timeframe dependent on printing availability” and guess what… they’re never available. Always bank on at least double what you selected in the printing. And going back to quality, always order a few extra just in case.
All of that being said, IngramSpark’s customer service, while slow, is pretty good. They are helpful, and if there are issues with your order they do work to help you resolve them. If the errors are outside of their margin of error (like one of mine got printed upside down), they are quick to issue refunds.
In terms of cost to upload, they have removed their upload fee of $49, and their revision fee of $25 within the first 60 days. However, they are now charging a 1% of list price fee for access to the Global Connect network. This is optional to enroll in, but the Global Connect network gets you to retailers in Poland, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, and a few other European countries. While it’s not a huge percentage, if you sell a lot of books, this will cost you more than the upload fee over the lifetime of the book. It sucks, but it is what it is.
IngramSpark does seem to be listening more to author feedback, so stay tuned for changes.
LARGE PRINT & LIBRARIES
A final consideration for print books is to offer large print editions! These are an accessible option for low-vision readers, and are primarily bought by libraries. For these editions, the most important thing to consider is visual accessibility.
Your large print books need to be 6×9 trim size or bigger, they can be paperback or hardback, and the cover also needs to be optimized for large print.
You can easily format your large print edition in an online formatter like Vellum, but no matter how you format, make sure to keep it really simple. You want large font, large line spacing, at least a 1inch inside margin.
As libraries are really the only groups who buy self-published large print editions (or large print editions at all), only upload to IngramSpark, don’t worry about Amazon or anywhere else. Set your book to no returns and a 40% discount.
As far as which format (paperback or hardback) to make the large print, libraries prefer hardbacks for durability reasons, but readers that tend to need large print prefer paperbacks for accessibility reasons. If you do hardcover, a regular case laminate is fine, don’t worry about doing a dust jacket edition. Do whichever you prefer first and then eventually, when you can, do the other format.
We’re coming to end here, but I can’t close out this post without discussing two other print on demand options: Bookvault and Lulu. These are primarily used for selling direct as a kind of dropshipper, but they should still be considered. I won’t go into detail on these here, because I don’t have personal experience with either yet, but both have extensive websites so check them out!
ETA: I recently ordered a sample from BookVault. Read that post here to see the comparison between them and IngramSpark.
I hope this post was helpful, and if you take nothing else from it, let me leave you with my formula for going wide with my print.
- Publish paperbacks direct to KDP.
- Publish paperbacks and dust jacketed hardbacks via IngramSpark.
- Paperbacks set to 53% discount and return, destroy.
- Hardbacks set to 40% discount and no returns.
- Publish Large Print via IngramSpark at 40% discount and no returns.
As always though, this is your business and your career, so please do your research and form your own opinions and path based on what you find. This post is to share my research and to offer you my insight, and that’s all!
I’m working on a post for considerations of selling direct next, so stay tuned for that one! We’ll also be covering more going wide tips and tricks regarding eBooks in the coming weeks.
Have specific questions or requests for future posts? Drop them in the comments!