Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Ingram Spark Experience So Far

As I posted yesterday, I decided to bite the bullet (and the extra costs) and give Ingram Spark a try to see if it increased my print book sales. I chose my Sweetwater Canyon series for this test.  When I changed cover designers and decided on a new series look and feel, I had already decided to change the format for the books to the larger, traditional trade paperback 6 x 9 size. I reformatted the interior of the first two books and will do the last two books in this larger size.  With the final two books releasing this year, it seemed like a good time to give it a try.

One thing to note. I am NOT doing any  e-book distribution through them. The royalties on that are only 40% and it's to all the same places I already distribute for a 65-70% return (Apple, Amazon, Kobo, B&N).  I know some will choose this because they like all their reporting in one place. Not me, I like the extra money. I have other ways to bring all the reporting to one spot and run my analysis of markets and distributors.  :)

So how did it go?

I loaded my first book three days ago. First thing to know is that before you can even attempt to load your files you have to give up your credit card information and agree to pay the fees. This means there is no backing out.

I knew that the Createspace expanded system already used Ingram POD printers; so I made the assumption that the PDF interior file and PDF cover file I would normally use at CreateSpace would work. Bad assumption!  Ingram has some VERY exacting specifications.  I can only assume that CreateSpace does some manipulation on their end before sending it to Ingram for printing.

So, here are the differences.

Interior Pages. Ingram REQUIRES that the interior page margins by .5 (that is1/2) inch all around on all pages. Createspace doesn't care what you do with the margins. You can set them at 1/2 inch or 2 inches. All they care about is that the text fits within the safe space for trim. The templates I use from The Book Designer (which I love) vary the margins for left and right pages and for top and bottom. The template I use had the top at .83, the bottom at .7, the left at .92 and right at .75 in order to provide an allotment for the gutter and the binding.

Okay, not a big deal. I just went into the layout tab in Microsoft Word and changed all the margins to .5 (that is left, right, top, and bottom).  It didn't take long. It looked strange to me after formatting 8 print books, but it's a small price to pay. In the future I'll just set it this way whenever I begin a new book.

Cover Design. Ingram has a template they want you to use (just like Createspace does). Of course, it differs slightly in terms of the bleeds and safe spaces. It requires CYMK colors not RGB. Createspace let's you upload in RGB or CYMK. It accepts the upload no matter what and leaves it up to you to decide if it looks good to you or not.  In the past if the cover was slightly off, the Createspace support folks let me know by email and asked if I would like them to fix it. Yup. It's free.

Deep breath. Nothing is free with Ingram. This required going back to my cover designer and asking her to make sure it all fit the Ingram template. Again, not a big deal. It's a learning experience for me. If she had known I was doing Ingram from the start it would have been done that way. So, this will cost me a slight additional expense for her time, but worth it if it pays off in the long run. And future books will be right from the start.

PDF File Generation.  This is the one that had me tearing out my hair.  Just like CreateSpace, Ingram requires both the interior file and the cover file to be in PDF format.  My cover designer sent me the redone cover file in PDF like she always does. I took my Microsoft Word newly reformatted file, with 1/2 inch margins all around, and generated a PDF like I always do.

All stop! Wrong! Error. Error. Error.

The error generated on my interior file is an ICC profile error. What?  I've never heard of this. My interior has one image and it is a greyscale (because it's required not to be color) Windtree Press logo. After an email exchange with technical support (which is good and quick at answering questions by the way) it ends up that when Microsoft Word generates the PDF it creates this error because there is no way to tell Microsoft Word not to include ICC Color codes when it generates the PDF file. It also turns out that Ingram does not support Microsoft Word at all.  Specifically they "support InDesign, Photoshop, Acrobat ,and Quark as file creation applications."

However, they are happy to correct the problem for me for a $10 fee. Ugh! Now my book will cost $71 to get up at Ingram. That's another 5 books sales difference.  Can I sell 5 more books? Probably, but now I'm frustrated that this process has been not at all the easy experience I had with Createspace.

I do not own any of those software products. I do not want to buy them. Of the options Adobe Acrobat is the least expensive at $100. Yes, I'm technically inclined, but coming up to speed takes time away from my writing. Again!

But now I'm stuck. I've already paid my $61 to Ingram. I've already incurred additional costs from my cover designer. My books have been uploaded to their system. I don't know if there is a way to get a refund at this point. (Refund processing is not in their FAQs)  I have a deadline to meet. It's either pay another $10 or use hours of time finding a different way to generate the PDF.  With some anger at myself for not checking this out more thoroughly, I clicked on the yes-i'll-pay option.

So now I wait and see how quickly my books get into the catalog and how quickly they show up on online sites. Amazon Expanded gets it immediately into the Amazon store and within a week to B&N and Amazon UK. It's another 4-6 weeks before it's every else and often without cover images for another month beyond that.

My expectation is that it gets into U.S. store catalogs within a week (my local booksellers say their systems update weekly). As for outside of the U.S. it will be interesting to see if it is quicker than Amazon (as Amazon obviously uses the Ingram system).

Will I still go ahead with the rest of the series?

Yes, for now.  Here is what Ingram distribution offers me:
  • 35,000 independent and chain bookstores, libraries, and online retailers in more than 190 countries (this includes Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other partners around the world).

    Libraries are big to me. I can only get library distribution from Createspace if I use the free Createspace ISBN (Doesn't that sound crazy? I'd love to know the real story there).
  • Automatic loading to Espresso Book Machines (previously I was doing this myself, more time saved for me)
  • Ability to provide the expected discount to bookstores so they can order in advance before I come for an event or signing--no more lugging cases of books with me from store to store.
  • I don't have to handle any order fulfillment on my print books, which saves me shipping costs. The only time I pay for shipping is for my own copies that I use for giveaways.
Now, the big question. Will I get more print sales to make up for the costs? If so, how long will it take to make up the difference to cover the $71 cost per book. Will it be worth maintaining each title in the catalog beyond the first year? At $12 per year, it doesn't sound like much. That would represent 6 book sales to me.  I'll post again in a couple months and let you now how it is looking, if everything rolled out around the world as expected and if it appears I have any sales yet.

If you've been doing LSI or Spark distribution, I 'd love to hear from you.


  1. A couple book signing events and you'll have that $71 expense nailed. Glad you are out there and experimenting with Create space alternatives.

  2. Thanks so much for detailing the differences and challenges, coming over from Createspace. SUPER useful!

  3. Thanks Jamie and Lynn. I know that people outside the U.S. have been using Lightning Source for some time because they didn't have access to Createspace. I have a friend in the U.K. who loves LS. I think it is a matter of me figuring out how to give them what they want. It is obvious at this point that using Word for the print book is not a great idea. I'm going to download a trial copy of InDesign and see how awful it is. If I can import the Word document and template without a lot of trouble, it may be worth it. I'll keep everyone posted.

  4. How do I get an IngramSparks template for a paperback and for the cover ? I'd appreciate advice. Thanks

  5. Hi Sally, Ingram Spark provides a template based on how you fill out the form. Select PDF in the dropdown option unless you are an InDesign person. That being said, I've used the same template that Createspace provides and it works fine. Just be sure CMYK instead of RGB embedded colors. The reality is that most Createspace books are printed by Ingram--one of the reasons the costs to booksellers is 15% more. Consequently, Createspace does things to your files behind the scene if you don't do it exactly to Ingram print standards. Ingram will do this too but you get charged for it (e.g., $10 to change from RGB to CMYK).

    As for an interior template, Ingram does not provide one. Instead they provide a "file guide" that describes in unfortunate technical detail what they expect from you. The biggest thing to remember is that you must have a minimum of 1" on all sides of the page. Also, Ingram is an Adobe InDesign supporter not a Microsoft Word supporter. Though you can create everything in Microsoft Word you will have to save the PDF through Adobe to get the right parameters. Alternatively, you can use Open Office (a free Microsoft Office type program) which has the variety of options necessary to save in print ready PDF. I still use the Joel Friedman Microsoft Word templates as I always have. Then I open my Adobe Acrobat software to do the save as PDF in order to save in the type that Ingram requires.

    This reminds me I need to a follow-up post on my ongoing experience with Ingram. Thanks for the question!

  6. I used createspace for my first book, which is a paperback self help book, but I will need to use ingramspark for the children's book I wrote since I want it to be a hardcover which create space doesn't offer. So I am trying to learn everything I can about the differences so I avoid as many mistakes as possible from the start. I appreciate your blogging about this. It is very informative. Thanks so much and good luck to you.