I just laid hands on the print proof of my debut novel paperback edition and let me say this. I thought seeing the eBook listing was exciting… until I opened that package and saw my hard copy book in all its printed glory. What a feeling. Happy and proud, like it was my little child. Well, more like a new kitten, because I don’t like kids, ha!
I wanted to share my journey on self publishing my paperback, because it’s a little more complicated for Australian authors at the moment. That’s probably true of any authors not in the USA. I’m talking from a distribution standpoint here, so let me give a little background.
My plan from the start was to “go wide” with my distribution. This means I would publish on Amazon, but I also wanted it to be able to be picked up by bookstores and libraries, as well as other book networks. I kind of messed up a bit with the eBook for that (a post on that later), but I think I got it just right for the paperback.
There is a lot of opinion out there about whether you need an ISBN or not. This needs to be a choice you make on your own after doing your own research, but after agonising all weekend, and talking it through with my husband, I decided to buy one. I’ll write a post about why it was the right choice for me, so keep an eye out. From what I’d researched, it seemed the way to have the most control over publishing my paperback. Same too with your eBook but in a different way.
The key thing is that you don’t need separate ISBNs for paperbacks published in different locations… if you follow my step by step guide that is! If you don’t, and you use the ASIN given you by Amazon or other distributors, you’ll run into trouble publishing on different networks because the ISBNs won’t match up.
The difficulty right now is that Amazon isn’t shipping print proofs or author copies to Australia due to COVID-19. This was a problem for me because I wanted to make sure the paperback looked as good as I expected, and printed the way it should. I had always planned to publish on both Amazon and IngramSpark, but in order to get a print proof from Amazon (where I set up the paperback originally), it would’ve cost a fortune in reshipping fees. IngramSpark don’t do proofs, but as an author you can buy at cost, so I set up my paperback through them, and paid for a rush order to get a single copy of my paperback to check. More on that whole process later!
Amazon also don’t do paperback pre-orders. I wanted my eBook and paperback releases to match up, so that is another benefit for starting off with IngramSpark.
Okay, so here’s how I did it.
Step 1. Buy ISBNs
I headed over to Thorpe Bowker (myidentifiers.com.au in Australia) and set myself up an account. I’d read that if you want to have your books show up with a publisher title rather than “independently published”, then you should consider that early on because you’ll need it for your ISBNs. I created my publisher imprint and filled in the relevant company details. Good to go.
Next I bought a pack of ten ISBNs for $88 (plus a new publisher set up fee of $55, which is a bit of a rort in my opinion, but okay I’ll only need to pay it once). A single ISBN is $44, so it’s much more economical to buy in bulk. They don’t expire, so just go ahead and buy the 10-pack. You won’t regret that little bit of extra outlay when you write your next book. If you plan on writing heaps of books, you might even want to buy a pack of 100 or more.
You may be dazzled by the suggestion for buying barcodes and QR codes. In my limited experience, I don’t think this is necessary. Amazon and IngramSpark (the main ‘print on demand’ distributors I’ll be using) create a barcode for you and include your ISBN and even the price too if you want. The barcode is used for stock control. As far as I can tell, you really don’t need to buy one unless you are running your own printing press.
I reserved three of my ISBNs for my debut novel: one for MOBI (Amazon) eBook, one for ePub (non-Amazon) eBook, and one for my paperback. I’ll talk about why I used ISBNs for my eBooks in another post (because you don’t technically need to).
There is a lot of metadata to complete when you set up your title on Thorpe Bowker/MyIdentifiers. It can be quite overwhelming, especially as some of it is cataloguing or library-esque language. But take your time, and read the help text for each field and work your way through. You can save and come back to it, so you don’t need to complete it all at once. Fill in all the info you like, and put the publish date as the future release.
Step 2. Set up your title on IngramSpark
Or another non-Amazon distributor. There are others, but I’ll be talking about IngramSpark exclusively here.
Create an account on IngramSpark and, like you did with ThorpeBowker/MyIdentifiers, make sure you note your publisher/imprint to avoid the “independently published” tag. Or don’t. I’m not your mum.
IngramSpark can distribute your eBook too so you can save some money doing that, but for me I didn’t think it was necessary. I plan to use the combination of Amazon and Smashwords to distribute everywhere. But again, that’s up to you!
Set up your title on IngramSpark and use the ISBN you reserved for the paperback. It’s normally $49 to set up, but IngramSpark often have promos for free or reduced price set up (this month – June 2020 – title set up and revisions are free), or you can track down a promo code so you don’t have to pay full price. Search around online and you’ll find a few.
You can use their calculator to work out print costs for different sizes, papers and cover finishes and decide on which you want to go with.
Carefully consider the pricing of your book. You can set this manually – make sure you mark up the list price enough to cover your costs and make some profit. You can set a discount for wholesale here. There are arguments online for setting the wholesale to 55% here but gosh that makes it hard for you as a first-timer. Go for the lowest discount available (30-35%) and allow returns (with destruction. Yes, that’s heartbreaking, but it’s the most cost effective method).
Also make sure you put your publication and on sale date for your future release, so that you can get that sweet pre-order listing which is the whole point of this long, torturous guide.
Step 3. Set up your title on Amazon (KDP)
Hang on, what? Didn’t I just say to do it on IngramSpark? Why yes, I did, but bear with me! Doing it in this order allows you to have a pre-order, but there is also has an effect on your royalties.
Set up your paperback on KDP (that’s Kindle Digital Publishing, Amazon’s publishing arm, formerly CreateSpace), fill in all the details and use the same ISBN. If you have an eBook version set upon Amazon, you can link the paperback and eBook together (there is an option to do this).
Step 4. Upload your files to both distributors
You’ll probably have a lovely type-set PDF to use for your interior manuscript files, and a beautiful PDF image for the cover. If not, you can use KDP’s cover template to sort out the appropriate dimensions. It has all the guides so you know where the cover will be trimmed, and where the safe text/image areas area so things don’t get cut off. The template has a space for your auto-generated barcode on the bottom right of the back cover.
I was a bit fearful of having to make a second cover image file for IngramSpark because their default barcode location is smack in the middle of the bottom of the back cover, which for me would mean covering up my author pic and bio. I uploaded the KDP cover anyway because you get to see a PDF proof of it all beforehand and I thought I’d just see how I went.
Happily, IngramSpark placed my barcode in just the right place so I didn’t need to agonise over making a new cover to match their layout.
Step 5. Order and review the PDF proofs
It will take a couple of days for IngramSpark to set up your file for print while they check for any technical issues (this it the processing queue, you’ll see your title listed as “processing” for at least two or three days). While you are waiting, check out your paperback preview on KDP and make sure everything looks right. You can also download a PDF proof to review.
Soon enough, you’ll get an email from IngramSpark saying your title is ready. Go in and check the details look right, and then order a PDF proof. Once you review this and approve it, the title will be ready to order and will be marked for global distribution.
Step 6. Order a print copy from IngramSpark
Because us Aussies aren’t currently able to order proofs from Amazon, you’ll need to order from IngramSpark. There is a press in Melbourne so that saves a lot on shipping. However, print on demand is not cheap. You’ll find you have to mark up your retail price to cover your costs (as I talk about above). Don’t be tempted to cut yourself too low. It turns out people still love paperbacks and are prepared to pay for them, so don’t sell yourself short.
Order a single print copy from IngramSpark so you can double check it prints correctly. You’ll have to pay for print costs, a handling fee and shipping. You can choose three speeds of printing from one business day to five, and three types of postage (I chose premium as it is tracked/insured and ships to post boxes).
Step 7. Get listed in catalogues
After a day or so of your IngramSpark paperback listing being approved, you’ll begin to notice the inexorable spread of your paperback to their distribution network which includes… Amazon!
That’s right, even though you haven’t published your paperback on KDP and it’s still languishing in your draft folder, it will show up tied to your pre-order listing.
This is because you used the same ISBN! Dun dun duuuuun!
What happened here is that Amazon received IngramSpark’s feed of upcoming publications, so it matched the paperback to your incomplete listing. You’ll also find that magically your book is listed on Goodreads, so you can create an author profile and claim the book to access a bunch of advertising opportunities.
People will be able to pre-order your paperback from Amazon, which they can’t normally do if you publish first through KDP. For now it will be distributed by IngramSpark which means you’ll only get 40% royalties for these orders. However! Please read on for the big pro tip of the article…
Step 8. Publish your paperback on Amazon
When you arrive at your release date, complete the publishing process on KDP. Make sure you don’t choose the option to enable for global distribution. This way you’ll be “wide” and your paperback will be available all over the place. You’ll probably have seen it show up on Barnes and Noble and maybe other places too. Go and have a look, it’s quite exciting!
Now when people order your paperback from Amazon, it will be distributed by Amazon to their markets and you’ll get 60% royalties! If whoever orders it is outside of their shipping network, the sale will be handled through IngramSpark and you’ll get 40% royalties. To the reader/buyer, however, it won’t matter. It will be the same price and they’ll get to use whatever platform they prefer, and you’ll have captured them regardless of the method of purchase!
And there you have it! I hope you found this useful. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, and keep an eye out for future posts on some of the other topics I’ve touched on briefly in this article.