The Authors Guild Guide to Self-Publishing

Chapter 5: Producing and Selling Print Editions

Because of the greatly reduced financial risk and investment, print-on-demand is by far the No. 1 way for self-publishing authors to produce, distribute, and sell print copies of their books. Traditional publishers also use POD technology to keep older titles in stock without committing to warehousing and inventory costs. With POD, your book can be available for sale as a print edition in all the usual online retail outlets, as well as distributed through Ingram, the largest U.S. book wholesaler. This means your book can be ordered by any bookstore that uses Ingram, and nearly all of them do. We’ll step you through the most popular and reputable POD providers—CreateSpace and IngramSpark—as well as weigh the pros and cons of each. You don’t have to choose between them, fortunately; it’s possible to benefit from both.

The full article INCLUDES:

Print-on-Demand Providers: CreateSpace and IngramSpark

In-depth, step-by-step information about working with these two very popular print-on-demand services.

Should you invest in an offset print run?

The cost, process, and other factors to expect when working with a printer for your book, including warehousing, fulfillment, and working with Amazon Advantage.

Print editions: What to include in your book

In every profession, there are little details that reveal the time, attention, and care you’ve put into your work. When it comes to publishing, paying attention to those details can make a favorable impression on readers, especially those inside the trade.

And more...

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The Authors Guild Guide to Self-Publishing

Chapter 5: Producing and Selling Print Editions

Print-on-Demand (POD)

For most of publishing’s history, if an author wanted to self-publish, she had to invest thousands of dollars with a so-called “vanity” press, or study up on how to be an independent publishing entrepreneur. This all changed in the late 1990s, with the advent of print-on-demand (POD) technology, which allows books to be printed one at a time. Many POD publishing services arose that focused on providing affordable self-publishing packages to authors. They could be low-cost because—without print runs, inventory, and warehousing—the only expense left was in creating the product itself: the book.

Publishing services such as AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and the many subsidiaries of Author Solutions primarily offer POD publishing packages. However, today, the most popular and author-friendly POD services are Amazon KDP (formerly known as CreateSpace) and IngramSpark, which are discussed in-depth in this section.

Because of the greatly reduced financial risk and investment, POD is by far the preferable way for most independent authors to produce, distribute, and sell print copies of their books.

Traditional publishers also use POD technology to keep older titles in stock without committing to warehousing and inventory costs. With POD, your book can be available for sale as a print edition in all the usual online retail outlets, as well as distributed through Ingram, the largest U.S. book wholesaler. This means your book can be ordered by any bookstore that uses Ingram, and nearly all of them do.

Most readers cannot tell the difference between a POD book and an offset printed book. Some writers incorrectly assume that POD books have low-quality production values when, in fact, the quality can actually exceed that of offset printing. (If you haven’t noticed, publishers have been cutting the production values of their books, using cheaper paper and lighter-weight stock, to save money.) It is true that when POD services first came on the market, the quality was perceptibly lower, and POD books had a “self-published” quality. An author had to be careful which service she chose, and (if she was smart) order sample copies to evaluate the production values before committing. That kind of precaution is rarely needed today when using one of the popular POD providers. Indeed, the quality of the paper, binding, and cover finish for a POD book today is generally the same as for a traditionally printed book. The giveaway for self-publishing these days instead may be poor cover and interior design.

The biggest drawback to print-on-demand is that the unit cost is much higher than standard methods. A higher unit cost means lower profits—unless, of course, you price the book higher than what standard retail norms would dictate. POD printing also requires you to work within very specific parameters of paper stock, cover stock, and trim size—the ability to customize is limited. (Each POD provider has different standards and options, but they always conform to mainstream publishing expectations.)

Offset Printing

Most books printed by traditional publishers are produced through offset printing. To use a traditional printer and save meaningfully on unit cost, you usually need to commit to 1,000 copies. For full-color or illustrated books, offset printing will deliver perceptibly higher quality than POD. But you should be prepared to spend several thousand dollars for printing and shipping costs, and have a plan for how to store and fulfill orders, which of course incurs additional costs.

The other challenge with an offset printing investment is that you’re not typically working with a service that would automatically get your books into major distribution outlets without any further effort. When using major POD providers, your book is automatically available and for sale through important channels on demand; when paying for an offset print run, you then have the challenge of figuring out your distribution methods, and you’ll bear the responsibility of fulfilling orders—unless your printer offers additional services and can handle it for you.

So, when does it make sense to invest in an offset print run?

  • You already have a distributor, retailer, or organization committed to buying or selling copies. This must not be based on the hope of a sale, but on a financial commitment or business arrangement. If you know you can move 1,000 copies from day one because a particular retailer has promised to then an offset run is by far the smartest option.
  • You prefer to work through Amazon Advantage. This is a consignment program where you periodically send your product to Amazon to be sold through its site. It costs $99 per year to participate, and Amazon pays you 55 percent of the list price that you set, which is comparable to the discount a bookstore would expect. While you should expect to net more per copy by selling your print book on Amazon via Advantage as opposed to a POD edition via Amazon KDP, you’ll have to ship to Amazon fairly frequently (several times per month) on your own dime.
  • You’ll have your offset printer handle warehousing and fulfillment. If you’re strategic in your choice of offset printer, you can have it handle all the responsibilities related to fulfilling orders of your book. Some printers can also assist in making your book available through major distribution channels. Just expect to see your profits dwindle accordingly. But charges for these additional services will eat into your profit.
  • You have regular opportunities to sell books directly to readers. If you’re a professional speaker, run courses or workshops, or otherwise engage with people who would buy copies of your book, then it may be smart to do an offset run to support your direct sales—provided such sales exceed 500 copies in a single year.

There is no reason why an author can’t use both POD technology and an offset print run; the two options aren’t mutually exclusive.

As a first step—assuming there isn’t significant demand prior to the publication date—an author could use POD to make her books available for order through channels such as Amazon and Ingram, and then for any sizable sales demands that come later, she could have an offset run produced specifically to fulfill that demand.

Still, keep in mind that even though POD is ideal for meeting sales demand one copy at a time, it’s possible to place a POD order for your book that’s in the dozens or even hundreds of copies. An average POD black-and-white trade book ordered from IngramSpark, for example, is around $3 or $4. If you were to order 100 copies, it would cost you between $300 and $400, plus shipping costs. If that book is priced at $15, you’re still making a nice profit when reselling those copies to readers or even to retailers. As of this writing, it is no longer possible to order POD copies from Amazon KDP without the word “proof” appearing on the cover.

A note about POD trim sizes

Print-on-demand works perfectly as long as you intend to publish your book using standard trim and production values. The most popular trim sizes for POD black-and-white works (and trade publishing generally) are 5 x 8, 5.25 x 8, 5.5 x 8.5, and 6 x 9. There are other options, but they are mainly variations on those four options. If you’re interested in more of a guidebook or workbook feel, then you can opt for a larger trim size, such as 7 x 10, 8 x 10, or 8.5 x 11. These larger trims will increase your unit cost, so calculate this well in advance of beginning your design and production process, and price appropriately.

A reminder that bears repeating from earlier: While it can be fairly straightforward and even inexpensive to get a print book in your hands through either POD or offset printing, it is virtually impossible to get your book physically ordered or stocked in bookstores if you’re self-published.

Some POD services may claim to distribute your book to stores, meaning they make your book available to stores. But this is very different from actually selling your book into bookstores. Bookstores rarely accept or stock titles from self-publishing services or POD companies, although they can special order for customers when asked, assuming the book appears in their system. Your book is not going to be nationally distributed and sitting on store shelves unless or until an actual order is placed—or if somehow demand is generated and/or you can find a distribution service to work with you. See Securing a Book Distributor to learn more about securing a distributor.

Finding and Working with a Printer

If you decide to invest in an offset print run, you’ll need to find a printer to work with. A couple of the more well-known printers that are accustomed to working with independent authors are Bookmasters in Ohio and Thomson-Shore in Michigan. Either can be an especially good choice if you’d like your printer to handle warehousing, fulfillment, and distribution services; just be very clear on the extra costs involved. There’s little worse than investing up front in hundreds or thousands of books that then sit around in a warehouse and cost you money, month after month, because they’re not selling.

Generally, the process of working with a printer looks like this:

  • You contact the printer and ask for a quote. You must know all the production specifications for your book: quantity desired, trim size, paper quality, page count, binding and format, black-and-white or color, and so on. Some printers offer a cost calculator right on their website to help you get a quick estimate with a few basic details, but eventually you’ll need to get a formal quote for your specific project. Printers are more than happy to give you multiple quotes if you’d like to compare costs between different trim sizes and other specs.
  • Once you’ve received a final quote for your project, there are usually terms listed or provided, such as whether payment is required up front (it usually is for new clients or authors), how long it will take to produce the books from the time you provide the files, what kind of proofs you’ll receive, whether shipping costs are included or additional, and so on.
  • After you’ve paid and provided the printer with files, you’ll be contacted if there are any problems or questions. If all goes smoothly, you’ll receive a soft proof (digital) or a hard proof to review. If you need to make changes—and it’s not a printer’s error but your error—you may incur additional charges. Once you sign off on the proof, the printer will then produce the quantity of books you paid for and ship them to the address you provide—unless the printer is also handling your warehousing and fulfillment.

Costs between printers can vary tremendously, so it pays to get quotes from at least two or three potential printers you might use. If you plan to have the books shipped to you, consider the distance between you and the printer: a cross-country delivery will incur higher freight costs than a printer just down the road. (However, do not use just any commercial printer you find in your local town. You’ll get a better price and more professional results from an actual book printer or manufacturer.) Also, find out from your printer if the books will be shipped and arrive on a pallet—that is, will the books arrive in boxes shrink-wrapped on a wooden base that’s about four feet square and unlikely to fit through the door of your home? Whatever the arrangement, realize the burden is on you to unload whatever shipment arrives and to store the boxes.

While it’s impossible to say what your unit cost might be—there are too many variables from project to project—a broad rule of thumb is that if you’re producing a minimum of 1,000 black-and-white trade paperbacks, your cost is likely to be around $1 to $2 per unit, and for hardcovers about $3 to $4 per unit. Of course, the higher quantity you commit to, the more the unit cost will drop. You can ask your printer for a quote that includes a range of quantities you’re considering.

To start researching printers, you can begin with the list on IBPA’s website.

Book marketer John Kremer also maintains a list, although it may not always be up-to-date.

Print-on-Demand Recommendations

If you plan to use print-on-demand services, then we recommend the following approach, also endorsed by the Alliance of Independent Authors.

  • Use IngramSpark to produce a POD edition that is available for order through all standard bookstore and retail channels. This means your book will be listed with the largest and most preferred U.S. wholesaler, Ingram.
  • Use Amazon KDP to produce a POD edition meant to fulfill Amazon customer orders specifically. You can limit Amazon's distribution to Amazon (don’t choose “expanded distribution”).

Some authors use only one or the other service, not realizing that neither company demands exclusivity, or mistakenly believing it’s not possible to distribute the same book (with the same ISBN) through both services. But it is both possible and desirable. Here’s why:

  • By using IngramSpark, you can help ensure no bookstore or retailer is dissuaded from ordering your book. As you might imagine, independent bookstores aren’t fond of ordering books provided by Amazon, their key competitor, but more important, Amazon doesn’t offer bookstores the standard industry discount that would encourage them to order or stock your book.
  • By using Amazon, you can maximize your profits on books sold through Amazon, since you’ll earn considerably more than if the order were fulfilled through Ingram. Here’s an overview of the financials for selling a POD book through each channel, using a 6 x 9 black-and-white paperback priced at $14.99 with 232 pages.

Amazon vs IngramSpark

The above breakdown assumes you offer a standard 55 percent discount to retailers through Ingram. Discounts will be discussed in more detail later.

To be able to use both services in tandem, you need to buy your own ISBNs (as described in Small Press and Administration Setup) and NOT select expanded distribution through Amazon. To ensure that there isn’t any confusion with either of these services and their distribution methods, it’s generally better to upload your POD book files to IngramSpark first, then Amaqzon, but in theory, you shouldn’t have a problem either way. If you try to ask either Amazon or IngramSpark if it’s OK to use both services at the same time for the same book, you aren’t likely to get a straight answer, so don’t bother. There’s nothing in their terms and conditions that disallows it, as long as you’re using your own ISBN.

If you have already distributed through Amazon but want to use IngramSpark

Some authors using Amazon would like to follow the above recommendation, but have already chosen expanded distribution options through Amazon for their titles. If that describes your case, then you’ll need to create a new edition with a new ISBN, and remove the old Amazon title from distribution. Once you apply an Amazon ISBN to your book, you cannot add that same book to IngramSpark.

Once your printer-ready files are uploaded, a POD book is generally available for order at Amazon within 48 hours. With IngramSpark, it may take up to a month (even longer) for the book to be available through all their channels. At any point, you can remove your book from distribution and sale.

Pros and Cons: Amazon vs. IngramSpark

It bears repeating since it’s so important: You don’t have to choose between the two services; you can enjoy the benefits of both and avoid the negatives of both. Here are the quirks of each service to keep in mind.

  • Fees: You’ll never incur publishing fees with Amazon. IngramSpark charges about $60 in setup fees for a print title and $25 every time you upload new or corrected files.
  • Unit cost: Amazon is the cheaper option when it comes to black-and-white POD books; IngramSpark is cheaper for color.
  • Shipping: Shipping costs can add up quickly, and again, Amazon offers the best prices. They are generally faster as well. When it comes to international shipping, Ingram has the edge.
  • Format: Amazon does not offer hardcover options for print-on-demand, so you’ll have to use IngramSpark if you want to sell a hardcover edition.
  • Production quality: Ingram has an excellent reputation for print-on-demand production quality, but the differences are very minimal to nonexistent between the services when comparing black-and-white paperback books. Ingram has the edge on color work and offers thicker paper options than Amazon.
  • Distribution and discounting: Ingram reaches more outlets, and retailers are more accustomed to dealing with Ingram’s terms. Amazon, while it can reach far through its “expanded distribution” program, doesn’t offer a discount that is favorable for most bookstores or retailers—and you have no ability to change that discount. IngramSpark, on the other hand, allows you flexibility in setting discounts, and allows you to set an industry-standard discount (55 percent) that makes it viable for a bookstore to order and stock your book. (See more about discounts in Working with IngramSpark.)
  • Returns: Amazon does not accept returns, which can create problems when you’re trying to market to brick-and-mortar booksellers that are accustomed to buying books on a returnable basis. IngramSpark allows you to decide whether your books are returnable or not. (Find out more in Working with IngramSpark.)
  • Ease of use: Amazon has been working directly with authors for a longer period of time and is considered easy to use. IngramSpark can still be frustratingly opaque since the company is more accustomed to dealing with those inside the industry.
  • Customer service: Support is offered via email for both services; it’s rare to speak to anyone on the phone.

How to Avoid That “Self-Published” Look

In every profession, there are little details that reveal the time, attention, and care you’ve put into your work. When it comes to publishing, paying attention to those details can make a favorable impression on buyers, especially those inside the trade—booksellers, librarians, and others who are intimately familiar with publishing standards. Here are the areas that you shouldn’t overlook for the print edition of your work.

Title page

A title page is usually the very first page of the book—always appearing on the right side—unless blurbs have been placed in front of it. The title page includes the following information:

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Author
  • Publisher’s name, plus often the publisher’s logo
  • Optional: publisher’s location, year of publication, edition number

Sometimes a book will include a half-title page in addition to the full-title page; if so, the half-title page includes only the book title. (The half-title page is often cut to save on pages.)
It’s best when the title page has a unique design touch—some creative element or echo of the cover design. Think of your book’s title page as an opportunity to make a good first impression on your reader.

Copyright page

The copyright page should appear immediately after the title page. It may include any of the following information:

  • Copyright notice (e.g., “All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced…”)
  • Copyright information (year and copyright owner’s name)
  • The book’s ISBN; sometimes the copyright page will list the ISBNs of other editions, as well
  • Information about the publisher (name, address, email, phone, and more), as well as how to get in touch with the publisher for special orders. Don’t discount the importance of this. Booksellers and other interested buyers do use this information.
  • Edition information—particularly important for revised books, licensed editions, or new editions
  • Information about the book’s designers, illustrators, editors, printers, and other related credits
  • Library cataloging data, if available
  • Legal notices, if any

There isn’t a strict rule about the order of this information. One of the best things you can do is open up a few books to their copyright page, and pick a model that will work for the information you need to include.

Running heads

A running head is the line of type that occurs at the top of the book page, to help orient readers to their location in the book. This navigational aid most commonly consists of the book title on one side and the chapter title on the other—but there are many combinations. The right combination for your book depends on its genre and organizational structure. Running heads aren’t found as often in novels, while nonfiction books are more likely to include them.

Generally, running heads don’t appear on “display pages,” which are components such as the title page, the copyright page, the chapter opening pages, and other section opening pages. Having useful running heads, appearing in the right place, signals a thoughtfully designed print book.

Interior body text

Avoid double-spacing your body text, as if it were still in manuscript form, as in a Microsoft Word document. Use paragraph indents (usually about a quarter of an inch), and don’t add an extra space in between paragraphs, which is more common and appropriate for online texts.


One of the biggest mistakes you can make on your spine is to automatically use the same font that appears on the cover. Sometimes, it’s better to tweak the spine font so that it’s easy to read spine-out. Use as much of the spine width as possible for the book title—make the type large and easy to read from a distance. Avoid putting any busy imagery under the title that would make it hard to read. Don’t forget to add the author name to the spine, as well as the publisher/imprint logo or name.

Crafting Your Back Cover Copy or Book Description

The back cover copy you write for your book is one of the most important marketing messages you’ll craft. It’s the essence of your book’s most appealing premise or features, distilled into a few hundred words. It typically serves as the foundation for your online book descriptions, as well as any press releases or pitches you make to the media. It will get reused and refashioned for dozens of purposes. Whatever labor you expend on perfecting it will reward you in the long run. Here are the key principles that publishers and authors alike use to create what should become a masterpiece of your book marketing.

For nonfiction (nonnarratives)

The most important question you must answer in your back cover copy is: Why and how will the reader benefit from this book? If you know members of your audience well, then you know the problems they face; your back cover copy should tell how your book addresses these problems head on and helps readers overcome a challenge or succeed. Two of the most common mistakes that nonfiction authors make in crafting their back cover copy are:

  • Focusing too much on a description of the book’s content, rather than how the content will help, inform, or entertain the reader
  • Focusing too much on the author’s background, rather than how the author’s credentials or experience helps her expertly address the subject matter

Rather than crafting copy that’s a long, solid block of text, you can help ensure the copy is read by including (in this order):

  • A headline at the top of the cover that succinctly sums up the key benefit or selling point of the book—or consider a convincing quote (blurb) from a recognizable authority who recommends the book
  • About a 100– to 200–word summary that expands upon the headline and demonstrates the value of the book
  • A bulleted list of features and benefits the book provides to readers
  • A final sentence or two to close the message, with a mention of the author’s credentials if not previously described
  • Optional: praise (blurbs) for the book from recognizable authorities
  • Optional: a brief author bio and photo at the bottom of the cover

A professional designer can work wonders in arranging this information in a way that helps it get read, especially if you have a range of elements you’re trying to assemble (description, blurbs, bio, photo, awards, and so on).

For fiction (and nonfiction narratives)

It’s not uncommon for traditional publishers to put nothing but blurbs or reviews on a novel’s back cover, especially if it’s by an author who is already well-known. But that’s rarely the best strategy for authors who don’t already have an established audience. Potential readers will want to know what the story is about before committing, and the hook you provide may determine whether they start reading the first page or chapter. (The same is true of memoir and other true-to-life stories.)

The hook for the back cover isn’t so different from the hook you’d put in a query letter to a literary agent. The hook needs to convey:

  • Who are the main characters?
  • What do the main characters most deeply desire?
  • What stands in their way?
  • What is the setting or context for the story?

If you can’t identify what the main character deeply desires, then ask: What challenge does she face? What sets her story in motion?

Ultimately, what you’re trying to get across is an intriguing story premise. For example, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult tells the story of 13-year-old Anna, who was born as a “savior sister” specifically so she can save her older sister’s life. When Anna turns 13, she is told that she will have to donate one of her kidneys, and she sues her parents for medical emancipation.

That length of description is all you need to sell the story to potential readers. To improve your own story description, read the marketing copy for dozens (even hundreds) of books in your genre, and pay attention to length, point of view or voice, and how much of the story is described. For example, it’s very popular for contemporary romance novel descriptions to be written from the point of view of the heroine. Here’s how the marketing copy for Baller by Vi Keeland starts:

The first time I met Brody Easton was in the men’s locker room.

It was my first interview as a professional sportscaster.

The famed quarterback decided to bare all.

And by all, I don’t mean he told me any of his secrets.

No. The arrogant ass decided to drop his towel, just as I asked the first question. On camera.

In those 60 words, we learn who the main character is and get a good idea of what she desires (or will desire!) and what her challenge will be. We also learn the setting or context.

No matter what category or genre your book falls into, you have to pack a lot of punch into a couple hundred words, sometimes less. Don’t just write one version and consider it done. Write multiple versions, test and gather feedback, and improve your copy until you feel it’s the best possible sales piece for your book.


To get started with Amazon, sign up for a free account through KDP ( Once you publish and distribute your work, you’ll be required to provide tax information.

Here are the steps you’ll be taken through; at any time you’ll be able to save your progress and return. We recommend beginning this process only when you have printer-ready files. To start, click on “Create Paperback Book.”

  1. Add Paperback Details

You’ll be asked to fill in all the metadata about your book: language, book title and subtitle, series information, edition number, author and contributor names, book description, publishing rights, keywords, and categories.

You get 4,000 characters to describe your book. Don’t write it on the fly; it should be well thought out. This description will be used on your Amazon product page and by other distributors/retailers if you agree to Amazon’s expanded distribution.

If you already chose a book category through Bowker when completing your ISBN information, you should choose the same one here. You can also select up to seven keywords. See Creating Metadata for Your Book for more guidance.

  1. Add Paperback Content

You’ll be asked for the following:

  • If you’ve purchased your own ISBNs from Bowker, click on “Use my own ISBN.” Enter the ISBN you’ve assigned to the print edition.
  • Publication date. Leave this blank if you are publishing the book for the first time.
  • Interior and paper type: You must choose between black-and-white or full color. The latter is more expensive in terms of unit cost and has more limited trim sizes to choose from. You can choose between white or cream for a black-and-white book; the cost is the same. There isn’t a right choice here, as it depends on your preferences and the book’s aesthetic.
  • Trim size: By the time you reach this step of the process, you should have determined your book’s trim size long ago. Choose the size that your book was designed for. If you reach this stage without having thought about your interior design, then Amazon does offer a formatted Word template you can download and use to produce your own interior design. Maybe it goes without saying, but the results will not be as professional as if you hired a designer.
  • Bleed settings: Unless your book is illustrated, or you have special instructions from your book designer, choose no bleed.
  • Cover finish: You can choose matte or glossy. It’s an aesthetic choice that adds no cost.
  • Manuscript and cover files: By the time you reach this stage of the process, you should have your printer-ready files (PDF) ready to go, but if you don’t, Amazon will try to help you with its template-driven tools, such as the “Cover Creator.” Avoid using these if at all possible, and upload your professionally designed cover and interior files. A note about your cover file: It should include the front cover, spine, back cover, and barcode. The spine width is calculated based on your page count. If your designer needs information on Amazon cover layouts, send her to this page:
  1. Add Paperback Rights and Pricing

You’ll be asked which territories you want to sell in; generally, you should choose “all territories” unless you or your agent has sold rights to the work elsewhere. You must also set the list price, but there is a minimum that will be applied to ensure that you (and Amazon) don’t go into the hole on each sale. Your royalty amounts will be updated for you instantly as you change the pricing. This is also where you will see an opportunity to choose Amazon’s expanded distribution. Don’t check the box if you are using IngramSpark.

  1. Proofing and Review

At this stage, it’s an excellent idea to order a proof copy of your book and take a look before you make it available for sale. Some problems don’t jump out at you unless you’re holding the book in your hand. Amazon allows you to make changes to your files at any time without charge.

After you click “Publish Your Paperback,” your files must be reviewed and approved before your book will go on sale. This usually takes only 2–3 days, sometimes less. Afterward, each time you make a change to the paperback details, content, or files, you may need to complete the review process again, but your book will remain on sale.

After the Book Goes on Sale

Once your book is approved and you release it for sale, when you log in, you’ll be taken to a Member Dashboard that lists all of your active titles, with links to sales reporting. You can remove the book from sale at any time, but that doesn’t mean your book will be removed from Amazon; third parties will likely continue to sell used copies of your book, and people can still read the book’s product description, author bio, customer reviews, and so on. It is almost impossible to erase any trace of a published print edition of your book once it has an ISBN and has gone on sale.


To get started with IngramSpark, you sign up for an account online. They require a bit more information than Amazon, but not much: your email address, business or legal name, contact name, form of business, full address, and phone number. You do not have to pay any fees to get started, although at the end of the process, to get your book distributed, you will have to pay about $60. Here are the steps you’ll be taken through to publish and distribute your book. At any time you can save your progress and return.

Select Product Type

You’ll be asked immediately if you plan to upload a print book, an ebook, or both. Most authors will want to use IngramSpark strictly for print distribution. (You’ll earn more by distributing your ebook yourself directly to retailers.)

Title information

  • You’ll be asked for the title, subtitle, language, series name and number, and edition. Use the same information you provided Bowker and/or Amazon.
  • Short description: This is a very brief description of no more than 350 characters. This is used by some retailers, as well as in Ingram catalogs.
  • Full description: You have up to 4,000 characters; this is the equivalent of your back cover copy or Amazon description. Don’t write it on the fly; it should be well thought out.
  • Keywords: These help people find your book through search. Use the same keywords as you did at Amazon or see Creating Metadata for Your Book.

About the authors and contributors

List yourself as well as any others who should receive prominent credit, such as an illustrator or a translator.

Categorize your book

  • Imprint: This will likely default to the business name you provided when you created your account. If this does not match the name of your publishing company or the imprint that you’re publishing under, then you may need to request that Ingram add another option for you to select.
  • Subjects: You are allowed to choose up to three BISAC categories, as well as a regional subject. (See Creating Metadata for Your Book.)
  • Audience: This is a critical selection for identifying the age group or demographic your book is intended for.
  • Table of contents: This is optional and not needed for fiction, but most nonfiction (non-memoir) authors should provide one.
  • Review quotes: If you have any pre- or post-publication reviews from professional resources, you can include them.

Print format

Choose your trim size (you’ll find more options here than at Amazon), interior color (black-and-white or color), paper, binding type (paperback or hardback), cover finish or laminate type, and page count. If you’re producing a hardcover, you’ll have to choose between a case laminate cover (where there is no dust jacket, and the cover is printed directly on the boards) or a dust jacket with blue or gray cloth binding underneath.

After specifying the print production values, you’ll be asked for the following information:

  • ISBN: Use the print edition ISBN that was assigned via Bowker (which you may also be using on Amazon).
  • Pricing for the U.S., UK, EU, Canada, and Australia
  • Whether you accept returns from each country
  • What your wholesale discount is for each country
  • Whether you want to participate in the Global Connect Program. (There’s no reason not to.)
  • Publication date and on-sale date. You can use IngramSpark to accept preorders by specifying an on-sale date. IngramSpark will begin fulfilling preorders 10 days in advance of the on-sale date to ensure books arrive by that day.

Should you accept returns?

It depends on how much you’re trying to appeal and cater to the traditional bookstore market, which will not typically order or stock books unless it’s on a returnable basis. Obviously, if you accept returns, then you’re taking on some financial risk, since IngramSpark won’t be incurring the loss—you will—and costs will be deducted from your account. You also have to decide whether you want to pay even more money for the returned book to be sent to you; otherwise, it’s destroyed. (IngramSpark will not be warehousing your returned books for you!)

If you’re unsure about what to do, you can always try allowing for returns from (at the very least) the U.S. market and see what happens. It’s possible to change your selection at any time if you find that the risk of loss is too high. It’s better to have your returns destroyed (to save on the cost of having them shipped) unless you have a means of selling or using the extra books that may get sent to you.

What discount should you use?

Easy: if you want to encourage bookstores to order your book, then select the 55 percent discount. This means you sell your book to Ingram at 55 percent off the retail price, and it passes along 40 percent of that discount to the retailer and keeps 15 percent for itself. However, you can set the discount lower and offer what’s known as a short discount (20 percent off to the retailer), which means you should select a 40 percent discount through Ingram’s interface. You can even go as low as 30 percent; just keep in mind that most brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t interested in ordering books unless they can do so at a 40 percent discount off the retail price (which means 55 percent off to Ingram).

File upload

Uploading acceptable printer-ready files to IngramSpark is a bit more complicated than dealing with Amazon. However, part of the reason for this complexity relates to IngramSpark’s ability to produce higher quality print-on-demand books. Thankfully, IngramSpark offers a 35-page File Creation Guide that takes you through how to create an appropriate cover file and interior file. Share this with your book designer (or use it yourself):

The key points to keep in mind:

  • If you’ve also used Amazon, very often you can use the same printer-ready PDF files, depending on how they were originally prepared. Professional publishers and authors typically use InDesign for their book production needs, and if this is your situation, then you’ll likely have little trouble using the same interior file with IngramSpark.
  • Amazon and IngramSpark calculate the book’s spine width differently, since spine width depends on the paper stock used. This means that your cover design or layout will differ slightly between the two services. IngramSpark encourages you to use its free Cover Template Generator to help ensure your cover dimensions are accurate; it sends you a file that you or your designer can use to prepare the cover.
  • Unlike Amazon, IngramSpark does not automatically generate a barcode for you on the back cover unless you use its Cover Template Generator. If your book designer isn’t able to generate a barcode for you, then you can direct her to this generator, or you can provide one by purchasing it through Bowker. (Just log in to your Bowker account, and look for the barcode purchase option next to your title’s ISBN assignment.)

Once you’ve uploaded your files, you’ll be asked to pay $49 plus a $12 “market access fee” for distributing a single print title. Then you’ll need to wait for Ingram to review and approve the title for distribution; this may happen quickly or take a couple days. Ingram will deliver a digital proof that you should review carefully to ensure everything has rendered correctly. Ordering a print proof is an excellent idea, especially with IngramSpark, since making changes after final approval will result in costly corrections—$25 every time you upload new files.

Back to the table of contents»

Chapter 6: Producing and Selling Ebook Editions»