Publishing Paperbacks with IngramSpark

After over $40,000 earned on paperback sales and almost six years of self-publishing I finally bit the bullet and decided to list a large number of my paperbacks through IngramSpark instead of just KDP Print (or CreateSpace pre-transition).

I just ordered the print proofs on my third batch of books and have one more to go. By then I’ll have uploaded about forty titles.

It wasn’t that hard to do although I’d say it’s a more involved process than just publishing through KDP Print, mostly because this is the first time I’ve used my own ISBNs.

The cost of ISBNs was really what had held me back from doing this before. If it had just been a matter of uploading the books with IngramSpark for free, I would’ve done it long ago. But when you consider the fact that you have to pay $125 if you want to buy a single standalone ISBN, it makes sense to hold off for a while until the cost comes down. When I finally bit the bullet I was able to buy a pack of 100 ISBNs, which meant that the per-ISBN cost was only $5.75.

A big difference. (Let me just say for the record that ISBN sales in the U.S. are a racket and that 98% of the emails that Bowker sends out if you sign up for them are services that will take your money and deliver almost no value.)

But since I don’t live in one of the wonderful countries where ISBNs are free, that’s the price I have to pay to play.

So a few thoughts for those thinking of venturing this way:

IngramSpark offers a free three-month membership with the IBPA. If you take advantage of that membership and then download their member guide it will (as of now) contain a discount code for IS that allows you to upload your title and make any file changes for free. That’s a savings of $49 per book that you upload and $25 per change you need to make. In my case, about $2.000 in savings.

The IBPA also offers a discount code for buying ISBNs. Well worth the effort of joining for me given the numbers of books I was dealing with and since it was free.

I also found that the best order to do things in was to identify the ISBN I was going to use for a title but to not enter any information for it yet on the Bowker website (

I then went to IngramSpark to add my title and worked my way through to the page where you upload the interior and cover files.

At that point I went to the IS cover creator ( and was able to generate the cover template for each book. (In PDF since I use GIMP).

Waiting to do the cover until I’d entered my information meant I didn’t have to re-enter all the book dimension information on the cover template generator. As soon as I typed the ISBN and tabbed to the next field all of that information populated automatically.

After I had submitted the files for review with IS and the title was listed in Premedia I would then set up the ISBN on the Bowker site. The advantage to doing this after the book had been submitted to IS is that I had the weight and spine width to input for the ISBN listing. It’s not required information, but I figure the easier I make it for anyone who wants to order my book, the better.

If you’re going to use a series name, you have to have the Bowker folks add it to your account. You can manually add it on IngramSpark’s site.

If you’re going to use an Imprint name you have to have IngramSpark add it to your account, but you can manually add it on the Bowker site.

See how those are reversed? Fun, huh?

Also, with IngramSpark if you click on the “Approve Title” option from the book listing that won’t automatically approve it. It will take you to a screen where you can download an eproof of the book and then choose to approve or not. If you want to review a print proof you need to approve the book just for you and then order the print proof.

(You can also pull up the book listing and see the eproof from there but then you have to go back to the main page to approve it.)

I’ve found the Bowker and IngramSpark people easy to work with and prompt at responding to my requests. Only thing is they don’t appear to work on weekends, so plan for that.

In terms of quality, I’m not sure I see a huge difference. I do like the fact that I can have spine text on shorter titles with IS than with KDP Print. It’s tiny print, but they’ll do it. Much better to have that than all these blank spines on all my books. (You’ll notice with the Excel titles that I use colors to distinguish because of that. Blue is beginner. Red is intermediate. Then green and orange. And all of the Easy Excel titles have distinct colors as well. Those, unfortunately, are still too short for spine text.)

I think the IS review process is actually less robust than the KDP Print one. For example, I uploaded the wrong interior file for one of my titles and they didn’t catch it in their review. (I had a nagging feeling I’d done it so I checked that immediately.)

Also, KDP Print gives you the ability to flip through your book as if it’s a real book. The IS ebook preview does not, so I think my overall process will still be to upload to KDP Print first, use their previewer to really review the title, and then deal with IS as a secondary step.

Also the cover template that IS gives you is trickier to work with than the KDP Print one. And they are not directly interchangeable so I had to create new covers for each print book I uploaded. (Since I use a very basic format for print, that wasn’t all that hard to do. If I decide to upload my fantasies I’m going to have to go back to the cover designer and have him do it.)

No need to buy bar codes either. The IS template provides one for you. You can cut and paste it easy enough.

I think that’s about it. I don’t think I’d recommend that most fiction authors do this unless they have free ISBNs and do their own covers, not until they have at least ten books out that they’d want to put into print. Or if they’re selling so well that people are asking for their books at the local bookstore since IS lets you set a discount for bookstores.

For non-fiction it’s a little trickier. If you have enough titles to bring down the cost of the ISBNs or can get them free, then maybe. Depends on sales and if you have to pay someone for all the cover work.

I figure I need about 250 print sales to breakeven on this. Given my prior expanded distribution sales averages I should hit that after a year of sales. Hopefully I’ll hit it faster, but you never know. And taking time to learn a new platform is always taking time from writing the next book. Sometimes that trade-off is worth it. Sometimes it isn’t.

I have heard people say that going through IS upped their overall print sales, but it’s too early for me to judge that one yet. I went with a 40% discount and no returns. I’m not sure what those others used.


Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is an author who has been published under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at]

3 thoughts on “Publishing Paperbacks with IngramSpark”

  1. Sounds like Bowker handles things differently to Nielsen (the UK ISBN agency): if you publish under more than one imprint, they need to set it up for you but you can add series manually. I suspect there are also abstruse differences in how one enters less common meta-data.

    Ingram Spark are reviewing for print-quality not book-quality, so aren’t as good at spotting text issues because it isn’t their primary interest. However, they are conversely better than Amazon at identifying whether a cover image contains elements outside of print range, so there’s less risk of a cover with overwhelming blacks or other over-inking issues.

    Unfortunately, that does mean users need to understand a little more about print vs. digital images (or have a cover designer who does).

    One thing to watch out for is that IS will only allow a single instance of an ISBN on their system anywhere in the world. As Barnes&Noble use IS for their printing, this means you can’t use the paperback option from B&N Press to get better royalties in the US and distribute to other countries using IS. It’s potentially not something many people were doing anyway, but as the B&N Press option seems much like Amazon’s paperback service it’s something people might consider.

    I’ve heard lots of different approaches to trade discounts. After some pondering, I decided I’m not famous enough that bookshops will order on-spec, so I don’t need to make the books look low risk; so, I went with minimum discount and no returns on the grounds bookshops will still order in if a customer specifically requests it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, interesting. And good to know. I do have a few paperbacks direct with B&N but I did them using the B&N-provided ISBN so hadn’t run into that issue yet. That of course means I’ll have a few titles out under three different ISBN numbers now…Oh well.


  2. Thank you for the article, I was considering IS when I did my 2nd editions, but decided to stick with what I knew until I got a better handle on IS (Plus, buying ISBN’s, at the time, wasn’t something I was interested in doing just yet.) This helps me better understand what would be involved 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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