Leveling Up

I’ve spent the last week and a half or so learning how to use Affinity Publisher to format the interior of my print books. Up until this point when I wanted to handle the formatting of a book I did so in Word.

(I have Vellum which I can use for a basic fiction book, although I disagree with them on how they handle widows/orphans and also they have a weird glitch in their process that sometimes leaves off page numbers or headers for an entire chapter which then moves around when you regenerate the file until it finally goes away. Overall fine for a basic book. But for a lot of my non-fiction I desire more control.)

It’s not all that hard to format a book in Word, especially if you use Styles and Section Breaks and combine that with the KDP templates that you can download through Amazon’s publishing website.

But I’d paid for Affinity and knew it was supposed to be a publishing software (I’ve been using it for my covers instead of GIMP) so decided to finally dive in and see what it can do.

There are some things I really love about it so far. I can see the potential time savings and automated consistency that I’ll get from Affinity Publisher once I’m up and running.

But I’m not there yet. I’m still learning. I’m still leveling up.

It’s little things that I have to learn. For example, with my covers I had to learn to check the box to include bleed so that the cover came out the right size. With books with images I’ve had to learn how to export in grayscale. And with books with muti-level tables of content I’ve had to figure out how to apply two levels of formatting to the TOC.

Little things like that.

Which is when it’s tempting to quit and go back to what you know. I know how to do all of these things in Word and can probably do them in half the time in Word. Right now.

It requires manual effort, but I can do them. I know the process.

With Affinity I’m doing a lot of Googling for answers. And sometimes I just don’t know the industry term to use. For example, it’s called pinning when you want an image to stick with specific text. I was trying to look for how to “anchor” an image to text.

Little things like that that trip you up and take extra time.

But the key is to not quit halfway through. Leveling up often requires a step backward to move forward. You lose expertise in order to gain expertise. You become more shaky at what you’re doing in the short-term. But it’s worth it long-term because when all is said and done you get through all that struggle and everything becomes easier.

So I’m sticking with it even though I have now generated this one book file probably ten times today. Because I know that by the time I’m done with these practice books I’ll be ready to do what I’ve been gearing up for and that’s formatting and publishing about a dozen new image-intensive titles.

(Honestly, being able to see the DPI value on every image I’ve embedded in one spot is reason enough to use Affinity instead of Word.)

Also, don’t be fooled by my complaining. I love the process of learning something new and struggling for mastery and then finally figuring it out and having that aha moment. I’m pretty sure that’s why I keep with self-publishing even though there are probably far more profitable ways I could spend my days…

Anyway. Back to it. Time to proof this book for the umpteenth time today and hope that all the little issues are now gone.

IngramSpark Update

I thought I’d give a quick update on using IngramSpark. I haven’t been paid yet (and I don’t think I will be the first time until September which is kind of crazy), so until that happens I can’t declare myself fully satisfied, but so far I’m pleased.

One of the nice perks that came with using IngramSpark as opposed to KDP Print is that I had some additional format options.

IMG_4876 - Copy cropped

For example, I published the omnibus edition of Rider’s Revenge last year in ebook and was disappointed to find out at the time that I couldn’t do so in print because all three novels combined with the front and back matter adds up to about 1,122 pages.

Unfortunately, KDP Print maxes out at 828 pages for the size and paper I was using so a print version wasn’t an option. But IngramSpark will go up to 1,200 pages so I decided to go ahead and put out the trilogy in print as well.

It’s not as cheap as a trade publisher could do. That book you see in that photo is $29.95. But at least there’s now a print version for that series that’s more comparable to the print pricing for YA books published by traditional publishers.

It’s also fun to have on my shelf.

The other print format I’m pleased to have access to is hard cover. I’ve now put all of the Excel, Word, and PowerPoint Essentials titles out in a hard cover format in addition to their paperback format. (They’re slowly making their way to all the platforms. They look to have made it to Barnes & Noble at this point but not yet to Amazon.)

I have to say that I think I really prefer the hard cover versions for those particular books. They feel more substantial in hard cover than in paperback. It’s the exact same material, but there’s a definite perception difference between the two.

They aren’t flawless. There’s a little bending on the corners of some of the proof copies I received and I’m not 100% happy with the spine text placement with the skinnier ones. But overall, I’m pretty darned happy. And for a POD option, I have to say it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

I don’t expect to use hard cover for my other non-fiction that either are too skinny for it to make sense or that are in a size where I don’t think it works as well.

And I haven’t yet tried the non-case laminate hard cover option, which is what I’d want to use for fiction. (At this point I think doing so would just be a vanity project.)

But overall I’m excited by the additional formatting options and how they’ve turned out.

(I still don’t think the expense of going with IngramSpark is justified for someone just starting out unless they have access to free ISBNs through their country of residence, but it’s definitely something to consider when you have enough books to bring down the per-unit ISBN costs.)

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 (https://www.myidentifiers.com/).

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 (https://myaccount.ingramspark.com/Portal/Tools/CoverTemplateGenerator) 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.


Print through Barnes & Noble

I still hesitate to make the big leap and buy my own ISBNs and use IngramSpark. It’s $500+ up front for me to do that and I’m just not convinced it would pay for itself because I’m not convinced that enough bookstores would decide to order my books if I did it.

So I tried a little experiment, which was to use NOOK Press to publish a few of my books through Barnes & Noble online rather than let those books reach B&N via Amazon via IngramSpark. B&N also provides free ISBNs so it was just my own time and effort involved.


One thing I do like is that I can put spine text on much skinner books than I can with Amazon. I have a lot of titles in the 80-90 page range that have no spine text through Amazon but can through NOOK Press. So that was an improvement.

The colors in the covers were more washed out looking to me for the four books where I did this.

The paper quality is lower. I could see text through the page on my black and white books and it doesn’t look like I have a choice to use their heavier paper option if I’m just doing black and white interiors.

I had adjusted the outer margin based on their specs, but the inner margin was a little tight. Not so much it warranted going through the whole process again, but enough that I’d adjust inner margins on any books going forward.

They don’t have a handy-dandy cover creator like Amazon’s so I had to make my own. Once I’d done it for each trim size it was pretty straight-forward.

I will now make more on any sales of those four paperbacks that happen through Barnes & Noble. But not as much as I make per book when sold on Amazon. For example, I have ones that sell on Amazon that pay me $5 on Amazon and $1.50 on B&N through Expanded Distribution that will  now pay me $3 for a B&N direct sale.

Expanded distribution sales have never been a significant part of my sales. And if I discount my mother bulk ordering books from B&N, they’re even less. So I’ll also be watching to see if this means more sales on B&N than before. It doesn’t get physical store placement for me. That requires more ebook sales than I’m going to have there probably ever. But I have noticed with each platform that I’ve gone direct with my ebooks that I did see a small bump in sales along with it, so we’ll see if that holds true for print as well.

If not, I probably won’t do more this way, mainly because of the paper. I just don’t like the paper being that thin and not having the option to choose to pay for a heavier paper. It’s just balanced out by the spine text for me. But just.

Print Books for Beginners is Live


Obviously I couldn’t keep publishing a book called CreateSpace for Beginners now that CreateSpace is going away and being replaced by KDP Print. And I figured that it no longer made sense to focus on just one print distributor exclusively, especially since about 2/3 of that book related to formatting and not to one specific distributor.

So CreateSpace for Beginners is now Print Books for Beginners and is live or will be live everywhere except Google within the next few days. (I don’t publish my non-fiction to Google because of their habit of basically letting a clever person read your entire book for free.)

If you already had CreateSpace for Beginners no need to buy this one.

I did publish the print version of the book through KDP Print and didn’t have issues during the approval process although I know others have. I used the KDP Print interior and cover templates, which probably helped. They look about the same as the CreateSpace versions with the exception of the file name on the interior files. It is nice that the titles will be linked more easily since I always had to email to get my author names that used initials to link. But I’m still bitter about the extra 30 days until payment on print sales.

Once the changes to AMS settle down you can expect a new book there as well. But I’m not pulling the old one because it’s still at least 90% accurate at this point. Although note that AMS is no longer AMS it’s now Amazon Advertising and the website addresses have changed to reflect that. If you access AMS through your KDP dashboard you won’t even notice that change.

That’s self-publishing for you. You never know what will change, but you can be guaranteed something will.

I Beg to Differ

One of the challenges of self-publishing is that it’s so broad and so different that it’s almost impossible to see the whole picture and the different possibilities. Which is why I really hate absolutist advice.

I’m probably guilty of it myself from time-to-time, but I try to caveat what I say with “this is my experience” or “this is how things work for me.” And because I have books published across non-fiction, romance, and fantasy I can see that things work differently depending on what you’re publishing, which maybe helps me keep things in check a bit more.


Anyway. I was at a conference this weekend and there were a few times I wanted to raise my hand and say, “I beg to differ.” I didn’t. I probably made a funny face, though.

So since this my blog, let me have those imaginary arguments here.

Debatable Point #1: You won’t really sell paperback copies as an indie.

I beg to differ. Last month I made over $1,000 on the sale of paperback books. It was almost as much as I made on Amazon US for the month. Now, is that normal? No. Absolutely not. My romance paperback sales are still under twenty copies sold ever.

But for non-fiction (in my case) and middle grade and folks who really work the convention circuit but aren’t good at online sales and for picture books and gift books, it’s quite possible to sell a good amount of paperbacks.

I even want to say I saw a romance writer on Twitter who posted a screencap that showed $30,000+ in paperback sales. (I have no idea what she sells in ebooks to have that number, but I do know my jaw hit the ground.)

So what I would say is: You are more likely to sell ebooks than paperbacks as an indie. In general. But there are definitely categories where print will sell better. And the more you sell overall, the more paperback sales you will have and that amount can add up to a pretty penny. So don’t neglect print. And don’t assume print sales aren’t possible or profitable.

Debatable Point #2: AMS Are Too Complicated and You Shouldn’t Use Them Unless You’re an Analysis Junkie

Once more, I beg to differ. Yes, you can get very analytical with them. In Excel for Self-Publishers I get obscenely analytical with them. But you don’t have to. Most days all I do with my AMS ads is check in a couple times a day to see if any have exceeded their daily budget and up the budget if they have. (I like to start all ads at $5 in spend each morning.)

When I started my last AMS ad for a new title this is what I did: It was non-fiction so I did a search on Amazon for the subject matter and listed the names of the top fifty or so books that came back in my search results plus a bunch of generic search words like the one I’d used. And then I occasionally checked in on the ad. If it wasn’t moving, I upped my bids. If it was and I was getting sales, I upped the bids for those words that were profitable, and pulled back for those that weren’t. I paused keywords with lots of impressions but no clicks and lots of clicks but no purchases.

That’s it. There you go. That’s what you do.

For fiction I would’ve used author names instead of book titles. Otherwise, it’s the same process.

Can you get a lot more in depth with your analysis? Absolutely. And I have. But 90% of the time, what I just described is all it takes. I have 20+ ads running on a daily basis and I maybe spend five minutes on them daily.

(Keep in mind, my approach to AMS is to use a single Sponsored Product ad per title that I try to keep running long-term by tweaking the ad as needed. Other approaches may be more analysis intensive.)

Debatable Point #3: You Should Only Run AMS If You Have Ten or More Books or At Least a Trilogy Completed.

I beg to differ. Look, I get the point. The more books you have for readers to go to, the better off you are and the more profitable an ad will be. A weaker first book can still result in a profitable ad if you have ten books for readers to go to afterwards. And maybe there’s an idea behind this advice that you shouldn’t be wasting your time early on with ads but should instead be building up a product base.

Fair enough. But here’s the deal: Self-publishing can be soul-destroying. You put out a book that you think is well-written. It has a nice cover. People who read it like it. But no one is buying it. Maybe three people a month. You just worked hundreds of hours on something and you think it’s good, but…sales say otherwise.

Do you know how easy it is to give up at that point? To never write that trilogy? To circle back and try to fix your “mistakes” or decide that writing is just going to have to be a hobby for you?

It’s so, so easy. I know a guy who put out a book about four years ago and set it to free because no one seemed to want it. He quit writing because why bother? And then he started running AMS ads on it. And got reviews. And switched it back to paid. And made $25,000 in less than a year on that same novel that no one had bought. Because the issue wasn’t his writing. It was visibility. People can’t read what they can’t find.

So, sure. Best practice is to wait until the last possible moment to advertise because you’ll get that much more of a bang for your buck. But in reality, sometimes those initial sales are what keep you going. And AMS is the best way I know to get long-term full-price sales. So why not try them?

And this idea of needing ten-plus books before you dive into them? Why? Because of the learning curve? It’s not that hard. Trust me.

Yes, I run ads across more than ten books, but I know many authors doing well with the ads with far fewer titles. Does it take some tweaking? Yeah. Does it take some money up front? Yep. You pay now, you get paid two months from now. But why would you not give it a try? It just makes no sense to me.