Why I’m No Longer Using Ingram Spark

© Can Stock Photo/ araraadt

Once upon a time, there were two book distributing services in the United States. Ingram, and Baker & Taylor. Baker & Taylor distributes to schools and libraries. Ingram distributes to book sellers.

The book publishing industry began changing in the early 21st century. Personal computers were becoming more sophisticated and more affordable. At the same time, new software was allowing people to publish from home. It even had a name. Desktop publishing.

So along came Lightning Source

Ingram created subsidiary called Lightning Source. I’m not exactly sure when this came about. However, I first heard of Lightning Source in 2003, after I wrote my first Luke and Jenny novel. My original publisher used Lightning Source for their distribution.

I began working with Lightning Source directly in 2011, when I created my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. At the time, they were a fantastic company to work with. They were there to help you succeed. If you had any question or concerns, or if you just needed a little help uploading a file, they were only a phone call away.

Then came Ingram Spark

A new subsidiary, Ingram Spark, came along a few years later. It worked with independent, or self-published authors, so I migrated to the new site. Same company, same great customer service. I had a long and happy business relationship with both subsidiaries for over a decade

Unfortunately, times have changed, and I’m afraid it hasn’t been for the better. It all started when I was having some serious log in issues with my account. No matter what I did, nothing would fix it. It’s a rather long, complicated story, so I’ll sum it up by saying that after much frustration and emails back and forth, I was told the problem was fixed. Only it wasn’t fixed. The issue still persisted.

All I can tell you is Ingram Spark is longer the helpful company I signed on with back in 2011. They have discontinued telephone support. Tech support is only available by email only. Unfortunately, the more complicated the issue, the more difficult it is to resolve it by email alone.

The response to the emails I sent always asked me for information I had already included in the original email. Each response came from a different sender, who had obviously never read the prior responses. Needless to say, this only made matters worse. As a result, the issue was never resolved. Sometimes you need to communicate in person, but I no longer have that option. There came a point when it finally became a deal breaker. Thankfully, there are now some alternatives.

I recently learned that one of my author friends has never used Ingram Spark. This came as a big surprise. He’s been writing books longer than I have, and he has built himself a good following. He distributes his books through Amazon, Draft2Digital, and SmashWords. So, I’m now changing course. I will no longer be distributing my books through Ingram Spark.

Kindle Direct Publishing

All we all know, the Amazon Kindle has been a game changer. I started publishing my ebook editions directly with Amazon shortly after the Kindle came on the market. The platform easy to use, and I could upload my files for free. However, I had never published a print edition with KDP Direct. That all changed with my latest Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, Aquamarine. When I uploaded the print edition to KDP Direct I found it was almost as easy as uploading an eBook.

I admit I was a little concerned about the printing quality, but after receiving my first author’s copies, I can find no difference between KDP and Ingram. Both companies produce good quality print books. The difference is that Amazon does not charge you a fee to upload your files. You upload them for free. So why spend money when you don’t have to?

Amazon also has outstanding customer service. You can contact them by phone, email or chat. I’ve found their phone support to be friendly and helpful. No long waits on hold either. You enter your phone number, and they will call you back. They will also work with you until the problem is fixed.

Other Book Distributors

I’ve started distributing my eBook editions through Draft2Digital. They offer virtually the same eBook distribution as Ingram Spark. My eBook editions are now available for the Barnes& Noble Nook, Sony and Kobo eReaders, Apple Books, and others. There is no fee to upload your files, and their customer support is available by phone or email. Draft2Digital is also merging with SmashWords, and I will soon be distributing my print editions with them as well.

Ingram Spark is by far the winner when it comes to convenience. Those who don’t want the hassle of having to upload their files to multiple accounts may feel that that the forty dollar upload fee worth it. To each their own. Unfortunately, because of all the grief they have caused me, they simply aren’t worth headache, and I’d frankly rather keep the forty dollars in my own pocket. I can only hope, for their sake, that they will take whatever steps are necessary to improve their customer service. They lost a loyal, long-term  customer when they lost me, and somehow I doubt I’m the only one. All I can say is I won’t be coming back.

Gayle Martin

 

Selling a Book is Business 101

© Can Stock Photo/ araraadt

Many newbie authors don’t understand how basic retailing works. I sometimes see posts on author’s forums from people who are most upset because Amazon is selling their books below THEIR price.

Let’s Take a Short Course in Business 101

You write a book. You then want to sell your book. (And who doesn’t?) There are different way to accomplish this, depending on the book format. These days most authors sell an ebook and a print edition. I’m now going to explain the differences in how they are distributed.

eBook Editions

For ebook editions distribution is pretty simple. You upload your file to Amazon or Smashwords. You determine your retail price. Amazon asks you what percentage of that price do you want them to pay you as a royalty. You make you selection, submit your file, and viola! You ebook is now available for purchase, at your price.

So, how are you able to do this? Well, simply put, ebooks are intangible. They’re an electronic file. Amazon didn’t purchase tangible, printed copies of your book for resale.

Print Editions

Print editions are different. They are a tangible product. It costs money to have them printed and distributed to booksellers. So, how does this work?

Most small press and independent authors will usually use Print on Demand. POD for short. Here’s how POD works. Once your book is typeset and your cover is designed, you upload the file to the distributor, which, oftentimes, is Ingram. You include your retail price, along with a discount, typically 55%. That discounted price is your wholesale price. Your retail price is, essentially, the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, or the MSRP.

So what’s a wholesale price?

Your wholesale price is what resellers, or retailers, you know, book stores, pay for your book. They then stock your books in their store.

So why aren’t they selling your book for your price?

The retail price is what the consumer, in this case, the person who wants to read your book, pays to purchase it from the bookseller.

The bookseller has overhead expenses, such as rent, the electric bill, and so forth. Therefore, he or she has to factor in their overhead and sell the book at a price so that they can make a profit. That price may be the same as your MSRP, or it may be less. If they can sell it for less, the consumer is more likely to buy. If they are having a sale, they may drop the price even lower. Either way, the final retail price is determined by the bookseller, not the author. The author’s price, which is printed on the book cover, is the suggested price only. There is no written agreement between the author and the bookseller.

Your other option–print and distribute it yourself

If you’re not happy with the way books are printed and distributed you can print and distribute your book yourself. Some authors choose to do this, and there is certainly nothing wrong with it. However, there are some disadvantages. First, you’ll have to find a book printer and pay for a print run, which is typically 500 or 1000 books. That’s a lot of books, so you’ll need a place to store them.

Once you have your print books in hand, you can sell them directly from your own website at your MSRP. Again, some authors do this, quite successfully, but it’s also a lot of work. Once a book is sold you’re responsible for the shipping, so plan on spending time waiting in line at the Post Office. You can also sell the book yourself on Amazon as a third party seller. However, you’re still responsible for fulfilling the order, which means you’re still the one who has to go to the Post Office.

So there you have it. If you want total control of the MSRP, and you don’t want anyone selling your book for anything less, then you’ll have assume responsibility for the printing and distribution, and well as fulfilling the orders. Again, some authors do this successfully, while others do not.

Gayle Martin

 

Are You Ready to be Published?

© Can Stock Photo / alexskopje

There is nothing quite like the thrill of finishing your very first manuscript. If you’re like most new authors, you probably can’t wait to see your book in print. However, there are a number of steps you need to take before you’re ready to publish. The following checklist will help you determine if you are indeed ready.

Is there is a viable market for your book?

The old adage about there being an audience for every book is generally true, but some genres are more popular than others. That said, some niche authors do very well. I know a gay man who writes romance novels for gay readers, and he built a following rather quickly

Have you completed your research and listed all your sources in a bibliography?

This mostly applies to nonfiction works, although I included bibliographies in my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. The series was written to teach actual historic events in an interesting and entertaining way, and the books were geared toward educators.

Have you gotten two to four manuscript reviews to use for your back cover blurbs?

It’s an important step which many new authors miss. Having a back cover blurb gives you more credibility. I’ll ask other authors for reviews and let them know there’s some free publicity for them, as their name and book title appears on my cover. Authors associations and online forums are a great way to connect with other authors.

Have you obtained written permission for all the visual references you’re including, such as photographs or charts?

This is a biggie, and never assume it’s public domain because it’s a historic image or it’s royalty free. Copyright laws changed dramatically in the 1970s, and some museums own the rights to images in their collections. Also royalty free doesn’t mean copyright free, so read the terms and conditions carefully when purchasing stock images. When in doubt, ask. Better yet, create it yourself if you can.

Have you used your spellchecker?

Seriously. Even the best of us make silly mistakes, and double checking your spelling will make your editor’s job a little easier.

Have you decided how to publish your book?

Gone are the days when big publishing houses dominated the market. Today’s authors have many options. Please refer to my post,  The Three Options for Book Publishing, for more specific information.

Are you prepared to deal with the possibility of rejection letters or receiving bad reviews?

Not everyone is going to like your book, and those who choose to find an agent or go the traditional publishing route will have to deal with rejection letters. However, you needn’t fear an occasional bad review. It means you are real, because not everyone will like your book.

Are you willing to accept editorial changes?

This is another biggie. Your editor is a fresh pair of eyes who goes over your manuscript to give it the polish it needs to help it become successful. They can and will make changes. Therefore, it’s important that you find someone you feel comfortable working with. Once again, author’s associations and online forums are good places to ask for referrals.

Have you planned a budget to cover expenses such as software, editors, and other out-of-pocket costs?

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, writing a book is a business venture, and you will have some out-of-pocket expenses. Even traditionally published authors have overhead expenses, such as computers and software. Grants, endowments or crowd funding may be available for those authors in need of financial assistance.

Do you have a plan for marketing and promoting your book?

Marketing the book is the author’s responsibility, even if you are traditionally published. Thankfully, there are many how-to books out there to help you with your marketing plan.

If you answered no any of these questions then you’re not ready to be published. However, this checklist may be a handy guide for doing what you need to be ready.

Remember, book publishing is a team effort. So for best results, you must be willing to work with others and be willing to consider whatever suggestions or advice they may offer you.

Gayle Martin

 

Tax Tips for Authors and Writers

The holidays are over, which means it’s time to start preparing for tax season. I want to begin by saying for the record I am not a tax expert, nor am I giving any kind of legal advice. However, one thing I have learned, through trial and error, is to save those receipts. Come April 15, it’s far better to have your tax preparer tell you that you can throw a receipt away because you don’t need it, instead of having him or her tell you that you won’t be able to claim a deduction because you don’t have your receipt.

Generally speaking, if it’s an expense incurred in writing, publishing or promoting your books, it may be deductible. Your tax preparer will ultimately determine which, if any, deductions you are allowed to take. However, he or she will want to see your documentation. Therefore, you should keep your receipts for:

  • advertising expenses
  • book design services
  • book reviewers, (if you had to pay for a review)
  • editing services
  • photographers and illustrators
  • publishing services
  • research materials

Does your publisher charge you for copies of your books? If so, hang on to the receipts.

Other potential deductions

Other expenses which may possibly be deductible would include:

  • Book signing materials, such as tablecloths, display items and signage
  • Cell Phones, (if purchased for business use)
  • Computer hardware and software, (if purchased for business use)
  • Office supplies
  • Postage and shipping services, such as UPS
  • Website hosting


Do you work out of your home? If so, a portion of your rent or mortgage payments, and utility bills, may be deductible. Save those receipts.
Some authors, including yours truly, write genre books which may require special attire for book signings. For example, I write Old West historical fiction, and some venues where I sign my books may require me to wear western clothing. Therefore, if I have to buy any special outfit or accessory for business use, such as a book signing, I keep the receipts, as it may be tax deductible.


Travel expenses


Some authors have book related travel expenses. This would include travel for book signings, research or business meetings. Whether it’s across town or across the country, you need to keep track of your travel expenses, as they too may be deductible. These expenses would include:

  • Airfare
  • Hotels and lodging
  • Meals
  • Rental cars
  • Taxi fare

Business mileage is another tax deduction many us may forget about. You can document your mileage by either keeping a logbook in your car, or via websites like Google Maps. Simply enter your address and the address of your destination, and the exact mileage will display on the page. Print out the page and put it in your tax files.


Remember too that authors and writers are not immune to tax audits. You should keep your final return, as well as all of your documentation on file for at least six years. Rest assured, if you’re ever audited, you will most certainly need your receipts. If you don’t have them, the IRS may disallow the deduction. They may also hit you with a penalty. It’s far better to have those receipts and not need them then the other way around.


For more specific information regarding taxes, and which deductions you may be entitled to take, please consult with a professional tax preparer, or the Internal Revenue Service.


Gayle Martin

 

So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor–Part Two

© Can Stock Photo/ swellphotography

In my previous article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor–Part One, I described what an editor does, and how he or she goes over your manuscript to give it the polish it needs to become a successful book. In this article, I’ll be discussing who you should hire to edit your manuscript.

I understand money is an issue for many of you. However, unless you’re one of the very few lucky writers who lands a deal with a traditional publisher, you’ll undoubtedly be investing your own money into producing your book. A professional editor will typically charge one to two cents per word. This means an 80,000 word manuscript may cost about $800 to $1600 to edit.

Why working with a professional editor matters

I know it’s a lot of money, and many of you are working with small budgets. Therefore, you may be tempted to take some shortcuts. My advice? Don’t do it! Asking your friends, your cousin, your spouse or your mom to edit your manuscript may seem like a good alternative. However, they would have to have experience in journalism, teaching , or other professional writing experience in order to be qualified for the job.

Now, let’s say you have a friend or family member with one or more of these qualifications. Does this mean you can ask them to edit your manuscript?  Well, maybe. However, you need to be aware of another caveat. As I stated in my earlier article, your editor needs to be objective. Your mom may be a retired English teacher, but can she really be objective? If your mom is anything like my mother was, she may be overly critical. If so, can you handle it?

If a stranger is overly critical of your work you can fire them if you feel your working relationship is toxic. You won’t be spending Thanksgiving them. But if your mom is your editor, it can get really awkward. Ultimately you’ll have to decide for yourself if working with a friend or family member would be a good option or not.

Where to  find a professional editor

I found my first editor through the small press publisher I was working with at the time. She was an absolute joy to work with, but then she decided to change careers. I found my current editor through a local writers association. If you know other authors ask them for a referral. Online author’s forums are another good place. Simply post the question.

And finally

Just as authors specialize in writing nonfiction or fiction, editors will also specialize in what kinds of manuscripts they edit. So if your manuscript is science fiction or fantasy, be sure to find an editor who has experience in editing science fiction and fantasy.

Writing a successful book takes time and money. If you want your book to have four and five star reader reviews, then you’ll need hire a professional book editor. Nothing will end your writing career faster than a poorly-written and edited book with bad reviews.

Gayle Martin

Why Off-Site Storage is a Must

Photo by Gayle Martin
It’s happened to me twice now. That oh so sickening feeling of going to open a file, only to discover it has somehow vanished off my hard drive.
Computers are mysterious creatures. I jokingly tell people they’re black magic, although I sometimes wonder if there could be some truth to this. Both times it happened was after I’d saved the files and shut down my computer properly. Obviously, files can be lost or hopelessly corrupted, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is why I have off site storage.
What is off-site storage?

Off-site storage, sometimes called the cloud, is just that. Your files are backed up to a third party server. So, heaven forbid, your computer gets lost or stolen, or an important file gets lost or damaged, you can easily download a backup. Some people may worry about privacy, which is a legitimate concern. However, any reliable off-site storage company will encrypt your files. 

My personal choice

I use Carbonite, but there are other offsite backup services out there. Carbonite costs me a little over $50 per year, and it’s money well spent. It runs in the background and it automatically backs up my files. I never have to stop and do a backup. On those rare occasions when I’ve had to use it, I found it very easy. The first time was to recover missing a Word file. I got all but the last two paragraphs back. More recently, I had to recover an InDesign file that mysteriously vanished. Carbonite downloaded it completely intact.

But I back my stuff up on an external hard drive

Some people tell me they don’t need off site storage as they manually backup their files up on an external hard drive or a flash drive. Okay. So, what happens if you accidentally drop your external drive, or if you lose your flash drive? What happens if, Heaven forbid, your home is burglarized? Or if there’s a natural disaster? It happens. In such a scenario your external drive may be lost as well. You can replace your computer, but the data will be gone forever, unless you have an off site backup.

Stuff happens, and it can happen to you. Carbonite has saved my rear-end, not once, but twice. I’m now a customer for life.

Gayle Martin