Monday, May 2, 2016

Why Ingram Spark is Very Much Worth the Hassle.

I spent over one year deciding whether to use Create Space or Ingram Spark for print on demand.  I finally opted for Ingram Spark. 

I am so glad that I did. 

Mind you, there are better, more in-depth reviews about which publisher-on-demand is the better to use, but I'm only giving you my perspective about Ingram Spark as a "newbie" who will likely only publish 5 or 6 books in what remains of my lifetime. 

For those who wonder why I'm not trying to be published by a traditional publisher, here's why.

What do I like about Ingram Spark?

Ingram Spark expects you to rise to the occasion and act like a professional publisher. It keeps the bar extremely high. But the hassle of living up to their standards, though frustrating, is worth the superb payoff. I hired a great book designer, and Ingram Spark did a brilliant job publishing her work.  You will definitely need someone who can navigate through their upload questions, however, as there are many technical questions that only a professional book designer or graphic artist will understand.

If you want to be a successful publisher, then you should put as much time in the production end of your novel as you did in the writing of it.  If you want an easy upload of your book, you might go with another company. Ingram Spark asks lots of questions. And the company expects you to follow directions.  To the letter. Ingram's software is very sensitive, and my novel cover is very layered, with designs and colors, so the template had lots of red lines all over it. Not to worry. It's just sensitive to every nuance of the cover details.

The end result of my book cover upload was astounding, and went without a hiccup. It printed beautifully. My local bookstore owner immediately accepted my request to place my books in his store, because he was so impressed with the quality of the book design. Honestly, it looks as good as any book on any bookshelf anywhere in the world.

What makes Ingram so great? I'm not sure. The book feels weighty, like a book should. The cover is solid, not flimsy, and the cardboard stock feels weighty. The paper (I used off-white) is not thin and cheap-looking. The quality of the paper feels great.

Another reason to use Ingram is that you can order your own books like a wholesaler and make a bigger profit, or at least, not give away as much profit. This is a good thing. I have given many books away, entering competitions, giving books to people who have supported my writing, and I didn't have to pay the full price of the book to do so. I try to keep track of each book given away, sold, or entered in competitions so that I know how my money is being used.

I can buy my own books wholesale and make more selling on my own. I have ordered 100 books as a publisher and it didn't cost me an arm and a leg. It cost me about $6.00+ per book and $85.00 for shipping (I received the books within 5 days, if not less).  Of course, should I ever find the right distributor, then I will be able to order hundreds and still make a decent profit.

What do I not like about Ingram Spark (but will still put up with because the quality of my print book is so good?)

Think of Ingram Spark like a large dinosaur or a ship that can only move in one direction.
That's Ingram. There is no room for error, which makes it very stressful dealing with them. When I was conflicted about my book price and wanted to change the price over the holidays, I couldn't do so immediately. It would take one month to take effect!  I'm not sure how that makes sense, considering that the price isn't listed anywhere on my novel. So changing the price requires major planning on your part.

Considering the standards they use to produce your book, I think they should be as transparent on the back-end with record-keeping. I think they could be more detailed about where your money goes and how you earned it. 

Spark has some 'splainin' to do.

For my ebooks on Amazon, they tell you exactly how many sales I made and on which dates.  I made four sales over a 5-day period. Nice.
Amazon ebook sales can be tracked by the day!

Not so with Ingram:  You're on your own. You'd have to guess when the books were sold, therefore, it's difficult to see how the advertising campaign, if any, is working. You have to fill out a form with so much detail that you never get a coherent picture of what is working.  I filled out the form looking at sales and this is all I got.

Flatlined Print sales - not! But no details on Ingram Spark!

The actual total show 31 sales. But I have no idea of the date that I sold each book.  So, I have to take their word for it. Further confusing matters is that I can get a snapshot of how many books I've sold in the last 30 days, information that's not really useful. Because if I look tomorrow it will still include the 29 days prior.  I would have to look every day to see any changes in POD sales. Of what use to me is that?

Ingram is working on its Customer Service.

Ingram has had a rough start in recognizing that resting on one's laurels does not build a devoted following.  Many of us new publishers are unpolished and ignorant, and our fears were seldom allayed by the company in its infancy.  To its credit, Ingram has ramped up its customer support. I have called at least three times over several months, and each time the person on the other end seemed more kind and gentle.  I can't blame their frustrations in dealing with people like me who ask stupid questions, but that could be avoided by making things idiot-proof, which is needed for most things in this country. 

One of my biggest peeves is that they use their website on the back end in such a non-friendly way that I have made mistakes that have cost me, big time. Honestly, do not push a button unless you really know its purpose 100% because you might do like I did and keep ordering proofs (they cost $20 a pop!). They don't have any cancel order buttons, so you're stuck.  I don't think that's the most ethical thing to do, and question their morality in not allowing people to reverse their mistakes, but, that goes with the territory. In effect, you can't be a dilettante if you're going to work with them.

I believe the crux of the problem is that Ingram Spark is very much geared toward bona fide publishers who have more than one book to sell. Perhaps their format is for tried and tested companies that have a lot of inventory. I have one novel. And I will not have another one for another year or two, or three.

I won't be publishing a book a year, because I have my own standards, too. But I should not be made to suffer from mistakes that their website makes easy to commit. They claim to have changed their website, but that's just the window-dressing landing page. Everything else is very much the same.  

There you have it. I am not the definitive answer on the ins and outs of Ingram Spark. But I can't deny that I am extremely proud of my work as a writer. Moreover, I'm proud of the work that Ingram Spark has done to make this writer's dreams come true. 

You must be patient with them.  Amazon is a well-greased machine that understands that the customer is king. At Ingram, you might feel like a vassal, but once you see what they can do for you, you'll like your status. You're a vassal in really nice clothing.

I have no connection to Ingram Spark other than as a customer.  I tweeted that I might eventually blog about them, but warned them that I would be honest and objective. I hope I have accomplished this endeavor.


Update. A very late update (as in, I should have written this months ago!). 

Soon after publishing this post, I received a Facebook post from a staff member at Ingram Spark who was grateful for the content of the article, stating, in his opinion, that it was the best and most fair review that he had ever read of the print-on-demand company (cool, huh!?). Not only was he impressed by my review, but he arranged a conference call with the Director of Ingram Spark, Robin Cutler. We spoke for at least a half-hour as she explained that the company was in the process already of addressing some of the issues raised in my post. It will probably take a long time, because, as I said, they are a monolithic dinosaur. But I do believe it will be worth the hassle dealing with them as they make the changes. My sequel will take a good two or three years to write, so I'm sure they'll be sitting perfectly pretty by then! Enjoy!

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