Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the hardcover, paperback and digital versions of Toru: Wayfarer Returns are now available for pre-order on Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Kobo. Due to a non-fixable oops! I committed in Createspace a few days ago, the Amazon paperback version is accidentally available already for you hardcore fans who cannot wait until the 16th of February to get your Kindle, Nook or Kobo versions. So much for my orderly rollout!

For you fellow indie writers out there, I’d like to share what I learned over the last three months about the self publishing process and the strategy I settled on.

We all know Amazon is the big gorilla of ebook sales, with 60-70% of digital book sales in the U.S. Barnes and Noble’s Nook pulls in another 15-25%, and the Apple iBookstore does another 10-20%, with smaller shares from the Kobo reader and Google Play. Like many authors, I am concerned about Amazon’s dominance of ebook and printed book distribution, and so I went to the extra effort and cost of obtaining my own ISBN codes and creating ebook versions for Nook and Kobo in addition to the no-brainer, gotta-do-it Kindle version. I plan to do the Apple version as well, but haven’t gotten to it. That will give me very nearly 100% market coverage, and help me support non-Amazon competition.

I myself mostly buy only digital versions of books, unless they are art books or sewing and design books, but many people still prefer print, ten years into the e-reader revolution. I wanted to be available to print book lovers as well, as the research I found claims print books remain alive and well for the foreseeable future.

On the print book side, I made a similar strategic choice, to divide my efforts between Amazon and other retailers as a way to keep the Amazon resistance forces alive. Let me note I am not a fanatic on the issue. For many self-published authors, Kindle’s Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing for print and ebook offer an easy, fast and free solution to getting into print and ebook form on the overwhelmingly dominant book distribution platform that is Amazon. If easy, fast and free (Amazon even gives you a free ISBN!) sounds good, there is no shame and lots to gain in getting your book out through Amazon. The process was truly user-friendly and easy, the customer service superb and the print and delivery turnaround startlingly fast, so count me as an Amazon super-fan. But a superfan wary of excessive concentration of market power who wishes to keep the competition alive, so…

After lots of research, I settled on a strategy of working through Ingram’s IngramSpark program for indie publishers for my non-Amazon printed books, both hardcover and paperback forms, and doing an Amazon paperback through Createspace using my own ISBN code. IngramSpark is a division of Ingram, the dominant non-Amazon print distributor, that offers a slightly simplified way for indie and small publishers to publish and distribute their print and ebooks. They then give you access to all their marketing and distribution muscle just as if you were Penguin or Random even though you are only tiny Palantir Press, my newly established publishing company.

I was delighted with the customer service and ease-of-use at both IngramSpark and Createspace. I struggled more with IngramSpark, as I did it first and had to get my own ISBN codes, battle my way through creating a professional-looking title page, learn how to make a reflowable ePUB and a perfectly crafted PDF for my digital and print versions, and beat my beautiful cover designs down to the right file size, but their customer service was very helpful whenever I got stuck, and they automatically offer to fix the little imperfections in your documents if you wish them to do so. All that work paid off when I went to Createspace with the perfected documents and literally was reading an online proof in less than an hour. I loved the Createspace online proofing process, by the way. They had a very clean, elegant interface that let you see just what your pages would look like opened up as a book. Nicely done. Amazon’s Createspace was also faster than IngramSpark in getting online proofs and hardcopy proofs printed and delivered.

Going with IngramSpark in addition to Amazon made perfect sense to me. Why leave 20-25% of your ebook and print markets un-served if a few extra hours and the price of an ISBN code allows you to reach a bigger share of the market? Ingram makes up for the extra effort, cost and time by making your print books accessible to any indie or surviving chain store who wishes to order them and making your ebooks available to Nook readers. That matters if you care about indie book stores, some of which are starting to resist carrying Amazon ISBN books as a stand against both the ebook revolution and the dominance of Amazon in the overall publishing industry. The reason to do both, not just IngramSpark, is that Amazon favors its Createspace books over “alien” entries. So on Amazon, I sell Amazon versions, and elsewhere, I sell IngramSpark versions to keep everyone happy and the terms as favorable to me as possible. I did my hardcover book only through IngramSpark, but it is available as well on Amazon, again thanks to IngramSpark’s distribution services. Amazon is notably faster, in my short experience of ordering proofs and author’s copies, so add another point for the Amazon option. Both Amazon and IngramSpark are print-on-demand services and quote similar turnaround times, but Amazon beats its quote by several days in my experience, for both printing and shipping. I cannot hate Amazon–they are just too good.

Doing the hardcover version was a non-rational decision, but it made me very happy. One other big learning is that print on demand is notably more expensive than traditional offset printing, and it is really expensive for hardcover books. By the time you put in the recommended 55% discount for distributors, pay for the expensive print-on-demand hardcover book and ship it, there is only a wee bit of profit left for the author. And it is very expensive for readers as well, even priced as low as possible, so I don’t expect to sell many hardcovers. But I wanted to see my precious book in hardcover, with a beautiful dust jacket and its own cover art, and the magic of self-publishing print on demand allows me to fulfill that dream. So readers, feel absolutely guilt-free about ordering ebooks and not the print versions. We authors make more money on digital versions anyway!

Both Amazon and IngramSpark have lots of options for promoting and marketing your book that I’ll leave for another discussion.

Written by Stephanie R. Sorensen

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