The writing business

Print options and free books: two of my own rules I’m breaking this year…

2989166090_f5b8087687_zIn my last post I talked about publishing options in a changing world. Well, this year I’m reversing a couple of my own fervently held policies. So today I confess. (I’m an indie. I reserve the right to change my mind.)

Change #1 Putting print editions on IngramSpark

If you’re self-publishing, one of the main debates is which print on demand company to use. CreateSpace is free and has the most seamless interface with Amazon, which is where you’ll get the bulk of your sales because most of your marketing is online. But Ingram Spark has better distribution links with other outlets. And bookshops balk at ordering CreateSpace titles because the delivery time is slow and returns aren’t possible. So current wisdom is to buy ISBNs, print for Amazon only on CreateSpace, and print for other needs on Ingram Spark. (A lot more about this here. )

Why I didn’t put my books on IngramSpark

The Ingram Spark route isn’t free. You have to buy ISBNs (if you haven’t already). You also pay a fee for each book you set up. Revisions cost you more again. (However, if you’re a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors you get a discount and the revisions fee is waived. ) You’ll also have to modify the book’s print files. (The paper is thinner than CS, so your cover’s spine will be narrower. You might also need to tweak the title page with a new ISBN. None of this is difficult, but you might need expert intervention.)

The cost in itself isn’t that offputting – and it’s certainly not much compared with the cost of the book’s production. But it’s dumb to spend any time or £££s unless you’ll see a return – and that’s what made me dubious.

Although my book would be more easily available, how would it get seen? Just putting it in a catalogue won’t get it noticed by bookshop buyers. That’s like a tree falling over in a wood with no one to hear it. Shops don’t know about a book unless reps visit or the press makes hoopla. The bookshops I’ve been successful in are the ones I visit personally. All the rest of my marketing is online, and the sales funnel to Amazon. So, while I acknowledge that Ingram Spark offers better infrastructure, it’s for a market where I’m invisible.

What changed my mind

At the end of last year, I read this piece in The Bookseller. Ingram have acquired a network called, which allows users to build storefronts and add ‘buy’ buttons for books in the Ingram catalogue.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of online bookselling portals, but usually you have to upload your book details yourself (or a publisher does it). Then, within a year, the venture goes the way of most start-ups, and vanishes. But has a catalogue already – all the books already on Ingram, including IngramSpark. So every time anyone builds a bookstore with, a reader could amble in from the internet and they could order my books. (BTW, I was directed to the piece by the Hot Sheet, a publishing industry newsletter for authors from Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson.) Holy distribution, Batman! I’m making my Ingram editions as we speak.

Change #2 – a free book!

freeAs you know, I have strong opinions about free books. Here they are.

Why I didn’t

See above. I didn’t think a free book would do much for me. My catalogue isn’t big enough to give a book away – although I have five titles, they’re for two distinct audiences. I can’t dash off a new one quickly – either the Nail Your Novels or a piece of fiction.

What changed my mind

It started with an email. Just before Christmas I was contacted by Goodriter, a daily deals site for everything authorly – books, courses, services for self-publishing, book marketing, copywriting, blogging, tutoring etc. It’s like Bookbub, but exclusively for writers (give or take a ‘w’). Goodriter invited me to contribute to a bundle of writer freebies.

I could see it was a great way to meet more readers, but did I want to give away a ‘proper’ book? Then I suddenly realised I could make an ebook shortie about characters as an introduction to my Nail Your Novels, which would be useful in its own right and an aide-memoir if you’ve read the big book. Anyway .. voila.

instant fix characters sml

Once I’d sent the freebie to the giveaway, I had coffee with another author friend, who pointed out something I’d never realised about free books. They’re now such an established part of reading life that they find their way into retailers’ recommendation algorithms all by themselves, and get you visibility on lists where you wouldn’t otherwise be seen. ‘Put that book on Amazon, Smashwords et al,’ she said. As I was already half-way there, I did.

I admit I still have misgivings. I deplore the trend that pressures authors to give away their work. But the acid test is whether it pays me back in sales. That won’t become apparent for many months and I shall report. Watch this space.

And grab that free book before I change my mind.

Thanks for the U-turn photo Martin Howard

Over to you. Are you breaking any of your own rules this year? We are among friends. Come and tell me.

32 thoughts on “Print options and free books: two of my own rules I’m breaking this year…

  1. Thanks for your view on the bleeding edge. The reason I hear IngramSparks is necessary is that the general bookstores want to order from one place. m

    1. Hi Mark! Yes they do – and I knew that. But without a marketing campaign, how would those bookstores know your book was available? Bricks and mortar bookstores don’t operate in the internet universe, they hear about new titles from reps and printed catalogues. But this thing is part of the online selling world, so our internet marketing efforts – with luck – will be effective.

  2. Thanks for this Roz. It has been extremely helpful. I am new to all of this and still looking at ways I can do things more seamlessly and expand my reach. I am going to look at giving Ingram Spark a go.

  3. You’ve given me an idea for a new Author Strategy for 2016 here, Roz…

    The “Tree Falling Over in a Wood With No-one to Hear It” marketing system…high in metaphysical quality…low in financial outlay…no doubt good for the cleansing of the spirit…maybe even for the environment?

    I think I’d be a natural fit for this system; right, I’m off to find a good Wood.

    (Ah, but already, Hamlet-like, those doubts creep in…will I be truly making full use of this new Indie System, “authentic use”…with all those squirrels listening, be they red or grey…all those hedgehogs, beetles, foxes and general scuttering critters who will be around to hear the Tree Fall…and that’s not to mention the possibility of some Tin Man, or Cowardly Lion, hanging around the wood, just waiting…for an oil can or a passing Wizard…)

    (Eh…more constructively – Happy New Year, and All best with your work for 2016!)

    1. Mr Logan …. lovely to see you here! The metaphysical marketing system: hmmm. Well you know how the song goes, the one spawned by the Ink Spots and covered by Davies and Estelle. The news goes from trees to avians and insects, then before you know it, you’re ending on a high note.

      Very best to you too, John xx

  4. I have one, very important reason for not putting any of my future ebooks up for free [note the ‘e’ in front of books] and that is piracy.

    I can’t prove it but I’m pretty sure Vokhtah ended up on more than one scamming ‘free book’ website because I put it up for free on Amazon when I first published it. I had more than 600 downloads and I’m now convinced that at least 2 of those were by bots that trawl the net looking for free material. That material then ends up as bait on some nasty website. [By bait I mean that people who follow the link to a ‘free’ book end up possibly downloading malware or being targetted by snake oil videos before they’re allowed to get to the good stuff].

    Again, I can’t prove any of this, but Vokhtah is advertised for free on two sites that I found, and I know I did not put it there.

    So…no more free ebooks. That said, however, if I ever get around to uploading any of my books to print, I will give some of those away because they’re ‘safe’ or at least safer.

    Good luck with IngramSpark. I really hope it helps you break out and be seen.

    1. Hi Andrea! What a ghastly tale. If it helps, I discovered one of my titles apparently on one of these sites, offered free, but it wasn’t. I think the scammers used the cover pic only, but there was no file. Moreover, it was the 3rd episode of My Memories of a Future Life – which would hardly be a draw without the other episodes. So the joke was on them.

      Indeed, I don’t know that it makes any difference whether the book in question is free. A free book from Smashwords or Amazon or Kobo is exactly the same kind of file as a paid-for book.

      Regardless of such distinctions, it’s still a shock when you find your work being used in such a way. I remember I was absolutely livid. I discovered the same site was also offering Photoshop, so I reported them to Adobe and let them do the hassling. I’ve no idea if anything came of it, but it eased my ennui.

      It’s a minefield out there.

      1. Minefield indeed. I guess the people lured to sites like those are not likely to buy our books anyway, but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

        Good on you for reporting. I tried doing something similar to Amazon – so I’d at least be on the record in case I ever wanted to use their exclusive feature again – but I heard nothing back either, probably because there is nothing they can do.

        As they say in the classics, ‘it sucks’.

  5. Are you doing both createspace and ingramspark? I’m about ready to put my first solo effort up for sale and am wondering if I will want to do both or only one. And, if I do ingramspark, can I put those books on Amazon?

    BTW, thanks for the free book – I have nail your novel and your character book, but it’ll be nice to have the short one, too, as a quick reference. I did grab a few books at the Goodriters freebie, but I thought this was the Character book, and figured I didn’t need another copy of it.
    Thanks for the great links. I always love your posts. They’re very helpful. Plus My Memories of My Future Life was wonderful. Okay, done gushing.

    1. Hi Ann!
      Yes, I’m already on CreateSpace and plan to keep those editions as Amazon seems to be kinder to CreateSpace books. The usual practice now is to put the book on CreateSpace first, fine tune as necessary, then make an IngramSpark edition.
      You need to think about ISBNs. CreateSpace will give you an ISBN free, but you can’t transfer that to another print-on-demand company. If you buy your own ISBN you can use it on CreateSpace and anywhere else you like – the same ISBN.

      Good luck! And thanks for your kind words! Especially about My Memories of a Future Life.

      1. Hi Roz, Good reminder on the ISBN front. I did publish a compilation of short stories with a group of other authors, and did a lot of research on the issue at that time. We decided not to do a print book (not my call) and not to buy ISBNs at that time, but it’s something I’ve budgeted.

  6. I haven’t taken the leap Ingram Spark yet, but I know in the future I will. I won’t have to buy and ISBN though. I live in Canada, and they are free to us. That will cut down on the costs.

    Thank you for the informative article.

      1. I won’t lie; we are lucky. If I remember correctly, the US charges hundreds of dollars for an ISBN. That’s crazy for a little number. There doesn’t seem to be any logic in it. I have no idea why ours is free, but I’m not complaining.

        1. In the UK they are far, far too expensive. I was invited to speak at a Book Industry Collaboration afternoon seminar, where the subject was ‘do we need ISBNs’. It was full of people from Nielsen etc. I had such fun telling them off about the price of them – and asking them to justify it. They couldn’t.

  7. Best of luck with your plan, Roz. I expect it will go well. I publish everything through CS and LSI as you described, and it does the job. However, less than 1% of my fiction unit sales are in print, so it’s hard to get too worked up about print options. might change that, so thanks for the tip.

    Free can work, but you have to work it. When I made the first book of my trilogy free, it definitely gained new traction, but the rankings eventually fell again, partly because I didn’t keep up with promotion.

    As for my own plans, I do intend to break one of my rules this year. I’m moving my books into Select, as much as I hate the idea of being exclusive to Amazon. Less than 5% of my unit sales come from non-Amazon channels, so going exclusive won’t really change anything. At this point, I’m willing to trade that income for the additional promo tools I can get from being in Select.

    I’m still not sure how I will handle new releases, particularly for the first of a new series. I may release them “wide” initially and then fall back to Select if they fail to gain traction within 3 months or so. It seems that some genres/series do better wide than others, and it’s impossible to predict which ones will work.

    1. Hi Daniel! Ah, you’re trying Select – that’s another question that’s generally caused authors a lot of soul searching. I’ve certainly noticed with the free book that the uptake is negligible on Smashwords and Kobo – nowhere near as vigorous as Amazon. But I won’t see the effect further afield yet anyway – in the markets that Smashwords serves into. Anyway, good luck with your experiment – and do report back.

  8. I’m actually considering moving away from print books, or at least not having them in stores. I got my novel into a couple bookstores, only to be hit with return charges because they don’t keep stuff on shelves after about 3-6 months.

    Where I do sell them is live events and through word of mouth. For my latest work, a short story anthology, I did a small print run and I’m using those print copies for giveaways, as they’re not available anywhere else.

  9. Thank you Roz, this is so timely. Just about to start the process of independently publishing my first historical novel. There are so many details to handle! It’s exciting but daunting, and your insights are so helpful. I was just going to go with CreateSpace, but now I’ll look into Ingram Spark too.

  10. Roz, sorry it’s taken me a while to come by here and comment! Too funny that we both jumped into action at the same time because of the same article. 🙂 How’s your uploading to IngramSpark going? I’ve hit one snag so far, but it appears to be my own fault–I think I uploaded a file that wasn’t the *final* version of the cover PDF from 2013.

    And glad to hear you’re experimenting with free. I completely understand and agree with your views on it from an artistic standpoint, but (strictly business-wise) it can be such a godsend for me when it comes to reviews and income.

    1. Hi Elizabeth! Yes, I hope that means great minds think alike. And I’m so glad you’re doing it too. I reckon if you think it’s sensible, it’s REALLY sensible.
      I’ve had a few laughs with Ingram. It’s not as easy as CreateSpace and their error messages are somewhat unhelpful. But with a little googling and guesswork I sorted out the one fatal mistake I’ve made so far. I’m now waiting for the proofs to arrive so I can see the glorious result.

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