After you’ve finally finished that book you poured your soul into and worked with an editor to polish it up, the next step is publication. Some authors prefer the prestige of traditional publication and look for a literary agent’s networking and marketing experience to represent their book and sign a contract with a publishing house. Other authors prefer to have control over their book, everything from the rights, to the cover, to the marketing, and everything in between. I fell into the latter group and became an indie author—that is, an independently published author—in 2018 when my debut novel A Fallen Hero was released.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams taking advantage of new authors desperate to publish, so be sure you do your research! I kept my focus on the self-pub options that were already well-established—KDP, CreateSpace (this one has been phased out by KDP, both of which are/were run by Amazon), Draft2Digital, IngramSpark, and Barnes & Noble Press. This is my honest review of my experience publishing with both B&N Press as well as IngramSpark in the hopes that it will help at least one new author preparing to publish his/her first book.
I debuted with B&N Press and ended up shifting to IngramSpark. I’ll compare the two presses side-by-side on the following topics: ease of publication, book quality, marketing/distribution, cost, and customer service. Before I dive in, I want to stress that neither company is considered my publisher. As an indie author, I am the publisher. B&N Press and IngramSpark are the printers/distributors.
Ease of Publication
Setting up the book title was fairly straightforward for both presses. I struggled a little more with IngramSpark, but that was because they have printers and distributors in multiple countries, and I had to figure out the price of my book in foreign currencies as well as calculate the exchange rate to see my earnings (I accidentally set up a negative royalty for Australia—oops!— and had to raise the book’s retail price to compensate). That being said, IngramSpark does provide a conversion tool, so they don’t leave you high and dry to figure it all out by yourself.
I had some problems early on with B&N Press when it came to my book cover. My text was inside the dashed lines for the required margins, but it kept getting rejected without an explanation. When I reached out to their customer service for assistance, I was told the text was too close to the margin lines even though it was still technically inside the acceptable area. I also had issues when I was submitting an RGB color file, but saving as a CMYK instead seemed to solve that problem. It takes a few days for B&N Press to approve or reject the submitted files, and to my dismay, the multiple delays caused me to cancel my first planned book signing and almost have to reschedule my second. I hadn’t counted on the cover being rejected since my revisions were minor tweaks and the file had been previously accepted for the proof copies.
Because I hammered out those issues with B&N Press and already had a finalized version by the time I started working with IngramSpark, I can’t say if they are quite as particular about their formatting. I didn’t have any problems getting the cover approved.
For the paperbacks, this one is a draw, because both presses produce high quality books. Side-by-side, the books are almost indistinguishable. There’s a slight differentiation of color (IngramSpark’s version has a slightly warmer hue), and B&N Press’s book is just a tad wider, leaving more appealing white space on the outside margin of the pages.
However, I’ve had issues with the hardcover. Right now, it’s exclusive to B&N Press (I’ll address this when I talk about cost), so IngramSpark is not producing a hardcover version. I’m sad to say that there have been three instances reported to me—possibly more I’m not aware of—where a customer ordered a hardcover from barnesandnoble.com and received the wrong book with my jacket on it. You read that right. B&N Press took the wrong hardcover book and put my book jacket on it. At least three times. In the first case, the jacket didn’t even fit properly over Distillation Principles and Processes, which was thicker than mine and not even close to the same genre. This is a huge strike against B&N Press, especially since the problem has reoccurred multiple times. It happened again only a few weeks ago, so they clearly haven’t come up with a prevention solution.
Marketing & Distribution
This category hands down goes to IngramSpark, for multiple reasons. B&N Press, to my knowledge, has not done any marketing for the book, and the resources they offer all seem to require paying third-party companies. Understandably, they want to keep their sales within Barnes & Noble, but to do that, they do not offer any kind of wholesale pricing. This makes it almost impossible for you to sell through other bookstores, as they would either have to buy the books from B&N at the full retail price (not gonna happen) or receive their inventory through you either at a discount or consignment agreement, and trying to manage that yourself isn’t even worth the hassle outside of your hometown retailers.
When I started my 2019 Barnes & Noble book signing tour, I encountered another issue. B&N Press advertises on their website: “If you sell over 1,000 copies of a B&N Press eBook in 12 months, you’re eligible to pitch your book to B&N store buyers. If your book is selected, we’ll get it in B&N stores across the country.” What they don’t mention is that BEFORE you hit that sales goal—notice it specifies ebooks, which means your print book sales don’t count—your book is listed as a nonreturnable print-on-demand book in the system. I didn’t think much of that status until B&N store managers told me they couldn’t order my book because of its nonreturnable status. Let that sink in for a moment. Books printed through B&N Press couldn’t be ordered in B&N stores where I was being featured at a signing event. Whether or not a store would carry the book was a location by location basis. Some store managers were confident the book would sell and ordered 10-20 copies ahead of my signing. Others didn’t want to risk being stuck with books that couldn’t be returned, and I had to supply my own with a consignment agreement. In those cases, any books that didn’t sell at the signing came back home with me. Obviously, it’s much better for me to leave books on the shelf for people to discover and buy after I’m gone.
IngramSpark’s books are returnable. That means the B&N stores who told me they couldn’t buy the book from B&N Press were later able to order copies from IngramSpark. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the logic behind this system.
B&N Press also advertises on their website: “Meet your fans at a book signing or reading at our stores! Authors who sell over 500 copies of a B&N Press eBook in 12 months are eligible to host a store event.” An insider secret…you don’t have to sell 500 ebooks to have a store event. Barnes & Noble stores have book signings for authors who didn’t even publish through B&N Press. Most people assume my last tour, which took me to seven B&N stores across three states, was organized by Barnes & Noble, but that wasn’t the case at all. I had an event coordinator research and contact those stores on my behalf. Some said no. Several on the list didn’t respond, including my local store. Those seven said yes, and the dates were scheduled for consecutive weekends so I could market it as a tour.
The numbers say a lot. I’ve sold almost as many books in two months with IngramSpark as I have in nine months with Barnes & Noble. (Note: these are only my online sales. I’m not counting all the books I personally sold at events.) I expect IngramSpark’s number has likely surpassed B&N now since they update my sales report at the end of the month, whereas B&N Press is updated within 48 hours of online sales and within 30 days of in-store sales (although this is yet to be determined, as I still haven’t seen any of my book sales from my May/June events). These numbers are without any paid marketing beyond my own social media posts, and I expect IngramSpark’s number to go up as I continue to reach out to my regional bookstores. IngramSpark sends out a quarterly catalog to all of its booksellers. This is something you have to pay for, but I think it will be a good investment! A Fallen Hero is scheduled to be included in the next catalog sent out in August, so I’m excited to see how that affects my sales.
This is important—IngramSpark distributes to Amazon. B&N Press does not. THIS IS IMPORTANT! Being on Amazon is crucial, especially since Kindle ebooks are not compatible on Nook, and vice-versa. Yes, Barnes & Noble is a big chain and reaches a lot of readers, but IngramSpark distributes to Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, and a wide network of other bookstores.
This one goes to B&N Press, because it’s completely free. There is no setup fee, and there is no revision fee if you want to take your book off sale, upload a new file, and put it back on sale. Barnes & Noble takes 45% of each sale, which means for every $19.99 paperback I sell, they keep $9.00. However, I don’t actually pocket the full $10.99 remaining, because the print cost is taken out of my share. I make $3.61 profit per book. That percentage with Barnes & Noble isn’t negotiable, and they do set a minimum amount you can sell your book for, but then you have the freedom to raise the price as much as you want.
IngramSpark does charge a fee to register your title. I took advantage of jointly filing my ebook at the same time as my paperback to pay only the one fee instead of paying twice. I believe they charge a revision fee if you need to make changes to your book after it’s on sale, but I have not yet done this. Although they recommend giving wholesalers a 55% discount and advise that some booksellers may not buy your book if you go any lower, you do have the freedom to determine what percentage you want to set. I stuck with the recommended 55%, so for every $19.99 paperback that is sold in the United States, I make $1.99 profit per book. That’s about on par with royalties from traditional publishing, before the agent takes a cut, of course. I make more money per book with B&N Press, but I sell more books through IngramSpark to a wider range of book retailers, so I’d say it’s a wash.
*Update: When I published my second book, I lowered the discount to 50%. My royalties increased, and I did not see any repercussions with retailers unwilling to carry the novel. I’m not sure I would be comfortable going any lower, though. Also, IngramSpark often has promo codes that will waive the registration and revision fees, especially around NaNoWriMo. Be sure you check to see if there are any promotions before you fork over that dough! Indie authors need to be conscious of every penny spent on editing, publishing, and marketing costs.
UPDATE 7/19/21: IngramSpark coupon codes used to be fairly easy to track down. But starting July 2021, they’re restricting free title setup and free revision codes:
“IngramSpark works to ensure independently published books are valued for their significant contribution to the publishing industry at large. Part of connecting the work of our joint community with readers is maintaining a catalog of books that distribution channels and end consumers can trust. In line with our ongoing catalog integrity efforts, we now limit per-account use of promotional codes to help distinguish the works of our community from the millions of mass-produced and public domain books too often found in the self-publishing landscape. In this way, and many others, we hope to reduce bias against self-published works.” Source: IBPA
Translation: IngramSpark is concerned that waiving registration and revisions fees was resulting in low-quality books being pushed through their system, which, to be fair, is a valid problem that Amazon has. Personally, I can accept that explanation for the registration fee. But charging a revision fee discourages serious authors to correct errors. I’m not thrilled about this news.
That being said, there are still codes out there… you just have to hunt harder to track them down. Tip: check out Reddit for IngramSpark authors helping each other out and sharing codes.
IngramSpark has been phenomenal! They are available by email, live chat, or phone. Although I haven’t used the live chat feature yet, I’ve been able to speak with a rep on the phone twice to clarify ISBN questions, and as promised, she followed up immediately with emails containing additional information.
As far as B&N Press goes, the only method of contact is an online email form, and I’m not unconvinced it isn’t AI responding based on keywords. I’m rarely able to resolve the issue with one email and really wish they had a phone number. Talking to a real person would save time and prevent headaches, and it would eliminate a lot of confusion and back-and-forth correspondence. To put it in perspective with an example, I once contacted them and explained that I was a B&N Press vendor and I was having issues with the stores being able to order my book. I asked if there was a way to change the book’s nonreturnable status so stores could put it on their shelves. The response? I received information about how to become a B&N Press vendor and instructions to set up an account. I wish I could say that was a joke…but it’s not. I actually had to email back and repeat that I was already a B&N Press vendor and had been since last year, then copy/paste my inquiry before I got a true answer. That was a lot of unnecessary work and hair pulling to get the simple answer of no, the book’s nonreturnable status could not be changed.
On the social media support side, IngramSpark’s team has been highly engaged! They’re quick to like any of my Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter posts I’ve tagged them in, and they’ve responded to my Twitter threads with fun gifs and enthusiastic encouragement, saying multiple times how thrilled they are to be working with me and that they wish me luck and success. Barnes & Noble…crickets. Instagram accounts for the individual B&N stores on my book signing tour have followed me and been engaged when they’re tagged in posts, but there has been absolutely nothing from Barnes & Noble’s official account. One would think a well-established corporate giant like Barnes & Noble would have an active social media team, but they’ve had zero interaction.
I’ve definitely learned a lot! I made some mistakes along the way, but I feel better prepared for Book II coming out next year. If you’re shopping between B&N Press and IngramSpark, I will absolutely recommend IngramSpark as the way to go. Between their helpful customer service, broad reach when it comes to distribution, and engaging social media team, it’s worth paying a registration fee and pocketing a smaller royalty to get your book in the hands of more readers and on the shelves of more bookstores.
Barnes & Noble’s greatest asset is its name. Everyone has heard of Barnes & Noble, so publishing through them brings a certain amount of respect from people who probably wouldn’t be familiar with other self-publishing companies like IngramSpark or KDP. I think B&N Press has the potential to be great, but as far as I can tell from my multiple emails answered by only a select few representatives, they probably have a small team, and they definitely have some major flaws to work out. I’ll be curious to see how the recent deal with Elliot Management affects B&N Press.
Any additional questions? Post in the comments, and I’ll be glad to answer! Happy publishing, friends!
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Update #1: IngramSpark wasted no time in verifying my claim about an engaged social media team! This was their response to my tweet citing a link to this blog post.
Update #2: Wow, I had no idea this post would be so helpful to so many aspiring authors! Now that I’ve been on the platform for almost two years, I have a few extra notes.
If you’re seriously considering IngramSpark as your printer/distributor, you may be interested in a follow-up article I published that goes into more specific details about the process. It covers everything from copyright registration, to ISBNs and barcodes, to my personal royalty breakdown, to title setup and troubleshooting tips.
I’m disappointed to say that I did NOT see an increase in my sales after paying to be included in Ingram’s catalog. With my second book, I found more success participating in a NetGalley author co-op program instead. Although I personally had a mixed experience with NetGalley, I know other authors have found success, and this is a platform traditional publishers also use. I was impressed with the co-op I joined, and if NetGalley is an avenue you are considering, I highly recommend Victory Editing NetGalley Co-Op.
COVID-19 seriously impacted IngramSpark with high volume and delays. Publishing my second book with them in July 2020 was a very different experience than I had with the first book at the end of 2018. Their customer service, which used to be fairly easy to reach, has been experiencing ridiculously long wait times since March 2020. I’ve found that the best way to get a fairly quick response is to use live chat on their website or send a message on Facebook rather than rely on phone or email. Printing/shipping times were also delayed. This primarily affected me and not customers or retailers; someone could order a book on Amazon and receive it in a matter of days, whereas I had to wait several weeks to receive the proof copy of my novel. It’s good that IngramSpark is prioritizing customers… but it’s been extremely frustrating from an author’s standpoint. I don’t know if other self-publishing platforms experienced similar delays and high volume during the pandemic. Still, if you can get through the frustration of have less accessible customer service than usual, it’s a good global distribution network.