With the recent publication of Land of Outcasts, I want to take a few minutes to talk about my self-publishing experience for anyone considering a similar path. My focus here will be on the steps I actually took. There are some great comparisons available online of the different publishing options available. If you’re deciding on the best path forward for you, I highly encourage you to do some research and find the option that best fits your needs.
Self-publishing offers the greatest amount of control over the process and finished product—but it also requires the most of the writer. The author is responsible for design, editing, marketing, and more—or must hire someone to fill those roles. I’ll begin by focusing on the steps I took, and then include a breakdown of the costs I paid toward the end.
In publishing Land of Outcasts, I had a pretty clear picture of what I wanted the book to be. Self-publishing came with the guarantee that I could achieve those goals. I also wanted the learning experience of self-publishing a book so I could do this again in the future. These were my two goals—to produce a quality book and learn the process.
Picking a Self-publishing Platform
There are a variety of self-publishing platforms available. After reading up on the main ones, I decided that IngramSpark best suited my needs and interests. There were a few specific reasons for this decision:
- They handle eBooks as well as a wide variety of formats of print books.
- They distribute titles internationally to online retailers, libraries, and bookstores with industry-standard wholesale options. They also allow the option of making the eBook available to library eBook platforms such as OverDrive and CloudLibrary.
- They don’t require exclusivity of distribution, allowing for a wider range of options when making the book available to readers.
- Their Print on Demand production means that copies of the book are only printed after they have been purchased—meaning that I am not required to purchase my own copies in order to sell them.
- IngramSpark provides the option to convert the PDF file of the book into .epub format for eBooks with the guarantee that it will work across devices—though this does cost money.
For me, these were the deciding factors. With IngramSpark, I would be able to distribute print and eBooks internationally to libraries, bookstores, and individuals. I wouldn’t be locked into Amazon as a retailer. And with Print on Demand, I wouldn’t have to commit to selling a stock of books I had already paid for.
Downsides of IngramSpark
My experience with IngramSpark has largely been a positive one. If anyone is considering them as a self-publishing platform, these are the major drawbacks I encountered:
- They do require a setup fee for each version of a book. In my case, I paid separately to setup the paperback and hardcover copies of Land of Outcasts, and then paid the conversion fee for the eBook.
- There were a few times during the process where the instructions provided on their website were not entirely clear, leading to delays as I either used trial-and-error to find the answer or reached out their customer service.
- Their customer service is friendly and helpful, but there are sometimes delays in getting in touch with a representative.
Writing the Book
This post is focused mainly on the process of self-publishing, so I won’t say much about the writing and revision process. One important thing to remember is that you should spend time writing a good book before anything else. Self-publishing does not automatically come with an editorial team to help make your book the best product it can be. I had multiple readers as well as an editor for Land of Outcasts. Whether it’s trusted friends and/or a hired editor, it’s important that you put in the time and effort to create a book people will want to read.
It was important to me that Land of Outcasts also contain illustrations. In my case, the illustrator for my book was also my grandmother—who provided both the interior and cover art for the book. Due to the nature of our relationship, we were able to collaborate closely throughout the illustration process. If you do decide to hire an illustrator, certainly find the arrangement that works best for both of you but remember it’s typical for an author to have a more hands-off approach to illustration than I was able to have—allowing the artist to work freely while still delivering art that suits the book.
For Land of Outcasts, we decided on seven black and white interior illustrations and a full-color cover. Once these were finished, I took the originals to an art store that produces professional prints of artwork to get high-quality scans of the images. The quality of the digital files is important so that the images look good in the finished product.
Typesetting and Formatting
For formatting the print files of the book, IngramSpark does offer a book designing tool. However, bringing my own illustrations and cover to the process, I opted to handle layout myself—which gave me greater control, but also came with more challenges. If you do not have a background in design and have the budget to hire designers during the formatting process, I recommend considering that option. Formatting and typesetting the interior print files of the novel was easily the most challenging part of the process. At the same time, if you only need a simple layout, there are tools available online to assist with the design process.
I wrote the original manuscript for Land of Outcasts in Microsoft Word. Once the book was complete, I set the page dimensions according to the trim size I had selected. Land of Outcasts is 5×8 inches, which is an industry standard option.
Once the trim size was set, I fixed the margins, selected a font from the recommended list provided on one of the IngramSpark help guides, and went through the document setting up page numbers, chapter titles, etc. accordingly. Some of the struggles at this stage were fixing section breaks so that headers and page numbers only appeared where I wanted them, inserting blank pages to ensure that illustrations and new chapters were always on a right-hand page, and watching to make sure that alignment and spacing were correct. Word functionality does allow users to do most of these things correctly—provided you know how—and the few minor things I was unable to fix perfectly felt like they would be a greater concern to me than any reader.
Another challenge I faced was inserting extra space on the binding side of the pages along the spine of the book. With different sections in the document and printing on both sides of each page, it is important to pay close attention to all the settings in order to guarantee that the layout is absolutely correct and will not print too close to the margin when bound.
Print files for IngramSpark must be uploaded according to specific technical requirements. Word did not allow me to save the file as a PDF which met these requirements, so I ended up purchasing a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud so that I could use the PDF editor in Adobe Acrobat. Like book formatting, this was something I had never done before, so it was a learning experience to teach myself the functionality needed to put the finishing touches on the file.
In Acrobat, I was able to remove an extra blank page that Word had inserted, confirm the alignment and placement of text, remove a few headers and footers from places they didn’t belong, and insert a watermark image on the title page. In both Word and Adobe, even small changes can shift other page elements in unexpected ways. In the end, I got everything to where I needed it to be, but it was a long and sometimes frustrating process that I did not fully account for when I began. Multiple close reviews of your print files is very important during this process.
When it was time to design the cover, I was fortunate in that I had a friend with a design background who agreed to handle cover design and layout. I provided the image file of the cover art as well as the full text of the book jacket written out. Along with these, I sent some covers from other published books that had a similar design to what I envisioned for the novel. My designer sent a few rough ideas until we settled on font, color, and text placement that worked. She then finalized designs for the paperback and hardcover and sent me those completed files.
Each format of a book requires a unique ISBN number. Ingram has an option to purchase these from them, but I went directly to Bowker—which manages and provides ISBNs across the country. I also purchased a bundle of them, knowing that I needed three—one for each format of Land of Outcasts—and that I planned to self-publish again and thus would need more eventually.
Once I had the interior and cover files saved as completed PDFs, I uploaded them to the IngramSpark website. This is also when I put in metadata about genre, creator information, synopsis, pricing, distribution, and release date. IngramSpark handles each format of the book as a separate title, so it’s important to make sure that the data is consistent across records. There are also industry standards regarding wholesale pricing for retailers and return options. Ingram does a good job of providing information about these choices, and it never hurts to do your own research when deciding how to price and distribute your work.
Once initial setup is complete, IngramSpark has a multi-stage process where they review metadata and files before sending an eProof digital copy of the book for author review. This proof gives the writer a chance to look for any errors and make changes if needed before finalizing the title.
In my case, once I had confirmed the upload and the setup was finished, I still did not release the book for distribution. IngramSpark’s next recommended step is to order a print copy for yourself in order to check that everything is formatted correctly. While not required, I strongly recommend you do this. When I received my first print copy, I realized I had not formatted the binding edges of the interior file correctly and needed to redo the print files for both formats—leading to extended formatting time and revision fees. It’s much better to find formatting errors before you release the book, rather than waiting for people to buy it.
With the formatting errors corrected and setup otherwise complete, I paid Ingram to convert the data and files for the paperback into .epub files. This process takes a couple weeks—and it’s important to note that the eBook automatically released for preorder as soon as conversion was complete. However, once they completed the process, I had hardcover, paperback, and eBook versions of Land of Outcasts ready to be sold.
After releasing the book for distribution and preorder, it took a couple weeks for all the information to make its way fully to various online retailers. I also provided information about the book directly to Goodreads and logged information with Bowker for the three ISBNs I had used.
The final step I took was to file a formal copyright of the book. This step is not required, but it was one I wanted to take. To learn more, the website Reedsy has an excellent writeup on the reasoning and necessary steps which you can read here.
For anyone considering self-publishing, there are a couple major challenges worth keeping in mind.
- Design, formatting, and typesetting require a specific set of skills. If you don’t have that knowledge and experience already, either hire someone who does or be prepared to research and teach yourself through trial and error. It is possible to do successfully, but it takes time and effort.
- Give yourself a comfortable timeline. I set a release date before I had completed title setup. Then, when I ran into delays formatting the interior print files, I was forced to push back the release of the paperback and hardcover. Plan out the steps required for the process and do them in an order that will give you the most freedom to complete the book without racing an unnecessary deadline.
Cost will vary from free to quite expensive depending on which self-publishing platform you choose and how much assistance you pay for. I won’t go through every single cost that went into my process because some of them were quite specific to my experience. However, in order to provide a clear picture to anyone considering doing what I did, here are the major expenses I encountered.
- Unlike some self-publishing platforms, IngramSpark requires a title setup fee of $49 dollars. This applied separately to both the paperback and hardcover editions of my book. For eBooks, you pay either a title setup fee or a conversion fee depending of which option you select.
- IngramSpark eBook conversion costs $0.60 per page—so this cost will depend on how long your book is. If you are able to format an .epub file yourself, this is a cost that can be avoided.
- A bundle of 10 ISBN numbers cost $295. This is significantly cheaper than buying individual numbers.
- In addition to these costs, I paid revision fees for both titles, purchased multiple proof copies of both formats at cost of production and shipping, and purchased an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription during the formatting process.
- Other costs to consider are a cover designer, book formatter, and editor. Hiring a designer can cost anywhere from relatively cheap to hundreds of dollars depending on their experience level. And editors can charge anywhere from $10 to $30+ per hour. This is another place where research is important to balance budget demands against a quality freelancer.
Overall, I would have handled the timeline of production and release differently had I known at the beginning all that I know now. Additionally, the formatting experience taught me a lot that will make future formatting significantly easier when I do this again.
As of writing this, the costs of producing the book are still greater than the money I have made from it. However, the end result of the process has left me with a book I am proud of and a greater understanding of self-publishing that I can carry with me to future projects.
I cannot say how IngramSpark compares to other self-publishing platforms, but I have been happy with my experience on the platform. It met the needs I had for releasing Land of Outcasts, and the physical books they produce are great quality.
So, if you are also considering self-publishing, my advice is this—do your research. Look at the options available to you. Consider your goals for the book as well as what resources, skills, and budget you have available. Then, make as thorough a plan as you can—knowing that things will likely change during the process. If you do self-publish, I hope that this glimpse into my experience makes your efforts a little easier.