It took four years to distribute my print and digital chapter books beyond Amazon. Why fly beyond Amazon's big nest?
My library refused to carry my Amazon/Create Space (CS) book because it didn’t have an author name and title printed on the spine. However at 48 pages long, Sweet T and the North Wind didn’t meet CS’s minimum 101-page length for spine printing.
Then my indie bookstore refused to carry anything associated with Amazon.
After months of researching and self-study, I took the plunge. Here are five tools and tricks I used to publish kid lit tales outside of Amazon. I hope they help you, too.
1. Bowker and ISBNs:
Gotta have 'em
I needed several ISBNs (International Standard Book Number), those 13-digit strings of numerals serving as universal identifiers. Required by most retailers, they also register a book’s publisher.
Since ISBNs were required for each distributor AND format, that meant upfront expenses for the three e-books and two print distributions slated for 2017 - five separate ISBNs. I purchased a set of 10 through Bowker, the official US identifier, for $295. It hurt to come up with that amount, but it was more cost-effective than paying $125 for a single ISBN.
My biggest take-away
No, you can’t chip in with another author to split costs. Whoever buys the ISBN is named as publisher on Bowker’s official registry. Period. Non-transferable. btw....if you live in Canada, your ISBN is free!
Bowker's US ISBN prices HERE
ISBN FAQs from Joel Friedlander, the Book Designer HERE
2. i-Books Author:
interactive digital books exclusive to i-Tunes
This avid Apple user <yes, admitting bias here> couldn't wait to explore Apple’s iBooks Author (IBA), a FREE e-book authoring software. This online program creates and publishes only to i-Tunes but was totally worth the effort to get my books in Apple's eco-system. Plus, I didn't need to hire a software guru to code my chapter book's fixed layout. I could do it myself!
After playing with IBA's intuitive drag-and-drop tools, I selected a standard 9x6 template and whipped out two illustrated chapter books for i-Tunes in 2017, The Magical Aquarium and Sweet T and the Turtle Team.
It was a snap to add video, interactive comprehension questions, and photo galleries alongside text copied and pasted from an MS word file. The fixed layout and watercolors by Irene A. Jahns sizzled on the screen, and my young beta readers loved the touch features that brought content to life.
I won’t go into the steps to do business or publish with i-Tunes. Suffice to say Apple’s IBA support was beyond-amazing when I got stuck. With my first book, I spent hours on the phone talking with patient customer care reps to resolve glitches (caused mostly by my inexperience and on-the-job learning). My second i-book was a breeze.
My biggest take-away
I LOVE i-Books Author and its brilliant digital books for i-Pad. Apple’s user-friendly creation and publication eco-system had me doing the happy dance.
I have not yet gained traction on i-Tunes. Apple curates and promotes content in its own mysterious way, and I am still trying to figure that out. (I also offered my books via Kindle since readers requested that format - see discovery #3 next).
I-Tunes generously gave me 250 free coupon codes to encourage early reviews; however, early readers sometimes couldn't download coupons or post reviews on i-Tunes. It was a vicious cycle: books didn't get ratings unless several reviews were written; people couldn't post reviews; and around it went.
btw....If you have marketing strategies for i-Tunes (and especially if any lovely Apple folk are reading this from their lovely new Cupertino HQ,) pretty-pretty-please share in the comment section.
Apples i-books author software HERE:
Kindle, Nook, and More
Like IBA, Vellum is a user-friendly *FREE* software program for Apple OS e-book authoring and publishing across multiple platforms. (Some PC friends use Scrivener, but I believe Vellum is better and easier, especially for fixed layout and illustrations.)
Vellum was another quick drag-and-drop of an MS word or Pages file to create chapters and add style, embellishments, formats, or illustrations. I could also view my layout as it appeared on different readers, like Nook, Kindle Fire, PaperWhite, Kobo, i-Pad, etc.
Vellum's turnkey formatting converted files to mobi (kindle), epub (platforms excluding Kindle, such as Nook and i-Tunes) and pdf for desktop reading with the click of a button. Again, no need to hire specialists to format my fixed layout.
Vellum asked a reasonable charge for its mouse-click conversion. I purchased a single e-book plan for my first e-book but went with an unlimited e-book bundle next because the software was PAINLESS and BRILLIANT.
btw…Vellum just added the ability to generate files for print publishing. Currently, it does not offer color for printing publishing beyond covers, so that could limit use for picture book authors.
My biggest take-away
Most of my book sales come via Kindle, so Vellum proved its worth creating my mobi files. Oh, and Vellum rocks with its custom pdf function for creating sample chapters and free pages.
While I could've used Vellum for i-Tunes, I preferred i-Books Author for posting there because of IBA's touch and interactivity.
Vellum website HERE
The Creative Penn: Beautiful Ebook Formatting with Brad Andalman from Vellum HERE
Print-On-Demand Distributors for Libraries, Retailers
I tried IngramSpark because it was one of the biggest distributors of print books to libraries and retailers. Yes! IS spine-printed my 48-page book, so I can offer it to my library! The print is teeny, but it’s there. Wahoo!
It took weeks to format and edit one print book for IS and CS, even with the help of my graphic designer, who used InDesign. IS book covers also required the more advanced software for layout and spine print. We tackled Ingram first, since it was new to us both.
So, yes, doing two print-on-demand houses was intense, with double editing and layout. Fortunately, interior formats of IS and CS were similar, requiring only minor adjustments. It was a simple copy and paste of the IS InDesign-generated file into CS for the second required pdf upload. Best, I am seeing sales for my IS-printed soft covers.
IS had average tech support, and its online chat was best for getting quick answers.
Dreaded Duplicate Book Debacle
Mercy, I needed those fast answers when I hit a wall with IngramSpark distribution channels - my biggest headache on this quest. I still feel the pain of ping-ponging back and forth between IS and Create Space to fix my issue. Here's what happened:
Based on my research, I was confident I selected IS distribution channels that EXCLUDED my IS book on Amazon. After all, my IngramSpark goal was for distribution to libraries and retailers. Never intended for Amazon.
My print version of Sweet T and the Turtle Team was on Amazon twice - once from CS and a second time, with the exact IS-printed book.
After days scouring online forums and pleading with both POD's tech support, my worst fear was confirmed: neither IngramSpark nor Amazon would (could?) remove the duplicate IS book from Amazon.
I found out the hard way:
IS had an all-or-nothing print distribution channel.
No choice, the nice IS chat rep told me.
The rule for IS print is to distribute across all channels, including Amazon.
Amazon Ping Ponging
Back at Amazon, Vendor Central responded quickly to my plea to remove the IS book, but it could not help because “the ASIN does not belong to the primary email email ID...”
Wasn’t I the primary email ID contact?!? And I didn’t want to remove an Amazon ASIN book ….just the ISBN IS book! Was Amazon getting my Kindle ebook confused with my print book from Create Space?!?!?
Also, I started my vendor affiliation with Amazon four years ago through an email account that had been hacked and deleted. Could that be the problem? But I could not switch accounts since I deleted the old one.
Vendor Central further advised to “contact the publisher for the desired changes” because “we can only make changes if the request comes from the owner of the title.” <ping-poing, ping-poing> Wasn’t the publisher moi?!?
I also begged Amazon's Customer Care (a separate entity from Vendor Central) for help. The rep was sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do because removing the IS book rested with Vendor Central <ping-poing, ping-poing>.
Some relief came when Amazon's Customer Care combined reviews from both the IS and CS books, so readers wouldn’t be totally confused. Like I was. Still am. Sigh.
At some point, I'll unravel this knot. In the meantime, I hope YOU won’t run into the same issue.
My biggest take-away
In addition to the Dreaded Duplicate Book Debacle, the IS website and publishing processes were challenging. Like reading a book with cotton gauze over your face. For instance, I found required information faster by googling it rather than searching the website where IS directed me. Even simple tasks, like ordering advance print copies, were confusing.
A writerly pal asked if IS had superior print quality over CS. I found no difference; however, I used an inexpensive IS paper grade. Perhaps if I splurged for premium paper, I’d see an edge.
On the other hand, a modest splurge to advertise in the IS catalogue distributed to libraries and retailers already brought in a few sales.
I also decided against a hard cover book with IS at this time. The minimum price for my 77-page, full-color book was nearly $20, and I felt that was too high.
There are tons of articles about the differences between Amazon and IngramSpark. Here are two that helped me:
5. Time and Patience:
It took huge chunks of time to learn each platform’s idiosyncrasies and work through a million bits of minutiae for publisher information, book codes, multiple formats and edits, ad infinitum, but it was right for me. Keeping a master file of my work flow and meta data helped with copying and pasting information across PODs. It will also be a solid road map for future endeavors because there is much to remember.
My only regret was the Dreaded Duplicate Book Debacle. I may have erred in my understanding and execution using two print-on-demand channels …
SO until I unravel that mess …
I’ll restrict my soft cover print books to Amazon for now.
My indie publishing journey continues going wide in 2018 with a fourth book offered as:
What’s your experience publishing on multiple platforms and print-on-demand services? Or are you at the start of your writing journey? What strategies worked best for you/might you try? Have you cracked i-Tunes or other markets? Additional questions or insights? Please share in the comment section.
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