21 June 2015

Createspace vs IngramSpark - How Do The Books Compare?

I have recently gone through the process of publishing my book with both Createspace and IngramSpark. Having my book in print is the fulfillment of a long-held dream, but it's certainly not without its challenges! There are so many decisions to make as you go through the process of converting an e-Book to a print one, but I think it's worth it :-)

The finished article
There is a lot of information already out there on why you might use both services, so I won't go into that into detail here. The main thing is that Ingram gives you better royalties on expanded distribution, as Createspace use them as a partner anyway so both end up clipping the ticket

The focus of this post is my experience with the end results so far.

Formatting/Uploading


The first decision you really need to make is which trim size to use (the physical height and width of the book). I agonised over this, measuring many, many books as I tried to decide what suited my genre, what is the nicest to hold, etc etc. I almost decided to go with one of the smaller sizes, but in the end I couldn't argue with economics. You are charged for printing your book by the page, and it doesn't matter how big those pages are. When you do the maths, it's really not feasible to distribute with the smaller sizes. I went with 6x9, even though it doesn't seem to be a standard size - most of them aren't in whole inches.


It was a little annoying that not all the trim sizes support cream paper for expanded distribution. You can really only choose from four sizes, and none of them matched most of the books on my shelf.

The next thing to do is download the Createspace template for your size. I used the one with content pre-populated to get a feel for how to lay things out, and I originally thought I would stick with their font (Garamond). I then spent weeks playing around with different fonts and font sizes, assessing each for readability as against increasing page count. Days were spent on margin and gutter sizes... hopefully I'm not the only one to struggle with this! I spent a lot of time on the back cover too, editing and formatting the text and deciding on colours. Hopefully the finished result is professional-looking.

Createspace rejected my files for a few reasons - I had to figure out how to embed the fonts properly using a PDF printer, and I ended up embedding my title font as an image. Ingram accepted my files straight away (I'd already jumped through all the hoops I suppose).

I was able to use my files for Createspace with Ingram, with a few tweaks. I would definitely recommend doing your formatting for Createspace first, as you can make changes for free once you've uploaded - but with Ingram it's US$25 per change. I used the same interior file for both, and the cover just needed the spine width tweaked and to be put on the IngramSpark template. The Createspace one wants the image in the centre and bottom of the page, while Ingram wants it top right. Go figure. Createspace also allows a RGB file, while Ingram will only accept CMYK (I had to borrow another edition of Photoshop to make the conversion). I did like the fact that Ingram gave you a complete PDF proof.

The main hiccup I had with Ingram was with the spine width. I used their template creator, but the width increased after the final proof, as they put in two extra blank pages at the back. In my haste to get the thing live finally I approved it, but I regret that decision. I should have revised my cover, and I probably will (once I decide if I want to make any further tweaks). Just note that if your book doesn't end on an odd page number, they will add in two extra pages (1 leaf) for the barcode etc, and it will put your spine out on the back cover side by 0.1mm. This doesn't seem like a lot but it does show on the final book. Strangely, while Createspace also adds a page their spine width was still perfect. I suppose their templates must allow for this.

Overall, the Createspace process is easier to follow and they allow changes for free.

The Physical Books - Colours and spines


I received my Ingram books first - their shipping is faster and cheaper. I got my books from the Australian printing facility. While the thrill of having a physical copy of my book for the first time was undeniable, it wasn't 100% perfect. The spine issue I mentioned above was apparent.


What's funny is that the spine colour has intruded onto the front cover image, and it's approximately the same amount of colour from the back cover on the spine. So I'm not sure whether the pages they added have actually made a difference, or whether the whole thing is in fact just wrapped too far towards the front cover. 
IngramSpark front cover detail - note the brown colour from the spine is wrapping around to the front.
Here's how the recommended spine widths compare to the actual books.

Createspace template spine: 0.69in (17.53mm)
Actual spine: 17mm

IngramSpark template spine: 0.627in (15.92mm)
Proof spine: 0.631in (16.03mm)
Actual spine: Just under 16mm
CS cover on the left, IS on the right. Note the colour variations.
The cover colour differs significantly between the two editions (to my eye). It may be due to the RGB/CMYK difference. The Createspace colours are darker. While it does make my vicar's coat disappear into the background a little, I think I prefer the darker spine. It looks richer to me. Looking at them side by side, it seems the lighter parts are lighter with the CS version as well - like Cecilia's face. So the overall contrast is more noticeable. I'm still a bit undecided which is better.

CS spine on the left, IS on the right (showing the back cover colour intruding). Colour difference is obvious. 
As the Createspace spine looks perfect, this whole thing just leaves a sour taste in my mouth about the Ingram books. Even though everything else is fine and they are a bit cheaper to print for me, I would prefer to use and sell the Createspace books.

Paper and Type


I was a little wary of choosing the cream paper in each instance as some websites say it can be very yellow. But don't worry - both are fine; I think it looks great. The Createspace pages are perhaps slightly yellower than Ingram, but nothing to worry about.

CS interior on the left, IS on the right.
Createspace's paper stock is slightly heavier which gives it a nice feel but the difference is barely noticeable. This does mean the spine is 1mm thicker.

The type is slightly heavier in the Ingram version, which I prefer.

Paper and Type - IngramSpark wins, but only just.

Customer Service


I have had to contact Ingram about a few issues (such as the final spine template differing from the automated one). The main thing I have had trouble with is the publisher/imprint name. There is no place to put your own one in, they just use your real name. You can request a different imprint when you publish, but they seemed to ignore it. I tried to do it twice through the system, and emailed them three times about it before they finally took action. Their emails are always brief and sometimes I don't understand the full implications of what they are saying. Although they say they have now resolved the issue, the imprint is still wrong on all the retailer websites. Apparently it can take 6-8 weeks to filter through. Very frustrating.


I didn't need to talk to Createspace until after I received my first copies. Two of the three had damaged spines when they arrived. I had hoped to give these copies to a local bookshop but was forced to substitute the Ingram copies instead. I then emailed Createspace about it, and they promptly got back to me with a very courteous email saying they would replace the copies. Great customer service.

Customer Service - Createspace wins

Distribution


I haven't used Createspace for expanded distribution so I can't make a comparison. Apart from the issue with the imprint name (still wrong), I was impressed with IngramSpark's offering. They offer a range of discount options and a flexible returns policy, and although their website states that online retailers may not sell the book until 2-3 months from the first upload, mine started popping up on the big retailers (e.g. Barnes and Noble) in only 1-2 weeks.


A quick note on the discounts and returns - after much research, I decided to maximise my returns from the online retailers rather than attempting to go after the big guns (i.e. Walmart etc) with high discounts and returns. Many websites state that it's nearly impossible for indies to get in there anyway, and if they return your books it could cripple you (you need to pay the full retail price for returns, and you've only made a tiny royalty). I went for the 40% discount without returns, and was satisfied to see my book appearing for sale on all the major websites.

Sales Reporting


It's hard to know when Ingram shows you your sales, and very little information on how to use and read their reports. Createspace is great - it updates a monthly tally when a sale goes through. While you don't get the little graph like you do with KDP, you do get your royalty balance updated in each of the three currencies they support. With Ingram I am going to wait until after the first full month and then try to figure out the numbers.


Sales Reporting - Createspace wins, so far

In Summary


Createspace is the winner in most areas, except their shipping is very expensive and/or slow for those not in the US. I would use them solely if it were not for the terrible royalties for expanded distribution.

25 May 2015

THE VAGABOND VICAR is Now Available in Print!

I'm so excited to announce that THE VAGABOND VICAR is finally available in print! It's been a long time coming - first because I was so busy with promo, and then I underestimated all the little decisions I would need to make. It took about three weeks to decide on a font, and I had about 20 different back cover options. Here is the finished cover...


It's on sale now on Amazon - see the full list of available retailers on my books page. I'll be adding more as Ingram Spark distributes it to other online stores such as Book Depository.

If you enjoy reading a printed book and love traditional regencies, I hope you'll enjoy this one :-)

01 April 2015

How to Get Reviews for your Book from Bloggers

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net - Stuart Miles
I've spent the last five months promoting my debut book. Aside from regular social media, my intent was to get as many book bloggers as possible to review the book. I decided to go it alone (without using a blog tour company) and here are the things I learned.

So far I have secured reviews or features on sixty-three different websites You can find a list of the websites I've been or will be featured on here.

Has it been worth it? To get the reviews, definitely. While they haven't all been 5* (your book isn't going to be to everyone's tastes), it has both improved my listings on Amazon and Goodreads, and also driven spikes of sales. Some of the interviews/guest posts have results in sales as well (but not all). I don't think I can put a price on the relationships I've built, and the new fans I've gained as a result.

I don't necessarily recommend this approach (there are many blog tour companies who will save you a lot of time) but if you do want to go DIY here are my tips...

How to Find the Book Bloggers


Your problem won't be finding the book bloggers. It will be narrowing them down. Once you start, you'll find an ever-expanding web of blogs until you find yourself wallowing helplessly through the mire. Focus.

Don't just fling your review request at every single website you can find. It's a waste of your time. If you check a few things first, you'll save yourself the time and energy of emailing book bloggers who won't reply because they aren't accepting your type of request.

It can be addictive, just like querying (I can stop anytime I want, honest...). At some point though, you will get request fatigue. So focus your efforts on where you'll get the best bang for your buck.

There are heaps of websites which list bloggers. I don't need to tell you how to use Google. First, focus on those which review your genre exclusively.

A good shortcut for finding the most relevant bloggers is to find a book like yours that has been released recently and been on a blog tour. In most cases you should be able to find a list of all the blog tour stops. Simply click on each of the websites and follow the process below.

Another approach is to google reviews for a popular author in your genre - one who is too well-established to be doing blog tours, but is being reviewed widely by the bloggers.

Most blogs will have a blogroll, or list of their favourite blogs, usually in their sidebar. This will prove irresistible (more blogs! more reviews!). By all means, click on them. But continue to be ruthless and follow the guidelines below. And make sure you deal with all the websites you have open before you go opening more from the next blog. I know, it's hard! But it will wear you out eventually.

Determine Whether to Submit for Review


Okay, so you're on the blog. The first thing you do is check that it's still active - have they posted in the last couple of weeks, preferably in the last few days? If yes, the next thing you do is:

Check their review policy. Sometimes finding the policy can be a mission. If you draw a blank but find their email address, use your judgement as to whether to send them a request - do they review books like yours, from indie authors?

Things to check on the review policy:
1. Are they currently accepting review requests? Sometimes bloggers will leave their whole policy in tact but put a note somewhere (hopefully at the top of the page) that they are currently closed.
2. Do they review books by indie-authors? (no point getting excited about everything else if this is a No)
3. Do they review books in your genre?
4. Do they review e-books? (ignore if you are willing to supply your book in print)
5. Do they have specific submission requirements which mean you'll need to tailor your request in a certain way? Some websites want you to fill in a form instead of emailing - follow their instructions in each case.
6. Most good bloggers will note that they are not paid for reviews, and that they will not distribute your work to anyone else.
7. Note any other information such as the standard response/review time, where they post their reviews (some post more widely on request, such as to Amazon and Goodreads), and if they will post a negative review.

Once you are satisfied they will accept your request and are a good fit, go back to their homepage and check:

1. How many blog followers do they have? Facebook likes? Twitter followers? Goodreads friends? They should have at least a couple of hundred, maybe a couple of thousand (you decide what is an acceptable threshold). No matter how cool their blog is, if no-one knows about it your review won't get noticed.
2. Along the same lines, scroll down through their posts. How many comments does each one get? If there aren't any, it might not be worth your time submitting a review request.
3. At the same time, notice the types of books they are reviewing and the average ratings or types of comments they make. If you haven't already got enough information on the genres they read, looking at the actual reviews should clue you in. If necessary, check out their Goodreads profile.

So everything looks great with the review policy, their social presence and interaction on the blog. Time to get your submission ready.

How to Submit for Review


You should be able to write a template which you can use for most requests, except for those with very specific guidelines. Your request might include these parts:

1. The blogger's email address - send to only one at a time.

2. Your subject line with the words "review", "request" and the title of your book somewhere in it.

3. Address the blogger by name - their first name, e.g. "Dear Kathy,"

4. Introductory letter with the main pitch.
This may take the form of "I would like to submit my book [BOOK NAME] for review. It is a [genre and any other vital differentiating facts]. I have included more details about the book below." Then let them know the formats it is available in and if you have a deadline in mind (but don't sound demanding). Sign off with your pen name.

Be polite, courteous and professional. Sure, you're offering to give them a free book. But it takes time and effort to read and review a book, and if they're good at it they'll be in hot demand. Your tone should reflect your understanding of this.

5. Book details:
a) Title
b) Author
c) Publisher
d) Published date
e) Number of pages/words
6. Book blurb
Your synopsis or back cover copy. You should already have this to hand.

7. Book links:
a) Goodreads
b) Amazon
c) Other retailers

8. Your Bio
Short author bio (a few paragraphs). Again you should already have one on file.

9. Your links:
a) Your website
b) Facebook
c) Twitter
d) Any other social media of note

10. Attach your cover.

Proof-read several times. The last thing you want is the blogger thinking your pitch is sloppy and therefore your book will be too. Remember to include/attach anything else mentioned in the policy guidelines (although the above will cover off 99% of them).

Hit SEND!

Many bloggers will not reply if they are not interested. Expect to get a positive response from maybe one or two in ten. If a blogger expresses interest, continue to be respectful and whatever you do, don't beg them for a positive review. Your work should speak for itself. Just send off whatever file format they want and thank them for their time.

The good bloggers will be booked up at least a couple of months in advance. Ideally you should be contacting them 3-4 months in advance of your release - but this can be a challenge when all you want is to finish the damn book! Be prepared for the fact that your reviews/posts will be staggered if you do your promo post-release. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

In many cases a blogger may reply saying they are too snowed under to do a review, but the offer a guest post, interview or feature instead. This may mean some effort on your part but as a writer starting out any publicity (on reputable websites) is worth the effort. If they ask you to do a giveaway, consider it. They know best how to maximise the exposure for your book.

Note for sending directly to Kindle email address
Sending a mobi file directly to the reviewer's Kindle is a win-win. They get it straight on their device and you make sure it won't be distributed to anyone else. There are a few steps to follow though:
1. The reviewer needs to send you their Kindle address, which won't be the same one you're corresponding with. It will end in @kindle.com.
2. The reviewer needs to add you to their list of addresses within their Kindle account (type your email address into the body of the email so they can copy and paste it). Instructions of how to do this are here, point 2.
3. Once they have confirmed they've done #2, email the file to their Kindle address. You don't need to type a message.

Negative Reviews?
Not everyone is going to fall in love with your book, regardless of how similar you thought their tastes were. People make negative comments for all sorts of reasons you never could have anticipated. Maybe they weren't in the right mood for your book at that time, perhaps it wasn't quite the specific slant on the genre they like, they thought it moved too fast or too slow, or perhaps something about the characters irked them. You can't please everyone. If you get reviews with three or less stars, see if there is any constructive feedback in the review and then move on. There's no point dwelling - focus on the good ones. Pay attention though if there are common negative threads in several different reviews. Perhaps you should learn something for the next book.

Whatever you do, do not reply to the review on social media or contact the blogger privately to complain. It will only make the situation worse.

Goodreads
Readers on Goodreads seem to be particularly harsh. I've even had people put a lower rating on Goodreads than they put on Amazon or their own website (more than once!). Why? Who knows. Maybe they like to appear more harsh in front of their Goodreads friends. Just don't be surprised if your overall ranking on Goodreads is lower than the rest of the universe. It's still an important tool for word of mouth and can't be ignored.

A note on piracy
If you followed all the guidelines above, you can be fairly confident the bloggers you send your book to are legit. If they do end up passing it onto their friends - sure, you may have lost a sale... but you may have also gained a fan, which is so valuable for a writer starting out. Stay vigilant - google your book frequently and if it pops up on a pirate website, take immediate action.

27 March 2015

What It's Like On the Other Side: Pondering Post-Publication

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net: Serge Bertasius Photography
The five months since indie-published my debut novel have sailed by in a blur of thrilling reader responses, obsessive sales checking and frenzied promotion. So what's it like on the other side of indie publishing?

I am now an author. I am now earning money for my work. I can claim that title and that makes me happy.

I have had some readers contact me directly and praise the book, thanking me for writing it. That is gratifying beyond words!

I am also incredibly blessed to have a great network of writer friends who have celebrated all the little milestones with me and keep me motivated. I'm making new connections online as well which give me further support (and who I hope I can support), whether that's Facebook groups, bloggers, tweeps and other newbie authors who have discovered my book and my story.

Am I making as many sales and I hoped? No, of course not. This is a long road and as with anything in publishing, building your brand and revenues takes time and a truckload of patience and hard work. And although I've put a huge amount of effort into getting my name and this first book out there, all the wisdom on the interwebs tells me that I need at least a few more books for sale before I will gain real momentum.

Having said that, I have had some success at getting the word out (especially online). Apart from maintaining a social presence on FacebookTwitter, Google+, Goodreads, Pinterest, setting up an email newsletter, redesigning this website and adding the books page, I have been organising a sort of DIY blog tour. I'm about to post a separate article on my learnings from soliciting reviews from book bloggers. I've 'met' some lovely people through the course of this experience, many of whom are now champions for my book.

Now I'm attempting to focus on getting the print edition done, and then... full steam ahead on books 2 and 3!

Here are the websites I have arranged appearances on so far:

Calico Critic (excerpt and giveaway)
My Jane Austen Book Club (guest post and giveaway)
Word Menagerie (review)
Austenprose (excerpt)
Austenprose (review)
Tome Tender (review)
Tome Tender (spotlight and giveaway)
Wishful Endings (guest post, review and giveaway)
Flashlight Commentary (interview)
Midnight Attic Reader (review)
The Long and the Short Of It Reviews (review)
So Little Time (review)
eBook Review Gal (review)
Love Saves The World (review)
Babblings of a Bookworm (review)
I Love to Read and Review Books (guest post)
Historical Novel Society (review)
Toot's Book Reviews (spotlight, excerpt and guest post)
Library of Clean Reads (review)
Unusual Historicals (interview and giveaway)
Unusual Historicals (excerpt)
VVB32 Reads (review)
Examiner.com (interview)
Portable Pieces of Thoughts (review)
Bibliosmiles (guest post)
Broken Teepee (review)
To Read or Not to Read (feature)
Postcards from Asia (review)
The Book Stop (review)
The Content Reader (review)
Stephanie's Book Reviews (review)
Getting Your Read On (review)
Fiction Zeal (review)
Books and Beverages (review)
The Emerald City Book Review (interview)
Katie's Clean Book Collection (review)
Cynthia Woolf (excerpt and giveaway)
Book Junkiez (review)

Coming soon:

Brooke Blogs
Gotta Write Network
Leila Reads
Geeks in High School
Bloggin Bout Books
Emma's Bookery
Frugal Book Collectors
Laughing With Lizzie
The Book Nut
Babs Book Bistro
LDS and Lovin It
Bookworm Nation
Literary Time Out
Wonderous Reviews
I'm Lost in Books
Books and Things
Literature Junkie Extraordinare
Blue Eye Books
A Way With Words
Arts, Books & Coffee
Pirate Penguin's Reads
Jane Davis
More Agreeably Engaged
Diary of an Eccentric
A Bookish Way of Life
My Love For Jane Austen
and possibly, Smart Bitches Trashy Books