Self-Publishing Interview with Melissa Leong

April 27th, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

After talking about my experiences with self-publishing, I reached out to a few other Canadian authors to talk about their experience. First up is Melissa Leong, personal finance columnist for the National Post, who wrote the What Kills Me series under her pen name of Wynne Channing. What Kills Me is a bestselling young adult vampire thriller, so she’s able to provide some great insight into what self-publishing is like outside of Canada-specific non-fiction. Moreover she’s been hugely successful, having sold approximately 50,000 copies of the first two books — What Kills Me and I Am Forever — in the series, with fans clamouring for a third.

Before I get into what we talked about I want to note that Melissa has been very open about her writing and publishing experiences, including publishing a two-part set of articles in the National Post about her experience with the first book, and has had plenty of other interviews about her writing and the content of the books themselves. I didn’t want to use up her valuable time rehashing that stuff, so I encourage you to go and read those articles — here we’ll build on what’s happened behind the scenes since the first book and the related Post articles went up.

I started by asking about her thoughts on editing and using beta readers:

“Editing was extremely important to me, especially being in journalism – I know the magic that an editor can do. They can make a huge difference […] Rewriting is key, as well as having an editor. You need a second eye, and not just beta readers, you need someone who’s a professional.” She used a mix of substantive and copy editing from professional editors, but relied on beta readers to spot plot holes and characterization issues. After that, she used a proofreader for a final polish, and a formatter1 to convert the manuscript into a reflowable e-book file.

For more on her use of beta readers and the questions she put before them, see the end of this post.

For myself and The Value of Simple, the content is intrinsically Canadian, whereas vampires and thrills are international. I was wondering whether her Canadian roots helped build a disproportionate local fan base. Melissa says that most of her readers are from the US and UK, as would be expected from the distribution of the English-speaking population. That was likely helped a bit because she used a UK-based blog promotion service to help drum up interest there. Most of her sales come through Amazon, so many of the Canada-specific issues I talked about earlier in the series would be pretty minor for a more global kind of book like this. She’s also a fan of SmashWords, which gives her the power to generate coupons there for giveaways and reviews.

For the minor debate in cataloguing on whether to use a separate ISBN for each version of the book (e.g. Kindle vs ePub), Melissa chose to go with just one number across her e-book formats.

With two books under her belt, I was really interested to hear what lessons she had learned going in to I Am Forever and what had changed in the intervening years between the first and second book.

“The processes of self-publishing were definitely streamlined between the first and second book,” she told me. Kobo in particular made a big effort to improve their accessibility for self-publishers (and I can back that up — it’s a snap with Writing Life now, vs. my initial experience with Kobo in 2011 where they basically told me to get stuffed if I didn’t have 10+ titles as a publisher).

She was more disciplined the second time around, and got more sleep (cf. her anecdotes in the Post articles from the first book). She set a specific goal, with a deadline (purposely set early, working backwards from a planned timeline), and thought of it as a job. She aimed to write 5k words per week, with a bit of time each day set aside to write.

The second time around also came with a better idea of what was involved in the publishing side and the costs, so she had a budget ready. The first time she just wanted to break even while building her brand and her audience. High on her priorities was to not cut corners — she wanted to pay what it cost for quality work, and focused on what was important. So she paid more for editing, but less on promotion and advertising after having a better idea of what was cost-effective — many ways to advertise books don’t pay for themselves.

To help get people into the series — now that it is a series — the first book is currently available for free, and has otherwise been offered at a low cost. “If you have many books on the shelf under your name, that’s how you make your money, and hope the fans keep coming back for the work.” Also with that interest and audience from the first one she had a pre-order period before releasing the second book, with cover releases, blog book tours, and the ability to pre-arrange reviews to help build buzz.

One thing she was unprepared for with her popularity was pirating, and was surprised to see the book available “for free” on sites so soon after publishing.

“Being a self-published author means that you are an entrepreneur, and that’s something I wasn’t prepared for. I know how to write, how to tell a good story, but I don’t necessarily know how to sell myself or how to sell a product. So that was something I had to work on. And those skills did transfer back to journalism [her day job]. I always found self-promotion really difficult, but I realized that if I didn’t toot my own horn that nobody would do it. Then when I took over the personal finance beat [at the National Post], branding and expanding my personal brand became a goal, to also help the paper.”

A big thank-you to Melissa for taking the time to chat with me. Check out the What Kills Me series on Amazon, and follow Melissa on Twitter (or her alter ego Wynne Channing here).

Footnote 1: and she’s happy to recommend him: Michael Mandarano.
Note that all quotes are my transcriptions from a conversation and any errors are mine.

Podcast & Money 201 Redux

April 23rd, 2015 by Potato

Just a quick post to let you know that I was a guest on the Build Wealth Canada podcast with Kornel Szrejber, and part 1 is now live on his site. We chatted about the book and index investing, mistakes investors make, and more! Be sure to check it out for a chance to win a copy of the Value of Simple as well!

Also, Sandi Martin and I will be returning to TPL to give Money 201 at the Agincourt branch on May 4th. See here for more details on that!

VoS BtS 9: Business Side and Taxes

April 21st, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

Now to put on your business hat: what does it cost to self-publish a book, what can you expect in return, and how do you deal and account for it all?

The biggest cost is time. So very much time. A big part of that is my own fault for wanting to make it good, so I spent a lot of time on revisions, going through it with people, etc. If I just wanted to finish and push it out I could have been done months earlier — though at the minimum quality I would consider acceptable, it still would have represented an investment of hundreds and hundreds of hours of my time. A book should be a labour of love, because the odds of making more on your writing time than you could get doing just about anything else are very slim.

There are a number of hard costs as well. Some will be like the “cost of goods sold” — the incremental cost of making each sale, which are really easy costs to swallow: sell a book for $17, spend $12 in incremental costs, and pocket a few bucks for pizza. Some will be the cost of doing business and of getting your book ready for market, which will come long before your first sale or review: these can be a little harder to swallow and you’ll have to be ready for them before you fully commit to self-publishing. As a ballpark I’d say you should be ready to spend at least $1000 to self-publish your book — which should also give you an idea of the kind of market you need to have ready before you set foot down this road.

Expertise: You can’t do it all yourself and will likely have to hire some part of the process out. Professional editing is the main one to look at, which can vary in cost depending on who you hire, how much work your manuscript needs, the kind of editing required (substantive, style, proofreading, etc.), the genre, and the length. A catchy and pleasing cover may require hiring an artist and/or designer. Then you may need help with formatting and layout, or with creating and coding the ebook files. All-in-all I’d suggest starting with a budget of at least $1000, and preparing for more if you need more help.

Printing: Before you get to having your printer send you nearly final proofs, you’re likely going to print several dozen copies on your home printer for yourself and your early beta readers. While many copies were sent out as electronic files, there are people who prefer to read on paper, and I wanted them to be as happy as possible (after all, many were doing me a favour for the dubious benefit of getting to read the book early). For my own review, checking it across multiple formats in multiple places was the only way to see it in a new light. Many review copies were sent early on as home-printed reports with nice office supply store report covers. A new printer toner cartridge and a thousand sheets of paper or so will vary on your model and what-not, but I had $175 in the budget, and other $6 for report covers (thanks to a Grand and Toy 80% off store closing event — best to budget a bit more than that).

Then when all is done at home you go to the professional printer (e.g. IngramSpark) to get your proofs printed, which costs some money (about $60 for 10 copies), plus set-up fees (about $85, including the inevitable file change after reviewing proofs). All told, I’m at $326 in costs to be print-ready.

After finalizing the book with the printer, I had a bulk order done for myself to have books available at events like the book launch party (“the first print run”). Thankfully, IngramSpark didn’t charge me any brokerage fees to get the books to me in Canada — always a concern when ordering items — and they arrived in plenty of time even with economy shipping. For $816, I had just over 160 copies, a cost of about $5 per copy, though the ~$6/copy from the proofs is a more realistic cost for smaller orders. However, this cost is now in to the “cost of goods sold” rather than “getting ready to publish” part of the budget, so you may think about it differently as you prepare to publish — and if you don’t plan to sell directly, you don’t need to do a print run.

Shipping and Postage: You will be sending copies everywhere, first to publishers as you query and submit manuscripts to chase the traditional publishing dream, then to beta readers and reviewers as you get close to publishing yourself. Any relatives, libraries (including legal deposit), or journalists you want to give copies to will also need shipping. I dropped about $130 at Canada Post before I ever started sending out books to customers (those shipping costs again are part of “cost of goods sold” in my mind).

On top of the postage itself, you’ll need some supplies like envelopes and labels to get your stuff out there. I found Uline was by far the cheapest source of bubble mailers sized just right for a trade paperback (for my book, at 204 physical pages, their #1 bubble mailer is still thin enough with the padding to count as lettermail). They don’t come in small quantities: a box of 100 ran me $44, and now that physical book sales have passed the release and RRSP peak, it looks like I’ll still have a giant box of envelopes left to pass to my heirs.

Advertising: I can’t speak much to what works in advertising for books. I tried Google AdSense, and burned through my trial credit without picking up a single sale from that channel. I had more luck putting ads on Reddit, but I didn’t get precise sales numbers out of that, just clicks. Assuming the clicks from Reddit behaved like my average clicks in terms of conversion to sales, then I had just enough sales to pay for the ads. Exposure is good, so I suppose that was worth it, and I’ll likely do another Reddit ad campaign in the future. I went with VistaPrint to get a poster-sized copy of the book cover done for events, and for business cards and postcards to hand out (and leave behind at restaurants when I’m feeling spammy).

Other: I mentioned in the previous post that I registered my publishing imprint as a business name in Ontario, which ran me $60. I also have a domain name and webhosting, which is relatively cheap (my package runs about $140 CAD for the year).

All told, you may be looking at about $1000-2000 to get ready to publish and start shipping books.

Against this you hope to sell hundreds or thousands of copies to break even and maybe even make a profit for all that time and effort.

Taxes: How now to report all this on your taxes? As you sell books you’ll have revenue coming in from multiple sources: straight profits coming in from your retail partners like Amazon and Kobo, as well as revenues from your direct sales, for which you have a number of expenses (including cost of goods sold). The latter income is clearly business income — self-employment income that you’ll report on a T2125 in your taxes. However, the money from your retail partners looks a lot like royalties, which is a bit more confusing. Line 104 (“other income”) clearly mentions royalties, and kind of sounds right but “royalties with expenses associated with them” go to line 135. Most likely as a self-publisher you will have expenses — all the stuff listed above — even if you don’t have to pay for each incremental book (you’re still paying your own advertising to generate those sales, for instance). That mysterious line 135 comes from the profits on the self-employment T2125 form, so good news: you can roll it all together and report it in the same place.

If you’ve never had self-employment income before this form can be a bit intimidating. There are lots of confusing elements that I honestly have problems with — there’s a line for “delivery, freight, and express”, but then “stamps” supposedly fall under “office expenses.” So where do I put the cost of shipping books to customers? It’s too heavy for regular stamps, so each time I have to visit a post office and pay for the special rate, but it’s still postage/lettermail and not freight or special courier delivery. The worst is which professional fees (like editing or design work) are fees that you deduct right away versus those that create intellectual property (“intangible eligible capital property“) that you depreciate over time? The self-employment taxes are tough enough without having to deal with carrying intellectual property on your books for the rest of your operations.

I don’t mean that to scare you off — from my own experience and other self-employed people I’ve spoken to all of the confusion and vague wording is just treated as creating lots of grey zones in reality. Not sure whether your shipping costs are delivery or office expenses? Flip a coin and move on. Terrible tax advice (which is why this post is not tax advice), but the best I can do, and it seems to work well enough for many. Just be honest, make a best effort, and have your receipts ready: they can recategorize in an audit if it’s really necessary, but as long as it’s reasonable in the first place getting the exact category right on the T2125 should not matter (and the net income will come out the same).

The next thing is that if this is your first endeavour as a self-employed individual you’ll have to consider the business-use-of-home expenses section, where you can count a part of your utilities, rent/mortgage interest, and insurance as a business expense. You’ll have to figure out how much of your home is used for business, then add up all the costs of that home, and can then take the proportion used for business use as an expense. If you work from home and have a space dedicated to your business activities, this is a totally legitimate expense — Wayfare, for example, has been self-employed for years and has a dedicated office in the house that is there solely for her business. So we claim the appropriate part of the home expenses there on her taxes. For myself, I claim less here — I have a desk, filing cabinet, etc., it’s just a portion of my bedroom, and I use it for a mix of personal and business stuff, so I further prorate the square footage for the personal use. Note that if you want to claim a portion of your rent, you do it here — the line for “rent” higher up on business expenses is for the rent on a specific, dedicated business property.

Summary: I hope this massive series has helped you, and has filled in the gaps that other self-publishing guides leave for Canadians. Remember that you will be acting as a business when you self-publish, even if you’re doing it for love and not aiming for anything more than breaking even. That means some kind of budget, keeping receipts, paying taxes — as well as all the stuff from previous posts on timelines and everything else.

Although this is the last entry on my experience, I’m happy to say that there will be an epilogue featuring tales from other, more successful Canadian self-publishers!

Disclaimer: this post is not meant to be tax advice, but to provide my own experiences as as starting point on a best-efforts basis. I am not a tax expert. Post not microwave safe, keep out of reach of children, use at own risk.

VoS BtS 8: Registrations and Cataloguing

April 16th, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

There are lots of databases that you want to (or must) register your book in.

The most basic one is to get an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) to uniquely identify your book. In the states you have to purchase an ISBN from someone, so you’ll often see a free (but restricted-use) ISBN listed as a feature on some print services, including CreateSpace. For Canadians that doesn’t apply — we can get them for free from Library and Archives Canada/Collections Canada. Once your account is set up, getting an ISBN is instantaneous.

Most retailers are set up to use your ISBN as an identifier in their catalogue, and the standard for the barcodes on the backs of books is to encode the ISBN. So whenever possible, you want to get yourself an ISBN, which is an easy decision as a Canadian because they’re free for us (if you read other guides to self-publishing there will be some hand-wringing on this issue because ISBNs can be costly). For print editions, even if you don’t choose to encode the price in your barcode, include at least the ISBN.

You are supposed to get a different ISBN for every format and edition of your book. So one for print, one for e-book — but then a debate arises: is the Kindle e-book a different format from the ePub e-book? Is the PDF different from both of those? The librarians and cataloguers seem to suggest that yes, you should be getting multiple ISBNs for your e-book, however in practice nearly everyone uses one ISBN for all e-formats (and another for print) because it vastly improves the ability to cross-reference and search for your e-book. I used one ISBN for the ePub and AZW3 versions of the e-book, which are automatic conversions of the same basic format (reflowable XML-based text for e-readers), but considered the PDF versions to be different. However, because the PDF versions are not available except as part of an e-book bundle with the existing ISBN, I did not register for a third/fourth ISBN to cover the PDFs.

Another thing that you can register for through Library and Archives Canada is cataloguing-in-publication (CIP). This service looks at your book’s content and a cataloguer decides on the call number to give it in the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal systems, and does so before you print the final version (or upload the final e-book). They will give you a block of text to put on the copyright page, in a standard format. Then when your book goes live, booksellers and libraries know just how to classify it, with the information right there at the front. While I’m always in favour of making the librarian’s life easier, CIP is totally voluntary and is not a great marketing tool in its own right; aside from needing some space in your timeline, it’s also not hard to apply for.

I think it’s important to note that CIP took forever. Their website says “at least 10 days” which would lead you to think that it would be close to 10 days but a little more. I planned for up to 20 days, thinking I was being super conservative. In the end I had to submit my proof files to IngramSpark without the CIP information in order to make my timeline (I added it to the front matter along with other changes to the proof before the final print run). CIP finally came after 29 or 30 days (depending on whether you count the day it arrived). Hopefully this post will give people an idea on how long cataloguing-in-publication takes, so you’ll be ready to submit your material to LAC at least a month before you have to submit your book block — though you do need many things like the title page finalized first for CIP.

Another thing to be ready for is the requirement to submit copies of your book to Library and Archives Canada, called legal deposit. For print books, you will have to submit two copies shortly after publication (for publication runs over 100 — and better to assume the over than have to ship a second copy if you go over). They also accept e-books to legal deposit.

When it comes time to create the listing for your book, you will have to choose which categories it belongs to. While retailers have sometimes added sub-categories of their own, they pretty much follow the BISAC categorization scheme and subject codes. Be sure to give yourself some time to consider which BISAC headings your book belongs in — you can usually select up to three.

As a self-publisher, you may also want to register your “imprint” as a business name in your province — for example, I have Blessed by the Potato Publishing registered in Ontario. It costs $60 for a 5-year term in Ontario, and you can do it online in minutes. Unfortunately I can’t comment on the costs or procedures in other provinces.

VoS BtS 7: Publishing a Print Version

April 7th, 2015 by Potato

[Back to the first post in the Value of Simple self-publishing behind-the-scenes series]

Printing on demand is really the innovation that has made it possible for people to self-publish print books without needing to commit a lot of money to a print run, while simultaneously dealing with distribution. Many local print shops will be able to do a small print run for you if you prefer to manage your own inventory, however I found it nearly impossible to compare the offerings of local businesses to those of the online giants.

The main PoD companies you’ll come across online are IngramSpark (and its sister, LightningSource), CreateSpace (CS), and Lulu. Both IngramSpark (IS) and LightningSource (LS) are divisions of Ingram, a massive world-wide printer and distributor of books — many large traditional publishers use Ingram for their distribution and printing. You’ll likely find many discussions and comparisons to LS, which was formerly the only way to print through Ingram. IngramSpark just launched in late 2013/early 2014, and now LS is trying to target small publishers with more than one title to their name, while IS targets the self-publisher with just one or two titles to put out. LS has more advanced options, while IS is more streamlined and easy to use. CreateSpace is part of Amazon, while Lulu is independent.

Lulu’s pricing is a bit off compared to the other options, but they aim to have a much wider menu of services (at additional cost) that you can get through them so that it’s more of a one-stop solution, including hooking you up with editors and cover artists. Lulu doesn’t look to charge any set-up fees, but has per-book production costs that are about 40% higher, which means that if you don’t need the services they provide the decision really comes down to IS vs CS.

For Canadians, the tight competition between IS and CS comes down to whether you think most of your sales will be in Canada or not. Under IS, you can set the pricing and wholesale discount of your book by country, whereas CreateSpace will dictate your non-Amazon, non-US royalties to you as part of their “expanded distribution” network — forcing a 60% discount on your native Canadian sales, even those through Amazon’s .ca site. I ended up choosing IS, in large part because I expected 100% of my sales to be Canadian (the material is specific to Canada); if your material is international in nature (as with Wynne Channing’s I Am Forever, a work of fiction — we’ll hear more from her at the end of the series), then being Canadian won’t really matter and you may prefer CS.

The rest of this will focus on my experiences with IngramSpark.

I’ll note that everything is of course still evolving: when I signed up with IS they only had two options for wholesale discounts (40% and 65%), but now they allow you to fine-tune and control it a bit more to anything between 30 and 55% (but still not quite as much control as with the more advanced LS platform). There was an annual fee to keep your book in the Ingram distribution catalogue before, which has recently been waived (likely due to competition as all of the major players have waived their distribution fees). It was only $12/yr before, so if this proves to be a temporary relief, the fees are not huge.

Discounts: as a publisher, you sell your book to retailers at a low price, they then mark it up to the list price and make some margin there — that’s the wholesale discount. With discounts it’s a tough balance: a store won’t carry your book if there’s nothing in it for them, but you need to make money too, and you will have fixed costs for printing that will come out of what the retailer pays IS/CS/Lulu (you can use their calculators to see for your format and page count, but expect it to be ~$4 US/copy). A higher discount can force you to drive your list price point higher, which may then eat into your sales (especially if you cross over some threshold for the genre), but set it too low to keep more for yourself and your book may never see the light of day, or never be featured with a special sale price. With IS at the time I didn’t have a ton of options, so I went with 40%, but that seems about right — many people say Amazon will list a book with less of a discount (as little as 20-30% and Amazon will likely still pick it up from LS), and that most bookstores need more of one (~60% is a traditional wholesale discount), however most bookstores won’t be taking your book anyway, and if you do the work of marketing it to them, they’ll likely still take it at ~40%.

Markets and Pricing: IS will let you control which markets and at which price your book sells at, but you must enable sales in the US (I was not expecting that, hoping to only offer my book in Canada). The thing I really didn’t understand at first is that it appears as though Amazon.ca still orders books through the US arm of the distributor, so you’ll get a royalty in USD based on your US price. This also affects your Canadian pricing — Amazon will ignore your manually determined CAD price (and what’s in the barcode and on the back of the book) and just use the US price with a currency conversion factor applied. Be sure to have your pricing set right the first time the book goes live, as they will not update the “list price” on the book’s page.

Determining what price to list your book at is a bit tricky. You’ll want to start by looking at what your competition is pricing at, but you’ll have to keep your cost structure in mind (some bestsellers will have economies of scale you may not be able to match as a self-publisher).

Getting listed in electronic bookstores like Amazon and Indigo is easy — IngramSpark (or CS/Lulu) will take care of that for you, and the online booksellers will likely pick you up because there’s no cost to having another book in their database. They recommend having your title set up 6 weeks in advance for it to percolate out to the retailers, but for me it only took about 3 weeks to show up on their sites. The retailers will pick up your book’s information from the printer, but not necessarily faithfully. I’ve already talked about the CAD retail price issue with The Value of Simple, but the description is also a touch wonky: it’s clearly three separate paragraphs in the Ingram catalogue, but some retailers just have one giant block of text there.

Getting into bricks and mortar bookstores is a whole other matter. I did not bother, but my understanding of the process is that you can either pay an exorbitant amount of money for a certain amount of time on the shelf, or you can call up every single individual manager of Chapters/Coles locations to convince them to order copies of your book. In IS you can select whether or not your book is returnable, and even whether you want returned copies shipped to you or destroyed. Given that they charge ~$20/copy to ship it to you, and they only cost ~$5 to print, it really only makes sense to return and destroy. Being able to return unsold books does reduce the risk for bookstores taking your book while increasing your risk. But again to be realistic, it’s unlikely you’ll get shelf space as a self-published author anyway.

Direct Sales: A big way self-publishers sell their books — especially when starting out — is through direct sales, whether in person at events or through your own website. I don’t know how Amazon is able to ship so quickly and so cheaply (a very small minimum order seems to generate enough margin for them to ship for free), but for individuals in Canada books can be expensive things to ship. I ordered padded envelopes from uline, which was by far the cheapest option I could find, and the envelopes are actually quite good. The book is thin enough that I can send it by regular lettermail — $5.30 per book after tax — and it’s a good thing too because parcel mail or expresspost is prohibitively expensive. On my direct sales website I include a discounted cost for shipping, and eat part of the cost out of my mark-up on the books.

Lulu and CS provide a neat direct sales option, creating a sort of higher-margin ministore for you on their site. However, the shipping costs here may be deal-breakers for your Canadian readers. If IS offers something like that, I haven’t found it — but prefer to order a print run and manage it myself anyway, and my personal store is all set up.

Libraries: As part of the cataloguing-in-publication service, your book will be included in a listing of new books published in Canada; as far as I can tell only one library system actually found the book this way. Most libraries have some kind of form where you can let them know about your book, and my success here has been mixed. I offered free copies to three “hometown” library systems: London Public Library and Toronto Public Library have not responded or included it in their catalogue; the Prince Edward Island Library did (and the uptake there has been great, with all copies almost always checked out and in patrons’ hands, sometimes with holds).

Let’s Get Ready to Publish: So you’ve decided on IS (or are just following along with my experience here), and you’re ready to get your book out to the world and into your hands for events.

First, you have to create an account and set up a title. They [used to] advertise the cost to set up a book as $53 Canadian, but I was actually charged $49 US — the Canadian figure is just an estimate based on exchange rates. With the credit card fees and weakening dollar, that ended up being more than advertised ($56.42). (note: I see they’ve just now stopped listing prices for Canadians)

They will provide you with an InDesign template (including a barcode) for your cover, and it’s actually a good template, clearly marking the bleeds, the danger zones, and the safe zones for content. You can choose whether your barcode has a price embedded in it, or if it will just be an ISBN. So with the interior contents (book block) in a standards-compatible PDF, and my cover designed and turned into a standards-compatible PDF, I was ready to upload. It took a few days for them to verify the files and make the book available to me to order proofs, which I did (I ordered 10, to check over and to hand out as advanced review copies or ARCs).

The proof step is an important one: you will spot an error or misprint that escaped you in all previous electronic and letter paper print reviews, or something new that cropped up in sending your files through IS. There is a change fee of $25 to upload new files and revise the book (note that the fee applies to the cover and book block separately so if you have to change everything it’ll be $50), expect at least one revision on at least one part of the book and just build it into your budget. This process is also why you want to have a nice lead time of a few weeks before your book is officially available.

One thing I had trouble finding out in advance was whether there would be customs brokerage fees on the shipments of books from IS — one document they had on their website said there wouldn’t be for Canadians, another said there would be for all non-US clients, as did the warning while I was paying. I’m happy to say that there were no brokerage fees on shipping with IS (it would have added about $1/copy to my cost direct sales cost if there were, as well as a great deal of anger because brokerage fees are BS).

I did not use their services for the e-book, but rather created my own ePub and AZW3 versions through Calibre and directly worked with the Kobo Writing Life and Amazon Kindle Direct Program systems (which I was already familiar with from the first book) — see part 4 and part 5 for more on the e-book creation and publishing aspects.

They will note in several places that there can be inconsistencies/variances in the printing and cropping of up to 1/16”, and I was surprised to see that this was not just a cover-your-ass kind of warning, but indeed the variability you can expect to see. I figured that the whole print run might have a shift in the positioning of the trim by up to that margin of error in one direction or another, but would mostly be essentially perfect to the naked eye, and consistent through a run. In reality each copy has its own positioning, and the full 1/16” variability is in force even across just a few dozen copies. While you would never notice with any given copy in your hands (unless you ignore their advice about thin outside borders that might get cropped weird), if you stack them up side-by-side you can see the shifting of elements. When designing your cover keep that in mind, and try not to put anything that’s small enough for a 1/16″ shift to be noticeable (for instance, I have 1/4″ coloured bars on the top and bottom of the spine, which in hindsight I would not do again — I would run the white spine right to the edges and into the bleed area, or make the entire spine a solid colour, green in this case).

Then I was able to order a bulk print run for myself (giveaways, review copies, and direct sales), and IS handled distribution to Amazon and Indigo.ca (and I’m sure a few other retailers and libraries I’m not tracking closely). The book went live as scheduled Dec 1st, and aside from the situation with the pricing and the currency conversion, completely without a hitch. At one point just after release Amazon was predicting a 2 month shipping time, but everyone I’ve heard from has received their books within 2 weeks at the most, so they are able to meet the demand in a reasonable amount of time.

In terms of analytics there’s very little through IS (especially compared to all the ebook self-publishing platforms): you get a snapshot of your past 30 days of sales as soon as you log in, but on any given day (once you’re past the first 30-day period where the counter only goes up) it’s pretty hard to say what the sales are like unless you’re obsessive about tracking it. I have not been able to find any information about what portion of sales go through Amazon versus other retailers — it’s all lumped into one line item. Indeed, as far as I can tell there was no point in setting a Canadian price in the catalogue as all the sales have been in USD through the US channel — and I can’t tell if that’s because of how it’s actually working, or if that’s just how they lump it together for reporting.

You’ll find out shortly after the month end how well you did in the previous month, and will get paid about three months later to your Canadian bank account. They will take care of converting your royalties to CAD, at a rate that appears to be very close to the posted fair exchange rate at month-end — if they had sent raw USD to your bank account I doubt your bank would provide rates as good (though in my specific case, with the CAD dropping, taking a marked-up bank rate three months later would have worked to my benefit). They asked me some simple questions during my account registration, figured out I was Canadian, and I have not faced US withholding taxes (and didn’t have to register for an ITIN for the privilege).

All-in-all I’ve been quite happy with IngramSpark, and it definitely has some advantages over CS for Canadians with books that will mostly have sales here. Knowing how much variability there actually is in the printing, I would have made some slight changes to my cover design (particularly the spine), but otherwise found it pleasantly surprise-free and am happy to recommend them to you.