You just wrote a book. Congratulations! The hard part is supposed to be over, right? But now you’ve decided to self publish and are feeling overwhelmed with all the conflicting information out there. Should you use Amazon KDP or IngramSpark? What about BookBaby? Everyone out there has an opinion on which platform is best, the only problem is no one is telling you the same thing. There are many pros and cons for each. So which one should you use?
When it comes to self-publishing, we believe you can have your cake and eat it too. In fact, we use a combination of Amazon KDP and IngramSpark to make sure you maximize the pros of each platform and avoid the cons.
In order to understand our self-publishing formula, you first need to familiarize yourself with the unique elements of the different platforms we use:
- Amazon KDP
- ACX (if you’re doing an audiobook)
Let’s go through these one-by-one.
Amazon KDP has, in many ways, become the gold standard for self-publishing in recent years, overtaking the previous industry leader IngramSpark. This is due to the fact that KDP has an easy to use back-end, great customer service, improving print quality, and most importantly, it gives you direct access to the world’s biggest bookseller: Amazon (where 80% of books are sold). Amazon KDP allows you to publish any version of your book: ebook, paperbacks, and hardcover (without a dust jacket). . . and Amazon’s audiobook publishing platform, ACX, covers the final format (see details below). We use Amazon KDP as the primary platform for publishing both the ebook and paperback form of all the books we work on. We don’t use it for hardcover, because KDP currently only offers “case laminate” printing, not covers with a dust jacket, which is our preference.
IngramSpark is one of the oldest self publishing companies in the business. They are the self-publishing arm of Ingram, which is a big player in the traditional publishing world. They are a “one-to-many” platform which means that when you publish your book through IngramSpark, it will be available everywhere books are sold online, including Amazon. For this reason, we used to only publish our books through IngramSpark, as it was simpler. But due to a recent “war” between KDP and Ingram, we have shifted our strategy (see details below). We now use IngramSpark for two elements of our process: publish the hardcover version of the book across all platforms, including Amazon, and publishing the ebook and paperback versions of a book to all sellers besides Amazon, including Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, Books A Million, Apple iBooks, etc. By publishing a book through IngramSpark, it will also appear in the Ingram catalog, which is one of the primary places that institutional buyers like bookstores and libraries order their books.
The third platform we use is ACX, which is exclusively for audiobooks. It’s a division of Audible, so it’s owned by Amazon. Like all Amazon divisions, they have good customer service and an easy-to-use customer interface. They also give you direct access to the three main audiobook sellers on the market: Amazon, Audible, and Apple audiobooks. There are other audiobook publishing platforms, but they pale in comparison to ACX.
The War Between Amazon KDP and IngramSpark
In order to understand why we use a combination of platforms to publish our books, it’s important to know a little bit about what we call the “war between Amazon KDP and IngramSpark.” In the beginning we only published through IngramSpark and instructed them to distribute everything over to Amazon. That worked well for a number of years. But, when Amazon KDP launched its full suite of self-publishing services several years ago, we started noticing that books we had published through IngramSpark would mysteriously go “out of stock” on the Amazon listing.
Hold up. How does a print on demand book go “out of print?” Amazon customer service could never give a good explanation, and instead would just try to pitch republishing the book on Amazon KDP to “solve the problem.” We did some digging and found that many other authors who were self-publishing through IngramSpark were experiencing the same issue. And while there’s no evidence of the case, many have suggested that Amazon was sabotaging books published by its primary competitor. So as a result, many people were abandoning IngramSpark altogether and switching to KDP.
At the time, it seemed like a losing battle. If you wanted your book to be available on Amazon, that meant you had to publish it through Amazon KDP and lose out on the distribution channels offered through IngramSpark. Because Amazon controls over 80 percent of the market, and is still the number one place where people go to buy books, as a self published author, you simply have to be on Amazon if you’re going to have any kind of success.
But luckily, we’ve found a workaround that enables us to publish books on both platforms simultaneously without having books go “out of stock” on Amazon and also be available everywhere people buy books online. Which brings us to our self-publishing formula.
Our Self Publishing Formula
On the surface, our formula is simple. Just publish your book on Amazon KDP and IngramSpark simultaneously and you’ll get the best of both worlds. But it’s more complicated than that. There are some important steps you need to take and sequences you need to follow in order for everything to work smoothly.
In short, we publish the book on Amazon first, then once it’s live, we publish it to IngramSpark. This way, when IngramSpark tries to publish that same book (in any version) through Amazon, it will detect the ISBN and won’t distribute. But there’s a lot more detail than that.
Here is how it works:
Step One: Gather all your Files
When publishing ebooks, print-on-demand books and audiobooks you will need three different versions of your book:
- One ebook file for Amazon KDP and IngramSpark
- One Print on Demand file to publish to both platforms (this works for paperback and hardcovers if you’re doing one)
- And, if you are doing an audiobook you will need an .mp3 file for ACX
Step Two: Purchase and Assign ISBNS
If you’ve already done a little research you know that you have the option of either purchasing ISBNs for your book, or using free versions through Amazon KDP. To follow our method it is pertinent that you purchase your own ISBNs for the different versions of your book. There are a variety of places you can do this but we like to use Bowker. You have the option of purchasing one or a pack of ten for a discount. Once purchased, you can log into your Bowker account and assign ISBNs to your book title. You will need one for your paperback version and one for your ebook version. If you’re doing a hardcover or audio book, you’ll need one for each of those as well.
Step Three: Set up your Amazon KDP Account
One of the reasons we love Amazon KDP and why they continue to rank superior in the self publishing game is because of their easy-to-use interface. To create an Amazon KDP account is as simple as logging in with your Amazon username and password and following the prompts to set up your book. They’ll ask for the title and subtitle of your book, your author name, the trim size of your book, its page count and so on. This is also where you will select what categories you want your book to appear in. It’s a good idea to keep track of all of this data in one place (link to PDF) because you will need all of it again when you set up your account on IngramSpark. You’ll also put in the ISBNs that you purchased through Bowker and make sure you assign them to the correct versions of your book.
During the setup process you will be asked if you want to enroll in expanded distribution through Amazon. The answer is no. You will have better expanded distribution through IngramSpark, and we’re going to walk you through how to do that a bit later.
You will also be asked if you want to enroll your title in KDP Select. Inorder to take advantage of KDP select you have to offer your ebook exclusively to Kindle readers. If your book is a genre that does well on Kindle Unlimited then you may want to consider enrolling in KDP Select. If you’re more interested in distributing your ebook beyond Kindle readers then leave this unchecked. You can always enroll in it later if you change your mind, and it only applies to the ebook version.
Once you have added all your metadata and uploaded your print interior file and cover file you can either make your book go live or you can order a print proof. We highly recommend pausing and ordering a print proof. You’ll be redirected to your Amazon cart to complete the purchase and ship a proof of your book to yourself.
It will take a few days, but this is an important step in our process to make sure that there weren’t any formatting errors between the file you uploaded and Amazon’s printing press. Should you catch anything that needs to be corrected, you’ll likely have to go back to your interior formatter to make the changes. The good news is that you can quickly and easily reupload a new file to your Amazon KDP account to replace the old one and Amazon doesn’t charge you. This is just one of the reasons we always start with Amazon KDP, because once you have uploaded your files into IngramSpark you will be charged a fee every time you need to make changes. Financially it makes sense to proof your printed product via Amazon KDP, correct any issues, and then once you are satisfied with the product you can upload your Print on Demand file to IngramSpark.
After reviewing your printed proof from Amazon, go ahead and make your book live. Follow the same formula with your ebook file, only this time you won’t need to request a proof and you can just make it go live.
It can take a few days for Amazon to add your titles, so just keep checking until you see it. The ebook and paperback version should both show up on the same listing, but if for some reason they don’t you can always contact Amazon’s customer service and ask them to link the two versions. They are usually very prompt at making that update.
Step Four: Set up your IngramSpark Account
Using all the information you collected for your Amazon KDP account, you can now set up your IngramSpark account. All of the meta data will be the same, including the ISBN numbers. If you want to publish a hardcover version of your book with a dust jacket, you can do that here as well.
During set up you will be prompted to opt-in to their Amazon Addendum, which is where they will take your ebook and distribute it to Amazon. Do not opt in. Your title is already set up in Amazon so you do not need IngramSpark to distribute there.
Once you have verified that your book is live on Amazon you can now enable distribution through IngramSpark for both the ebook and paperback versions of your book. Because you uploaded your book to Amazon first when IngramSpark’s search engines look for your ISBN and see that it already exists on Amazon they won’t distribute it there. (Which is why, like we mentioned before, it’s important to purchase your own ISBNs and not use the free ones from Amazon.)
It may seem like a lot of extra work when you could technically just opt into the Amazon Addendum on IngramSpark and let their distribution channels sell the book on Amazon but here are a few things things we have learned doing it that way:
- Amazon prioritizes self published books that have been published through Amazon KDP.
- It is not unusual – and in fact it happens all the time – that Amazon will “punish” books that come over from IngramSpark by:
- Marking them out of print.
- Taking several weeks to ship them.
- Changing the price.
- Giving preference to third-party sellers
- When your book comes over from IngramSpark the book description is usually badly formatted
By following our formula and setting up your title on both platforms (Amazon first) with the same ISBN you can enjoy the advantages of both platforms versus choosing one over the other. We like to think of it as we publish first through Amazon, and we set up our own expanded distribution through IngramSpark. We believe there are enough pros to both platforms to take the extra time and publish to both.
We hope that helped demystify the decision between Amazon KDP or IngramSpark for your next novel. Why not do both and enjoy the benefits of both platforms?