What is the Next Great Option for Self-Publishing Authors?

What is the Next Great Option for Self-Publishing Authors?
I admit it. When I found out just two weeks ago that Lightning Source had launched Ingram Spark to answer the call for a more author-friendly platform, I was thrilled. I eagerly encouraged one of my clients—who was previously going to use Lightning Source along with CreateSpace—to try it, and he thought it would be great too. But after my client’s account was approved and I set up the title and uploaded the files for him, my thrill quickly faded.

Now, I want you to know that I held out writing this post because I didn’t want to make a snap judgment; after all, Ingram has a great reputation, which is why I had such high expectations of the new platform. But the truth is that it doesn’t seem ready for the self-pub author, or even the publishing professional who works on behalf of the author. Why?

For those who’ve worked with CreateSpace, you already know that it’s quite user friendly. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but once you understand how to navigate the system and use the digital proofer, it’s pretty simple to master. The problem is that utilizing CreateSpace alone almost certainly guarantees that your book will never be on a bookstore shelf. I discuss this in more detail in my previous post, Can Self-Published Authors Acquire Shelf Space?

This is why Lightning Source, an Ingram company, is the additional publishing option I recommend to my clients. (Here’s an excellent, quick list of benefits of using both companies from newshelves.com) Having your book distributed by Ingram gives it credibility and accessibility to bookstores, not to mention their quality level and book options are superior to CreateSpace. But because LS was created for publishers, not individual authors, it’s not the most intuitive, straightforward platform for a newbie.

Enter Ingram Spark.

Similar to the CreateSpace platform (but still a bit more complex), Ingram Spark purports to be created for the self-pub author, with a more direct, user-friendly interface and lower costs for producing books. And when they work out the bugs, I’m sure it will be wonderful … but they’re not there yet.

Here’s why, after waiting several days in hopes of resolving the issue, I abandoned IS altogether and went back to good ol’ Lightning Source …

I’m going to get a bit techie here for a moment, but I’ll keep it simple for you non-designers. When you upload your files, you receive an instant review from the system, which alerts you of any problems with your file before it even goes into the proofing stage. I thought this was brilliant at first, but the error report told me that spot colors were used on the cover and in the interior. Now, the book was black and white inside, so there were no spot colors, and I had ensured that the cover file had all colors converted to CMYK. When I checked the file again in Adobe Illustrator, sure enough, all cover colors were CMYK. So I re-uploaded the files …

I again received the same error messages. Frustrated by this, I sought help on the site. The best I could do was submit a help ticket, where I confirmed that I had converted the colors to CMYK and asked how I could bypass these error messages, as I felt certain the book would be fine (based on my experience producing books). The response was that these error messages were only recommendations, not requirements. They completely neglected to tell me, however, how I could bypass them and submit the files anyway, so I sent in yet another ticket asking for that guidance.

I heard nothing for several days; then I received the following email:

Hi Stacey,

Our system will allow you to proceed with low images however it is rejecting your files for a spot color issue –

SPOT COLORS USED ON COVER FILE: The file supplied contains Pantone or Spot colors. Convert all spot colors to grayscale for black and white images, or CMYK for color images to correct this issue.

Thank you,
IngramSpark Support

Were they serious? Just for grins, I opened the cover file, once again converted all elements to CMYK, double-checked that they were (for probably the fourth time), and resubmitted the file.

Yep, you guessed it. Same error message.

Clearly, I was getting nowhere. No number to call, nowhere on the site to bypass the error message and take my chances with a proof. I then took to the Internet in search of a forum or blog post, where I discovered another unfavorable review, this one stating that IS didn’t even provide printed proofs. What? I hadn’t seen that in the Ingram Spark instruction guide. How could they expect authors to approve a book for sale with no physical book to proofread? With no options left, I deleted the titles from Ingram Spark and returned to Lightning Source.

The ultimate verdict?

Ingram Spark might have promise for the self-publishing author, but if their goal is to be user friendly for writers and designers, they definitely need to tweak the platform so that we can function effectively, not to mention they MUST implement printed proofs as part of the system. I’d love to have the Ingram name behind every title I publish for an author, but for now, Lightning Source is still the best—if not more expensive and complex—means of achieving that.

Stay tuned for my next post (which was supposed to be this post, but I felt this one had to take priority) where I’ll share insider tips on getting exposure for your book through local media. The tips are straight from a webinar I did with an awesome local newspaper editor, so you won’t want to miss it!

If you found this post helpful, I’d be most grateful if you’d share it on FB, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn so that other writers can benefit. And in the meantime, I wish you all the best as you ready your book for the world!

Write from the heart,

Stacey Aaronson is a professional Book Doctor who takes self-publishing authors by the hand and transforms their manuscript into the book they’ve dreamed of—from impeccable editing and proofreading to engaging, audience-targeted cover and interior design—rivaling or exceeding a traditional house publication.


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