Costly Mistakes To Avoid When Publishing Your Paperback
Updated: Jun 2
Publishing paperbacks work a little differently than ebooks. If you are using your own ISBNs, then you will use a different ISBN for each format, i.e. ebook, print, hardcover, PDF....
When listing your ebook, there is no trouble using the same ISBN on all sales platforms. However, when listing your paperback on multiple sales platforms, Barnes and Noble, Ingram Spark, or D2D print (which uses Ingram Spark to print your book) you cannot use the same ISBN for the print book. The exception being Amazon, but that comes with a catch, which I will explain in a moment.
When you list your paperback on the outlets I've listed above, they want a clean ISBN. One that hasn't been used before. This can become quite costly. For every 1 paperback you have and you list it on 4 different sites, you will burn through 4 different ISBNs.
Let's backup a second. What does using your own ISBN do? It creates a permanent record listing you or your publishing company or anyone else as the publisher. Now this used to be a sticking point for me. I buy my own ISBNs for that purpose. I want to be listed as the publisher. However, with 8 paperbacks, I would use a shit ton of my ISBNs to get those things published.
So what should you do? Well, that really depends on what you want. Here's what I did.
Remember when I mentioned Amazon had a catch? If you list your paperback on Amazon, using your ISBN but you do not click expanded distribution, then your paperback never leaves the Amazon world. It is available for POD via Amazon stores only.
Expanded distribution through Amazon is not the same as it is through Ingram Spark. Amazon doesn't allow for returns. That alone knocks out most retail brick and mortar stores. Also, most libraries don't buy from Amazon. They stick with distributors specific to them. Overdrive, Baker and Taylor, and Ingram Spark. I'm not saying you won't sell anything via expanded distribution on Amazon, just that the majority will use Ingram Spark. The reason, IS allows returns and discounts.
So for that reason, I don't use expanded distribution on Amazon. Instead, I use Ingram Spark to reach everywhere else. But I wanted to go direct with Barnes and Noble. For not only ebooks, but print books. This way I could run specials and discounts through BN. In order to do that, I would need to use another ISBN when uploading on BN. I didn't want to do that.
Instead, I used the free ISBN from BN. Here is my reasoning why. BN is only a US sales store. They have a POD system so they can sell directly to consumers. They may also use IS for printing at times as well. And I know there are tons of people who only buy their books from BN. It really wasn't a big deal for me to do this. Yes, Barnes and Noble is listed as the publisher. And guess what? No one cares.
Remember, IS is a wholesale distributor. They don't sell individual copies to customers like Amazon or BN. Technically, you could swap this and use your ISBN on Barnes and Noble (or any other retailer/distributor) and use the free ISBN on Ingram Spark.
You following so far?
Use your ISBN on Ingram Spark
Use the free ISBN from Barnes and Noble (or whatever other retailer/distributor you want)
Use your own ISBN on Amazon and don't choose expanded distribution
Side Note: D2D uses Ingram Spark to distribute and print your books...you can either go direct with IS or use D2D. Personal choice.
Let's move along to Ingram Spark. You have your paperback on IS. (Do not use IS for ebooks). There are some choices you need to make when completing your listing. This is where you could lose your shirt.
First, you need to pay attention to pricing. My rule of thumb is I set my pricing to give myself a $2 - $2.50 royalty rate. You will need to check your pricing in other countries and make sure you are setting it so that you will indeed receive a profit. You will need to utilize a currency converter to make sure your price in other countries will net you a profit.
You want your pricing to be relatively the same. So if in the US you are charging $10.99 for a book, you want the price to be the same in the EU...that will convert to an EU price of 9.69 Euros...I round up to 9.99.
With your pricing in check, we come to wholesale discounts. You must allow for a discount. The least amount allowed is 30%-35% depending on the country or region. The max is 55%. IS is a wholesale book distributor. This is key.
I don't care what you want to offer...just make sure the price you charge with the discount gives you a royalty of at least $2. This may make your prices higher on IS than on Amazon or Barnes and Noble if you go direct with them. That is okay.
The next step is returns. The reason bookstores purchase from Ingram Spark is for the wholesale discount on the book and their ability to return that book....up to a year after purchase. Yes, you heard me correctly. A year after purchase. If you choose to allow returns, you will also have to decide if you want the books returned to you...you pay shipping. OR if you want them destroyed, you pay no shipping.
Here is where it gets dicey.
A bookstore buys your book. They buy 20 copies. You are paid for that sale at your expected royalty rate. Life is wonderful. You made a nice income and your books are in the best bookstore in the world.
And after 10 weeks or maybe 9 months, they have 15 copies left over. They don't want these copies. They aren't selling and they are taking up precious shelf space. You have allowed returns...they send them back.
If you opted for ship back...you will be charged back the wholesale cost of the book (what the retailer paid for the book) plus shipping per book. Let's break this down...
I sold 10 books at $10 per book via IS. The bookstore had the 55% discount so they only paid $5.50 for the book. For easy math...my royalty on this book was $1. I made $10 bucks on the sale of those books.
5 months later they want to return 5 books. The bookstore will be credited $5.50 X 5 plus I pay for shipping at $2 a book.
My charge back is $37.50. I owe Ingram Spark.
That's not a huge amount...but those are made up numbers.
What if this was a book that sold for $20? The bookstore would pay $9 for each book. They bought 10 and later returned 10...I owe the cost of the book plus shipping. Now that's a little more. And I bet I wasn't planning on paying that, so I may be a little screwed on finances.
But wait...there's more...if at anytime you have no returns allowed on your books...and then you decide you want to make yourself look more attractive to the bookstores so you change that status to returnable....guess what? The bookstore can now return any books they may have on their shelf that they bought earlier when they weren't returnable....holy crap...that could very well cost you.
And there have been a few authors this has happened to...and it cost them thousands of dollars. Oh, wait...if you allowed returns to you instead of destroy, you may even get a boatload of books showing up on your doorstep.
Overwhelmed? Yeah, welcome to self publishing...you have to decide what you want.
Do you want to be in brick and mortar stores? IF so, how much are you willing to pay for that privilege?
For me, I choose the highest discount, adjust my prices so that I am making at least a 2 dollar profit, and no returns. I don't really care if my book is in a bookstore. That is not where I lay my success as an author. Would I love to see my book on the shelves or tables of a major brick and mortar retailer...sure...that would be fantastic. But I'm not willing to risk the cost to me.
The bookstore takes no risk. They have the option of returning the books and they get their money back. I am the only one who will suffer. IS got paid for the printing of the book. They aren't out any money. For me, I'm not willing to take the chance.
If I could return something a year later and get my money back, I would be cleaning out my house regularly.
Here is one last advice on this. When you list your print book, put it on Amazon and Ingram Spark at the same time. Do not click expanded distribution on Amazon. This should keep Ingram Spark from saying the ISBN is already in use. If this occurs for whatever reason, all you need is a title release from Amazon, and there will be no issues.
Now, there have been some issues with D2D print. Remember, D2D will use IS for their printing. However, several have reported that even though they have not chosen expanded distribution through Amazon, D2D is pulling in the ISBN info and it is showing it is already in use.
I'm not sure why this occurring. I can only assume it is because they are pulling information a different way than Ingram does before they send the printing request to IS. In this instance, all you need to do is again get a title release on that ISBN from Amazon. This should clear it up. You can also use their free ISBN. That is a personal choice.
You may also be asking why someone would use D2D printing if they use IS for the printing of the book instead of just going direct with Ingram Spark. IS is a little complicated when it comes to uploading your book. Once you do it a couple of times, you get the hang of it, but D2D does seem to be easier. Also, IS charges a fee for every upload. Even for corrections. D2D gives you a free upload and one free correction. Then they start charging for uploads after that.
There is a way around this. You can join several groups and receive free codes for several uploads per month via IS. One particular group is Alliance of Independent Authors. This is a group a highly recommend all authors join.
Here is one more tip. If you really want your books in local bookstores, go to those bookstores around you and see if they take books on consignment. Most will. Usually at a 60/40 split. You bring the books to them, or mail them to them. Each book store will have their own consignment agreement. It's very easy to do this. And most will let you have an author signing day. Plus, this will help you build a local following.
Don't be overwhelmed. Just take this one step at a time. You can always reach out to me for help.