A Closer Look at Self-Pub Platforms

On a recent Write Night episode (a Twitch TV stream and podcast hosted by author Travis I. Sivart–you can find it wherever you get your podcasts, including Pandora), Travis, Robert Turk, and I discussed our experiences on the different self-publishing platforms. I wanted to follow up a bit as I now have copies of the same book for examples from the three platforms I use: Ingram Spark, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (or KDP), and Lulu.

I use these three platforms for different reasons: Ingram Spark gains me a bit of creditability for bookstores to purchase titles, KDP is the best way to get my books on Amazon (though Ingram feeds in, I think KDP books gets higher placement on Amazon) and lets me take advantage of the Kindle Lending Library benefits, and I use Lulu to sell through the DreamPunk Press website.

First, a word of warning: I am very opinionated. You may not like what I have to say about your favorite platform.

Let me start with Ingram Spark. (Their product is above, far left (or top if you’re on a mobile device).)

This is the most recent addition to the three platforms I have experience with.  John Hartness from Falstaff Books gave me the advice to use Ingram Spark. He told me this is the gateway to getting your books in bookstores and libraries (that’s how he did it) and this is why I use them.

The only reason I use Ingram Spark is for this access to bookstores.

To be perfectly honest, I do not like the print quality on the covers and though I don’t particularly hate the paper quality inside the book, other printers seem to use a better quality paper. The tones on the cover print out cool, instead of the warm, almost coral tones the artist intended. The sharpness of the graphics is also lost in the print.

There is a fee to set up your titles in Ingram Spark: $49.00 per title. Now you can bundle your physical book and ePub together for that price, but only if you publish them at the same time, and you will need an ePub file of your title (they do not make it for you). If you want to take advantage of some of the benefits of publishing exclusively in KDP for the first bit of your book being available, you need to be careful. There are ways to get a coupon for this fee, by becoming a member of IBPA or ALLI (I’ll put more about these in another post).

They are also on the expensive side to purchase author copies from. The cost for author copies is more than from KDP, but pretty much on par with Lulu. You are getting the exact same book that bookstores would get, so you would be offering an identical product, which can help with creditability. Shipping times seem to be the slowest among the platforms.

You can use your own ISBN or purchase a “publishing bundle”, which, I think, includes 2 ISBNs (one for physical book and one for digital), and some of the other tools they offer publishers to “help sell your book”. This is on par with what you would get from Bowkers purchasing a small set of ISBNs for a single book (in fact, since it might be just what you are purchasing, but I am not sure).

The Ingram Spark interface is the hardest of the three to use, but they have “higher standards” for your files. Though since they have my least-liked product, I’m not certain it does any good for the small or self-publisher. Their interface will hang for me on a regular basis, and I will have to close down my browser and log back in – though that may be due to a high volume in users.

Now, let’s move on to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP. (Their product is above, in the middle.)

**I just want to state from the outset that I loved Createspace and I do not understand why Amazon got rid of it and moved the whole thing to KDP (I mean, I know it was a business decision and they had a reason…I just don’t like the new interface and capabilities). This is a particular beef of mine. They got a big black mark in my books for that alone.

The biggest reason to use KDP is access to Amazon and all that readership the company has groomed over the years. It also offers the Kindle Lending Library, which has its own audience of rabid readers all by itself. And hands down, the Amazon Kindle paperwhite the best e-reader available on the market, and your Kindle book is easily accessed from one. I mean, a user can purchase your e-book straight from their Kindle.

The color quality on the KDP cover is the best and most true to what the cover designer intended. (I would say this is because I don’t have to do extra tinkering like I do with Ingram and can just use the file straight from my graphics person, but that wouldn’t explain Lulu’s cover.) You can see this in the photo, and in person it is quite distinct. The pinks should be warm, almost coral, like in the photo. The KDP copy is the only one that retained that warmth. Unfortunately, it lost graphic details, just as the Ingram Spark cover did.

There is no fee for setting up your title in KDP (a big +), and you can easily offer a Kindle version – just make sure you read the restrictions on offering digital copies elsewhere if you want to take advantage of the Kindle Lending Library. And of course, Kindle e-books only work in Kindles or in Kindle apps.

KDP has the most affordable author and proof copies, but they now place a line across the proof cover indicating it is not for resale. True author copies cannot be purchased until the title is for sale on Amazon, so an author cannot purchase copies from KDP for a release party, unless they want to put it out for sale then spend some money on expediting printing and mailing. This doesn’t do any favors for an author trying to build buzz about their book with a release party that coincides with the publication. This is not a problem with Ingram Spark or Lulu.

KDP lets you use your own ISBN or use an Amazon ISBN (for free). If you use an ISBN from Amazon, bookstores can tell is an Amazon ISBN and may not purchase your title through distribution (after all, Amazon is a big competitor who has been responsible for many a book store closing); you can pay an additional fee to establish your own imprint (but bookstores can still see it’s an Amazon ISBN; Amazon just added an imprint to their account in Bowker).

The KDP platform is easy to use (I guess – it still isn’t as easy as Createspace), and certainly not as finicky as Ingram Spark (though the quality standards at Ingram may be one reason bookstores will buy indie books from them – but I caveat that as more hype than anything else). It also lets you create your Kindle e-book file from your print files (though I upload a pdf for print and a text file from Word for digital – again, that will be another blog post).

Last, but certainly not least, is Lulu. (Their product is far right (or bottom if you are on mobile) in the photos).

Now, I do not have my titles listed in Lulu’s book store; I use an app to link the title in the DreamPunk Press Shopify website to Lulu – and they print it when ordered and then ship it directly to the purchaser. Though I usethe app specially developed for Shopify, there is another app available for websites hosted on sites. If you contact Lulu, they will send you information (they gave me a lot of help when I set up the app on Shopify).

I love the copies I get from Lulu: the details on the cover are sharp and the paper quality is excellent. The only issue with the cover is that it too came out very cool toned, but even the cover designer conceded the detail still made it the best product.

There is no fee to set up a title in Lulu. You get the same opportunities for Global distribution as you do using KDP, including Amazon. If you distribute an e-book through them, it can get that same Global distribution. I do not know how bookstores regard distribution from Lulu (though Lulu claims it gets you into Ingram).

Author copies cost about the same as for copies purchased from Ingram (again, more expensive than from KDP). However, you can purchase copies from them before your book is available for purchase (which I use them for, since KDP now puts an author copy mark on the cover for copies purchased before it is published on the platform and limits the number of copies you can purchase before publication). CAVEAT: I don’t offer my books for sale via Lulu, I only use them to purchase those initial copies and to link to DreamPunk Press.

You will need your own ISBN. This can be expensive, but Bowkers now offers self-publishing ISBN packages that are more palatable for the self-publishing author. If you are a small press (like DreamPunk Press), you will be buying your ISBNs in bulk, anyway, and getting them at a discount.

Now – if you are putting something like a personal family calendar or a personal journal or personal photo book (yes, you can do these at Lulu) you do not need an ISBN. You only need an ISBN if you are going to distribute your book. So, if you are using KDP (and not Ingram), you COULD use Lulu for those early copies (just don’t publish them to Lulu’s bookstore and use the selection that they are for personal use only).

It is very easy to use Lulu’s platform (easier even than KDP!). The interface for the app is also easy to use, though a little different from their regular platform. The only downside is that the two are not connected, so I upload files to their regular platform to purchase author copies, then load the same files in the app for customers to purchase. NOTE: you need to supply your own bar codes if you want them on your books, adding them to the files before uploading them to Lulu (Amazon and Ingram put them on the books for you). You can get them free at several online sites; choose one that works for you (and yeah, this sounds like another blog post from me). If you want to load your book to their bookstore, you need to select that option at initial set up.

Overall – My favorite for quality of product is Lulu, and that is where I prefer to purchase my author copies, even if it is more expensive. My second choice is Amazon, simply because it is the most cost-effective for an author – I can offer a steeper discount for in-person sales and still make a buck or two – and they have built-in readership audience rabid for new books (as long as I can get them to notice mine). Ingram is good, but they seem to have the longest shipping times, and they are pretty much on par with Lulu for the cost of the books, but their cover quality fails my tests. However, if you want to get your title into a physical book store, Ingram is your best bet – but you still need to advertise to booksellers (and again, that will likely be yet another blog post from me).

These are not the only self-publishing or small-publisher platforms available, just the ones I have experience with. What are some others that you have used? I can always check them out and update my preferences if I need to. Leave your favorite self-publishing platform in a comment.

Book Club End – God’s Mountain by Midori Bamba

I finished this book and I think I need to schedule more time to read these. But that will come in another post

For this book, I want to continue the discourse on author voice, as it is quite distinct, and as I mentioned before, to me very Japanese.

I mentioned previously the shorter sentences and limited description. This makes the voice come across as young, but also, and more importantly I think, naive. It is not so much the voice of a child, but the voice of someone who has little experience in the world.

This is true for the main POV character in God’s Mountain. She has not left her small, poor village, and the amount of work it takes to survive means she has thought very little of the rest of the world.

There are religious and mystical undertones in the story from the outset, with the description of a man escorting his elderly father to the mountain to die so as to not be a burden on the family. It is not the young man’s choice, but the father’s. There is a dignity in the father’s words that dug deep into my emotions. For me, the emotion in this scene is palpable, even with the sparsity of description. In my opinion, the lack of descriptors for the mountain and the journey makes the reader focus more keenly on the emotional turmoil.

The naive and unworldly quality of the character voice lends to the mystical feel of the story. It sounds very much like a mythical retelling of folklore, which it is, in a way. But it is told close and first hand, pulling the reader closer to the turmoil in the story.

The simplicity in the telling also lends to the idea of innocence in the telling. That first scene hints to the reader what is coming, but leaves the main character unburdened by that knowledge. You feel for her from the beginning. It roots you firmly in her corner.

The author’s voice in this piece is so much a part of the story, that if you knew Midori, as I did, you would wonder if it was fable or fact. So much of the story is shared in the way that Midori would share stories in person.

This is a well-worth reading tale, even if it is hard to get into at first as the voice seems so foreign to what i would identify as the Western author voice. We all (I mean, we all should) know and love reading Haiku, and there is that quality to the words chosen in God’s Mountain, the dense compaction of emotion in very few, but highly measured, words.

If you read along with me, what do you think of the author’s voice? Is there another voice you would compare it to? Contrast it to?

Book Club Middle – God’s Mountain by Midori Bamba

I know I am late for a concluding post for this book, but…I am not finished reading it. I am struggling…not because there is an issue with the book, but because I am rereading it so close to Midori’s passing.

And the whole book is about the traditional, ritual sacrifice that Japanese elders would make for their families when they became older. It hits a little close to home when I think about Midori’s mind set when she told me she’d been diagnosed with cancer, and that she was simply going to put her affairs in order so that her children’ would not be burdened by it after she passed.

In that first post about starting this book, I mentioned that I expected a lot of Midori to be in this book, I just wasn’t prepared for how much would be in there. I have cried.

But I want to give you something, Make a start on discussion, and I think I would like to discuss the author’s voice, that elusive quality that editors and agents talk about so often but can never seem to really describe. They just know it when they see it.

Midori, in this book, uses a very distinctive voice (she also wrote as O. Snow). This voice, to me at least, is very Japanese. The sentences are short and to the point. Very reflective of Midori, the person.

When speaking to her in person, it is obvious that this is because English was her second language, and Japanese was her native tongue. And though you cannot read the Japanese accent she spoke with, having that personal, prior knowledge, I can hear her speaking the words to me. I think anyone familiar with the cadence of the Japanese, whether speaking in Japanese or English, would hear the words in a similar manner.

As an editor, when I first read this book several years ago, I cringed. I didn’t like the short, somewhat stilted sentences. My own writing, then as now, uses longer sentences and sometimes flowery wording. Back then, I had only spoken to Midori long enough at a writing conference for her to gift me a copy of the book. Back then, I thought I could help her tell her stories.

She didn’t need help.

This story is moving, and the somewhat formal, stilted language seems appropriate now. It adds an authentic quality, making it seem more memoir than fiction, though it cannot be. It makes the characters more Japanese, in a way, setting their language apart from the flowery, long-winded English so often used in Western story-telling.

It is an authentic voice that many an editor may have destroyed if given the opportunity, believing it needed to become more “westernized” for the American reader.

With this reading, I don’t think it does. I have learned an appreciation for the Japanese “voices” made truer by the sentence structure and formality.

If you are reading along with me, what are your thoughts about the “voice” of this story? Do you think it lends to the story, or takes away from it because it is so far from what we would usually read?

Musings: While Sitting at the Tire Shop

The sun is out and the temps are above freezing and I’m sitting outside the tire shop while the technician puts two new tires on the kid’s van. Well, its my van, but its what the kid drives, so…

The back end of the vehicle has been repaired with a hatch that doesn’t match, and there are visible rivets along the edge of the patch alongside. Hence the moniker “Frankenvan”.

I think the kid was six when we bought the van new to replace the old Dodge I’d been driving. That van’s radio didn’t work anymore and the hatch used to stick midway closed so I’d have to jump on it to get it down. I’m sure that was funny to watch, especially if I was in a skirt and heels for work.

It was strange to buy a brand new car. It was the first time I’d bought one new.

My very first car was a used Chevy Citation hatchback, bought just after I’d graduated high school and started working a pretty much full-time job. My grandfather helped me get a good deal. I got a loan for the 2500 bucks it cost. I’m not sure you can buy a drivable car for that much nowadays.

That first Dodge van was bought soon after the kid was born. It was difficult getting the car seat into the little 2-door Mazda 323 my husband had. We still kept the 323, so we became a 2-car family.

Well, 3 car actually–my husband had a ’68 Javelin to drive around in, too. Still has it in the garage waiting to be made drivable again. But that car story is for another musing.

The technician working to put the tires on the Chrysler is an older man, a little stooped. My husband knows him, just as my husband knows a lot of small-time car guys. We bring our vehicles here because we know him. And he does a good job, though it might take him a little longer than a younger man would take. I watch him inspect the underside of the van when he takes the first tire off, checking for too much rust and holes. He sighs, but seems satisfied that it’s okay.

He’s the only one working here; he’s the only one ever. If he’s sick, the place is closed. But I don’t recall him being sick much.

Because of the pandemic, the chairs are set outside for those waiting for their car. You always have to wait. It’s a small lot and there isn’t really room to drop off a car and come back later. He’s working outside, in the sun, a single jack holding up the back of the van. He chats with me, asking how my hubby is, how the kid is, telling slightly off-color jokes. Nothing to make me upset.

He’s almost finished with the van, putting the last lug nuts on the wheel, when another customer shows up to have work done.

I dig out my credit card to pay, and we wait–and wait–while his contraption finds the internet and finally completes the sale. I ask how his sister is; he chuckles and tells me another joke. I offer a tip in cash (my hubby made sure I had it when I left the house) and he laughs and accepts it.

It was a pleasant just-over-an-hour stint in the sun. I started this post on my phone, finishing when I got home, just to get all the thoughts down.

You don’t get the visiting and camaraderie at a big shop. You sit in their cold waiting room, watching horrible gossip TV on mute, keeping three chairs away from anyone else (it’s a pandemic!).

This was a nice break in my day; it got me out of the house. I got to talk with someone other than my hubby (in person, no less). And I know my business went to help someone local keep their shop doors open.

Book Club Start: God’s Mountain by Midori Bamba

For this next book I’m going into a slightly different direction with God’s Mountain by Midori Bamba. This is another novella, since so many of us are getting busy again right now and finding time to read can be hard.

I knew Midori (and honestly, I know most of the writers I’ve read books for these book club posts). Midori passed away last September from cancer. I wasn’t able to go see her before she died because of the pandemic.

She didn’t want to give me COVID just because she had cancer. I think she was bitter about her diagnosis. That came across in her emails and socially distanced conversations. I think anyone would; she was diagnosed at stage 4. It was basically a fait accompli that she was dying.

She was also conscious that this brought back memories of my mother’s diagnosis of stage 4 lymphoma back in 2012. My mom died in 2018.

Midori was deeply religious, but also deeply Japanese (she was born in Otaru), and I think this book will reveal something of that. Please join me in this read. You can find God’s Mountain at Amazon.

Book Club Finish – The Wen by Nyall Robert Frye

[Ya know, this is a day late because I failed to hit the “publish” button last night. Sorry.]

Well, for this novella, let’s discuss genre. Over on LinkedIn, where these posts are shared, we discussed whether or not this novella is truly horror. One review on Amazon stated it wasn’t. (You can see more of this over at the Book Club Start post on my LinkedIn account).

And while this LinkedIn reader agreed that it wasn’t horror, he still thought it was a good read. Especially as the story wrapped up in a novella and he doesn’t have much time to read.

I think novellas have made a comeback, not just because of ebooks, but because folx don’t have the time to read like they used to. Our lives have sped up so much and we have so much to do every day.

But, on to genre.

What makes a book horror? I’m probably not a great judge of what is horror, since I don’t usually read horror, and since I liked this novella, maybe thats a sign it isn’t?

Wikipedia defines horror as a “genre of speculative fiction which is intended to frighten, scare, or disgust”. It can invoke fear and repulsion. It further explains there are two type of horror: psychological and supernatural.

By this definition, I would consider The Wen to be horror, a mix of the two subgenres (I won’t go into detail as that would be a spoiler, and I do hope you go read it.)

Now…is it Stephen King level horror? No. But I tried reading Cujo back in high school and couldn’t. Thats probably why I don’t consider myself a reader of horror. 

This one, I could read. And yes, I experienced a bit of fear and revulsion in the end. That anyone could be.. like that…(ooh…no spoilers).

Now, I also read Maverick Heart by Pamela K. Kinney, not realizing it was in the horror genre, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I should have known, since that’s what she writes.. but I digress.  I’ve also been told my Dhampyr novels (as E. G. Gaddess) are horror. I never knew that when writing them.

So let’s consider intent, as that is a part of the Wikipedia definition. Did the author intend for the story to invoke fear and loathing? I think so, or it wouldn’t be labeled horror. And it did this successfully with me as I read it. With other readers, it did not as that is something they mentioned specifically.

Now I definitely think this story is solidly in the realm of speculative fiction. I think that’s where most of this author’s stories fall. (I have read others by Nyall Robert Frye.) Speculative fiction is a broad, overarching term that encompasses a wide swath of genres, so I’m not certain that helps anyone define a specific genre.

It isn’t science fiction, nor is it fantasy. It isn’t magical realism or alternate universe. It is set solidly in today’s world, with today’s science, but hints at something supernatural.

There is a solid psychological aspect to this tale. There is violent murder. One man playing with the mind of another. Someone doubting their sanity at times. This manipulative character is what caused me to feel revulsion, so yeah, psychology plays a big part in this story.

The supernatural mythology presented in the telling of the story would mean it’s not a pure psychological horror, bleeding over into the supernatural horror. Which is why I think it overlaps the two subgenres.

Maybe the big defining part of whether someone would consider this horror or not is how much other horror they read, and what other books they are comparing it to. As someone who reads only a little horror and has only done that recently, I consider this horror. Maybe it’s accessible horror? Horror light?

Is genre only in the mind of the reader? What do you think? Please share your comments.

Book Club Start – The Wen by Nyall Robert Frye

The Wen by [Nyall Robert Frye]

Our next read is actually a novella – The Wen by Nyall R. Frye (you can get your Kindle copy here). Things are getting busy job-wise for me and my husband, and I’m starting back on Write Night podcast now that it has a slightly different taping schedule (hosted by Travis Tavern Talk; find all his streaming info here).

I have read this author before – he seems to specialize in shorter formats – and enjoy his work immensely (yes – I have also acted as his editor). But I don’t edit stuff I can’t get behind or don’t enjoy. Even if we’re bound by blood.

I hope you enjoy this quick read, and meet me back here on March 6 for my take on his characterization and wade into the horror genre.

Book Club Finish: A Timely Revolution

I hope you got to finish book 1 in this series by Tempie W. Wade. Alert, there may be spoilers here if you haven’t, so proceed with caution.

Let’s continue discussing character; especially the advice that you have to like a main character from the beginning to keep reading.

I didn’t like Maggie. She is young and a bit selfish when the book starts, and frankly, she pisses me off. However, the time travel aspect kept me reading long enough to discover that Maggie grows and develops into someone I start to like by the end.

Writing wisdom states that a reader needs to connect with a character and like them to keep reading. This is an example of how to not do that, and succeed. Maggie matures in this book, and though is sometimes a bit of a “Mary-Sue”, in the end that makes her mistakes much worse.

This is an author who did her research into history, but then gives us characters that our modern sensibilities can relate to. Hint hint: I mean Gabe. You want to know more about Gabe, read the book.

Not just the main character, but side characters (like Gabe) who I hope will stay with us through the series. I mean, there are 5 more books after this one!

I hope Maggie keeps developing and growing, and that I learn to not just like her as a character, but grow to love her. I think that is definitely in the cards.

Did you like Maggie from the start? Why? Or why not? Let me know in the comments.

Book Club Start: A Timely Revolution by Tempie W. Wade

We’ve finished our first book, and if you need to make a comment on that one, visit yesterday’s post. I focused a bit on character, and we can keep discussing that first book while we read this one.

Our next Indie Book Read will be A Timely Revolution: Timely Revolution Series Book One by Tempie W. Wade. Let’s see if we can finish this book by Friday, Feb 5. From what I can tell, if you like romance and magic and history, this is one you won’t want to put down.

This book was the WINNER OF BEST HISTORICAL FANTASY OF 2019 in the American Book Fest American Fiction Awards.

Can’t wait to dig in and read. Should we focus on characters again? Comparing with our last read? Or focus on world-building?

Let me know in the comments if you have a preference. 🙂

Book Club Finish: Beliefs and Black Magics

Did you finish reading Travis I Sivart’s first book in the Portals series, Beliefs and Black Magics? I hope so, because there are some spoilers ahead.

I want to focus on #characters in this book.

My personal is The Kid (Jen). In our world, she is older, dying, but in this magical world she is young, spry, and can do magic. I think I found in The Kid a bit of whimsy that I can relate to: I am getting older (though not as old as Jen!) and sometimes wish for my younger self, but with my knowledge and wisdom intact. As The Kid, Jen gets to live that out.

Cover of Portals Book One: Beliefs and black Magics by Travis I Sivart

I find her characterization real. Her thoughts and emotions match those of an older woman who has lost and is ready to let go. It gives The Kid a hint of recklessness from Jen that matches what might have been The Kid’s own personality.

That the book has three characters from our world learning to experience a different, magical life in an alternate world, all with different backgrounds allows the reader to experience a wide range of emotion, from a character not sure they want to be in this world, to one reveling at their new strength and abilities.

The fantastical qualities of this alternate world are not short-changed by all that character work and development by the author. This world, in all its magical, and sometimes evil, glory, is as much a character as the three heroes. The villains are fleshed out, too, with backgrounds almost as tragic as the heroes.

What did you think of the hero characters in this book?

How about the villainous characters?

Do you have a favorite? Why are they your favorite?

Leave a comment letting everyone know.

And don’t forget to visit the book club page to join up so you can suggest books for us to read.