Advice from a number of other self-published authors and bloggers led me to decide that my preferred path to getting my two previously published horse-racing mysteries out in print under my own copyright was to buy my own ISBN and start out at Ingram before moving on to Amazon’s CreateSpace. But I’m probably not alone in my panicked reaction at downloading the IngramSpark “file creation” specs.
My experience creating my ebooks for both Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing at Amazon was a breeze. I formatted my mss. in Word, uploaded them, and voilà, I had books. No errors, no “tickets.” But IngramSpark? Holy barf, Batman! What does all this stuff mean!
I hereby report that I am moving forward in my quest to conquer Ingram’s formatting requirements. I thought I would post progress reports, perhaps in hopes of encouraging others whose guts churn like mine did at the site of all those incomprehensible and unfamiliar commands.
If you’ve been through this, I hope you’ll take a moment in the comments to share your experiences, good or bad! (Even to tell me I’m just plain nuts. I won’t be offended! Really!)
Please note up front: The posts I envision chronicling my journey for better or worse are NOT how-tos! I am not an expert on InDesign, on formatting books, or on Ingram’s requirements. I can’t possibly match the expertise of professional book designers. I am simply sharing some observations and experiences, ideally as encouragement or in solidarity with others.
I have no idea where this effort will land me. I may be wasting my time on a task that doesn’t lend itself to amateur efforts. And after all, Ingram will sell you a template for around $50, as will other book designers—I haven’t tried a ready-made template, but might for the next book. I do have a funny feeling there’ll be some of the same technical work and correcting that I’m doing for my InDesign proof. We’ll see.
But here’s my rationale for moving forward on my own:
- First and foremost, it’s possible that I CAN do it. I won’t know till I try.
- Trying this out is not prohibitively expensive. One blogger who considered Ingram’s requirements beyond the pale counted $500 in purchased ISBNs as part of his costs; I haven’t made a decision about that phase of the process, but I do know I won’t be writing 500 books in the next few years—and I’d still have to buy ISBNs if I want to be distributed through Ingram, whether I hire a professional designer or not. In the meantime, I’m making a $20/month investment in software and an hour or so a day in time.
- I’m not on a strict deadline: I see this whole business of learning to market my books as a long-term project. Okay, so it takes me a month to do what a professional designer could do in a day. That’s not prohibitive, either, though for others it well might be.
- Besides, I like learning new skills. Weirdly, I find this fun! It empowers me to see how well I can accomplish what, at the start, looked so daunting. And maybe I’ll put these skills to use in the future. So if it turns out I have to give up and hire a professional, I’ll be out a nominal sum but I’ll have gained an experience I value. Again, my idea of value is probably not everyone’s.
- I’m not alone! Book designers are wonderfully generous with their expertise. I spent a whole day reading almost every article on Joel Friedlander’s superb site. I’ve found other marvelous sites I’ll share.
Since this is a preliminary report, I’ll start with some preliminary stuff. Baby stuff.
Like figuring out what “trim size” means.
Basically, it’s about how big (height and width, not page length) I want my book to be. (Here’s an infographic on trim size.) Ingram supplies a list of options, and I measured a few of the trade paperbacks on my shelves with a ruler. Smaller trim size means more pages. I started out choosing 5.5X8.5.
Like figuring out that I needed some software.
Working with the graphic-design program at my university to produce a slick magazine told me that the designers’ preferred platform was Adobe InDesign. But InDesign came with some built-in liabilities:
It’s scary as hell.
Could I just use good ol’ Word? After all, even my ancient “2008 for Mac” version offers all kinds of formatting options that I’d already mastered for my ebooks.
I invested some time searching for “InDesign vs. Word” online. Not surprisingly, the professionals gravitate to InDesign as offering more control and more options even for plain text documents like mine. Not surprisingly, the comments sections were sprinkled with claims that a) everybody already had Word so it was effectively free; b) Word works fine; and occasionally, c) sure, professionals tout something we all have to pay them to do.
To me, comments like c) denigrate professionals and the expertise they’ve built up over the years. But were the rebels right? Could Word do the kind of job Ingram accepts (and readers want)?
I actually don’t know the answer to that. (Do you? Share!)
You can use Word: the File-Creation Guide at Ingram directs you to be to sure to create your pdf using the print dialogue box, which is where you can find the specific Adobe Acrobat formats you need.
But the Guide specifically says that they can’t support material created in Word. So using Word looks as if it might limit my chances for getting help from Ingram if I need it.
According to the designers, justification in Word can’t match an apparent algorithm in InDesign that prevents “rivers” of white space from irregular word spacing and other anomalies from marring your pages. It does seem that InDesign’s kerning, tracking, and leading options are more sophisticated. (Are they? What do you think?)
Challenge: Money! Adobe stuff costs $$$.
Solution: Adobe allows a 30-day free trial and then the $20 monthly subscription plan. Twenty dollars for a few months—the cost of one meal out each month—doesn’t seem outrageous, especially when I’m having fun.
Challenge: Learning Curve! Adobe stuff is hard!
Solution: Buy a freakin’ book! Sorry, all you sweet video producers. A, I can’t watch your videos from home because they devour my data; and B, I can’t remember enough and have to watch again and again. At my university, we have access to the inestimable Lynda.com; I’ve watched the videos several times. But when you’re sitting at home staring at a blinking cursor, you must be able to thumb through the index and look things up!
My local Barnes and Noble offered a few alternatives. I chose Classroom in a Book because I liked the pictures. Uh, okay, I chose it because it did look as if it gave me a step-by-step combination of visual and text instructions. I’ll review it as a learning tool down the line.
I’ll end this first post with a quick word of encouragement: if you’ve ever delved at all into formatting with Word—using Styles, for example—or if you’ve ever worked with an app like the Mac “Preview” program, or “Paint” on a PC, where you can select, resize, edit graphics, etc., you already have a majority of the skills you’ll need to do basic text formatting in InDesign.
So, today’s takeaway:
- You can get definitions and guidance through some terrific online resources.
- You may or may not need software. If you do decide tackle InDesign, it’s not prohibitively expensive.
- You can learn the software. You’re probably two-thirds of the way there! I’ll report on how I did it in future posts.