After having had six books published in four countries, I decided to try self-publishing my latest book, MORE THAN HALFWAY TO SOMEWHERE. This decision was driven by comments from a previous publisher and a writer friend who both deemed my collection of travel stories ‘not commercially viable’. But I also had a desire to experiment with this way of reaching readers, in which I would have control over the entire process, from writing and editing to designing, printing and distributing my book. Or so I thought.

Since my book contains 12 stories spanning 15 countries over 60 years, I envisaged my audience to be similarly vast, so I looked for a company that could assist me to print and distribute my book around the world. There seemed two options — Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or IngramSpark (IS). I chose the latter, because they had operations in the US, Australia and the UK, plus printing partners in other countries, which at the time Amazon did not.

Embarking on my self-publishing journey just as COVID took over our lives probably didn’t help, but I saw it as an opportunity to finally do something I’d been postponing for years. Unfortunately, IngramSpark faced challenges of their own, with reduced staff capacity, relocating their Australian facility, and other conundrums. Communicating with them became a nightmare — phone contact was impossible (and still is), emails could take weeks to be answered, and chat sessions were laborious and at times unavailable. As a result, my timeline for releasing my book stretched from August to November, perilously close to my deadline to have the book available for the end-of-year holiday season.

When IngramSpark agreed to replace the problem copies I was relieved, until I found similar issues with the replacements, which they agreed to replace!

When the book finally made it into print and I ordered my first box of copies, I was horrified to find that a number had egregious cover errors — the front cover image was not centered, the back cover was angled, or the background color bled over onto the spine. When IS agreed to replace the problem copies I was relieved, until I found similar issues with the replacements, which they again agreed to replace! If this was what customers could expect from IS’s home production facilities, what might they get when ordering a book printed elsewhere? Their policy that 1/16th inch margin of error was acceptable didn’t do much to quell my anxiety.

In choosing a print-on-demand approach, I had given up control over the quality and consistency in production, both for the cover and the book’s interior. What I’d gained was not having to pay costly warehousing fees, printing more books than I was able to sell, and avoiding expensive international mailing charges. The latter can be exorbitant, as I discovered when mailing gift copies of my USD$15 book to Australia for $30 postage!

The learning curve continues and the list of lessons learned grows. Among other things, I’ve discovered that self-published books are still deemed ‘inferior’ by many to traditionally published books. Getting them reviewed — even by the some of the same reviewers who favorably reviewed my previous books — has been nigh impossible. Many reviewers state upfront on their blogs or websites that they don’t accept self-published books. I was lucky to get a few to bend their rule, and received positive endorsements as a result.

There are other lessons I could share, and more to come I’m sure. Stay tuned!