IngramSpark and Indie Publishing Today

The Liberty States Fiction Writers recently held an event where Justine Bylo, Author Acquisitions Manager at IngramSpark, spoke about today’s publishing landscape and what Ingram can offer authors in self-publishing. The following are a cohesive write-up of the event.

About the Presenter: Justine Bylo manages the author acquisition program at IngramSpark. She works with authors and independent publishers to expand their flourishing literary platforms through smart sales and marketing strategies. Justine has worked with Ingram Content Group for 7 years. During her time at Ingram, she’s launched several author focused programs, been the host of the IngramSpark podcast, Go Publish Yourself, helped get print books into Rwanda for a literacy initiative, and even taught many co-workers to love romance novels. Justine started her career in the unlikely place of television. She was a writing intern for The Colbert Report, where her snappy one-liners landed her jokes on the air. She later worked in reality TV development and production at Oxygen and Bravo before making the leap to publishing. Justine was a graduate of NYU Tisch in Dramatic Writing. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and their Corvette where she continues to work on her own novels during her free time.

Justine began her presentation comparing stats from the last two years’ bestsellers lists.

Of the Top 25 Bestsellers in 2018:

  • 11 were Backlist
  • 11 were Nonfiction
  • 9 were Children’s or Young Adult
  • 4 were Adult
  • 2 were Poetry

And only 5 of those cracked one million in print sales.

Of the Top 25 Bestsellers in 2019:

  • 14 were Backlist
  • 10 were Nonfiction
  • 10 were Children’s or Young Adult
  • 5 were Adult

And only 3 of those cracked one million in print sales

In response to concerns that eBooks might skew these results, Justine informed that 28% of consumers will buy both digital and paper copies of books to use with apps that allow an audio read on a commute and a physical read once at home.

They’ve noticed that Nonfiction is overtaking fiction for adult readers. They have no idea why, but expect that escapism into fiction to make a resurgence soon.

Additionally they’ve seen that Ebooks have declined 3.8% in the last year, while audio books has increased 28.7% in the last year.

Can you be a bestseller with IngramSpark?

Yes, they’re generating hits as well. They’ve had plenty of Indie published books hit the bestseller list, many of which include books of poetry, POC authors, and even books in the instantpot trend. Other books at IngramSparks that do well are Nonfiction, business, self-help, diverse children’s books, poetry, and romance.

What do bestsellers have in common?

Justine compared top books and what might send them to the bestseller list:

  • 2012 – Fifty Shades of Grey (sold 7.5 million in US) (the sequels sold 4.8 and 4.5, respectively)
  • 2014 – Gone Girl (sold 3.8 million in US)

One of the biggest things these books have in common is that they’re watercooler books – what people read, then come to work and talk about – in some cases in hushed manners. Additionally they’ve inspired trends and copycat books seen in publishing. The copycat books then increase the sales of the original title.

Additionally from 2014-2018 many of the bestselling books in the US included the word “Girl” in the title.

  • 2018 – Becoming by Michelle Obama (sold 4.8 million copies in US)

Justine believes this was a fluke because of the name recognition. Although the book has extreme value in its content, it got to the top of the list because she’s Michelle Obama. No one can replicate that.

  • 2019 – Where the Crawdads Sing (sold 2.4 million copies in US)

Who is reading, and who isn’t?

How Are People Reading?

  • 36% Paperback or Mass Market
  • 34% Hardcover
  • 22% Digital (which includes 14.3% in Ebooks and 8.1% in Audio)
  • 5% Other
  • 1.7% Board Books
  • 0.5% Physical Audio

Surprising info about the print industry

US Mass Market is closing. It’s becoming harder to print books for it. Often, they have to use printers in China making it harder to receive the books in shipping, especially through customs and when freighters end up stuck at sea. Why don’t they just print in the US, you ask? There are only 4 book printers left in the US: Quad, LSC, Sheraton, and Bertelsman (the latter of which owns Randomhouse). Most of those 4 printers take on specific publishing houses and will print books solely for their own houses. The fifth largest printer in the US is IngramSpark.

Rising Trends in Publishing

They’re seeing a large surge in young voices, especially Gen Z authors publishing recently because there are so many young Youtube personalities who become popular through videos then write books.

With all streaming, podcasts, etc. screaming for attention, Justine is expecting to see video intertwine even further with books. For the last two years the children’s book The Wonky Donkey has been on the bestsellers list because of the viral video of the Scottish grandmother reading it to her tot (and completely losing her mind over it – honestly it’s hilarious, watch that here).

Overall, Justine is seeing a trend of more and more authors going indie. IngramSpark’s Nonfiction continues to grow, audio continues to rise, and libraries are flourishing. B

Why are libraries flourishing? In response to an audience question, Justine believes libraries are flourishing for a few reasons. They’re a safe place for people, they’re perfect in an economy where money is growing tighter, they create a place for the community to gather, they offer computers especially for kids who don’t have any or can’t upkeep the ones at home, they’re good for young people who only have a small allowance to work with, they’re good for research and work for people who can’t focus at home, they offer all sorts of classes and fun events, and they’re hipster AF. Seriously, in a digital world where we crave things that are real, indie, and good for the environment – libraries are it.

Justine also believes reading will become more high-tech with apps like Wattpad (where authors can publish their fiction straight to the readers’ hands.)

So, What is IngramSpark?

  • They are the largest global distributor of books.
  • They have print, hardcover, and ebook publishing capabilities.
  • They help their authors with distribution
  • They have Print on Demand capabilities
  • They have 39,000 print retail partners, and over 25 ebook retail partners
  • The account setup is $49. This gets you access to all their podcasts, the Academy that helps walk you through publishing, and their Blog.
  • They have a 48 hour turnover – guaranteed – with retailers. In fact, if Amazon can’t make their Prime turnaround with their own print service, they’ll order through IngramSpark

What makes publishing through IngramSpark so great?

  • Representation – being able to have a voice in an industry that either doesn’t want to take the chance on POC authors/characters or only needs to tick a box on their marginalized authors for the season. There is a huge demand for books with diverse characters which means Indie publishing sees a huge sales front for these books.
  • Price Point – because of their print on demand capabilities they can charge less for their books.
  • Print on Demand – this technology becomes higher in demand, especially as the revolt against Amazon increases.
  • Broader Availability – As you’ll see later, IngramSpark uses their Print on Demand to send copies of books to brick and mortar bookstores, libraries, and straight to readers’ and authors’ homes.

Additionally, readers can order books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, a brick and mortar bookstore, or a library using IngramSpark and it can then be shipped to any store or directly to the reader.

If you’re published through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), you can also print through IngramSpark as long as you’re not in their expanded district and not using a free ISBN from Amazon. (You must own your own ISBN to publish on IngramSpark – but they sell them too!)

Need an ISBN? You can go through Bowker to buy your own for $125 (or buy 10 for $270). It would be helpful to buy more than one for the better deal because you’ll need different ISBN’s for every format you want your book in (paperback, hardcover, ebook – all are different). Bowker is going to be cheaper than buying your own through IngramSpark.

You can’t take KDP’s free ISBN to any other platform, you can only use it on Amazon and sell through their channels. Additionally, you can’t hit a bestseller list with an Amazon-owned ISBN

Owning your own ISBN makes you the Vendor of Record.

IngramSpark has their own book building abilities, and are continuing to grow in this area. They have multiple different types of paper weights and colors, the ability to print paperback, hardcover, and even dustjackets, and have 30 different trim sizes to choose from. They’re currently developing a book builder that will allow you to drop your file in and it will automatically break it up by chapters, and allow you to click through different formatting options. They’re even developing a cover design builder.

KDP makes a short discount and nonrefundable books, which means bookstores won’t buy as many because they have a bigger chance of losing money. IngramSparks authors are charged wholesale with a 3-10% return rate – much more competitive. Ingram also offers return options for authors so you can choose for them to destroy returned books, or ship them to you for $2. Justine suggests that all Indie authors have a rainy day “returns” fund especially for bookstores that buy for signings. The author is the one who ends up paying for any unpurchased books.

IngramSpark has printers in other countries as well. If you’re selling in other countries, Justine suggests always adding $2 to the cost for the currency fluctuation.

They also offer pre-sales a year in advance as long as your “publish date” and “on-sale date” are the same date.

To get paid with Ingram take the Book List price, subtract the Wholesale Discount, subtract the Print cost, and that equals the author take home.

On Ingram, if you Opt-In to having your book available on Amazon, you’ll receive 40% of sales, while opting out of Amazon gets you 45%.

Distribution takes times. Telling retailers and libraries to order through Ingram makes it very easy on them. However, if you make any changes, especially to covers, it will take retailers a bit of time to make all the changes.


When printing with an indie publisher, you’ll be inserting this information to help readers find your book.

  • BISAC codes – genre, age group, etc. Nothing general here, Amazon filters them out. Go to (Book Industry Study Group) to learn more about BISAC codes.
  • Keywords – On Amazon they only have 150 bytes for keyword information, which means they only accept 7-10 words (regardless of size), so Justine suggests taking out all little words like of, the, your, etc.
  • Author Location – try to get as specific as you’d like here because this is how booksellers and librarians find authors for local signings and events, however be wary of putting a specific town or city – you don’t want to end up with a stalker! For example, locally I could put “Northern New Jersey” for a nice general, but fairly tight location.
  • Short Description – This is where you name drop! If your book is compared to another highly searched book, add that here. If you’re on a bestseller list or won an award, put it here. These specific hot words will make your book more searchable. Amazon hates when you name drop in the keywords section (in fact, they don’t allow it), but there’s nothing they can say if you do it here! Spend time on this and use your keywords wisely.

Tips on Self-Publishing

When self-publishing, DO ALL THE FORMATS. DO ALL THE DISTRIBUTIONS. Don’t assume paperback is enough – some people only want ebooks. Don’t assume Amazon is enough – some people only shop in indie bookstores. The more ways you offer your book to people, the more people can get your book.

Also, when marketing to other countries, make sure to do it in their time zone.

When going to retailers – bookstores and libraries – bring a sell sheet for them (a sheet that has all your book’s information and info on you as the author).

After Barnes and Noble was bought out, they’ve been buying more indie books. Getting your book into B&N is no small feat though. You must have your name and title on the spine and can send it with a cover letter to Barnes and Noble Small Press to prove why it belongs in the store.

Great sites to check out for Indie Authors

IndieBound – shows if local indie bookstores carry the book you’re looking for. You can buy it through IndieBound and have it shipped to the local indie bookstore, or straight to your home.

DartFrog – a company that can help get you shelf space in indie bookstores.

If you’ve read this and are interested in publishing through IngramSpark, leave a comment below or hit me up on Instagram or Twitter because I have a code for a free title setup that lasts till the end of 2020!

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