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Happy 5th Birthday to IngramSpark: Exclusive Interview with Robin Cutler

Photo of Ingram Spark's CEO Robin Cutler bio

Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark throughout its five-year history, looks to a brighter future for indie authors everywhere

IngramSpark has since its inception been a valued Partner Member of ALLi, and a generous supporter and sponsor of our activities.

We are therefore delighted to welcome to the blog today IngramSpark Director Robin Cutler to reflect on what it means to have reached the significant milestone of five years of providing great services to indie authors, helping them to self-publish their books and reach more readers throughout the world.

Her interview will clarify to those new to Ingram Spark the many benefits their service offers author-publishers.

 

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Robin Cutler, please tell us a little about yourself and your work in publishing before Ingram. Is it true you used to work for Amazon?

Yes, just before Ingram, I worked at CreateSpace working with academic publishers around the world. My early career in publishing started as a design and production manager with a university press, but I’ve also spent a lot of my career working as the marketing/pr executive at the university level.

At one point I was an indie publisher myself with my own trade imprint called Summerhouse Press.

So, I’ve worn many publishing hats including author, editor, designer and now distributor.

Why did you found IngramSpark in the first place, as a separate service to the long-established Lightning Source programme for small publishers?

You know, Lightning Source, as a print-on-demand company, was started twenty years ago by John Ingram as a way to keep publishers’ content in print so that Ingram could always fulfill bookseller/library demand. And the company has done that extremely well.

But it wasn’t designed to meet the needs of authors and even small publishers, which is a community that we wanted to reach in a better way so that’s why we launched IngramSpark. Basically we married together our POD and ebook services and then layered Ingram global distribution as the umbrella over the whole thing. It is very powerful for authors, which is what we were going for.

How has the IngramSpark service evolved across its first five years?

  • The main thing is that we keep trying to streamline the experience.
  • An author’s education of the publishing business is also a focal point since this is a new skill set and knowledge base that most don’t possess.
  • We’ve really beefed up the content that we offer on IngramSpark through our newsletters, blogs, podcasts, videos and recently added courses through our academy.
  • We also expanded our support team to be more responsive and by offering better resources (searchable knowledge base, online chat, phone queue call-backs).

What have been your biggest surprises about IngramSpark?

That we have so many authors representing many genres in fiction and nonfiction who are doing very well in comparison to traditionally published authors.

We just had our first author make the NY Times Best Seller list and oftentimes have IngramSpark customers really rise up within Amazon rankings. And IS titles regularly show on the Ingram best seller lists. We have a lot of really smart and talented authors. I never get tired of hearing about their success stories.

Most indies use IngramSpark primarily for print production, both for its quality and for your distribution services to bookstores, libraries etc. What other services of Ingram’s do you think they should use more, and why?

Our ebook service for those authors looking for a one-stop shop and the broadest distribution is something worth considering. One stop distribution is no small thing especially if you’re trying to update your metadata or content files or pricing. We have a lot of authors coming to us now because they are just exhausted trying to manage distribution on their own with file uploads and keeping metadata current.

Your iPage service has been rolling out to offer indie bookstores a means to order indie authors’ books directly from IS, bypassing their trade distributors, wholesalers and any other middlemen who require a share of the profit. Where is iPage available now, what has the take-up been like, and what are your future plans for this service?

iPage has always been available in the US and is widely used by retailers and libraries. We just rolled this out in the UK and it is widely being adopted with hundreds of retailers now signing on. We’re adding more retailers everyday. On the IS side, an author just needs to provide their US, UK, EU, AU, CA pricing and that enables their content to be available in the associated markets and in iPage.

Please tell us about IPS.

This is our full distribution business called Ingram Publisher Services. Under this type of service, a publisher works with us in an exclusive arrangement where we perform varies functions such as sales representation to booksellers, warehousing, royalty and inventory management, etc. Generally a publishing business needs to have reached $250,000+ in sales from the prior year to be large enough to be considered for IPS. IS has recently started working with IPS to offer sales support on various titles.

We know that ALLi members are for the most part enormously pleased with the service they get from IngramSpark, but when you’re operating on such a grand scale, there will always be hiccups. What is the best way for indie authors to resolve any issues they have with your services? Chatline? personal phone call? emails? Does it vary country to country?

  • We are adding and streamlining our support efforts, making chat more available, faster responses through email.
  • For phone calls we just launched “Call back queue” where you can leave your name and number and we generally get back to you within a day.
  • And even above that we are working hard to improve the site itself to be more intuitive and helpful. Look for major improvements coming in 2019.
  • There are also inevitably “pilot errors” where indies get into a muddle through their own fault, eg uploading incompatible files.

What are the most common errors that indie authors make?

Not providing all the metadata information on your book that we make available to you. This is the best way for your book to be discovered.

Authors need to understand that their book information, starting with their title and especially in the description, needs to be packed with key words that will help a machine find your book.

Most authors are still behind in the importance of always keeping metadata updated and refreshed,  which is easy to do and doesn’t cost anything.

Also, if you think your book files might have errors, don’t approve the proof of your book until you’re certain it is correct. When a book is in the proofing stage, new files can be uploaded without a revision charge so use this phase to your best advantage.

IS currently offers both e and p book services – any plans to embrace audio as the next big thing?

Yes, we are working on this now, but I can’t tell you exactly when we’ll have it – but I expect in 2019. I personally love audio books but I worry about the expense of production and if that can be earned back for many authors. We currently do have a couple of audio vendors that we recommend through our experts.

What are your other future plans for IngramSpark in the next twelve months? And in the next five years?

  • Redesigning our website is a big initiative that makes the site more intuitive, attractive and helpful.
  • We’re also working to add smart metadata services to help your book sell better.
  • We’re overhauling our reporting which many will be so happy to hear.
  • We’re in the process now of adding library cataloging.
  • And we continue to work to help authors sell books directly from their own sites or in their social media.
  • Lastly everyone is looking at Blockchain in the author world. Alli is a leading proponent of this technology. In five years, I think Blockchain be incorporated into daily life but I hope it gets renamed.

What are your predictions for the publishing landscape – both indie and trade – for the next five years?

  • I think this is the best time to be an author because you have so many choices that weren’t there just a decade ago. There is no reason today for an author’s book not to be published.
  • The space between writer and reader will continue to compress through platforms like Wattpad.
  • I believe the indies will continue to rise and will drive the entire industry.

Using IngramSpark’s services can only help make indie authors more successful. if you could give all indie authors one piece of advice, (or more, if you like!), what would it be?

  • Write, write, write, first and foremost.
  • Consider a series from the beginning, because you generally can’t build a good readership until at least your third book. Some do it from the first but generally it takes multiple books to gain traction.
  • Invest in your work and yourself as an author by hiring professionals to help in editing, design and marketing and take their advice.
  • Know that your book has a long life and can be repurposed over the years. Publish in as many formats as you can afford because you want to make sure the reader’s preference is available to them.
  • Learn social media and establish a presence as an author.
  • Reinvest a % of your earnings back into your marketing and advertising.
  • Learn how to take advantage of all the Amazon has to offer authors, but don’t put all of your eggs in that one basket because Amazon historically moves on to other things (now it is groceries and streaming video).
  • Sign up for Mail Chimp and collect email addresses like a fanatic.
  • Have a website and offer some bit of content for free to obtain those emails.
  • Support indie booksellers especially before you ask them to support you.
  • Get to know your local librarian, especially if you are publishing a children’s book.
  • Join a great organization like ALLi because it is filled with very smart authors and publishers and you will learn things you need to know.
  • And did I say write, write, write…?

And finally know that being a writer makes you an exceptional person. I wish you all the best in your publishing journey and I truly hope that IngramSpark can help you along the way.

#Indieauthors - get the lowdown on why @IngramSpark is such a great partner for #selfpub #writers from Director @RCutlerSpark in this exclusive 5th birthday interview Click To Tweet

MORE GREAT POSTS WITH INGRAMSPARK
From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

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How Indie Authors Can Work Best with IngramSpark: Andy Bromley

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