Blog header: Twenty Years a Writer

No Easier the Seventh Time Around

Since 2014, I have published six books in print editions as well as ebook. My latest novel, She Who Returns, will be the seventh. Unless I decide it’s not worth the effort.

All right, I’m dramatizing. But really, you’d think that by now I would be familiar with the steps and the process would be routine.

I’ll bet you’re expecting a rant about formatting the Word document. Well, no. Or at least not yet. This is about getting through Amazon’s quality checks. After my experiences with correcting errors in a previously published book, I didn’t expect it to be easy.

In fact, even before I started, I was a nervous wreck, anticipating hurdles and hoops and cryptic warnings that would drive me to appeal to the the Help people, like a bewildered newbie instead of a seasoned self-publisher.

I was right.

Take the ISBN, for example. When setting up my previous six books (on CreateSpace and its successor Amazon KDP Print), I entered the 13-digit ISBN without the hyphens inserted by the issuing agency (Library and Archives Canada, in my case). This time, I was admonished via a popup that I had failed to enter an ISBN, even though all 13 of its digits were right there in the appropriate slot. With no other explanation, I appealed to the Help folks by email. Within 24 hours, as promised, I received a reply suggesting I should enter the ISBN as issued by the official body, including the hyphens. Great, except it would have saved everyone time and aggravation if that requirement had been right there on the book setup page, instead of useless accusations of failing to enter the information. And another thing–you are now encouraged to supply the imprint associated with your ISBN. As a self-publisher, the imprint is your name, unless you have a “publisher” name (“Desperado Press,” for example) registered with your ISBN source (such as Bowker, LAC, the National Library of New Zealand, etc.).

The next big challenges were the interior (text) file and the cover. I uploaded the PDF of the text file successfully, it seemed, but I was unable to invoke the Print Previewer, which would notify me of errors, such as incursions into the gutter no-go zone, or… who knew what else? But I couldn’t open the Print Previewer until I had uploaded the cover image. That’s another annoyance–it should be possible to use the Previewer as soon as the text file is uploaded. If there’s a margin problem, fixing it could result in a larger page count, which could affect the spine width. If an author has hired a cover designer, it would be awkward to have to ask for changes (and possibly pay extra for them).

At least my cover image (designed and created by me on Canva) uploaded successfully. I invoked the Print Previewer and was notified that fonts were not properly embedded in my Word document (never mind that I had precisely followed Amazon’s instructions on how to do that). Amazon had apparently embedded them for me, but warned that some features of my book might not look right when printed. Twenty-one instances were flagged with an “i” in a circle. Supposedly the “i” means “information,” but all I saw when I clicked on it was a tiny black square.

The Help person who answered my question about that simply trotted out the party line about embedding fonts as per instructions, which I had already done. Yes, I would have to fix the problems with the fonts in my document. If following the Amazon instructions didn’t do the trick, there was a hint that I should consult Microsoft about how to work with Word.

In a pig’s eye, as some would say.

Instead, I sat down and did some thinking. If unembedded fonts were causing the problem, surely every page would be flagged? Why only those 20 pages? They were actually all the right-hand (odd numbered) pages in the first three sections of numbered pages. And as always, the problem was in the header of those three sections. (Word’s headers and footers are the very devil!)

To shorten a long, tedious tale, it turned out that even though the book’s title in the header was in Copperplate Gothic Light font, as I intended, Word’s default Arial font was also living in the headers of those pages, even though there was no text in Arial. Repeated attempts to change it led nowhere, except to the brink of sanity. I finally found the solution by moving the cursor along the header space while watching the font dropdown (in the Home tab). At a certain point, the font in the dropdown changed from Arial to Copperplate. So I highlighted the empty space where Arial was manifesting and changed that to Copperplate. The change finally stuck. I rejoiced.

When I uploaded the PDF I created after these changes, the Print Previewer still grumbled about fonts not properly embedded, but there were no more problem spots flagged.

I have approved the book’s content file and ordered a proof copy. If that looks okay, this saga will end happily.

In the meantime, here are my tips for other self-publishers who want to produce a print edition:

  • Ask yourself if you really, really want to hold that wad of paper and ink in your hands. Because it may well cost you time, money, or both, to achieve it. You may experience strong emotions and swear a lot.
  • Keep your font choices simple. Don’t use free fonts downloaded from the internet; I understand they can be impossible to embed. I stuck to fonts already in Word (Copperplate Gothic Light and Palatino Linotype), but even they were problematic. To be honest, I don’t know which fonts would work without problems. Arial and Times New Roman, maybe? Judging by what I found by googling, font problems are common in Amazon’s POD publishing.
  • Adobe Reader can supposedly tell you if your fonts are embedded. Click on File in the top left corner and select Properties in the resulting window. Then click on the Fonts tab. This is what alerted me to the presence of Arial in my document. I knew I hadn’t used that font anywhere. (But note: even though Adobe had “Embedded subset” next to all my font types, Amazon’s Previewer still said the fonts weren’t embedded properly. So who knows…)
  • Seek out and read Amazon’s instructions for publishing paperbacks. There are a lot of them, and some are even helpful. But they don’t cover all eventualities, from what I’ve seen.
  • If you need to appeal to Amazon KDP’s Help, I think email is a better way to contact them than by phone. For one thing, you can attach files of your documents. But the individuals who respond may not know that much more than you. Be prepared to figure things out.
  • If When you get desperate enough to look for help on the internet, think about how you word your searches and be prepared to change them if the results you’re getting aren’t relevant. You will find evidence that others are having problems at least as bad as yours. On the other hand, every situation is different, and there’s a lot of useless advice out there.
  • You can upload a succession of revised PDFs as you make changes, as many as you have to, and see what the Print Previewer tells you after each one. I think it took me five or six tries before the problem flags disappeared.
  • I worked with a single Word document (which I named She_Who_Returns_print), from which I produced my succession of PDFs. As each PDF turned out to have problems, I renamed it, adding _bad1, _bad2, etc. to the end of the filename. That way, I knew which ones I could safely delete at the end. (And it might be a good idea to Save As a copy of the almost-but-not-quite-good-enough Word doc as a backup, in case your efforts to fix problems end in disaster and you have to start from scratch.)
  • Don’t add to the stress by creating a hard deadline for publishing your print edition. If you must have copies by a certain date, for an event such as a launch or book-signing session, build in a lot of time to get the job done. Start sooner rather than later.
  • If all this makes your head spin, consider hiring someone to do your formatting. I’ve never done that, so have no advice for finding a competent individual, or any idea how much it might cost. I have heard that using Amazon’s print book templates is easier than formatting from scratch. I’ve never used them, but maybe I should next time. If there is a next time.
  • Cultivate patience. Don’t take publishing rage out on innocent persons, pets, or computers. (Rest assured–I haven’t.)

Remember, She Who Returns is on pre-order until May 1st, attractively priced, along with She Who Comes Forth, the first book in the set.

She Who Returns ebook cover image

AMAZON: US  UK  CA  AU

48 comments

  1. I empathise with everything, and reiterate the question begging the need to see it in print … although, some readers won’t buy anything except print [and now some are saying the same about audio. Aaaargh!].

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have to admit, when I want to revisit my own books, I always reach for the print version. And reading a printed book is so simple. Nothing to turn on or adjust or charge up.
      To me, listening to an audiobook isn’t really reading (but then, I don’t do it much).

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I suspect Amazon uses some sort of AI for the initial quality checks. That makes sense, but I wish the problems were clearly defined so authors would be able to fix them more easily.
      In the end, though, it’s worth it.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. The reason I go to all the trouble is to produce physical versions of the books. Just think, if all electrical grids collapse (as in a geomagnetic storm, like the Carrington Event in 1859), all ebooks and other digital creations may be lost forever. I’m thinking in terms of post-apocalyptic fame here, Berthold! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes, boosting my post-apocalypse readership is the #1 reason I’ve thought about doing it, too. ๐Ÿ˜€ But now I’m thinking maybe it’s easier to just print off some copies of the Word document and put them all in an underground bomb shelter or something!

        Liked by 3 people

  2. As you know, I’ve been through the same ordeal this week! Every paperback writer should read these tips you’ve provided.

    I think the problem is really that software is handling all the production tasks, and it’s inflexible. You can’t explain things to it. You can only adapt to its demands. It doesn’t help, at least in my case, that it only identifies 20 problems (gutter issues) at a time, and I wound up with about 80 of them, so I had to do five separate PDF uploads to whittle them down. The proof is on the way at last …

    I used a pro formatter a couple of times, and it wasn’t much fun having to back to him for changes, so ultimately I prefer the DIY in spite of these annoyances. But you’re so right: You have to prepare your brain for frustration and build in plenty of time.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sounds like you’ve had pretty much the same experience as me, Kevin. Glad to hear you’re at the proof stage too. Mine is supposed to arrive next week, and I hope it doesn’t have any nasty surprises!
      I think you’re right that software does the quality control without any human input. Several years (and books) ago, I’m sure I had italic “f” tails impinging into the gutter ever so slightly, but they were okayed by someone checking on what the software flagged. That doesn’t happen anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. After having done this 22 times, I THINK I have it all down pat, i.e., unless they make some radical rule changes. I’ve told you this before, I think, but I always use the Amazon template for the correct size, and I simply take one of my old documents, delete the contents, and fill in the new t.p., text, etc.
    Re embedded fonts. I always use Times New Roman, except for the half-title, t,p., headers, etc. On MWFB, Part 8, I used Tahoma for those, but check your PDF to be sure your choice is embedded. Then, inevitably, Amazon will tell me that I have one unembedded font. It’s always in the header of the half-title, which doesn’t even have any text in it. My doc shows that line as Times New Roman. But Amazon does say that busines about we’ll embed this for you, but it may change your text. But there is nothing to be changed – no text on that line. So I just go ahead and approve it. And I’ve never had a problem. I think you’ll have better luck if you use the Amazon template – no problems with margins for one thing.
    Also, I’ve never been asked for an imprint with the ISBN. That might be new since the last time I published a book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I also want to add, I wouldn’t even consider allowing another person to format my print book. I’ll take my chances with my own state of knowledge over some other idiot’s – ha, ha!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Good advice, Lorinda. I did see problem flags in headers of pages that didn’t have any text there as well, and fixed it somehow. It’s reassuring to know you’ve seen that embedding issue as well.
      I think the imprint thing is new. And it may even be optional. I put my name in that space, because I am the publisher. But do keep the ISBN hyphens in mind!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Who would have guessed that writing and pre-publication editing would be the easy parts? Don’t you love how failure to comply with instructions that are not clearly spelled out is always the user’s fault? Hope the rest of your day gets better. This is why I will probably never be published, except on expletive deleted WordPress. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In my job as a cataloguing librarian I had to write procedure documents for my staff. The right way to do that, I decided, was to write the procedure while executing all the steps, and then to test it on someone. In that kind of writing, it’s better to over-explain than to leave it up to the reader’s imagination.
      And there’s still a disconnect between computer programs that process writing generated by the human brain!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. True. It’s like applying for a job where the first pass.is some machine looking for key phrases to determine if you are qualified enough to warrant a person viewing your qualifications. I knew a librarian who applied for her old job and was considered unqualified by the computer.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I think the quality check at Amazon KDP is now done purely by machines. They should supply better explanations of problems though, and the Help humans should be more knowledgeable.
          That job application thing sounds Kafka-esque!

          Liked by 2 people

  5. I can’t say that I’ve had no trouble, but I don’t think I’ve had as much trouble either. But then, I don’t use headers, just a footer for a centered page number. I make my gutter wider than the minimum and I use LibreOffice instead of Word from which I create the PDF.

    We will have to see how Draft2Digital print on demand works. I’m thinking of reissuing all of my paperbacks in a slightly smaller form factor through them, which means everything has to be done over.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. D2D rocks. They didn’t have PoD when I started, so I went over to TheBookPatch where one could upload a PDF (produced by D2D in the size & format I desired). TheBookPatch has a set of cover templates, upload one of those with the PDF and voila, inexpensive printed copies.
      D2D’s auto-distro capabilities can’t be beat.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It’s true that my practice of putting in both headers (different odd and even) and footers (page numbers) does complicate things. I made the gutter 2 cm this time, and even so did three text adjustments to make sure there were no italic f’s lurking there.
      I had a spasm of excitement while listening to the presentation by the D2D guy when he said they would format POD print books for their authors. Then I started wondering if I would want to relinquish control, despite the headaches.
      I’m sure this process will never be challenge-free, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This process sounds quite intimidating. Since tech is not my strong suit, to begin with, I wonder if I can hire some five-year-old to guide me.๐Ÿคฃ

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Yikes, this sounds like a nightmare. I don’t really bother with print copies on Amazon for different reasons, and would probably hire someone to help me rather than try to navigate all that myself. Kudos to you for seeing it through!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ouch, ouch and ouch again. In their rush to bring users into their domains giants such as Amazon and Microsoft are trying interface computer programmes with Human mechanics which have been around since Caxton. It is not working.
    (Today Word red-underline the words ‘so’ and ‘it’, which I was obliged to add to the dictionary).
    I admire you perseverance Audrey. Best wishes with the success of the new book.
    (Obviously I belong in the Kindle-verse.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Roger. It’s helpful to share my publishing woes with fellow Pressers of the Word.
      I began reading Daughters of Circumstances today. Am looking forward to all kinds of adventures with your three women!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s the ‘Getting It Off You Chest’ of course. However you did a great service to all writers contemplating Print through Amazon (I once had this naรฏve idea it was a simply printing the Kindle version…oh poor innocent boy)

        I hope ‘Daughters’ works out for you Audrey….
        Advanced warning:
        There are indeed ‘all kinds’ of adventures. The background plots are based on all the complex confusions and agendas of any war, as illustrated by Arketre’s attempt at a ‘chart’. She goes deep into War, Betrayal and comes out in a ‘singular’ way. Karlyn’s original heritage plays a big role. Trelli becomes very involved with Elinid and The Silcs which was fun to write.
        Sorry for the length, I had far too much fun writing that book; no editor would have put up with me (unless I was already very, very successful)…….And also, even now after all that proofing Big Sorry for the typos and in a couple of cases getting the names mixed up.
        Thanks again for all your support and encouragement.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Commiserations. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Word is a beast in every sense of the word. It’s been around for decades and the developers just keep adding things to the original code so nasty things creep in. Did you use one of the Word preset Header styles? I wonder if that could have been the cause. Either way, it sounds as if you’ve been through the publishing mill, no joke intended. Congratulations on coming out the other side. -hugs-

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the sympathy, Meeka!
      You know, I think I may have used the preset header thing, which would have defaulted to Arial.
      I certainly hope I’ve fixed all the problems, but the last test will be the proof copy, which should arrive in the next few days.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. lol – your toots are genuine so they don’t feel like…ta dah…the dread marketing. ๐Ÿ˜€
            Listen to us though. We’re virtually apologising for even bringing our writing up in conversation. We suck at this!

            Liked by 1 person

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