Publishing

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

SHE books info

She Is Back! Cover Reveal and Publication Date

France Leighton is the protagonist of my 2018 novel, She Who Comes Forth, and also of its sequel, She Who Returns, which will be published on May 1st, 2022, and is now available to pre-order.

She Who Returns ebook cover image

AMAZON: US UK CA AU

Every decision has consequences, and logic gets you every time.
France Leighton is studying Egyptology at Miskatonic University, hoping to return to Egypt via a field school offered by that institution. But France has a talent for rash decisions, and things are complicated by the arrival of her twin half-brothers from England. Edward and Peter are contrasts—one a rational scientist, the other a dabbler in the occult—but they are equally capable of persuading France to help them with dubious schemes.
France does return to Egypt, if not quite the way she intended. She encounters old friends and new enemies, and challenges rooted in her previous adventures and her family’s complicated history. Accusations of antiquities theft drive France and her companions into hiding in the Theban Hills west of Luxor. An attack from the unknown turns an adventure into a desperate predicament. On the brink of yet another failure, France must make hard choices that may demand the ultimate sacrifice.

The pre-order price is $0.99. And because I recommend reading She Who Comes Forth first, its price is reduced on Amazon to $0.99 until May 1st.

The paperback version will also be available in May, if the print formatting imps cooperate. I am thinking up ways to propitiate them, and minding my italicized f’s and j’s.

Herbert West Series Science or Magic

How (Not) to Write a Series

The Herbert West Series began with an obsession-driven novel, The Friendship of Mortals. When that was finished, I didn’t want to say goodbye to the main character so wrote another really long book set in an entirely different location with different supporting characters. I decided that book was too long (230K words, as I recall), so chopped it in two, making an instant trilogy. But the story kept going in my mind, so I whisked the title character to yet another location and reunited him with two characters from the first book. Fine, except now it was no longer a trilogy. I thought “tetralogy” sounded lumpy and angular, and “quartet” was too musical, so I settled on “series.”

Except that suggests a procession of books with no intended conclusion, and my story has a definite conclusion at the end of the fourth book. True series have more uniformity: same genre, same point of view, similar challenges for the main character. Whereas mine started as a kind of horror story and evolved (some would say devolved) into a mere adventure with supernatural and symbolic overtones. And while the pov is always first person, there are 5 (or maybe 6) different narrators. Each one delivers their own experiences with the main character. His name changes at the end of the first book, but references to the previous name are frequent enough (I hope) that the series title isn’t confusing.

Then there’s the numbering. Books 2 and 3 of the series are also Volumes 1 and 2 of what was a single book (Islands of the Gulf) until the big chop.

Are you confused yet?

If not, consider also that the series has a two-book sequel of sorts (well, it will be two books once I publish the second one). And there’s a short story collection, half of which is “spin-off” stories from the series.

The about-to-be-published book (She Who Returns) will be the finale of this saga. Although it takes place half a century after the first book (The Friendship of Mortals), it revisits some of the places, characters, and situations of that book, as a kind of farewell gesture.

In retrospect, I should probably not have called the four books a “series.” Maybe something like “A Herbert West Book” applied to each one would have been enough. And I should have rigorously reduced the middle book and preserved the trilogy.

“Shoulda, woulda, coulda.” Too late now. The books–all 6 and soon to be 7–are what they are.

Words related to writing

WSW Video Chat: We Have Answers!

In January, I wrote a post on WSW asking writers for questions that we could answer in our video chats. We received seven questions in the comments to that post, and in this month’s chat we tackled three of them. In addition, Mark Paxson has added some further thoughts on the question about the rules of marketing, asked by Liz Gauffreau.

You can find the chat HERE

I found Lucinda Clarke’s thoughts about ads, email lists, and newsletters to be especially interesting. They start at about 29:40.

Smashwords plus D2d

Big News for Indie Authors: Smashwords and Draft2Digital to Merge

In March, these two ebook publishing and distribution services will merge under the Draft2Digital name. The idea is to combine the best parts of each company so as to offer a superior service for authors.

I watched a livestreamed Q&A session on YouTube today. I understand it was recorded so may be viewed after the fact on the D2D YouTube channel.

Just for information: I have published ebooks with Smashwords since 2010. I have never used D2D, but I’m excited by this development. Here are some points I gleaned from the hour-long session. Note that I may have misunderstood some details.

  • Royalty payments to authors will be via the D2D system, so include way more options besides PayPal.
  • One of the things that persuaded Mark Coker of Smashwords to be in favour of the merger is the fact that book sales on D2D are bigger than on Smashwords, even though D2D has fewer books available.
  • D2D authors will be able to take advantage of selling their books in an improved version of the Smashwords Store.
  • Smashwords authors will be able to use D2D’s superior formatting tools. They have a template-based system that’s largely automated. It includes automatic inclusion of back-matter as specified by the author. Those who love Smashwords’ Meatgrinder will still be able to use it, though (I think).
  • A really exciting option at D2D: Ebook conversion to POD print book, including creation of print covers from ebook cover images. Anyone who has ever struggled with print book formatting (that would be me!) should be delighted! I think this one is still in beta. More info at: Draft2Digital.com/PrintBeta/
  • One of the D2D presenters (Kris Austin or Kevin Tumlinson) said their POD process is the easiest of all and superior to Amazon KDP. In addition, their distribution network is broader than KDP’s Expanded Distribution.
  • It sounds like a lot of details still need to be worked out, but on the whole this looks like a positive development for indie publishers. As Mark Coker said, it’s based on the premise that authors should be at the centre of the publishing universe. Also, consider that these companies’ sole focus is publishing and selling books and only books, not a zillion other products.

More info HERE

She Who Comes Forth book spine

Get It Right the First Time!

Since I am preparing to publish the sequel to my novel, She Who Comes Forth, I decided to correct three tiny typos in that book, which I published in 2018.

As usual, everything was fine until I tackled the print version. I made the corrections in the original Word document and used Save As to create a new PDF. Note that the Word doc was the very same one from which I made the original PDF when I first published the book. The only differences between the original PDF and the new one were my three corrections, which involved adding two commas, deleting two letters, and adding two other letters.

But something else changed, either in Word or in the copying/saving process. Or more likely in Amazon’s quality checker.

I uploaded the new PDF with the corrections to Amazon. After being notified that the upload was successful, I was invited to use the Print Previewer, which informed me of two ERRORS. First, although I had selected a trim size of 5.5″ x 8.5″ (when I first published the book in 2018), the document I uploaded was 5.50″ x 8.50″. I don’t know where those zeroes came from, but they were unacceptable. And second, the gutter size was insufficient; it must be at least 0.625 inches.

On checking my original Word doc, I found that those critical dimensions were in centimeters, not inches, but when converted, they were exactly as the Previewer specified. 13.97 cm = 5.5 inches. 21.59 cm = 8.5 inches. As for the gutter, my inside margin was set to 1.59 cm, otherwise known as 0.6259843 inches, which rounds up to 0.626 inches.

Infuriating! I sent a (polite) note to the Help people outlining all this. I received a prompt response, which said that the trim size wasn’t a problem (hurray!), but the gutter insufficiency had to be addressed.

So I did that. I created a new copy of the Word doc. As advised, I activated Word’s Gridlines to show me whether the text fit inside the acceptable areas. Then I increased the inside margin to 1.61 cm (0.634 in.). This fixed some of the gutter problems, but not all. The five that remained all involved the italicized letter “f” (wouldn’t you know it!) right next to the gutter (i.e., the inside margin). A minute portion of the curly tail of the “f” projected over the gridline, which is unacceptable. (One more reason to avoid using italics!)

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

At that point, I thought about giving up. I emailed the nice person at the Help desk saying that if the latest PDF I uploaded was unacceptable because of those “f’s,” I preferred to cancel the corrections and live with the errors. Except you can’t cancel changes in KDP, only suspend them. The book’s status had changed to “Live with unpublished changes,” meaning it was available in its original state (still with the three tiny errors, of course). It could remain that way indefinitely.

Before really giving up, I decided to experiment. For that purpose, I made a copy of the original Word doc. At first, I gradually increased the inside margin to 1.65 cm. Even at that size, the “f’s” still exceeded the gridline by a tiny amount, and what’s worse, the overall size of the book increased from 381 pages to 383. If I kept increasing the inside margin, eventually the book’s spine width would grow to the point the cover would be incompatible with the text document. Which wasn’t going to happen.

Then I had an idea–what about reducing the outer margin while increasing the inner one? That would create more wiggle room for the inside margin without increasing the number of pages. The original size of the outer margin was 1.59 cm, or 0.626 inches. I decided half an inch (1.27 cm) was my absolute minimum. Any less of an outer page margin looks too skimpy. So in my experimental document, I set that as the outer margin and proceeded to increase the inner margin (gutter), hoping to correct the italic “f” problem. At 2.0 cm, the book’s size jumped to 383 pages again, so 1.9 cm was the max. And did that fix the “f” problem? I didn’t think so; the tails of those pesky italic “f” descenders were still edging over the gridline.

So I tried another approach. Since italic text was the problem, what about “de-italicizing” the bits noted as problematic by the Print Previewer? A couple of unspoken thoughts became spoken, and one paragraph that represented a vision is no longer distinguished by italics. After I made sure the changes didn’t affect the book’s overall size or cause other problems, I created yet another PDF and uploaded it to Amazon.

Success! The book is now “Live.” And the three tiny errors are no more. But what a process!

One thing I don’t like about my solution is that the print and ebook versions are now slightly different, which doesn’t seem right. (Someday I will probably make those changes in the ebook text, but right now I’m fed up with the post-pub updating business.)

In retrospect, this whole thing doesn’t seem right. Why would margin settings that passed Amazon KDP’s quality control checks in 2018 fail in 2021? The helpful help person offered no explanation. Why is an awkward workaround my only option to correct errors in my book? I would think people who buy the book would notice the errors more than the gutter issue. But then, what do I know?

On the plus side, I have learned a few things that will be helpful for future formatting:

  • It’s worthwhile to reduce instances of italics to a minimum, watching especially for “f’s” that end up in the gutter. (Haha!)
  • I’m now comfortable with changing margin settings and have a better idea of optimal sizes.
  • I won’t finalize the cover of the paperback version until I know the interior file has passed the quality checking process. That way, I won’t be limited by spine width.

All this tells me that when I prepare the text of She Who Returns for publishing, I will have to make sure there are NO errors. Because post-pub fixes are too much trouble. I will never do post-pub corrections again, at least not for print books. Yes, there will very likely still be a few little bugs, but I declare now that I will live with them. Maybe those errors will make the books valuable collectors’ copies some day, long after I’ve gone to the big remainder pile in the sky.

gargoyle grumpy

Has anyone else experienced a problem of this sort? Have you changed the text of a book to get it past Amazon’s quality checks? Do you correct errors after a book has been published? How important is it to make your book perfect and error-free?

blue flames question mark

WSW Wants Your Writing Questions!

The folks behind the Writers Supporting Writers blog (Berthold, Chuck, Lucinda, Mark, Richard, and Audrey) want your questions. About writing, publishing, inspiration, being indie, querying, rejections, sales, marketing, writing rules, etc. etc. The whole gamut of topics related to the world of writing.

Read further and post your questions HERE.