Amazon KDP

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 (0634 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

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?

Updating an Ebook is Harder than I Thought

One of the good things about self-publishing in ebook form with Amazon KDP is you can correct typos and other errors easily. Make the changes in your base document, upload it to KDP, press Publish and you’re done, right?

Yes and no.

Readers who buy your book after you publish the corrected version will get that version. But what about everyone who pre-ordered it or bought it before you discovered those pesky typos? You’ve assumed the corrected version will be automatically delivered to their reading devices, right?

Probably not.

One of the authors whose blog I follow recently published an updated and corrected version of an ebook. Being aware of this, I was eager to reread the book in its new form. When I checked my Kindle library (note: I don’t own a Kindle reader; I read Kindle books on a tablet using the Kindle app), I found only the original version of the book.

I thought, Okay, I’ll just buy a copy of the improved edition. No luck–Amazon told me I already own the book. So I went to “Manage Your Content and Devices,” where I found all the Kindle books I’ve ever bought. One of them–just one!–had “Update Available” below the title. The others did not, including the title I wanted to update. Yes, I have Automatic Book Update turned On in my Amazon account. And yes, I tried clicking Select next to the title and then clicking on Deliver at the top of the page, then designating the device I wanted the book delivered to. No soap; I’m guessing that because the ASIN is the same, I’m stuck with the original version.

This was confirmed by further digging in KDP’s Help pages, where I found one called Send Updated eBook Content to Customers. This page specifies exactly what an author has to do to enable an automatic update to be sent to people who have purchased the book.

You have to contact Amazon. The errors have to be “serious.” “You need to provide us detailed examples of your improvements regarding the quality errors.” And “You need to send us the ASIN, detailed examples of the corrections you made, and the Kindle location number. Location numbers are the digital equivalent of physical page numbers and provide a way to easily reference a place in your reading material regardless of font size.” I’m quoting from the page I linked to in the preceding paragraph.

There is also a list of changes Amazon will NOT accept. One of them is “significant changes that warrant a new edition.” I’m guessing a new edition would be an entirely new book, with a new ASIN. That’s where I gave up.

My takeaway from these investigations is: Make sure your Kindle ebook is perfect before you publish it for the first time. Or be prepared to make a case to Amazon for pushing out your changes to customers. Almost like in the bad old days of offset printing, where making a correction was difficult and expensive.

I would be delighted if anyone can tell me (on good authority) that the above is all wrong. Has anyone been able to download a corrected copy of a Kindle ebook you’ve purchased? And finally, has anyone gone through the steps described above to correct a book you’ve published?

She Who Comes Forth book spine

Printed Book DIY

Okay, authors are advised not to do this — design your own cover images, especially for the printed versions of your books. But I did it. Maybe it was the allure of the forbidden. Or maybe it was inevitable, because this whole writing and publishing adventure started with me telling myself, “Think of it as an exercise, not a commitment. Try it and see what happens.”

When I published my first ebooks, almost a decade ago, my home made cover images were indeed lame. After a couple of years I commissioned excellent professionally designed images, which still grace the four books of my Herbert West Series. They were not inexpensive. (“Good, fast, cheap — pick two!”)

A couple of years ago, I started using Canva, just to see whether it was as easy as some said. After some experimentation, I designed cover images for the four short spinoff stories from my main series, published in 2016. Since I intended to make them perma-free, it didn’t make any sense to pay for cover images, and I was happy with the results, although compared to the professional designs, their amateur origin is evident.

She Who Comes Forth print book front coverBy the time my latest novel, She Who Comes Forth, was ready to come forth, I had designed more than half a dozen images for it. Fooling around with Canva is fun, and was a great way to do something related to my (then) work in progress when I didn’t feel like actually writing. After I finalized my final design, part of me could hardly wait to start on the challenge of incorporating it into a cover for the print version of the novel. This was while I was still waffling about publishing in print at all, and a bit apprehensive at the prospect of formatting the Word doc for POD.

So here we are, a couple of months later, and the print version of SWCF exists. I have ten copies right here, nine of which are still in the box with the Amazon smile. And all in all, I’m pleased with it. (I still have all my hair, too.)

The print book may be purchased at your preferred Amazon outlet. This one, for example. The ebook version of She Who Comes Forth will be available on November 7th, and may be pre-ordered now at a special price.

For those who might be foolhardy bold enough to attempt a similar project, here are a few things I learned that others may find helpful. One thing I’ve noticed about documentation, instructions and “help” pages — sometimes they omit tiny but crucial details. I don’t pretend to be an expert, and many of you may know all that stuff already, or have no desire to get into this type of project, so this is for the rest of you. FYI on DYI.

Word Document Formatting:

Amazon KDP provides a pretty good basic formatting guide. And you can usually find good help pages on the internet for most Word issues. This one, for example, tells you how to set up different headers and footers on odd and even pages.

Here are a few of my own personal tips:

First, find a trad-pubbed (or for that matter, indie-pubbed) book you like the looks of and use it as a model for interior design, preliminary pages, presence/absence of headers and page numbers,  etc. Then all you have to do is figure out how to get those effects in your Word document.

Second, make sure your text is perfect (or as close as you can get) before you start formatting. Adding or deleting more than a character or two can mess things up once you’ve inserted Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers.

She Who Comes Forth book chapter heading with moon glyphThird, add your preliminary pages (half-title, title page, epigraph and or dedication pages) and any “extras,” such as the moon glyphs I added to every one of the chapter titles. (They actually represent the moon phases in Luxor, Egypt in 1962 as the story progresses.) Decide on the trim size for your book (6×9 inches, for example), specify the paper size and set the margins. KDP’s “Build Your Book” guide has instructions for these steps, and even little videos you can view as many times as you need to.

Now for the ultimate challenge — Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers. Use the magic of “Save As” before you start, so you have a pristine copy of your document up to that point. If things go wrong, you can scrap the mess and start again without having to go through the process of adding the preliminary pages, setting margins, etc.

Really, once you’ve set up the headers and footers for Chapter 1 (or Prologue, if you have one), it’s a matter of selecting the right type of Section Break between chapters and breaking the link with the Header in the previous section when you want to do something different, like omitting the odd page header from the first page of the new chapter. (See why this can involve hair-tearing and profuse cursing?)

Actually, it seemed to me that the latest version of Word makes the process easier than previous versions. Or maybe it was just because I’d struggled through all this stuff before. Whatever the reason, I found I could rely on a specific sequence of checks and choices as I paged through the document, like a little mental flow chart. It was encouraging to be able to reproduce the desired pattern reliably as I went along.

She Who Comes Forth book title page

The title page. I used Canva to create the picture in the middle (a separate little project). Then I inserted it into my Word doc.

Again, do NOT fiddle with anything that affects the space taken up by your text after you insert your Section Breaks, Headers, and Footers. That would be trim size, margins, font size, line spacing, adding or deleting more than a tiny amount of text. Get all that stuff finalized before you start on Section Breaks. If you really need to make any of those changes, return to your “before Section Breaks” document and make the changes there. Once you’re done, Save As, and start over. (Trust me, “Save As” is your friend.)

Finally, before you upload your document to KDP, save a copy in PDF form. That will show you exactly what your printed pages will look like. If there are problems (usually with headers and/or footers), you’ll spot them immediately and can return to your Word doc to fix them. Once everything looks good, you can actually upload your final, perfect PDF to KDP.

For a really thorough how-to guide on the entire print publishing process, I recommend How to Print Your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing: a step-by-step guide for absolute beginners, by ACFlory. It takes you through the formatting process in detail, with screenshots. This ebook is available on Amazon.

Cover Design:

Anyone who’s comfortable with Canva (and designing images) can create a credible print book cover. You probably wouldn’t want to make this your first experience of Canva (unless you’re a really quick study). Experiment first, getting used to layering images, using transparency, adding text, and moving stuff around. Create some ebook cover images. If you don’t actually have an ebook that needs a cover image, make some for books you mean to write. (The exercise might inspire you.) Once you know you can construct attractive images with the degree of complexity you need, you’re ready to tackle a print book cover.

Before starting, you need an interior book file that’s complete, perfectly formatted, and ready to upload, so you know how many pages your book will have. That determines the width of the spine. Once you know that and have selected a trim size, download a print cover template from Amazon KDP. Go to Canva and start a new project, with customized dimensions exactly right for your cover.  I found these instructions by Katherine Roberts very helpful, especially the calculations to set the custom size for your Canva project.

One of the cool things about Canva is that you can upload your own images to use in your designs. This is also where you upload your print cover template from KDP. By incorporating it into your design (temporarily), you can make sure to adhere to KDP’s specs for bleed and barcode placement.

If you use free images from a site like Pixabay for your cover design, remember to download the highest resolution versions. Images that don’t meet Amazon KDP’s fabled 300 dpi standard may cause your cover to be rejected. (This didn’t happen to me, I’m happy to say).

Select a background, and then layer the cover template over it.  (My background is that textured ochre colour on the spine.) Then proceed as usual, adding whatever elements you need for your front and back covers. Set the transparency so you can see the cover template and its all-important red border lines. For my cover, the spine was the only place where the cover template was the topmost layer (well, just below the spine text). This was important, because after I was finished adding all the elements, including text, and was certain nothing important was on or outside the red lines, I easily deleted the template. Don’t forget to do that, and do NOT move any text or important image elements once the template is gone. You can change filters, transparency, or colours, but don’t change fonts at this point, because that might change the size of text areas. When you’re done, download the image as a printable PDF, and upload both it and your text PDF to Amazon KDP. And rejoice.


Update or Re-edit? Revisiting Word docs

An excellent piece of advice to authors publishing a new book is to add information about it to the back matter of all their existing books.

Easy, right?

Well, it depends…

The back matter is found — well, at the back. Meaning the end of the document. Unless you zoom directly there (Ctrl + End) with your eyes closed, add the description of the new book, save and exit the document, you’ll inevitably notice things. Things like typos, problems with quotation marks, not enough white space, and other details you just wouldn’t find acceptable if you were formatting that document today.

You do a couple of small fixes. Then some larger fixes. Next thing you know, you’re doing a seat-of-the-pants unplanned re-edit and/or reformatting.

I don’t recommend this approach, unless you enjoy chaos.

I’ve just revisited 16 — yes, that’s right, sixteen — Word documents to add info about my latest book to the back matter of my eight published books. The oldest doc was created in 2010, the newest in 2016, using two different computers and different versions of Word. There is a Smashwords document and an Amazon document for each book. The docs are nearly but not quite identical. (In my experience, a Word doc correctly formatted using the Smashwords Style Guide will have no problem being processed by Amazon).

In formatting my latest book (She Who Comes Forth — still on pre-order at a special price, by the way), I rediscovered the magic of creating my own Styles in Word, including a handy one called “No indent,” to be applied to paragraphs whose first line should not be indented — the first paragraph in a new chapter or section, for example. This adds a “professional” touch to the text, and Lord knows we self-published indies need to look professional.

As with so many other features of Word, you have to be careful with Styles. My advice — before you do anything, uncheck the “Automatically update” box in the Modify Style window. It’s disconcerting when you discover that a little tweak in one spot has unintended effects all over the document.

So far, only one of my 16 documents has had problems on upload. It got through the two automated checks on Smashwords’ infamous “Meatgrinder,” but the subsequent detailed review revealed blocks of 14-point text among the intended 12-point. Not pretty.

Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my newly-created “No indent” style was at fault. Its definition said Times New Roman 12-point, but I suspect that when I created that style, my cursor was sitting on the one and only instance of 14-point text in the entire document. Every paragraph to which I applied this style ended up as 14-point once it was turned into an Epub. This didn’t show up until I downloaded the Epub and viewed it in Adobe Digital Editions, as the good people at Smashwords advised me to do asap. Because this document had been around since 2010 and jumped the hoops several times over the years, I assumed it was clean. But of course the new style was an add-on.

So here’s my advice, for those who are looking at revisiting the base documents for their ebooks…

  1. Decide in advance whether you are going to do more than add the new info to the back matter. If there’s been something about the book that’s been bugging you since you published it (known typos, misaligned text, presence or absence of bolding or italics), this is an opportunity to apply fixes. If reviews have mentioned errors, it’s definitely worth doing. But if you consider the book to be okay, don’t start looking for trouble unless you have the time and energy for a systematic re-edit or re-format. This is especially true if you’ve paid someone to do that stuff for you. If it’s okay, don’t mess with it.
  2. The longer a document has been in existence, the greater the chance of problems developing if you tweak something. If it was originally created using a 1990s version of Word — or maybe even WordPerfect! — playing around with it may have unintended consequences. If you must tweak, be mentally prepared to deal with unpleasant surprises.
  3. If you’re uploading to Amazon, don’t skip the online previewer. It’s right below the spot where you upload your file, and you can use it as soon as the file has been ingested. It shows you what your doc will look like after being converted to an ebook. Go through the whole book, even if it’s 10,000 “locations.” If you find problems, you can deal with them immediately and upload the corrected document.
  4. Smashwords doesn’t have a previewer. If your document passes the Autovetter and Epub checks, you get an email telling you that and suggesting you download your newly created Epub file and look at it using Adobe Digital Editions. (This is the step I omitted with my oldest document). Some problems invisible in the Word document show up beautifully when viewed this way, so it’s definitely worth doing. As with the Amazon previewer, page through the entire book. You may find and fix problems before the Smashwords folks send you an email telling you there are problems with your baby.
  5. Once you’re happy with your updated Word docs, save them extravagantly! Save to your flash drive, your external hard drive AND to a cloud storage service like Dropbox. Sure, your books are published and available everywhere, but you need those base files if you want to make any more changes to them.

Well, I think I’m just about finished with ebook formatting for now. My next challenge — should I decide to take it on — is formatting She Who Comes Forth for print publication.  This time I will use KDP, since CreateSpace is no more, but first I have to wrestle a Word document into a proto-book, that will eventually be turned into an actual physical thing. I’ve done it four times already, but not for a couple of years — long enough to forget important details. I anticipate weeks of frustration, distraction, and going around muttering things like “recto,” “verso,” “odd page,” “even page,” “section break,” “keep with next,” various four-letter words, and AAAAARGH!

Woman at computer, surprised.

Where the !@#$ did THAT come from?


Images courtesy of Pixabay