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.
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