Avoiding Self Publishing Calamity

Author Lenore Skomal

by Lenore Skomal

17,500 readers uploaded my Kindle version of Bluff, my debut novel, thanks to the free giveaway promotion KDP Select offers. That was the count halfway through day three of the promotion.

I wish I could have enjoyed that number. But I couldn’t. I was too busy panicking about the fact that so many people had downloaded an unreadable version of my book.

Unreadable you say? How could that be? Especially with the previewer that KDP offers to check your Kindle file after it’s uploaded. I would have said you’re right about that, except now I know different. Uploading a file to Kindle isn’t infallible.

My first mistake was relying on past experience. I had self published an anthology of my award-winning humor columns early last year. Uploading the PDF and checking it in the previewer showed a reasonable facsimile of the printed version. Granted, the layout of that book was fairly straightforward and done by a graphics friend of mine. Nothing fancy in the layout.

Which led to my second mistake: Assuming the second book, which had been professionally laid out, using a funky font and all the bells and whistles, would bear the same result when uploaded in the same format.

Of course, my book designer offered to convert the file for me for Kindle, for a cost. Budget always being a concern of mine, I waved it off and assumed I could do it myself. After uploading the PDF, I checked in the Kindle previewer and the formatting looked fine, save a few misplaced spacing errors.

This was my third, and perhaps most crucial mistake. The Kindle previewer on KDP, if you look at the tab on the top, is set for Kindle Fire, something I completely overlooked. To the right of “Kindle Fire” is a tiny drop-down arrow – and if I had clicked on that tab, I would have seen three other options: Kindle, iPad, and iPhone. I also would have seen that the Kindle version of the book was almost unreadable. God knows what it looked like for iPad and iPhone.

So, unbeknownst to me, the 17,500 readers who downloaded it for free had gotten this corrupt format, and assumed that I was, or had hired, the worst editor in the world. It was an offhand phone call to my sister that made me aware of this. Her best friend picked up the phone instead and after a few minutes of happy chitchat, I asked her if she had read BLUFF yet. I then heard the words that shot through me like a Medusa stare.

“I downloaded it but there’s something really off with the formatting. I can’t read it,” she said. My heart turned to stone and my stomach launched out of my body into the chasm of panic.

I rushed to my computer and checked my Amazon reviews. Yep. There they were. The first two reviews tanking the Kindle version of the novel that readers had downloaded for free, saying they couldn’t read it. In sheer reactive mode, I stopped the free giveaway. I don’t have heart problems, but I swear I started to feel pressure in my chest.

I quickly had the book reformatted professionally in hopes of rectifying the problem. But uploading a revised file of a book on KDP doesn’t mean the problem is fixed.

With the blood draining from my face, leaving me tingly and feeling faint, I posted comments to the negative Amazon reviews, apologizing for the mistake and explaining that anyone who downloaded the free version would be able to get the new version free as well by contacting me. I would do anything in order to rectify this human error, which was now costing my book review stars. As I have found out, readers who get e-books for free can be a tough, unforgiving lot. About 10 people have contacted me for the clean version.

In the process, I learned it’s impossible to contact Kindle Direct Publishing—directly. Email is the only way. I had hoped to get KDP to email those who had downloaded the corrupt Kindle version and tell them that the new one was available. No dice. I still haven’t heard back from them.

And if I can offer advice to other Indie publishers, it’s this: When trying to navigate your ship in this whole new world, trust those who have the maps.

[Need help checking your eBook’s formatting before release? This article will show you how. – The Admins]

BLUFF is Lenore Skomal’s first foray into the world of literary fiction. Winner of multiple awards for blogging, literature, biography and humor, her catalogue spans many genres. With 30 years of writing experience, 18 books published, two daily blogs and weekly column, the consistent themes in her work are the big issues of the human experience. Learn more about Lenore and her writing from her website and her Amazon author page.

[This article will show you how to check your eBook’s formatting before you publish it. – The Admins]

Author: Administrators

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44 thoughts on “Avoiding Self Publishing Calamity”

  1. What a nightmare. I have had issues with KDP as well as they absolutely refuse to deal with you directly, no matter how serious or involved the problem. I can’t ell you how many emails I have received from them telling me how sorry they are that I am having difficulties. Yet, instead of actually looking at the WHOLE history they give a preset response to each individual detail that makes the problem worse instead of better. I finally had to get outside help in order to save my sanity.
    A separate problem jives with yours. I did have my files professionally set up, but even so, I saw that there are missing italics which affect how my books are read. I know it is possible to correct these, (or so I’m told) but I am not computer savvy enough to do this myself.

    The KDP system is great if there are no glitches. If there are, it’s a living hell. .

  2. Thanks, Yvonne. It’s very comforting to know I am not the only one. I really hope that KDP gets its act together and offers more support for its customers.

  3. I see you uploaded a pdf, is there a reason you did that? I upload a word .doc and as far as I can see my books have formatted correctly. I’m always leery of multiple conversions (.doc -> PDF -> .Mobi) because I think errors creep in at each stage.
    I feel for you, I’ve never found a great support process – they are all friendly, but there’s no ongoing relationship and you have to start at step one every time. I have ongoing distribution issues at Smashwords for instance.

    1. I’m clearly not a technical person, so, no, there is no reason for it except that someone along the way must have told me to do it. As for uploading Word documents, I am checking with my professional formatter to find out his thoughts. I will get back to you later. I no longer upload on Smashwords. I think Kindle’s enough of a headache.

      1. Don’t give up on Smashwords! It’s a great way to see your book sell and sell. If you follow the instructions for formatting (basically, keep font under 16 pt, no page breaks or chapter breaks, no headers/footers/page numbers, 0 spacing before and after text, and don’t forget to include the Smashwords front end text of which they provide a sample) you won’t have issues–or at least any that aren’t easy to fix. They’re well worth the extra effort.

  4. In my experience (formatting more than 100 books for dozens of authors) I never suggest a .doc, .docx or a .pdf for upload to Kindle (Amazon)

    When I format I suggest .prc or .epub or .mobi.

    If there are quirky styles (poetry) I go with .epub as I can actually tweak individual lines or pages) Straight fiction I like .prc files.

    I hope that helps.


    1. BTW, this is the response from my professional formatter who I alluded to in my above comment. He’s the bomb. A genius and a heck of a nice person. He and Pavarti Tyler from Novel Publicity rescued me from this nightmare. I highly recommend both of them.

      1. Oh Darn – what’s that “commercial” going to cost me. (BTW – Lenore was fun to work with – a bit “uptight” when all Heck was breaking loose – but then, probably to be expected – lol)



  5. What Rik said. 😉

    Never upload a PDF to KDP. I would generally say no to doc format as well. But PDF is the worst, because the file often embeds complex markup (the stuff that makes it so GOOD for print!) that automatic conversion cannot handle.

    Best bet is mobi or prc. Next best is epub. Distant next is doc, but only if it’s a pretty clean doc file. You can learn about making a doc work well for conversion from the Smashwords Style Guide, as KDP doc conversion is not hugely different from the program Smashwords uses. If a doc converts cleanly on Smashwords, it will probably also do so on KDP.

    Never PDF. 😉

    My best practice: use Jutoh to produce the epub and mobi. Upload those directly to test devices so you can see the final product as customers will when they buy. Then upload those files to retailers.

  6. Wow! I’d never heard of this nightmare, but I am grateful to know of it for the future and Rik Hall…leave me your contact information. That was a damn good commercial 🙂

  7. I had a little formatting snafu myself, but it was on the Kindle Touch model. You have to download the Kindle previewer to preview what it will appear on it; it is not an option on the basic previewer on the site. Once I got it corrected, I did not have much of a problem dealing with KDP. They responded to my email fairly quickly,though it took them a week or two to send out an email to people who had downloaded the book that there was a new version available for them to download.

    1. That’s interesting, because they have yet to respond to any of the five emails I sent. The said it would be four to six weeks. And as far as I know, no one got an email saying the new version was available. I would have sent them to the 17,500 readers myself if I had their email addresses. Glad your experience had a happy ending.

  8. Ouch, thanks for sharing this Lenore. It wasn’t nice to read this – too easy to imagine that happening to me – but thank you for giving others the heads-up. Blimey, I can just imagine how you felt – awful.

    1. Thanks for the sympathy. It was hell. Sheer hell. And the crazy part is readers are still posting negative reviews about the “editing” not realizing that it was a formatting error. And rather than reading the posts about getting the clean version, they are just slamming the book because of the formatting errors. Gave a great insight into the psyche. I have made a mental note about this.

  9. I am so very sorry, and I hope you have it corrected. I also had problems, and I had a computer geek sitting with me. Neither of us could figure out what was going wrong. I loaded to the preview and everything looked good, but when I actually bought the Kindle edition to check (because we had so many problems getting it to load) it was a mess. I think I will always buy the Kindle edition as soon as it is available for sale, just to check.
    I appreciate your posting, and I admire your honesty.
    I hope your 1000’s of free customers want it bad enough to give it a second chance. I just listed my book, Big Backpack–Little World, for this Sat. and Sun. and hope it does half as well.

    1. Thanks, Donna. Oh yes it’s been corrected for almost a month. I am thinking of buying a kindle for that very reason you mentioned. With this mess, I had to keep asking friends with kindles to go buy it and check. Such a pain. Good luck with your book.

  10. Oh noooooooo – there’s another thing to put in the worry jar. Not quite sure if I dare to look at my Kindle files in all those other versions – perhaps a stiff whisky first… Glug glug glug. Thass Okay, theey look perfetctly goo to me – no worryies mate. Aced it. Hic. So glad i did’em onna Smassshworks frist. Think i gonn a lie down now…

  11. Something like that kind of happened to me and to this day we can’t figure out what happened. Everywhere my protags name was in the possessive it was missing, and in the first chapter two paragraphs at the end somehow found their way to the beginning. When we looked at the origional file it was correct.
    I pulled it down and reuploaded the file but I thought I was going to have a heart attack when it happened. Thank God it hadn’t gone as far as you did. I feel for you.

  12. Sorry about your misfortune, Lenore. Please be careful with the online Kindle Previewer, because it has some bugs and what you see in your browser is not what will necessarily render on the user’s Kindle. The best bet is to download the Kindle Previewer software; although, I’ve heard it has some issues for Mac users. Kindle Fire uses the KF8 format, as does Kindle Touch and the Kindle 4s with the upgrades. The older Mobipocket format is used by the older e-ink Kindles and the Kindle for iOS. It’s definitely a good idea to look at both in the previewer to make sure your book is readable.

    The best way to make your eBooks is with HTML/CSS then make the EPUB, and then use KindleGen to make the .mobi file. In full disclosure, I work for a conversion shop that does this. It’s a bit technical, but the best option by far. HTML and CSS are very well documented and there’s tons of free resources online about them. It might be worthwhile to learn a bit, as that is basically what an eBook is.As Kevin mentioned, never upload the PDF. If you’re in a pinch at least upload the .doc file that has been formatted properly.

    1. Paul is totally correct – I work directly inside the file with HTML/CSS – the only way to get it perfect.


  13. I feel for you, Lenore. I ePublish with Kindle, Smashwords and Lulu and it’s amazing that there are so many requirements to pre-EPUB your book in terms of formatting. I mean they all use a version of EPUB but require totally different preparations. However as long as it’s free, and that goes for all of them, none of them are going to actually waste time being over helpful or lose too much sleep over your problems. This is the service we provide, learn to work with it! That seems to be general attitude; Amazon actually deals with your problems the quickest but the system is far from perfect.

    As I started off by saying, Lenore, I feel for you; I encountered a different problem and I don’t think it had such an initial, devastating result but I didn’t catch onto it as quickly as you did, and who knows how much long term, residual damage resulted from it.

    Having said that though, what an age we live in… Through this technology, it has never looked brighter for authors who have the dedication, talent and persistence to endure all the hoops and hurdles.

    Thank for sharing your plight, Lenore, and I have no doubt that you will look back on this experience, in the not too distant future, see it for what it is (merely an obstacle to be overcome) and be able to laugh about it.

    1. “and I have no doubt that you will look back on this experience, in the not too distant future, see it for what it is (merely an obstacle to be overcome) and be able to laugh about it.”

      From your lips to the gods’ ears, T.D. And what you write makes perfect sense. I think if I had paid the price for KDP to do the conversion from the start, even though it’s an overpriced service IMHO, I wouldn’t have had this problem. The overall lesson for all of us who aren’t naturally tech-savvy is to pay attention to the details, take nothing for granted, and embrace the concept of checking and double checking. Never assume. Thanks for your thoughts.

  14. I’m very sorry for your mishap, but I am very happy you’ve chosen to share your experience with all of us. It is something I will definitely pay better attention to in the future. Thanks again!

  15. Very generous to share this catastrophe so others may avoid it, Lenore. But can csomeone state definitively the right way to go about this, starting with the Kindle upload?

    Assuming you write your MS with Word, do you go straight to Calibre and convert it to a .mobi? I ask not because my formatting was a mess on this last occasion, but my Page Breaks didn’t work, making the chapters run together with no gaps at the end of them. I uploaded a straight .docx and I suspect this might not have been the best idea.

  16. This is what I do:
    I take the MS Word document
    I copy it and paste it into a plain text (.txt ) file (This is called “nuking it” and gets rid of almost all of the weird stuff MS Word adds to their documents.)
    I save the text file and then open a new template that I make for Kindle.
    I copy the nuked version into the template
    I reformat all the bolds and italics that you have and as well as set the look and feel to match what you want using eBook friendly Styles
    I take out all the Tabs
    I add a TOC and format that.
    I compress any graphics
    Once I have the cover I check the formatting on it to match eBOOK’s specs
    I then produce a .prc that includes a link to the cover, toc and start and all the graphics
    Then I make a .epub (the file type Kindle likes)
    I work with the epub to clean up anything else
    Then I send the author the appropriate files to them to put them at KDP, KWL, Nook or SW.

  17. Dear Lenore,
    I’ve had a nightmare with formatting from an out-of-print book that was scanned and dropped into a word document. Though I changed all the formatting, did nothing fancy whatsoever, etc., the Kindle converter “read” all the hidden formatting from the formerly printed book, which I literally could not see in my html file, and did the most bizarre things.

    Boy, did I get slammed.

    However, despite the fact that KDP does not know what it’s doing, gives you contradictory advice, contradicts its own formatting instructions, and makes you homicidal as well as suicidal, Amazon Corporate is very willing to step in and help with formatting problems.

    You just have to go over KDP’s head, so to speak.

    For future books, I would advise the following, so that you will not have to go through this nightmare again, or through the one I’ve been going through for the past 10 months with my scanned novel (I have two more scanned books to get out, but have put it off because of the vicious attacks from reviewers on the “terrible formatting/editing of the book” despite my contacting them through comments and offering to send them fixed copies of the book).

    If you are doing a scanned book, before you do anything else, highlight the entire file, click View>Styles and Choose “Clear Formatting”. This will eliminate all the hidden formatting that was in the paper version of the book, which really messes up the book, and which you will not be able to find since it’s, literally, hidden.

    If you already have a scanned book formatted & published as an ebook, contact me at my email, and I’ll tell you whom to contact at Corporate. They will help you, most gladly, as they honestly do not want authors’ ebooks to be bad, and other authors’ continually adding their complaints to the lack of knowledge and cooperation (and phone support) of KDP itself is needed to make Amazon invest the money and time to bring the department out of India, where it is now, and back to the US, where phone support personnel, as Amazon has for every single other department in its company, can help publishers and authors put out professional products.

    For books that are not scanned, I would strongly advise that you do absolutely nothing fancy with the fonts: do the entire book in Times New Roman, font size 12 (You may use bold or italics), but nothing else is worth doing because the Kindles are designed to allow the readers to choose different fonts, margins, colors, etc, so if you spent money formatting a book so that it cannot be changed, you have completely defeated the purpose of an ebook for the readers, many of whom read it in “night-mode” (white print on a black background), sepia (brown print on a golden-yellow background, which I myself find very pretty and often read in, and in which I’ve had purchased books “disappear” until I went back to day-mode [black print on white]), with wide margins, or huge fonts (sometimes so big that only a paragraph or two will show up on the Kindle at a time).

    An ebook is an html file, and it needs to be a clean one because the Kindle Converter changes the file you submit for each of its different readers, which are increasing all the time, so your file needs to be simple and clean. Not fancy. Remember that it is not a paper book: you are not meant to control the way everything looks. The readers want to do that for themselves.

    Please feel free to contact me if you want more information on fixing any code corruption in your books that are already published, at the email below, and I send you my blessings that you will be able to resolve the issue soon and easily, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

    Best wishes on your Indie publishing journey,

    1. Thanks, Alexandria! The issue is solved, no thanks to KDP, but the bad reviews on Amazon from idiot readers who don’t know the difference between a corrupt file and bad editing still sting. Sigh.

      1. That’s always a pain with the reviews, isn’t it, Lenore? And even if you comment and tell them about the problem (and that you’ll make it right for them), they leave the review, usually with 1 star, up, though they could delete it after they get the correctly formatted book. As if we were intentionally putting up badly formatted books.

        As for not getting any help from KDP, that’s exactly what you need to contact Amazon Corporate about: so that Amazon puts in a KDP department with decent support staff.

        1. You’re exactly right. I will never understand these fools who condemn us for a formatting error as if we’re bumbling amateurs, rather than professionals who made a mistake. And they have no idea the effect their knee jerk reviews have on our careers. Argh.
          I will indeed contact Amazon Corporate about this. It just galls me that no one ever responded to any of my emails or attempts to right this. Thanks, Alexandria.

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