Kindle publishing: the mostly good, the little bad, and the none too ugly

Kindle publishing is amazing. The idea that you or I, or anyone, can upload a manuscript at no cost and have people all over the world be able to buy and read it in a matter of hours is truly a mind-blowing concept. That’s the thing to keep in mind as I regale you with my Kindle publishing frustrations.

After all the hard work putting a print version of a new novel together, I yearned for a moment to sit back and enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Resting on my laurels would have been a fine thing, if I had any laurels, and if I weren’t concerned about exposing the other half of the reading public to my book.

So, after four years of forgetting everything I had once learned about Kindle publishing, it was time to dive back in.

It’s incredibly easy to get 95% of the presentation of a book right on Kindle. If you’re fine with 95%, you can likely publish to Kindle in your sleep. If 95% isn’t good enough, the other 5% can make you lose a good deal of that sleep.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned from my recent bout with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

The online previewer doesn’t preview for older Kindles

I uploaded a file that looked great on the previewer. It looked fine on the Fire, but when I downloaded the file to my old Kindle reader, some spaces had disappeared from between special characters. You don’t really know what it looks like until you read it on an actual Kindle.

Special fonts may not convert

I have a few instances in which I use special fonts. It seems like Kindle used to be able to handle these, but now they are changed to a common font.

Functionality may not be the same on different Kindle devices

I wanted to have a Table of Contents location to help readers navigate. The TOC location is recognized beautifully on my old 2nd Generation Kindle Reader, but is a dead end on my kids’ Kindle Fire.

Kindle evolution

Both are Kindles, but they are very different devices.

Kindle books may not open where you want them to

When I downloaded the free sample and opened it, it began at the place where the Kindle gods guessed the story began: Chapter 1. Unfortunately there was text important to the story prior to Chapter 1. It got skipped, leaving the reader lacking context. Yes, it’s only the free sample, but how many people use free samples to decide what to buy? And would the full book open at the same spot? (I decided to get the sample right before I even bothered downloading the whole book.) I solved this problem by uploading a new file in which I bookmarked and labeled the text preceding Chapter 1 as ‘Prologue’ and linked to it in the Table of Contents. It still doesn’t open exactly where I’d like, but at least it opens before the story begins.

Email notifications that your updates are published sometimes jump the gun

I got an email that my new files were published. I then downloaded a new free sample. It was still the old file. A day later, I downloaded the free sample again. This time it was the new file. At the very bottom of the email it mentions something about 24-48 hours. This is an important note that should probably be more prominent.

Kindle publishing has changed in the past four years

Mostly, they’ve made it easier. But if you were expecting it to run like it used to, you could be in for some surprises. I updated the file for an old book only to discover I had uploaded an image link that was no longer necessary and had thus created a book with two covers. This was an easy fix, once I figured out what I’d done wrong.

Your experience could be completely different than mine

That’s just the nature of uploading files and having them automatically converted to a different format. It leaves room for a lot of trial and error. The good news is you only have to buy the book once. Then, if you want to see a later update live, you can email KDP and they will send the new file to your device. They are very responsive to emails and have answered all of mine with 24 hours.


 

Even having learned these lessons, I am far from a Kindle publishing expert. I’m working hard to conquer that last 5%, but I’m beginning to understand that 100% right, across all devices, might be a pipe dream.

 

Let the suckers write while you get rich

I was scrolling through the updates of friends on Facebook. You know, the odd bits that show up occasionally, between all the ads and the updates by people you don’t recall knowing. Posts by people I don’t think I know perplex me, but I don’t usually pay attention to the ads. Months ago, I clicked on one for a chance to win five bottles of premium scotch. It countered my tradition of not clicking ads, but come on, scotch!

This time, my eye was drawn to an ad about Kindle publishing, a topic of interest to me.

It touted a how-to guide for getting rich publishing on Kindle.

I didn’t click the ad, so I can’t say exactly what was being offered. Based on the image of two guys who looked like they could also teach you how to count cards in Vegas, I doubt it was about how to increase Kindle sales for the book you poured your heart and soul into.

For the self-published author, who wants to write, publish, and sell a quality product that he has invested countless hours into making as good as he can make it, ads like this are a problem.

There aren’t gatekeepers on Kindle (Nook, iTunes, etc.). On balance, this is a good thing. It creates a truly free market, with no one standing in the way of anybody else’s success. But it is also a land of opportunity for those who would make a quick buck without regard to how their actions affect the rest of the market.

Just sell it.

“Chief Talking Bull’s miracle elixir will make any trash you publish on Kindle worth its weight in gold.” (Image: Marion Post Wolcott/US Farm Security Administration)

People using Kindle as a get-rich-quick scheme are not pursuing the dream of making a name for themselves in the literary world. They are pursuing easy money. By throwing up on Kindle whatever comes to hand and using marketing tricks to sell it, they cheapen the brand. Customers looking for satisfying reading experiences are likely to become skeptical of the medium and unwilling to trust any author who is unknown to them.

I don’t know how Amazon feels about these make-a-quick-buck publishers. In the short run, Amazon profits from their sales. In the long run, they could turn Kindle publishing into a wasteland. It is Amazon’s right to allow whatever they want on their system. It is everyone’s right to get rich by whatever legal means they choose. I would not abridge either of those rights.

Yet, I’m disappointed when I hear Kindle customers say they will only download content from familiar authors or well-known publishing companies. That cuts out a lot of authors who have worked hard toward their goals. We’re just looking for a shot, and we’re probably not as slick at sales as the hit and run content providers. When their material gets chosen we lose, and when it turns a customer off to independently published material, we lose again.

Maybe the ad I saw really was for authors who take their work seriously. I hope so. Even if it was, there are many that aren’t.

What can we do about it? Not much. Not anything besides working to put out the best quality product we can, in hopes of winning one more customer over to independently published books.