Distributing Your Book Online: The Devil’s Details

If you are a writer looking to publish a book on Amazon or elsewhere, a ton of articles on the web will tell you about what you should or shouldn’t do. However these articles often pass over certain smaller details, which if you aren’t prepared in advance can give you quite a headache, including putting a skew on your timeline.

I recently put out a small book called Kevin The Vampire and pushed it through a number of distribution channels, precisely to locate these speed bumps so I could avoid them while publishing future projects. I list my discoveries here, in case they are of use to anybody.

The channels I used were Kindle Direct Publishing, CreateSpace, IngramSpark, and ACX.

Kindle DIrect PUblishing

For selling ebooks on Amazon.

-With Kevin the Vampire, my goal was not to make money but to get copies into people’s hands to build an audience base for my next book, The Killbug Eulogies. But you cannot simply give your book away with KDP. This is unintuitive, because Amazon has a whole sales pages for free ebooks. However, if I wanted to offer a free book, I had to do one of two things:

1) Place it for free elsewhere, probably Smashwords. Amazon has some mechanism for discovering you are offering a book for less elsewhere (though it might speed up the process to email them to say you’ve done so), they will set their price to match $0.

2) Join Kindle Select, which means you promise to distribute your ebook exclusively through Amazon. After that, you offer your book for a free as a promotion for five days.

I understand a third method now exists, namely by distributing to Amazon through a channel called Pronoun. I haven’t used this service yet, but I am considering it for the future, because it also allows you command a higher royalty than KDP’s 35% for products to sold under $3.

-This is a small detail but it yields an important lesson. The ebook previewer that KDP provides when you upload your book and the “Look Inside” feature on the Amazon page do not render your .epub the same way. Epubs are rendered differently by different e-readers, but this was one place I expected identical results. Not so. For whatever reason, the KDP previewer shows my imprint logo at the size I specified in the html when I built the .epub, but “Look Inside” ignores the resizing and shows the image at full size—comically huge!

The lesson: Only use images already sized for your document. You may be used to having an image that’s 900 pixels wide, but you want it only 500 pixels on your web page, so you tell the html tag to resize it. Don’t do this with your book! Make a copy of the image, save it with the size (and resolution) you need, and insert that file instead. Otherwise something you don’t want will happen somewhere, perhaps on an e-reader you don’t even know exists.

CreateSpace

This is for print-on-demand books sold through Amazon.

CreateSpace gives you templates to format your book in Microsoft Word. But even after copying and pasting your text into one of these, you will probably want to make adjustments. This will be irritating to master, but everything is documented online. Learn about sections and how they behave. Headers and footers will try to kill you, but you are smarter than them, so don’t give up.

File conversion is the trial you need to be ready for.

You can upload your Word .doc directly to CreateSpace, but I don’t recommend it. Formatting changes are likely to occur. For instance, I used a drop cap (a big first letter) to open my chapters, but occasionally this resulted in an enormous indent on the following line, an obvious mistake.

The correct step is to convert the .doc to a .pdf. Word for PC can do this, but not in a way that correctly embeds both the fonts and images (such as Square Straw Press’s imprint logo). If you fiddle with Word’s export settings, you’ll find that Word will offer to convert your file to PDF/A, whereas CreateSpace asks for PDF/X. CreateSpace does not inform you this essentially requires an Adobe product, such as InDesign or Acrobat Pro, which are only available by subscription. If do not have access to one of these, it may be cheaper and easier to hire someone to format your interior for you. Otherwise, be prepared to settle for burps in your layout.

I also tried Word’s PDF exporter on mac, and that gave me a better result. The result had errors in it, but CreateSpace was able to correct these sufficiently to print the book.

After you upload your the PDF of both your cover and your interior to CreateSpace, it lets you view the book online. However, it is recommended (by CreateSpace and by me) that you have a proof of the book printed and shipped to yourself. Unless you are prepared to wait a while, the shipping costs are more than you would like them to be. I spent more than $10 to get a proof in three days.

Once you approve your book for distribution, you can purchases copies of your book directly from CreateSpace. You receive no royalties from this, but it’s cheaper than if you bought them off Amazon. However, the shipping period is longer. I wanted to sell Kevin at the upcoming Southern Festival of Books, but in order to guarantee receiving the books on time, I first had to wait 3-5 days for Amazon to list the book, and then have a set of those copies (printed POD by CreateSpace!) delivered by Amazon Prime. Then I had to pay tax on top of that because this is Tennessee. Even with free shipping, this cost me twice as much, even after factoring in the royalties.

I have no idea why buying a book through an extra channel takes less time.

-If the images in your .pdf do not have a dpi of at least 300, the validation process will give you a warning. It might still look okay in print, but it will cost time (and perhaps money) to find out. If you do not have access to Photoshop, you can download a free program called paint.net which will make this conversion easy for you (Image –> Resize). As I said above, you will want to size the image for your document.

Amazon

The “Look Inside” feature on Amazon shows drastically different amounts of my book depending if you look at the ebook or print version. The ebook doesn’t get so far as the table of contents, while print shows roughly half the text. That is not hyperbole, you can read most of Kevin right on Amazon. Invest to find out what happens at the end, I guess.

Ingram Spark

Ingram will distribute your book through all the channels that are not Amazon, such as Barnes&Noble, Kobo, and others. (Actually they will distribute on Amazon as well, but that means giving Ingram an additional slice of the sales.)

The PDF conversion issue is even trickier for Ingram, (don’t even think about uploading a Word .doc) as their software is less capable of correcting mistakes and gives you less information about the mistakes you’ve made. The Amazon business model wants to help everyone get their book up and for sale; Ingram assumes you are a professional. Their validation process for a .pdf might allow a document through even though it is a right mess, and they will want to charge you to re-upload your document afterward, so know what you are doing or get someone to help you.

Word will allow you to convert to .pdf either through “Save” or “Print.” You can use the Save method and then have Acrobat Pro correct the resulting document to the required .pdf standard, but this will result in lowering the resolution of your images (if you have any). Word is trying to lower your image resolution with a fervor that must be called spite. Your want 300 dpi for your book, with a recommended minimum of 200. Word saved mine to 198, I’m not even joking.

For a fighting chance, you have to deactivate Word’s default image compression. On a PC you must go to File->Options->Advanced and click “Do not compress images in file” to prevent compression when you insert your file. But it will still compress it when you save (this is real!) unless you go to the drop down arrow on “Tools” next to the Save button, click the compression menu and tell it AGAIN not to compress your images.

On Mac, you are SOL if you are using a .doc file (such as one of CreateSpace’s templates), so convert to .docx if you want the recommended dpi. Then you need to double click the image, go to the picture format tab, click on Compression and tell it pretty #*(%in’ please don’t compress my file. Since you are printing to .pdf instead of saving (because of the image compression thing), you need to convince Word to print to your book’s trim size, not to 8.5″ x 11″ printer paper, otherwise your document will be a disaster. You have to go into the Format menu and coerce the Page Setup. I can’t tell you exactly what to manipulate, I’ve only done it by accident. When it looks right on the preview, you are good to go. I think. With Acrobat Pro, you can it to the PDF/X 1a:2000 standard that Ingram specifies.

Once you’ve gotten this far, you can upload your .pdf to Ingram. As likely as not, Ingram’s validator will still tell you you’ve done something wrong, and it’s time to cry like the failure you are. I recommend taking Ingram’s advice and having a good cry, because this is the only thing that will help.

-Your sales reports on Ingram are coded in language more arcane than it needs to be. For example, the word “Agency” means “via an Apple distributor.” Why not just “Apple”? Who knows.

ACX

ACX distributes your audiobook to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

-Consult this for encoding the .mp3s of your recording correctly.

-You are supposed to include audio of the opening and closing credits. The information which these need to contain is listed here. It is not clear until you try you upload your audio that these are meant to be separate files, not simply leading chapter one, or following the closing chapter.

-You will have no control over the price of your audiobook. The last I looked, Amazon sells audio of Kevin The Vampire for $6.08, Audible for $6.95, and iTunes for $5 and change. In addition, if you buy the Kindle ebook for $.99, you can add Audible Narration (with Whispersync, which apparently lets you switch seamlessly between text and voice) for $1.99. This makes it cheaper to buy both than audio alone. Who knows.

-In order to create an audiobook project on ACX, you need to have the book listed on Amazon. Which means if you want to release your audiobook in conjunction with print/ebook, you will (I presume) first have to make your book available for pre-order. You can do this no fewer than approximately five days prior to your release date. The exact number of days is unimportant because:

-ACX asks you to anticipate 10-14 business days for your uploaded files to pass through quality assurance. Mine only took about seven days between when I approved my files for distribution and when they appeared on Audible, but still significantly longer than getting either the .epub or .pdf approved. Once your files are approved, up they go, so don’t plan a release date.

In Conclusion

All the information you need to distribute your book is on the web, but not all in the same place. If you try to diverge from the basic templates, be prepared to feel frustrated and have your time wasted. But it’s your product and your business, you probably want to do it right.

This has been a list of things I wish someone had told me before I began publishing. Hopefully, they will be helpful to someone. God speed and good luck.

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