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Fixing Availability on Amazon
For many years now, the bugbear of small book publishers working exclusively with Lightning Source or its sister company IngramSpark has been poor availability listings on Amazon. But I can finally prescribe a fix for at least the worst of them.
First, though, I’d like to report a welcome surprise: the return of listings for “1‑2 day” availability. Though the wording has changed a bit—it’s now “Ships when available in 1‑2 days”—the import is the same: Amazon will order the book from Lightning Source with quick “drop shipping” direct to the customer. But unlike in the past, this status is granted to only a segment of Lightning books.
If a Lightning book is selling at all reasonably, Amazon tries to keep it in stock by ordering enough copies to meet several weeks’ demand. In fact, it’s gotten much better about this over the past year, sometimes ordering hundreds of copies of a Lightning book on a monthly basis. But if a book has slow or rising sales, Amazon can still underestimate and run out. And if a book has never or rarely sold, Amazon may wait to order till it does.
In those cases, Amazon may say that your Lightning book is available in “1‑2 weeks,” “2‑4 weeks,” or even “1‑2 months.” The estimate is nominally based on Amazon’s own records of how long it has taken books ordered from Lightning or Ingram to arrive and go on sale, but it can be skewed by Amazon’s own delays in unpacking and processing arrivals during busy times. It’s also purposely meant to reflect worst cases, to avoid disappointing a customer. Alternatively, Amazon may list the book as “temporarily unavailable” until new copies arrive, or as available on a specific date, if Amazon knows when they’re coming.
These listings can certainly hurt sales, but for a book that’s been selling, they’re likely to disappear within a week or two with Amazon’s receipt of the next shipment. On the other hand, if demand is rising rapidly, copies that Amazon orders may keep selling out before they arrive, yielding an ongoing cycle of “unavailability” and suppressed sales. This happened to me, for example, with several Christmas books during the recent holiday season—the worst possible time for it. I believe it lost me a third to a half of my sales of those books.
A problem like that might well drive a Lightning publisher to double-source with CreateSpace, despite its required discount of 40%—and in fact, that’s been my recommendation for some years. But this year, I may test a different solution: publishing double editions of a book, both of them at Lightning. By spreading and alternating demand between two editions on Amazon, I believe I can greatly improve the chances of at least one being in stock at any time. (I haven’t decided how or even whether to distinguish the two editions, but I might designate one the “large text” edition—especially since all my books feature large text anyway.) Again, this would only make sense for a seasonal book or another with a steep upward sales curve, since the cost for other books would be reduced sales rank.
There’s one more availability listing that Amazon may apply to a Lightning book, and it’s the one you never want to see: “Available only from third-party sellers.” That’s when Amazon gives up selling your book and leaves it to Marketplace vendors. It can more or less kill your sales.
In the past, it seemed like nothing could be done about such a listing, short of sending the book to CreateSpace. When you complained to Amazon, they referred you to your publisher or distributor—even when you were the publisher. And if you contacted Lightning, they said they’d try to help, but nothing came of it. I once actually republished a book just to get around such a listing.
In the last year or so, though, Lightning has become surprisingly effective in dealing with this. I’ve found that all I have to do is report it, and it will be fixed within a few days. My sales rep told me this doesn’t always work, but I haven’t seen it fail.
I was told by my customer service rep that the solution had something to do with “rebroadcasting the data.” I assumed this was some kind of specialized operation using an obscure channel that Lightning techs had discovered or developed. But I eventually got curious and asked questions. And it turned out it was much less esoteric than I’d thought—and in fact, it was something I could do myself without help.
As it turns out, all Lightning does to fix this listing is “remind” Amazon of the book’s availability. It does this by resending the book’s metadata from Lightning’s normal data feed to booksellers. My sales rep tells me the standard feed is already sent out several times a day, so to fix a problem, maybe Lightning sends it in a slightly different way or with a different flag—but as I said, you can replicate it yourself. All you need to do is make any small change to your book’s metadata—say, change a word in your book description, or even just add a nonbreaking space. This triggers a resend, and within a week, Amazon is again selling your book. Magic!
So far, I’ve done it twice with no issues. Of course, if it ever failed to work on the first try, it could easily be repeated.
I’m hoping that the ease and effectiveness of this remedy will lay to rest a couple of persistent myths. One is that Amazon is intentionally discriminating against Lightning books as a way to drive small publishers to CreateSpace. Though this was true in the past, I seriously doubt that anyone at Amazon cares about doing this anymore, and there may well be no one left at the company who remembers it was ever done. We’re just not important enough to them.
The other myth is that Amazon is discriminating against books with low discounts and non-returnability. This is the common position of Lightning reps, who tell us that the bulk of availability problems on Amazon fall on such books. But Lightning and Ingram have always pushed for publishers to have standard terms, citing a variety of rationales, and I think this outlook is just baked into Ingram corporate culture. What’s more likely to be leading to availability problems is having low sales, which afflicts many small publishers—the ones most likely to set low discounts and non-returnability. In other words, Lightning’s analysis is probably confusing coincidence with causation. (Anyway, offering standard terms and returnability is not a great solution if it cuts your revenue enough to put you out of business.)
If Amazon isn’t discriminating against Lightning publishers or non-standard terms, then why would it ever relegate sales to Marketplace? I believe it’s a matter of computer glitches. One possible scenario is that Amazon tries sending an electronic order and finds the Ingram servers not responding—maybe just once, maybe on two or more attempts. Amazon may then conclude it cannot buy the book from its sole source—until it’s told again that it can.
The upshot of all this is that the publishing strategy I outlined so long ago in Aiming at Amazon and POD for Profit—going exclusively with Lightning and setting a discount of 20%, or what some call “Plan A”—may in fact be viable again for U.S. sales, even if no longer the indisputably best choice. (Partly in honor of this, I have just brought back paperback editions of those two books, though only as “legacy editions,” without updates.)
For sales outside the U.S., things are different. Amazon UK is simply not ordering enough copies of Lightning books, so they can be almost continuously out of stock there. In Canada, things are even worse, because Amazon CA has apparently stopped ordering from Ingram International across the border. Instead, it’s handing off sales of most U.S. books to third-party sellers like Wordery and Amazon’s own subsidiary The Book Depository, despite their charging prices typically inflated by 80%. Meanwhile, CreateSpace has recently started sending books directly to Amazon CA—something it used to farm out to Lightning through the Expanded Distribution Channel—and these copies are selling at normal prices.
So, if your sales strategy relies on Canada or the U.K., CreateSpace may still be essential to you. But for most of us, sales in these two countries—at best about 10% each of U.S. sales—may not be enough to sway a decision on distribution.
As for Australia . . . Well, CreateSpace isn’t there yet, and Amazon AU doesn’t seem to have yet noticed Lightning’s print center (or in this case, centre) in their own backyard. So, we’re still waiting for any good way to reach there at all.
Update, Apr. 20, 2018—Several more times now, with no failures, I’ve been able to fix a “third-party-only” status of my books by making slight metadata changes, though the time this has taken to work has grown longer—to ten or eleven days. Meanwhile, pressed by Lightning, Amazon has located and fixed a computer error that was assigning this status improperly, possibly remedying the situation for good!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#availabilityfixing.
New Minimums for Full-Page Kindle Images
In my book Pictures on Kindle, I’ve recommended not only making your images as large as practical, but for those able to do so, also using HTML to stretch those images to the margins. And that’s what I’ve done with my own books.
But not long ago, I received one of those dread quality notices from Amazon, in this case warning me of “low-resolution” images in one of my books. The images in question, of course, were far from low-resolution, but they did fall just shy of current recommendations of Amazon that are apparently now starting to be enforced. And I had to conform to those recommendations or risk having the book taken off sale.
Here’s how Amazon figured it: First, they posited a standard display size of 4 x 6 inches for large tablets. (Note the 2:3 ratio, which my book recommends for full-page images, instead of the narrower shape in Amazon’s older advice.) Then they declared that an image that fills that area should display at a resolution of at least 300 pixels per inch, for a total of at least 1200 x 1800 pixels.
What this means in practical terms is that any picture you stretch in HTML to 100% of display width should be at least 1200 pixels wide in its original dimensions. Any picture you stretch to 100% of height should be at least 1800 pixels high. And instead of using 100% width and 100% height interchangeably in your HTML, you should now specify a dimension in which the image meets Amazon’s minimum.
In the case of my book, I had several stretched horizontal images that were 1080 pixels wide instead of 1200 or more. In a display area of Amazon’s standard 4 x 6 inches, this would yield a resolution of 270 pixels per inch—almost three times the resolution of a typical computer screen. Another, squarish image of mine was 1188 pixels wide—12 pixels short of 1200! Yet, all these images were flagged as “low resolution.”
As arbitrary as Amazon’s new minimums are, meeting them would in most cases be good practice anyway. But doing so is a special problem when using Microsoft Word for Mac—which happens to be the app for my own Kindle books. With Word for Mac’s image dimension limit of 22 inches and its forced export resolution of 72 ppi, I can’t do much better on a 2:3 image than 1008 x 1512 pixels—too short in either dimension. With this program, only a horizontal or more-or-less square image could be made to meet Amazon’s recommendations for full-page display. (There’s no such problem with Word for Windows, with its export resolution of 96 ppi, as long as you format and export as my book describes.)
If you’re in a situation similar to mine, there are several approaches you could take.
1. Hunker down and see if Amazon comes after you. They sent me notice for only one book out of half a hundred, so I have no idea whether this is really the start of general enforcement, or a rare, random hit, or just poor judgment on the part of a single Amazon tech. But given Amazon's recommendations and gradually tightening “quality” control, this approach does leave you vulnerable.
2. Forget about stretching your images to 100% width or height. If you’re inserting large images like I recommend, then stretching is not essential. On most Kindles, the images will reach the margins anyway.
3. Stretch only those images that meet the requirements—enlarging others to meet those requirements where possible—and let the rest display at native dimensions.
4. Switch to an app that allows larger images. (Jutoh and Vellum would be two for the Mac.)
For now, I’ve settled on a combination of #1 and #3. In most of my Kindle books, all images are still stretched in HTML. For my three books about Kindle publishing, and for the one book I was asked to “fix,” I removed universal stretching and now stretch only the images that Amazon says are wide enough for that. (In other words, I degraded the books to keep Amazon happy.)
Of course, anyone who has read my HTML Fixes for Kindle knows that such selective stretching is not something I would handle manually. Here are the grep operations I added to my BBEdit Text Factory (macro batch) for Kindle book processing, replacing my earlier image-stretching operation. They change Word’s HTML for any image with dimensions meeting at least one of Amazon’s minimums, while leaving the rest alone.
Find: <img width=1[2‑9][0‑9][0‑9] height=[0‑9]+
Replace: <img style="width: 100%; height: auto;"
Find: <img width=[2‑9][0‑9][0‑9][0‑9] height=[0‑9]+
Replace: <img style="width: 100%; height: auto;"
Find: <img width=[0‑9]+ height=1[8‑9][0‑9][0‑9]
Replace: <img style="width: auto; height: 100%;"
Find: <img width=[0‑9]+ height=2[0‑9][0‑9][0‑9]
Replace: <img style="width: auto; height: 100%;"
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#fullpageimages.
Spam Authors, and How to Nail Them
Since my first post about spam books on Amazon, there have been some excellent news articles on the subject. I was especially intrigued by Caitlin Dewey’s article in the Washington Post. She focused not only on how these books are produced and promoted but also on the fact that many of their authors do not exist.
It turns out that it’s common practice among spam authors to create fake identities with fabricated credentials. This gives an appearance of authority and trustworthiness, or at least presents an attractive persona. (Obviously, the real persona of a spam author would be less than attractive and trustworthy.)
At first glance, you may think this is nothing more than the old practice of using a pen name. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that practice—in fact, I use one myself. But the difference is huge. For the bio of my pen name, I pick and choose facts from my background and career that relate to the books written under that name. The pen name represents only a part of me, but it’s still me, and everything I say about myself is true.
Even a corporate name, such as used by book packagers for a children’s book series, is different. Yes, the named author may be a nonexistent personality credited with the work of multiple authors hired by the packager. But you won’t be told that this author has an MBA from the University of Michigan plus twenty years running a health spa and lives with her husband and three special-needs children in Savannah, Georgia.
Spam authors, on the other hand, just make such things up. They present themselves as something they’re not, to get you to buy their books. This is called fraud, and it’s both unethical and illegal. These authors could, and perhaps should, go to jail. They certainly shouldn’t be allowed to sell their books.
I’m finding it fairly easy now to spot spam nonfiction, given the slick covers with stock photos, the copycat, keyword-heavy titling, the publishing frequency, the focus on stock subject areas, the lack of paperback editions, the flood of 5‑star reviews just after publication. But how do you spot a fake author?
You might investigate the author’s bio, as Dewey did—but that’s pretty labor intensive. Dewey mentioned, though, that her main example had used a stock photo for his (her) author pic—the portrait photo that appears on an Amazon Author Page, among other places. I wondered if using stock photos was common. I also figured that a faked photo of this kind was a dead giveaway that the entire identity was fake, so I really wouldn’t need to look further.
So, I set out to investigate the author pics associated with a number of books that looked to me like spam. The first thing I discovered was that many of these authors don’t have author pics at all. Though that limited the usefulness of my approach, I also found that the spam authors most likely to have pics were those with the most books.
In the end, I examined ten author pics for authenticity. How to do that is not widely known, but it’s really not hard. It’s done with what’s called a reverse image search. That means you upload the picture to an online search service and within seconds get matches to pictures found around the Web.
Here’s what I found: Of the ten author pics, three came out clean, with no suspicious matches at either search service. Three pics were stock photos, available for purchase from numerous online agencies. Another pic had been lifted, directly or indirectly, from a portrait photographer’s Web site in Hong Kong.
The remaining three were the real surprise. They were cases of outright identity theft. The publishers had stolen photos of real people. And not just anyone, but people of some prominence, including one TV personality and one author of real books sold on Amazon. In other words, these publishers were not just deceptive, and not just dishonest, but also downright stupid!
With the discovery of seven faked pics out of ten, the question now was, what would Amazon do with this kind of information?
First I’ll tell you what they should do, as I recommended to Amazon. Any author who has submitted a faked author pic should have his or her KDP publisher account terminated immediately—because a faked pic is a sure sign that the rest of the author’s identity, and the books themselves, are fraudulent. What’s more, I believe Amazon staff should themselves run reverse image searches on every author pic submitted, using the two services I’ve mentioned.
Unfortunately, what I found was that Amazon itself does not yet know how it wants to deal with fake authors. It has become a vigilant crusader against phony reviews, but the issue of phony authors is new to it and confusing. In fact, Amazon has not yet even sorted out the difference between a pen name and a fraudulent identity.
I found, though, that some people at Amazon are listening and considering. What they need now is to to hear more about the prevalence of the problem and our concern over it.
So, I invite you to join me in this campaign. If you spot an author identity that’s likely to be fake, run the reverse image searches. And if you find that the pic is a stock photo or a stolen identity, report it to Amazon KDP. In my own report, I included the author name, the Author Page URL, the search service that provided the best results, and my conclusions from these results.
For the identity thefts, I also included an email address for each victim, for Amazon’s verification. I had already searched these out and notified the victims myself. I figured, if Amazon didn’t want to listen to me, it would certainly have to listen to them!
If your first response from KDP is inadequate, bounce it back so your issue will be sent to the next level. Also, you’re welcome to refer to this blog post for explanation, if you need to.
There are many factors currently causing the world of Kindle publishing to self destruct. But this might be one we can do something about.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#spamauthors.
JPEG XR on Kindle
In my last post, I wrote about the new Kindle Format X, which Amazon has developed to go along with its new layout engine. One of the features of this new Kindle format turns out to be the conversion of all pictures to a new graphics format: JPEG XR. Originally developed by Microsoft, it gives higher image quality at smaller file sizes.
Using JPEG XR makes perfect sense, now that Amazon has drastically raised its file size limit for submitted graphics. It also makes sense that Amazon prepares grayscale JPEG XRs of most pictures for delivery to monochrome Kindles.
What makes less sense is something I’ve seen through my testing: It’s not only JPEGs that get converted to the new format, but also GIFs. That means that, for Kindle Format X, you can no longer use a GIF to get the cleanest possible lines and text in a picture.
You can’t use GIFs for transparency, either. On conversion to JPEG XR, transparent portions of GIFs are flattened to white—which looks fine on a white background but dumb on sepia or black. Though JPEG XR does support transparency, Amazon ignores that capability. Whether that’s from a decision to keep file sizes smaller or is just a remarkable oversight, I can’t tell.
Is there another way to get what you could with a GIF? You could instead produce your image in SVG, a format that’s related to PDF and that’s displayed by all but the oldest Kindles. But then you’d need to compose your book directly in HTML or in an app that imports and exports SVG. (Microsoft Word certainly isn’t one of those.)
You may wonder if the adoption of JPEG XR changes my recommendations for size and format given in my book Pictures on Kindle. First let me clarify that there’s currently no way to submit pictures in JPEG XR to Amazon KDP. The format isn’t recognized by Kindlegen, which is still used for initial processing.
Technically, the best acceptable format to submit pictures for conversion to JPEG XR would be PNG, because of its lossless compression. To avoid unnecessarily large files, you could use 8‑bit PNG for GIF-style pictures, and 24‑bit PNG only for JPEG-style. (If you were using Word, you’d also have to go into your Web Options and “Enable PNG as an output format”—which turns out to be a one-way trip for any given document.)
The problem is that submitting in PNG triggers automatic conversion to GIF and regular JPEG for Kindles still on Kindle Format 8 or MOBI format, and also for your book on all Kindles before the book is reprocessed for Kindle Format X—and you’re not likely to appreciate the way that conversion is handled. Also, Amazon discards transparency in PNGs, so you’d lose your transparency for when it might otherwise still be displayed.
So, no, don’t optimize for Kindle Format X. It’s best to stick with the recommendations in my book—at least for now.
This does put me in a bit of a quandary, though, about that book itself. Much of Pictures on Kindle is aimed at putting pictures in the best format and at preventing Amazon from harming them by conversion. That is no longer possible, because for Kindle Format X, conversion is guaranteed. And there’s the slight problem that the examples in my book are displaying differently according to the Kindle they’re read on.
Should I redesign the illustrations to make the content less dependent on the platform? Withdraw the book? Make it paperback-only? Tolerate the imperfections and move on? Amazon never ceases to present interesting challenges—but after a while, they get tiresome.
Update, Dec. 19, 2015—I’ve been told that the ignoring of transparency will be corrected.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#JPEGXR.
Kindle Format X
While I’ve been researching the typographic failings of the Kindle’s new layout engine, members of the MobileRead forums and others have been plumbing its technological underpinnings. Part of what makes it work, it turns out, is a new Kindle format with the file extension .kfx. I take that to stand for Kindle Format X, with the X pronounced “ten.” Amazon seems to have been inspired by Microsoft and Windows to skip Kindle Format 9.
Like me, the MobileReaders tend to believe that this new format is not at all produced by Kindlegen—the Kindle converter that Amazon KDP uses for proofs and initial processing of our books and that is installed automatically on your desktop along with the Kindle Previewer. Instead, KFX files are likely produced by a new tool being dubbed kfxgen—a tool being applied to our books only sometime after publication.
In other words, as I said previously, there is no way to proof your book before or even immediately after publication. A recent new book of mine took a month to receive its secondary processing, at which time its formatting changed significantly. The signal for this reprocessing is that the book’s detail page shows that “Enhanced Typesetting” is enabled. And contrary to what I thought before, you may then be able to just delete the book from your Kindle and download the reprocessed version, assuming you have a Kindle recent enough to feature the new layout engine.
Unfortunately, all you’ll be able to do at this point is read the book. You won’t be able to examine its code by unpacking the file—or actually, the files, because there is now a collection of them for each book. There is no tool available yet to unpack them, whether or not the book is protected by DRM. So, all you get is a black box.
After this first access, I’ve found, further testing and proofing of your book is cumbersome but not completely impractical. If you submit a revision of a book that already has Enhanced Typesetting enabled, the revision is converted to KFX while it’s publishing. So, as soon as Amazon sends you notice that the book is available in the Kindle store, you can take steps to retrieve and view it. In this case, though, you can never just delete and redownload. Instead, you must contact Amazon’s customer service by email, phone, or chat and ask them to replace your present version with the newer one. Luckily, you can often get this done even by email within a couple of hours or so.
That’s what I did for about a week—submitted a revision of a test book every night and checked the results the next day. Quite a hassle, but it did let me come to conclusions on a couple of important issues:
• Amazon really wants extra space between our indented paragraphs. It is bound and determined to enforce a practice that my book From Word to Kindle labels an “abomination.” No tricks to mask my paragraphs or to override CSS instructions could prevent it. Converting the book to EPUB before submission also proved fruitless. There’s no way around it: Amazon’s Kindle has succeeded Microsoft Word as the foremost purveyor of amateurish typography.
Note that you might not see this extra space in all books that have Enhanced Typesetting enabled. KFX and the new layout engine are ongoing productions, and our books are being processed and reprocessed to support new developments. Adding space between paragraphs seems to be a “feature” only recently introduced. (Either that, or I’ve fallen into a special trap that somehow got my name on it.)
• Masking headings and paragraphs as divs in HTML—a tip given in my book HTML Fixes for Kindle—is no longer a good idea. When you do that in KFX, the Kindle not only inserts space between the divs but also ignores any larger spacing you’ve set. So, I’ll now be leaving paragraphs as paragraphs and masking headings as paragraphs rather than as divs. (And I've updated my book to version 2.5 with this change of advice.)
P.S. Stop by next week, when I’ll talk about Kindle Format X’s new graphics format, and why you can say goodbye to clean lines and transparency in your pictures.
Update, Dec. 19, 2015—I’ve learned that the Kindle’s adding of space between my indented paragraphs was a bug apparently triggered by something in my HTML. I still don’t know exactly what caused it, but it has now been at least partially fixed and may eventually be fixed entirely. (I don’t know yet about spacing after divs.) I hope to say more about all this later.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#KFX.
The Kindle’s New Layout Fiasco
In case you haven’t heard, Amazon’s Kindle team has this year gradually been migrating the latest Kindles to a new layout engine. This is supposed to improve the sadly deficient typography of the Kindle, and it does, in some ways. But at the same time, it screws up in enough new ways that I’m ready to declare Kindle typography a lost cause.
First, let’s be clear about what the new layout engine is not. It’s not an impressive development of advanced typographic features by the Kindle team. For the most part, that team is doing nothing but enabling features already present in WebKit, the open source browser software that underlies Kindle Format 8 (as well as Apple’s Safari and iBooks and Google’s Chrome and Play Books app). In other words, they’re mostly just throwing a few switches.
Second, let’s be honest about the improved justification we’re getting with the addition of hyphenation: It’s better, but still mediocre. It’s the kind of justification you get in Web browsers and word processors. In other words, to justify the line, the Kindle can expand spaces, but never contract them. So, the spaces it produces between words are still too wide.
This is far from book-quality justification. The best we can say is that it now looks merely awful instead of horrendous.
Third, in order to further improve justification, the Kindle team has made some new choices that range from questionable to hardly believable. The questionable includes the breaking of lines both before and after dashes, even when not surrounded by spaces. The hardly believable is the ignoring of the nonbreaking space. You can no longer use that character to keep together phrases that must stay together. Oh, and there’s also the new layout engine’s little trick of breaking a line after a period whether or not followed by a space. In other words, between a decimal point and the following numerals.
Finally, the Kindle has gotten a lot more aggressive about imposing its desired paragraph formatting. After masking my paragraphs in every way I can think of, I still cannot prevent the new layout engine from adding vertical space after my indented paragraphs.
It’s still possible that some of this might be corrected. But based on Amazon’s record of ignoring layout problems in existing Kindles, I don’t expect it.
Coupled with these bad choices is the continuation of a disturbing trend: The files that are available to us for proofing are not the same files delivered to customers.
As always, you’ll get nearly the same proof whether you run your source files through the Kindle Previewer or upload them to Amazon KDP. But after you hit the Publish button, Amazon runs your book through somewhat different processing software and can also make manual adjustments, including to the start point.
But that’s not the end of it. Amazon can and does reprocess your files any time it sees fit. I first noticed this a couple of years ago, when NCX tables of contents started showing up in my books long after publication. (Those are the tables of contents available in the Go To menu.) Now, though, Amazon is also reprocessing for the “Enhanced Typesetting” available with the new layout engine. In other words, they are changing the formatting of our books long after publication, without notice to us.
How long after? My latest new book had Enhanced Typesetting enabled after one month. I kept track of that by checking the new notation for it on the book’s product page. But what happens if and when they process it again, to match further development of the layout engine, as they have now specifically said they may do? I won’t know at all.
In practical terms, this means there is no longer any effective way to proof your book before or after publication. You can get it looking absolutely perfect in a KDP proof, and even right after it goes on sale, only to have it skewered a few weeks later. You are asked to blindly entrust the formatting of your books to a team that has shown near-zero sensitivity and competence in typographic matters.
All this is prelude to the announcement that I have just updated all my Kindle formatting books in both ebook and paperback—sort of. From Word to Kindle, Pictures on Kindle, and HTML Fixes for Kindle have all been substantially revised and are now on sale. And I’ve tried to cover the new layout engine as best I could, among my other changes and additions.
But I have not been able to bring the books back to their usual level of thoroughness, because I no longer have any way to run the tests that would require! Amazon has me stymied, and frankly, I’m about ready to throw in the towel.
Add to that the recent regressive update of Microsoft Word for the Mac and the move of Adobe Photoshop to a subscription model, placing it out of practical reach for many of my readers, and you may understand my being discouraged about continuing to write on Kindle formatting. So, please don’t count on any more updates to these books.
Here are the current version numbers, if you need to check against the number on your copy’s title page.
From Word to Kindle
Pictures on Kindle
HTML Fixes for Kindle
As always, the only way for past purchasers to obtain my updates is to call or email Amazon customer service and ask for your copy to be replaced with the latest version.
Update, Dec. 19, 2015—I have to take back a couple of things I said in this post. The first is about the Kindle team mostly just throwing a few switches to turn on features in WebKit. Though there is a hyphenation feature available in WebKit, it looks like the Kindle tech team has installed a different, better one.
More importantly, it turns out that this team cares a lot more about their device's typography than I gave them credit for. I’ve now been able to communicate with them directly, and I found them to be very concerned and responsive about problems with the new formatting. Though I do not agree with everything they’re doing, I can say they’re doing their best to fix bugs and improve results.
So, maybe it’s not time to give up on the Kindle entirely.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#layoutengine.
What is it that looks like a book, sells like a book, but is not a book?
A spam book.
My wife writes books about soap making, and we have done well with them. We originally published them with print on demand. But when Amazon began herding its customers toward Kindle books, we saw our sales drop, so we reluctantly migrated to Amazon’s inferior publishing platform. And again we did well.
On the Kindle, though, we saw the rise of new challengers. Publishing was now so much easier that a number of experienced soapmakers took the opportunity to share their knowledge. The books may not have been polished, and we might not have greeted them happily, but we saw them as decent and sincere efforts.
Over the past year, though, we’ve seen something different: A true flood of Kindle books on soap making. Where were they coming from? My wife assumed they were more books from experienced soapmakers, even though she didn’t recognize the authors. But I was skeptical. The book covers looked too slick, the titling was too optimized, and there were too many of them. In general, soapmakers aren’t real techie, and what I was seeing seemed outside their typical range.
So, I downloaded several and gave them a quick read. What I expected to find was stock text that was published repeatedly under different titles with minimal change. Or maybe books written in broken English by offshore sweatshops. But each book was completely different, and though none were good, they weren’t obviously awful, either. So, the question remained: Where were these books coming from?
The answer finally appeared from one actual producer of such books in an August 13 thread in the Writers’ Cafe forum on KBoards.com. The thread was called “Taking the Shark Tank Approach to Kindle Publishing.” A poster calling himself The Publisher—and I refer to the poster as “him” because I have trouble imagining a woman with such shameless bravado—wrote, “I outsource everything: writing, editing, covers, etc. . . . I use pen names or brand names.” And though he’s now moving into fiction, “All of my stuff that is already published is all non-fiction.”
Of course, the self publishers who frequent Writers’ Cafe wondered why those authors didn’t publish their own work. So he enlightened them: “The reason that writers will produce work for others to publish is because they are writers, not publishers . . . Very few actually make money from what they publish. Which is why freelance sites like elance, upwork, odesk, etc. are FLOODED with writers for hire.”
So, now I knew where these reasonably competent text producers were being recruited, and why they were providing services. And I could see that their fees were not much of a hindrance to this kind of enterprise, either. “I pay my writers very well,” The Publisher told us. “The last project I invested around $1,000.”
The Publisher also discussed his own motivation. “I do it for the same exact reasons that the Big 5 Publishers do it. To make money . . . They are doing pretty much exactly what I do. I just do it on a smaller scale. For now . . . Writing is a business, period. The sooner you learn and approach it that way the sooner you will be making some $$$.”
It’s true that there’s a long tradition among publishers—and their compatriot “packagers”—of coming up with ideas or spotting trends and hiring freelance writers to produce texts. Of course, they don’t normally do it with shameless disregard for quality. Still, all this sounds reasonable, in a way.
Until you see what it’s doing on Amazon. In some popular subject areas, there are now more of these pseudo-books than there are real ones. With their slick covers and commissioned reviews, they easily fool the average Amazon customer, who has no inkling of the book mills that produce them.
Collectively, they are crowding out the real books—books by authors who have lavished time and love to offer the fruits of dedication and experience. They are even crowding out books by traditional freelancers, who may not love their subjects but have at least researched and covered them to professional standards.
Despite the growing numbers of spam books, they might still tend to sink out of sight from lack of reader enthusiasm, if not for one influential promoter: Amazon. All these books are signed up for Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription service, so that they can make money even if no one wants to pay for them—and Kindle Unlimited is where Amazon has decided its future lies. So, Amazon gives them priority in search results. Books with fictitious authors, minimal value, no real fans, and mediocre sales are featured more prominently than top titles in their field.
The KBoards poster flatters himself by calling himself a publisher, but really he’s just a spammer. You’d expect such parasites to be out hawking fake Rolexes and Viagra. Instead, they’ve joined forces with everyone’s favorite monopoly in its relentless crusade to devalue books and bury American publishing.
Update—Here’s a revealing forum discussion about spam books on Kindle.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#spambooks.
The Limits to Quality
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of publishers ask questions like, “Which POD company should I go with to give me the highest quality—CreateSpace or Lightning Source?” And since I’ve been writing recently about POD quality, some of those questions have come directly to me.
Let me just say: That’s the wrong question. In most cases, it makes no sense to choose your POD company on the basis of quality. You choose your company on the basis of which one helps you sell the most books.
Why not quality? First of all, comparisons are always shifting one way or the other, so any decision you make now could be wrong by next week. But more important, neither company has quality to get excited about. POD quality is never, has never been, and probably never will be more than good enough.
As I’ve always said, if quality is your primary concern as a publisher, you shouldn’t be printing POD at all. Neither Lightning Source nor CreateSpace are professional printing companies. They’re basically glorified copy shops. Neither one has experienced printers standing watch over their machines, ready to stop the presses and discard pages at the first sign of variance. If you’d ever seen Lightning’s want ads for machine operators, you’d know they’re pretty much hired off the street.
I remember, years ago, the first time I approached Lightning on a matter of print quality. I kept describing a problem I was seeing under magnification, and they kept not being able to verify it. I finally realized it was because, unlike professional printers, they had never looked at their type magnified and had no handy way to do it. There was not a loupe in the whole place!
You don’t choose POD for its quality, you choose it for its distribution. The reason I personally publish POD is that I’m a one-man operation, and an old one-man at that. Decades ago, when I first self-published, I handled both publishing and order fulfillment, but I no longer have the time or energy to do both. I don’t have room to store the books, either.
POD is what makes my current print-book business possible, so I’m willing to accept the quality compromises it entails. And when I write about POD quality, it’s not because I think any differences justify choosing one company over another. It’s to help goad both companies to keep improving.
Anyway, it’s important to keep quality problems in perspective. New publishers sometimes agonize over one POD deficiency or another. And I’ve seen some pretty hair-raising defects myself. Both companies have sent me books with the correct cover but the wrong interior—and once I even got two books bound into one! I’ve seen crooked pages, blank pages, out-of-order pages, shifted type blocks, misaligned spines, light type, blotchy photos.
Do I care? Sure! But in a decade and a half, I have had no more than a handful of complaints about quality from my customers. Most people simply don’t care as much as we do.
The proper question, then, is which company you should choose on the basis of distribution. And for some time, there has been no real contest. Amazon is where self publishers can sell the most books, and Amazon discriminates against books from Lightning—though at this point, I think it’s mostly due to system glitches that Amazon doesn’t care enough to fix.
So, almost any new publisher should start with CreateSpace. See how many books you sell. Then, if selling an additional 10% to 25% would be worth the effort—because that’s likely all you can expect—add Lightning Source—or rather, IngramSpark, its gateway for self publishers. Aside from the hassle of dealing with Lightning’s technical requirements, there’s no reason you can’t use both companies. (But see my blog post on ISBN requirements and my article on CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Channel.)
For newcomers to my writing about publishing, let me point out that it spans the time from when Lightning Source was king of the roost to when CreateSpace became dominant for self publishers. I work with both companies myself, and so do many of the publishers who still follow me. So, naturally, I write about both companies in this blog.
But that does not mean I think the choice of one or the other would be equally valid for a new publisher. Though this may change, the choice of Lightning alone is for most new publishers simply a mistake.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#quality3.
Lightning Changes Presses, CreateSpace Changes Papers
There aren’t many things more changeable than POD quality. So, it makes sense that, just a short time after my post on that topic, I would be reporting unnannounced changes at both Lightning Source and CreateSpace that shift the balance between them.
That post discussed the objectionable glossiness in the toner that Lightning uses for black-and-white books. But after writing it, responses came not only from Lightning publishers who saw the glossiness but also from some who didn’t and from some who saw it on some books and not on others. And when I took another look at recent proofs of my own, I saw for myself that the glossiness was sometimes missing.
I logically concluded that Lightning was now using non-glossy toner in some of its presses. But one publisher finally reported a more extreme truth, shared with him by Lightning Source personnel: Lightning is abandoning toner printing entirely! The old toner presses are being replaced by the kind of inkjet presses originally used only for Standard Color printing. In other words, Lightning will now use presses that switch instantly between black-and-white and economy color.
Right now, you can’t know for sure what kind of press will print your black-and-white POD book at Lightning. But the transition is meant to be complete by the end of 2015, meaning all such books will then be printed by inkjet!
Personally, I think it’s wonderful to finally lose the glossiness, but not everyone might like the change. In fact, the publisher who reported it to me was distressed that the type in his recent proofs was more gray than black. (You might note that this is a complaint sometimes leveled against CreateSpace, which has never used glossy toner.) There’s also the potential for a new problem reported by yet another publisher: Sometimes the system can get mixed up and print a color book in black-and-white, even creating mixed batches. At least you’ll understand how that’s possible!
If that news wasn’t excitement enough, another concerned publisher sent me an urgent warning: CreateSpace had cheapened its paper for black-and-white books. Checking on it, though, I again discovered a change I actually liked.
Until recently, CreateSpace has offered a choice between two 60‑pound papers: one that was smooth, slick, and extremely bright, optimised for printing photos and general art; and a cream-colored paper that many felt was too dark. Now, according to CreateSpace personnel, they’ve permanently replaced both.
The new papers are only 55‑pound, which alarmed the publisher who reported it—but for most purposes, that weight is just fine. The white paper (which I’ve examined) has a rougher, less clinical surface that isn’t as glaring, while opacity is about the same. You could actually use it for literary nonfiction or even a novel, I think, which I never would have said about its predecessor. So, it’s a better paper for general purposes, even if not for toned graphics. The cream paper (which I haven’t seen) is said to be less dark than before—so they’ve apparently listened to criticism.
Both papers are acid-free, meaning they’re suitable for libraries, just as before. And the thicknesses remain the same, so you don’t have to worry about your covers fitting.
So, who is the new winner of the quality war? Ignoring quality control, which can fluctuate from week to week, it’s now a much closer call. In fact, I’d have to say it depends on what kind of book you’re publishing. For some text-based books, I think I would prefer CreateSpace’s paper. But at Lightning, all illustrated books will now have the advantage of the inkjet printing previously available only at color prices—and for anything more than line drawings, that’s a huge win.
The real takeaway, though, is that—whichever service you use—POD is still improving in basic production quality. But with both services, we still need to hope that quality control catches up.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#quality2.
Lightning Source vs. CreateSpace—The Question of Quality
You often see discussions among print-on-demand publishers about which company offers better quality—Lightning Source (with its alter ego, IngramSpark) or CreateSpace. The odd thing about these discussions is that they always focus on printing defects—things that go wrong with a limited number of copies—instead of on general print quality, which affects all copies.
Personally, I’ve seen enough hair-raising defects from both companies that I'm not much interested in questions of degree—even if I didn’t expect the balance to keep shifting. I count on book buyers to return the worst offenders, because, frankly, that’s the best I can do. But I have at least a bit more freedom in choosing which company has the general print quality necessary for particular projects.
With color books, the general quality from both companies is about equal—as long as you choose Lightning’s Premium Color over its Standard. Both companies use the same kind of color press and the same inks. But with black-and-white printing, it’s a different story.
People are funny. When they look at print quality, they generally ignore the quality of the type and instead look at the pictures. The people at Lightning realized this very early in the company’s history, so they made a critical choice: For black-and-white printing, they switched to a glossy toner to give pictures more contrast. And this certainly did improve the pictures’ appearance. But what did it do to type?
Here’s the problem: Glossy toner produces glare in strong lighting, such as from a reading lamp. That’s hard on the eyes and may even make the reader hold the book at an awkward angle to avoid it. This makes print from glossy toner fundamentally unsuited to sustained reading.
Let me say it another way. Lightning Source, in favoring pictures over text, prints every black-and-white book in a way that makes it harder to read. Compared to that basic compromise in quality, the occasional printing defect hardly matters at all.
CreateSpace, with all the frustrations it offers publishers, has at least never gone down that particular road. It uses normal, non-glossy toner for black-and-white printing. That makes reading a CreateSpace book much more comfortable, much easier on the eyes. (That is, unless the book goes through the Bookstores component of the Expanded Distribution Channel, in which case it’s printed by Lightning Source!)
So, despite the neverending controversy over quality from the two giants of the POD world, there’s really no contest. For black-and-white books, CreateSpace wins, hands down. At this point, if it wasn’t for Lightning’s unmatched distribution capabilities, I wouldn’t use their black-and-white printing at all.
Even as things stand, don’t be surprised if my wife’s novels suddenly disappear from Ingram. I wouldn’t read one of those Lightning copies myself, so why should I ask my readers to?
Update, Mar. 2, 2015—In response to this post, Laura Scott of Toot Sweet Ink reports that she has several CreateSpace black-and-white books on hand, and in every one of them, the type is merely dark gray rather than true black—except in one book, published by me!
I don’t know if that’s due to random print variance, but in case it matters, I should specify how I submit my black-and-white interior files. All text is in grayscale mode, at 100% for pure black. If your app doesn’t output that way, you can fix it in Acrobat Pro with the Convert Colors command—which is what I did for the book she mentions with the RGB output from Word for Mac.
An equivalent is to make it CMYK with 100% black and 0% every other color, which is how InDesign normally outputs black text. Another would be to submit in bitmap mode, with only white or black as possible colors. At least, these should work—but if CreateSpace did an improper conversion, they might not.
In any case, grayscale is the basic color mode of “black-and-white” POD presses, so submitting that way is safest. It’s also what Lightning Source recommends!
Update, Mar. 6, 2015—Further response to this post has brought an interesting discovery: For its black-and-white printing, Lightning Source might now use more than one kind of toner! While Laura Scott could not find the glossiness I described, Bob DeGroot of Doctor Hypnosis reported he had seen both glossy and non-glossy print in different Lightning copies of his books (ordered from IngramSpark). And going back over my own last few Lightning proofs, I see that one of them does in fact have non-glossy print.
I don’t know whether to feel better, knowing that individual copies of my Lightning books might not suffer from poor readability.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#quality.
From HTML to EPUB (with calibre)
Because I’ve written three books on Kindle formatting, I’ve been asked also how I would go about getting a book into EPUB. Until recently, I’ve had no good answer for that. I’ve been so busy refining my Microsoft-Word-to-HTML-to-Kindle workflow, I haven’t had time to focus on EPUB. And I always figured that doing so would mean starting over almost from the beginning, probably with a program like Jutoh or a later version of InDesign, if not with hand coding.
Lately, though, I’ve been surprised and delighted to find that an HTML file exported from Word and fully optimized for Amazon’s Kindle converter is only a hop, skip, and jump from becoming a fully compliant EPUB file. The key is conversion with a program called calibre.
For those who don’t know, calibre is a free program developed by Kovid Goyal. (He encourages you to contribute to its development, and I gladly sent $100 in thanks for his work.) The catch is that calibre is not a professional publishing program but rather a consumer program designed for personal use in reading ebooks and converting them from one format to another. As such, it normally takes a lot of liberties in making changes to your file—changes that you as a publisher simply don’t want.
So, the key to converting your file to EPUB in calibre is to tell it not to make all the changes it normally makes. You can do this for a single conversion with settings in the Convert Books dialog, or more permanently in calibre’s Preferences.
Let me give you a quick walk-through. To start with, I must stress that this is for people who have worked through the optimizations in both my books From Word to Kindle and HTML Fixes for Kindle. If you’ve only worked with the first, you will not get the results you need. In fact, you’ll have to make sure you’re using HTML Fixes for Kindle in its version 2.2 or later. To ensure EPUB compatibility, this version adds an important fix for the HTML body tag and also replaces a fix for HTML anchors recommended in earlier versions. For images, you also need to remove any HTML width and height attributes you’ve retained, leaving only CSS sizing, contrary to what I advised in older versions of HTML Fixes for Kindle and Pictures on Kindle.
Depending on where your EPUB file may end up, other changes might be helpful, but I’ve found only one that’s essential: Remove any spaces from your HTML filename. That one’s easy!
You might also rethink some of the optimizations I included in HTML Fixes for Kindle for line breaking. Though none should cause major trouble, not all are needed or will have the desired effect. Also, avoiding orphans at the ends of paragraphs may look better on the Kindle, for which you can force left alignment, than in a program like iBooks, for which you can’t.
Now, load your optimized HTML file into calibre. If there is an associated folder with images, they will automatically be imported along with the HTML.
Select your book title and click on “Convert books” in the toolbar. Supply metadata as needed and add a cover. For the iBookstore, I recommend a cover image of 1500 by 2000 pixels, or 1440 by 1920.
Click on the different settings categories in the left sidebar and make the following changes, leaving all other settings at their defaults. (This assumes you haven’t already made the same changes in calibre’s Preferences.)
Look and feel. Disable font size rescaling. Set minimum line height to zero to disable this too.
Page setup. Set the output profile to Tablet. This is the only way to prevent image resizing. Set all margins to zero.
Structure Detection. Assuming you’ve used Word’s “Page break before” for your page breaks as I recommend, delete calibre’s formulas for “Detect chapters at” and “Insert page breaks before.” Also, turn off “Remove fake margins.” But you may want to use “Start reading at” to set where some devices and apps will open the ebook. For instance, to set the opening at an anchor converted from a “start” bookmark in Word, you would use calibre’s wizard to specify HTML tag “a”, attribute “name”, and value “start”.
Table of contents. Turn on “Force use of auto-generated Table of Contents.” This is one change you want calibre to make, so it will add chapter names and other content items to the ebook’s navigation menu. Assuming you already have a linked table of contents in your book, here are the additional settings I recommend: Select “Do not add detected chapters to the Table of Contents.” (You’ve already set this in effect if you disabled chapter detection, but this makes doubly sure.) Do “allow duplicate links”—that means duplicate names, not destinations. Change the “number of links to add” to zero, which disables limits entirely. Since you’re not detecting chapters, the chapter threshold can be ignored.
EPUB Output. Turn on “No default cover” and “Preserve cover aspect ratio.” Do not turn on “Insert inline Table of Contents”—assuming again you’ve already created one in Word.
There’s also one important setting found only in calibre’s Preferences. Under Tweaks, set the maximum width and height for covers to some number high enough that you’ll never run up against it. (I’ve set mine to 4800 by 7200 pixels.)
After conversion, you’ll see the new EPUB file listed in calibre’s right sidebar, with a “Click to open” link to open its folder. Check the file for errors with epubcheck, then proof it on your destination platform. I haven’t tested these files on all platforms, but I’ve had no trouble displaying them in iBooks or getting them accepted by either the iBookstore or Google Play.
Are there better workflows for creating EPUB books? No doubt, when working from scratch. But to me, the benefit of this one is that I can start with the exact same Word file and exported HTML I use for a Kindle book. Then, using the methods outlined in HTML Fixes for Kindle, I can run a “Fix EPUB” macro with most of my usual Kindle operations plus a few more specifically for EPUB or iBooks, all within seconds. Conversion in calibre takes maybe a couple of minutes more, leaving only testing and uploading.
EPUB couldn’t possibly be easier than that.
Update, Jan. 9, 2015—It turns out that the workflow described here does not produce files that work flawlessly on all EPUB platforms. Though I have not tested it rigorously, the dividing line seems to be between EPUB apps, which are generally built on the open-source code of Webkit, and EPUB readers, which are generally built on Adobe software. So, my EPUBs look fine in iBooks and Play Books, but not on Nook and probably not on Kobo.
The main problem I’ve seen is with pictures, which Adobe apparently will not scale to the screen. You might have better luck with straight text.
Update, Feb. 27, 2017—Still another welcome discovery: Calibre can produce EPUB files not only for iBooks and Play Books, but also for Kindle! EPUB is one of the submission formats accepted by Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, and it has one major advantage over HTML: It can include an NCX (logical) table of contents, so that all your content items appear in the Kindle Go To menu.
Just follow all the guidelines I’ve already given but with an HTML file optimized for Kindle—or develop a joint optimization for all the platforms you’re submitting to. Still in calibre, you can then also preview the NCX table of contents, or even modify it with the "Edit ToC" tool, which you can add to the main toolbar through the Preferences.
By the way, I don’t recommend using calibre to convert your HTML files to MOBI, another of KDP’s submission formats and one that’s native to Kindle—that is, not if you’re actually submitting them to Amazon. Calibre makes no claim to produce MOBI files suitable for anything but personal use, and there’s no reliable way to test them for anything else.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#HTMLEPUB.
The Party’s Over
I’m writing this fundamental update because I feel I owe it to my readers.
My career as an authority on self publishing was launched by my 2007 book Aiming at Amazon and furthered by its 2010 spin-off, POD for Profit. Both books were built on a business plan offered as a route to profitable self publishing, primarily of nonfiction, through print on demand and marketing on Amazon. The problem is, that plan is no longer likely to produce much profit.
Amazon has been touted as fostering a thriving culture of self publishing with its level playing field for online sales and its promotion of new reading and publishing technologies, particularly the Kindle. Well, much of that is valid. Amazon has made self publishing more and more accessible to writers and for many years supported a good number of them with sales. But with the Kindle, Amazon has also commodotized books to the point that fewer and fewer self publishers can make a living from them.
POD books provided a handsome profit margin even at reasonable prices. But Kindle books, with their lower prices, have decimated POD sales. Meanwhile, Kindle customers expect more and more for the low prices they pay. Many feel cheated if they spend 99 cents or even less on a book that isn’t “full-length.” And the flood of easily-published books makes it harder and harder for individual ones to stand out—a problem that can only worsen with time.
Of course, for the tiny percentage of titles that rise to the top, the payoff in massive sales is impressive. And established authors with a sizeable backlist can find the sales very comfortable. But the newcomer, or the author of the kind of merely competent, original, and useful nonfiction books I’ve been encouraging for years, will likely find it necessary to work harder than ever before—supporting two different formats—for much less return.
The upshot is, if you want to self publish and are new to it, then by all means, hop in. But for a long time at least, it’s likely to be more for love than for money. Sure, self publishing is still a money machine—but nowadays, that’s mostly for Amazon, not authors.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#partyover.
New Size Limits for Kindle Pictures
In my book Pictures on Kindle, I presented several approaches to sizing pictures but warned that an update of Amazon’s image file size limits might call for reevaluation. The time for that has come.
In fact, it has been here for some time, as it turns out, with nothing more than confusing hints from Amazon. Since February, new versions of the Kindle Publishing Guidelines have talked in some places about a 5 MB limit instead of the former 128 KB—but in other places seemed to say that the lower limit was still in force.
So, here’s the real story, as finally revealed by Amazon KDP staff in private correspondence: Pictures exceeding the 128 KB limit are still resized and/or compressed for Kindles with lower resolutions. But for Kindles with higher resolutions, the books are sent with image files at original size, up to 5 MB each! (According to my KDP source, this change came with version 2.9 of KindleGen, the Kindle converter—almost a year ago!)
What this means is that your internal JPEGs should now be submitted at high resolution, without regard to the 128 KB limit. But you should also apply a moderate amount of compression on your own, so your readers don’t receive needlessly huge files. In the Save for Web dialog of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, I recommend a Quality setting of High, or 60%.
GIFs are a different story. Though the Kindle converter can competently reduce the size of most JPEGs, its method of reducing a GIF is to convert that to a JPEG too—and that seldom works well. So, for the sake of all owners of lower-resolution Kindles, I recommend sticking to the 128 KB limit for your GIFs.
You may wonder how all this affects minimum pricing and download fees for your Kindle books. Well, that’s one of the reasons this has been hidden for so long. As far as I can tell, Amazon is still basing those on the smaller size. For example, if you were to submit a book in reflowable format with 12 pictures at 2 MB each, it would be delivered to owners of higher-resolution Kindles in a file of about 24 MB. Yet your minimum pricing and delivery fee would be based on the size of the file sent to lower-resolution Kindles—about 1.4 MB! (If you’re seeing otherwise, please let me know.)
Thanks, Amazon, for finally allowing a reasonable image file size for high-resolution tablets. But would it really have been so hard for you to explain all this from the start?
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#sizelimits.
More Kindle Formatting Updates
I’ve spent most of the past several months updating, correcting, and coordinating my three books on Kindle formatting. The current versions are:
I’ve also published new paperback editions corresponding to these updates. Through Amazon’s MatchBook program, the Kindle book is offered free with purchase of the paperback.
The most important correction made—one that spans all three books—is to nix my earlier statement that any way of creating a page break in Word will work equally well. The fact is that Word’s exported HTML for manual page breaks and section breaks will cause some Kindles to add a blank line to the top of the page. This might not matter to you—in fact, you might prefer it. But for spacing that’s tightest and most consistent across Kindles, stick to creating page breaks with the paragraph formatting option “Page break before.” This is especially important if you’re including large pictures. The line added by a manual page break or section break may be enough to cause the Kindle to push the picture to the next page, creating a blank page between.
But the biggest overall change in the books is my adding new sections to From Word to Kindle and HTML Fixes for Kindle on the subject of line breaking. We’re always told that clumsy line breaks are inevitable in the flowing text of ebooks. With all the variation of display and font size, it’s impossible to know where text lines will end, so you have zero control over how it’s done.
Well, that turns out not to be true. Over the past months, I’ve worked out techniques that avoid the worst offenses on Kindle, such as orphan words at the ends of paragraphs, unwanted breaks around hyphens and dashes, and random breaks within Web addresses. I believe that these techniques, which can be applied in a word processor, page layout program, or directly in HTML, can bring ebook typography to a new level of professionalism. (And as always, you can see the effect in these three books themselves.)
Of the three books, HTML Fixes for Kindle has been reworked the most. In the original version, sample procedures and code were based largely on BBEdit on the Mac—but now I’ve gone back to give equal time to Notepad++ on Windows. I’ve also done more with grep searches, as I’ve become more comfortable with them myself. Finally, the original version had some harmless but embarrassing errors in sample code that were introduced by my own automatic HTML file processing! Those are now gone.
If you’ve already bought one or more of these books, please note I will not be asking Amazon to inform you of the update and make it automatically available. The last time I did that, they took the opportunity to compel a downgrade of my formatting to meet their “standards.” Not good in a book about optimal formatting! Also, you cannot still just delete the book from your account and repurchase, because Amazon will resell you the version you already had! At this point, the only way to get an update of these books is to contact Amazon’s customer service and request it directly.
Along with the three updates, I’ve posted a new, free article on my Publishing Page: “Proofing for Kindle.” This is meant as a supplement to all three books, going into more detail than would have been appropriate in any individual volume.
This may well be the last major update for these books. One of their hallmarks has been their aim at the best possible typography on both newer and older Kindles. But Amazon has now extended its Kindle Format 8 to all but the first two generations of e‑ink Kindles, so respecting the limitations of older models will become less and less necessary or beneficial. Also, we’re starting to see KF8‑oriented software that makes parts of my workflow look like a Rube Goldberg affair.
On top of that—despite what you hear about Amazon and the Kindle as boons to self publishing—the influx of Kindle authors and the low-price expectations of Kindle customers have made it harder than ever for self publishers of nonfiction to earn a decent return on their efforts. So, I may be moving on to topics more personally rewarding.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Kindleformatting.
The 40% Error
A few days ago, IngramSpark sent out a notice saying, “You Asked, IngramSpark Answered.” The announcement went on to say IngramSpark now offers “more flexibility over your wholesale discount” by “offering a 40% option.”
I had to laugh.
The main complaint about IngramSpark—a new front end for Lightning Source geared to small self publishers—has been that it only allowed a 55% wholesale discount, which is a standard for traditional publishers. This discount allows Lightning to pass along 55% to major wholesalers like the Ingram Book Company, which then turns around and offers bookstores the 40% discount they need if they’re going to stock the book. (Ingram is the name of both that wholesaler and of the company that owns the wholesaler, Lightning, and IngramSpark.)
On the other hand, most small self publishers working directly with Lightning favor a short discount of 20%, since we are aware that bookstores won’t be stocking our books anyway but only special-ordering them. About the only ones of us who choose 40% are those who are both still optimistic about getting onto bookshelves and confused into thinking that 40% is the discount that bookstores will receive. In reality, this wholesale discount leaves the bookstores something like 15% from Ingram—not nearly enough to allow stocking. And the self publisher has given up 20% of the list price for nothing.
When IngramSpark first announced it would allow only a 55% discount, this was justified by the argument that it would stop self publishers from choosing 40% out of confusion. That actually made sense to me, as far as it went. But many of us still insisted that IngramSpark needed to offer the choice of a short discount as well. Without that, we felt, the whole program was a bust.
So, how has Ingram “answered”? Now, in addition to IngramSpark offering you the Minimum-Profit option, it has graciously enabled and sanctioned the 40% Error! Courtesy of Ingram, you today have the choice between poor judgment and total confusion.
What this tells me is that it’s time to give up hope for IngramSpark. Not that it won’t succeed—it may well. After all, its 40% is still better than the 60% required by the Expanded Distribution Channel of CreateSpace for the same distribution—handled for CreateSpace by Lightning! Still, IngramSpark is not a venue for most serious self publishers and isn’t likely to be. And if you’re not serious, why would you hassle with Lightning anyway?
Update, Apr. 7, 2014—A colleague, Jamie Saloff, informs me that IngramSpark now offers physical proofs to publishers along with the digital proofs offered earlier. This removes one of my initial criticisms of the service. Sadly, there’s a new issue about IngramSpark’s unfavorable ebook agreement at first seeming to be both mandatory and exclusive, then later seeming not to be. But since I have no personal involvement with IngramSpark and am not about to recommend it anyway, I’ll leave that for others to sort out.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#IngramSpark5.
Temporarily Out of Stock
I’ve been hearing a lot lately from self publishers hit by the new “Temporarily Out of Stock” status message at Amazon.com. They somehow think this is a further assault in Amazon’s nefarious campaign to force self publishers away from Lightning Source.
First of all, let’s look at what this message means. Note the word “temporarily.” Amazon is not saying the book is unavailable. It is saying that Amazon has no copies in stock at the moment. The reason it doesn’t have any is that its previous stock has sold out, and while new copies have been ordered, they haven’t arrived yet. That’s all.
When the new copies arrive, the book will show up as in stock—unless the copies have sold out before they arrive. If copies continue to sell faster than Amazon receives copies it orders, you’ll keep seeing the “out of stock” message—but only because the book actually is selling!
So, Amazon’s message is literally true. Previously, Amazon would describe such a situation with a message about availability in one to three weeks. Was that much better? I doubt it, and I suspect the only reason we haven’t heard such bitter complaints all along is that people got used to that one.
Are these status reports limited to Lightning books? There’s no reason to think so. They’re almost certainly used for any books sourced only through Ingram or other wholesalers. The fact is that only a very small percentage of books get to Amazon this way anymore. Almost every publisher of any substantial size supplies Amazon directly. So, such messages are probably seldom used except for outliers.
In other words, it’s not that Amazon is persecuting you. It’s that you’re part of a group so marginal that Amazon just doesn’t care. And for most of you, you’re part of that group because you’ve chosen to be—despite all evidence of how poor a choice it is.
Yes, such status messages do affect sales, probably badly. But it’s bewildering to see self publishers suddenly protesting about bad treatment from Amazon. Availability for books exclusively with Lightning has been poor since early 2011. It was in the summer of 2011 that I outlined my first plan to deal with that, and the situation has only gotten worse since then. Any self publisher who is only now waking to that fact is either a newbie, or hasn’t been selling enough to be affected, or has been asleep for over two years.
Finally, many of these self publishers are indignant that Amazon now suggests they sign up for CreateSpace. News flash: This battle was lost in 2011. Since then, CreateSpace has been the only good way for self publishers to achieve good availability on Amazon. You may not like it—I’m certainly not fond of it myself—but it’s the reality that all self publishers face today, and it has been for some time. What’s more, it’s not even that bad a deal. In fact, CreateSpace’s terms are better than you’ll get from IngramSpark, which Ingram has now decided will be the only avenue into Lightning for most self publishers.
At about this point, someone is bound to pop up with a comment about “quality issues” with CreateSpace. I have no idea why people go on about this. Sure, there are plenty of horror stories about CreateSpace screw-ups, but there are plenty about Lightning’s as well. I can tell both kinds from my own experience, and having worked with both companies for years, I can guarantee that neither one has great quality control.
As for general level of quality, I would have to say they’re closely matched. Each company does have its strengths in different areas. Lightning’s coated paper gives its Premium Color an edge in printing photos. But the glossy toner it uses for black-and-white printing is horrid for straight reading. For a straight novel, CreateSpace has a decided edge.
But none of this is that relevant, because quality from both companies is good enough—and that’s all that print on demand was ever meant to be. You do not choose either company for quality, you choose them for distribution. If quality is your primary concern, you should not be publishing with POD at all!
When choosing for distribution . . . Well, I’m lucky enough to be working with both companies, and you can’t get better distribution nowadays than that. But if I had to choose just one, there’s no question that it would be CreateSpace, because it is far superior at supplying my primary market. And to begin with CreateSpace is my basic advice to almost any self publisher just starting out.
If by working exclusively with Lightning you’ve put off the inevitable for over two years and have been happy with the results, more power to you. But maybe now it’s time to face reality, take practical measures to optimize the sale of your books, and move on. After all, the rivalry between Lightning and CreateSpace is today among the least of your worries. If you are not full swing into dealing with the growing dominance of the Kindle, then you are publishing for yesterday.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#outofstock.
Kindle Formatting Update
I’ve completed my update of From Word to Kindle. Now at version 3.0, it’s three times longer than before!
If you’ve already purchased the book, you should be contacted by Amazon before long with an offer of an automatic update. If that doesn’t come, or you’re in a hurry, you can contact Amazon’s Customer Service to update you manually. The third option—deleting the book from your Kindle account and repurchasing—doesn’t seem to work any longer, as you keep getting the version you already had.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#WordKindle3.
Oct. 24, 2013
Bowing to requests from friends and supporters, I’m leaving my three POD publishing books in print for now and just adding warnings to their Amazon.com book pages. At the same time, though, I’m making them all available free, both through Google Books and by way of PDF download from their pages on this site.
Ingram Tightens the Screw
Just two weeks after I reported that Ingram was trying to misdirect new self publishers away from Lightning Source to IngramSpark, word comes that the policy of the new accounts department has been tightened. Insistence on going with Lightning will now be met with refusal rather than acquiescence. Yes, Ingram is determined not only to shoot itself in the foot but to blow its whole foot off.
At this point, the only way into Lightning is to find a publisher working with it, get contact info for a sales rep—not a customer service rep, that’s different—and hope the rep will be more cooperative.
I hope that eventually Ingram will get the message that self publishers want to choose their own wholesale discount for print books. While IngramSpark is decidedly a bit raw, the lack of that capability is the only real deal breaker.
Meanwhile, because two of my publishing books strongly recommend Lightning Source, I’m in the process of taking them out of print. I may offer them as free downloads instead—but if you know anyone who wants a print copy of Aiming at Amazon or POD for Profit, now is the time to grab them. (And the same goes for Perfect Pages, now that I no longer recommend Microsoft Word for print publishing.)
Update #1, Oct 28, 2013—I’ve heard from a couple of publishers who have shown it’s still possible to storm the front gates of Ingram and gain admittance to Lightning Source. The key seems to be a detailed and reasoned explanation of why IngramSpark will not meet your needs. So, that’s something you might try before taking my suggestion of contacting a sales rep.
Update #2, Mar. 10, 2014—A friend at Lightning tells me that, though a personal referral does carry weight, what sales reps prefer is that a new account has dozens of titles already published or else gives some sign that 2,000+ books will be ordered within the first few months. Which leaves out almost anyone just starting out.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#IngramSpark4.
Reports have it that Lighting Source is turning away potential clients—self publishers and other small publishers. They’re being told to sign up for IngramSpark instead. You know IngramSpark—the service that insists on a 55% wholesale discount and can’t send you a physical proof.
Fortunately, I’ve learned it’s all a bluff. Yes, Lightning will tell you that you’re really better suited to IngramSpark and should sign up there instead. But all you need to do is come back and say you don’t want IngramSpark, you want Lightning Source. That’s the magic key that lets you in. The gate’s not actually locked, they just want you to think it is.
Maybe no one at Ingram understands that, if you limit new publishers to a 55% discount, they might just as well stick with CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Channel at 60% for bookstore distribution. The 5% difference simply isn’t enough to justify bothering with a publishing service with different technical requirements. So, IngramSpark, far from attracting more clients for Lightning’s services, may well just drive them away.
On the other hand, there are always new publishers who believe that a standard discount and returnability will get them stocked in bookstores. Perhaps their dreams will provide enough sustenance for IngramSpark to feed on.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#IngramSpark3.
No to Perfect Resize
In my new book Pictures on Kindle, I recommend using a Photoshop plug-in called Perfect Resize when preparing screenshots for your book. I have since learned that Perfect Resize currently installs Nalpeiron, a third-party anti-piracy program from ProTec, which has been know to cause problems on both Windows and Macs. You cannot regulate it, and it does not uninstall with Perfect Resize. Until onOne Software stops including Nalpeiron or a similar program, I recommend you avoid Perfect Resize.
To remove Nalpeiron from a Mac, delete the ProTec folder in /Library/StartupItems. Note that this also disables Perfect Resize.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#PerfectResize.
Where Is Plan C?
A few weeks ago, I let people know I was reconsidering my popular Plan B, which I introduced a couple of years ago as a revamped strategy for POD publishing. Now I find myself asked about Plan C by anxious new publishers who are wary of making the wrong move as they launch their books.
Let me emphasize that Plan B—a specific approach to working with both Lightning Source and CreateSpace—was mostly intended as a way for established POD publishers to soften the transition from working solely with Lightning at a time when prompt availability of their books on Amazon was no longer assured. In other words, it was a way to squeeze out a little more profit so we wouldn’t have to deal with a sudden big drop in income.
But this is two years later, the transition is complete for almost all of us who were affected, and conditions have changed. For one thing, the BarnesandNoble.com discounts that Amazon matches have recently shrunk, so the arithmetic for lowering Amazon’s selling price to your target no longer quite works. For another, Amazon has begun discounting books even without price matching. So, granting a full 55% discount at Lightning is no longer so helpful.
Beyond that, though, I would say that the competition between Lightning and CreateSpace is now among the least of our worries. We presently have to face the consequences of the growth of the Kindle market—namely, the splitting of sales between editions, the lessening visibility of print books on Amazon, and expectations of Kindle customers for lower book prices in general. I may write about all this in the future—if and when I’ve worked out solutions for myself.
In terms of print publishing, though, the first rule is: When your book is ready, get it out. You don’t need the exactly right strategy to start. Do what looks good, and if you then find a better way, change later. There will always be new potential readers who might look for a book like yours. But if you wait to publish, you’ll lose the readers who are looking right now.
Beyond that, a few guidelines will suffice for new publishers:
1. Start with CreateSpace to most easily, efficiently, and reliably handle sales to Amazon, your biggest market. (One exception is if Lightning is better able to produce your book. For instance, Lightning now has color offerings that beat those of CreateSpace either in quality or in affordability.)
2. When and if your sales are high enough that an extra 10% to 20% is worth doubling your effort, add Lightning Source. (And for heaven’s sake, read POD for Profit, so you understand what you’re getting into.)
3. At least at first, set your list price to your target price—the price you want Amazon to actually charge for it—or lower, to stimulate initial sales. You can later raise it above your target when you see what kind of discount Amazon applies. (If you didn’t understand that, then again, see POD for Profit.)
4. To maximize profit on your fraction of sales from Lightning, set a discount of 20%, with books nonreturnable. Or if you don’t want to force Amazon’s competitors to lose money on special orders of your book—an issue I’ve been thinking more about lately—then set your discount to 40%, which will give them 20% off when buying wholesale from Ingram. Only if you expect bookstores to stock your book—a fool’s premise, in most cases—choose 55% and returnable.
But whatever you do, don’t let the choice of discount paralyze you. It probably won’t make a huge difference in your income, and you can change it at any time.
There. That was simple enough, wasn’t it?
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#PlanC.
HTML Fixes for Kindle—A New Guide
The third and probably final book in my series on Kindle publishing is now out: HTML Fixes for Kindle. Basically, it starts with the HTML you save from Microsoft Word or another word processor and tells you how to correct and optimize it to avoid problems when it’s converted to a Kindle book. Not only that, but I explain how to fix everything in the book within a second or two—assuming, of course, that you’ve properly formatted your original document!
The book is available exclusively on Amazon, in Kindle and print editions.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#HTMLKindle.
IngramSpark—First (and Last?) Impressions
First, here is what IngramSpark is not: a consumer-friendly alternative to Lightning Source for new publishers. Though the improved interface should make it easier to sign up and do business, the POD portion is still basically a front end to Lightning, with all its technical complexities and procedural quirks.
Another thing that IngramSpark is not: an improved interface for existing Lightning customers. Unless you start a separate IngramSpark account and supply different books, you’re stuck with the old interface.
So, it is not for newbies, who are likely to be lured in by the heavy promotion and easy signup and then find themselves at sea with the technical requirements, creating a support nightmare for Ingram. And it is not for long-time, loyal customers, who must continue to suffer a Web interface that has never been efficient or coherent.
By my estimate, that leaves out almost everyone.
It’s hard to avoid the impression that Ingram has not thought this through. (Here I’m referring specifically to parent Ingram, not Lightning Source, which has generally been smarter than that in developing its services.) And this impression is carried through when you examine some of the more striking features of IngramSpark.
Example: Despite the fact that publisher control over discount has been a major draw for Lightning Source, IngramSpark publishers are limited to a standard wholesale discount of 55%. The rationale is that book retailers need standard discounts before they will stock a book, and also that newbie publishers don’t understand industry discounting and often screw up their choice.
The latter is certainly true, as shown by the large numbers of new Lightning publishers who set a 40% discount and expect bookstores to get the whole thing. (If you’re one of those publishers, you may need my book POD for Profit.) But this could easily be taken care of by offering a choice between standard and short discount, with a brief explanation of each, right on the form. Meanwhile, IngramSpark still allows publishers to refuse returns, which will keep bookstores from stocking the books anyway. So, why one choice and not the other?
Example: It’s vital for a new publisher to hold a physical copy of their book in their hands and examine it carefully before releasing it for publication. You would think that IngramSpark, with its promotion to such publishers, would require that. But according to Robin Cutler, head of IngramSpark, in an interview with Joel Friedlander, no proofing capability of any kind is available at launch! You must approve the book for publication before you can get hold of a copy! A digital proofing feature will be offered later, but it’s not ready yet—and when it is, it can’t possibly be an adequate substitute.
Example: On ebooks, the publisher cut is 40%—not much more than half the industry standard when dealing with ebook sellers directly. With IngramSpark taking 30% for its services, it’s unlikely that a serious ebook publisher would use it for much more than “price matching”—setting the price to zero for short periods to induce Amazon to do the same—such as is often done through Smashwords. Yet nothing in the IngramSpark documentation even indicates whether pricing to zero is possible, and when I asked a contact at IngramSpark, it appeared that the question had not been considered.
Final example: The IngramSpark agreements include confidentiality clauses. In signing up for the service, you must agree not to disclose its inner workings to anyone else, on threat of legal action. It’s hard to imagine why a new publishing service that’s up against the likes of Amazon and CreateSpace would purposely discourage its customers from discussing it freely and advising one another. It seems a blatant form of self-sabotage. But that’s exactly what Ingram has done.
These clauses are the reason I personally will not be signing up for IngramSpark to explore it further, or writing much more about it. If Ingram is trying to kill in-depth discussion of their new service, they’ve made a good start with me.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#IngramSpark2.
IngramSpark Is Coming
In case you haven’t heard, Ingram will offer a new service called IngramSpark starting July 1. Well, not exactly a new service, but a new interface that acts as portal to both Lightning Source for print on demand and—starting in August—CoreSource for ebook distribution. If you were planning to sign up with Lightning or CoreSource soon, you should wait to see what IngramSpark offers. But if you already work with one or both, you may find less to interest you.
Basically, IngramSpark will substitute for the labyrinthine Web interfaces now in place, making it much easier for small publishers to sign up and get up to speed. But at least for now, it will not replace the interface for existing accounts. IngramSpark accounts will be separate, with slightly different terms, including required standard discounts for wholesale distribution. (And, no, contrary to rumor, existing Lightning accounts will not be migrated to ones with those more restrictive terms.)
Publishers working with Lightning or CoreSource will be able to open IngramSpark accounts as well—in fact, multiple ones—but individual books will reside only in one account or another. In other words, you will not presently be able to handle your Lightning books via IngramSpark, or vice versa. You will, though, be able to place an ebook version of your book in IngramSpark with the POD version still in Lightning.
What’s not clear is whether IngramSpark will bring an easing of production requirements or make updates any easier. I have not yet heard of any changes under the hood. So, in some ways at least, IngramSpark may prove as hard to work with as Lightning is.
On the other hand, IngramSpark should certainly provide an easier entry point for small publishers. And as Ingram reaps the benefit of their business, it may inspire the company to make further changes to accommodate them. The introduction of IngramSpark is itself a sign of such influence.
Now, if someone would just make them separate the two words, so we don’t have to say the whole awkward thing!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#IngramSpark.
Pictures on Kindle—A New Guide
Sometimes books run away with you. In January, I announced I was working on a major revision and expansion of my guide From Word to Kindle. The problem was, it became too expanded, and I could see I was going to lose the part of my audience that wanted to create Kindle books with a minimum of fuss. At the same time, I saw I was focusing more and more on parts of Kindle publishing that weren’t limited to working with Word.
So, what was originally one book is now becoming three. And the first part out the gate is Pictures on Kindle—because after all, almost everything you read on this subject is wrong. Also, I enjoyed the technical challenges of getting sample pictures to display at high quality while writing about how it was done—photos, paintings, line drawings, diagrams, tables, and especially screenshots! Plus, it gave me a chance to add a lot of what I’ve learned over the years about basic editing of photos and other images.
The book is available in both Kindle and print editions.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#PicturesKindle.
Kindle Comic Creator, or “Am I First?”
I didn’t expect this, but I seem to be the first publisher to produce a children’s picture book with the new Kindle Comic Creator. Announced on April 11, this new entry in the ebook software market seems to have aroused surprisingly little attention. Which is remarkable, since it presents a dirt-simple way to produce a fixed-layout Kindle book. I had a draft of a children’s book produced about twenty minutes after downloading the thing—including time for a step that later turned out not to be needed! Three days later, I had the book polished and on sale in the Kindle store. The following weekend, I did another one.
The genius of the Comic Creator is that you don’t have to create your pages in the Comic Creator itself. In fact, you almost can’t. You produce your pages in almost anything else. (My pages were in a PDF exported from InDesign with some additional tinkering.) Then you import them into the Comic Creator, and a minute or two later, you have a Kindle book.
And no, it doesn’t actually have to be a comic. My first two projects are early readers, with straight text and illustrations. But because the Kindle converter assumes it’s processing a comic, it allows larger file sizes for your pictures, resulting in improved quality. About the only catch is that your books will only be made available for Kindle Fires, Kindle for iPad, and Amazon’s Cloud Reader. Oh, and big files will get you delivery charges if you choose the 70% royalty, or minimum pricing with 35%.
I’ll be talking about my process in my upcoming book Pictures on Kindle, hopefully out by the end of May. Meanwhile, you can check out The Adventures of Mouse Deer and The Legend of Lightning Larry in the Kindle Store. You might even catch them at a promotional price!
Update, May 15, 2013—Another first? I’ve just used the Kindle Comic Creator to publish a book of poetry! If you’re interested and are not offended by erotic or religious content, check out Songs of Flesh, Songs of Spirit.
Update, Dec. 8, 2013—I’m republishing The Adventures of Mouse Deer in a flowing format—at least temporarily. The problem was the huge file size produced by the Comic Creator. This made it impossible for me to set a price lower than $2.99—which is too high for an unknown children’s book. With flowing format, I can create a file small enough to price at 99 cents—and at this point, I’ve gained enough expertise to design it credibly. (But I might switch back later, once the book has established itself.)
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#KindleComicCreator.
Premium Color Becomes More Premium
Since summer 2012, Lightning Source has offered two different color printing options: Standard Color for inexpensive printing, and Premium Color, for better quality at higher cost. The problem is that Premium Color hasn’t been particularly premium. With its use of uncoated paper, it simply hasn’t had the dynamic range needed by color photos.
That may now be changing. With zero fanfare, Lightning has been transitioning to higher-end color presses and to coated paper, with no increase in prices. Right now, books are being printed on both systems, but the old presses are gradually being phased out. There’s no deadline for completion of this changeover, but according to one Lightning rep, it is expected this summer, and possibly as early as June.
If the new system lives up to its promise, CreateSpace could find itself flanked by color options it cannot match—much lower cost on one side, and on the other, higher quality. They’ll have to work pretty hard to catch up, and given CreateSpace’s reliance on outside suppliers for much of its printing, that may not even be practical.
On the other hand, Lightning is still without a color option well suited to illustrated books like children’s picture books and short graphic novels. The quality of Standard Color isn’t high enough, and Premium Color is too costly. CreateSpace’s color—roughly the same as Lightning’s old Premium Color but less pricey—comes closer to the sweet spot for those books.
For color book publishers, this dichotomy creates more opportunity but also more of a dilemma. It has been hard enough to have the same edition printed by both Lightning and CreateSpace, with their price differences. Now we’ll have to contend with unavoidable quality differences besides. With literally no way to provide equivalent copies from both companies, publishers will be forced to stick to one company or the other for any given book, or to publish dual editions—or else to just hope customers don’t notice and complain about the difference.
Ideally, Lightning would have given us a third, higher-end color option at the old Premium Color prices, then lowered prices on the middle option to match CreateSpace. But it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting that—and as long as I can finally create some nice photo books, I won’t complain too loudly.
Update—Lightning’s Premium Color interiors are now being printed exclusively on coated paper. The new paper has a clear visual advantage over the old in allowing increased contrast, giving Lightning a significant edge over CreateSpace in color capability. You might not see the difference in simple illustrations such as in children’s picture books, but it should be obvious in photos.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#PremiumColor.
More on Total Ink Limit
With the new acceptance by Lightning Source of submissions in PDF/X‑3 and RGB, the question arises as to the fate of Lightning’s 240% Total Ink Limit. At first I figured Lightning would handle this automatically in its software conversion of RGB to CMYK at the press, making it safe to ignore the limit. But this turns out not to be true.
As usual, Lightning has failed to provide adequate documentation of required practices, but enough advice has reached individual publishers from Lightning techs that we can piece it out. So, here’s what seems the best approach at this point:
• For solid blocks of CMYK color, stick to the 240% Total Ink Limit. Lightning particularly wants “rich black” to be 60% C, 40% M, 40% Y, and 100% K, as always.
• Though RGB images are now accepted, they’re supposed to honor an ink limit after they’re converted to CMYK at the press. That means you must anticipate their CMYK coverage before submitting your files. (I’ll come back to how to do that.)
The limit itself, though, is different than stated earlier. In continuous-tone images like photos and paintings, Lightning is allowing a Total Ink Limit of 300%—and it can go even higher, as long as the offending area is not larger than about a square inch. That is apparently rare enough that very few files are being rejected because of it. There are no guarantees, though, because Lightning techs have discretion in the matter. Of course, that works both ways, and you might wind up with a tech who lets you off the hook for broader transgressions.
Now, how do you anticipate excess coverage? If you already have a PDF of your book and you have Acrobat Pro, open the file and the Output Preview dialog box. Make sure the Simulation Profile is set to “U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2.” Check the box for the option “Total Area Coverage” and set the amount to 300% (or 301%, if you want to be nitpicky). You should now see all out-of-limits areas of your image in fluorescent green.
If you want to catch problems sooner, open your RGB image in Photoshop. (Sorry, not Photoshop Elements for this one.) Check your Color Settings to make sure the selected CMYK profile is “U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2.” Now call up the Info panel, and from the drop-down menu at top right, select “Panel Options.” For the Second Color Readout Mode, choose “Total Ink.” After that, just run your cursor over the image, and the Info panel will show the coverage percentage for CMYK. (Thanks to Paul Marriner for this trick.)
There are various ways to deal with the problem areas, and if you’re a Photoshop expert, you may well know a better way of handling it than I do. A simple but effective way, though, is to make your adjustment in the Shadows/Highlights dialog box. The Shadows slider will lighten the dark areas, with only minimal effect on lighter ones. With the box open, you’ll be able to move your cursor over the image and see both the original and the adjusted ink coverages in the Info panel. Be careful with this slider, though—a small movement has a large effect.
Or, if you’re comfortable using Camera Raw or Lightroom, you can make much finer adjustments there, with the sliders for Shadows (formerly Fill Light) and Blacks. But since neither program supports CMYK, you’ll have to bring the adjusted image into Photoshop or Acrobat Pro for checking.
Nowadays, I do almost all my image editing in Camera Raw, even for scanned artwork. But it makes file handling much trickier—so if you’re not used to it, work only with a copy of your image, not the original.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#MoreTIL.
From Word to Kindle—The Blog
I’m in the middle of a major rewrite and expansion of my ebook “From Word to Kindle.” So far, Version 3 is running about three times as long as Version 2, and I’m not done yet. I’m adding in sections on pictures, cover images, lists, tables, boxes, and metadata, while dealing also with new quirks that arrived with Kindle Format 8. I’m also paying more attention to both beginners and to those willing to tinker with HTML. I hope to make this the Kindle-book equivalent of my Perfect Pages for POD—a definitive work for anyone creating a Kindle book from Word.
In support of this update, I’ve launched a new blog with the same name, at
I’ll be posting draft sections to this blog as I write them, in hopes of receiving comments that help me refine the book. I also see it as a place for my readers to support each other with answers to each other’s questions. A “Follow by Email” feature will bring you email notices of new posts.
Hope to see you there!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#WordKindleblog.
Good-bye PDF/X‑1a, Hello PDF/X‑3
This summer, along with its introduction of a Standard Color option and the overhaul of its File Creation Guide, Lightning Source slipped in a major change in its technical requirements that has gone almost unnoticed: the acceptance of files produced to the PDF/X‑3:2002 standard, as an alternative to PDF/X‑1a:2001.
That might not seem like big news, until you look at the key difference between the two standards: In PDF/X‑1a files, all color must be defined in the CMYK format, which is meant for print. But in PDF/X‑3 files, you can also use the RGB format that’s native to computers and their displays.
Of course, if you use RGB in your file, that color is still printed in CMYK, but the conversion is done by the press software, not on your desktop. Why is that better? Because presses differ in how they render CMYK colors, and the kind of paper too makes a difference. In many cases, you don’t know what those differences are, while the press software does know.
So, you can often get more accurate color by leaving it in RGB instead of doing the conversion yourself. This is certainly true today in the world of print on demand, with both Lightning and CreateSpace refusing to share the color profiles that would enable you to convert color accurately—and with both of them using presses that differ dramatically from the ones for which industry color standards were developed. By following Lightning’s previous recommendations and requirements, you were practically guaranteed to get inferior color.
The other reason it’s better to leave your images in RGB is that the CMYK color profiles that are standard in graphics programs may eliminate vibrant colors that could not be duplicated on offset presses but could be printed in POD. So, converting to CMYK ahead of time can unnecessarily dull your images.
If you’ve been following my work, you know I developed a color management technique that got around Lightning’s restrictions and produced decent CMYK color. But that method was always a jury-rig, and I no longer recommend it. As a sample of what to do now, here are instructions for Adobe InDesign:
Color Settings should be set to North America Prepress 2. (This specifies Adobe RGB as your working RGB color space.)
All images should be in the Adobe RGB color space. Exception: Images that include transparency. When flattening for PDF/X‑3, InDesign will convert these to CMYK anyway.
All swatch and object colors should be left in CMYK. Converting these to RGB would increase the chance of some or all of your layout being flattened to CMYK.
Export your PDF directly from InDesign using the PDF/X‑3 preset or a custom modification of it. (With InDesign, you no longer need to print to PostScript and run through Distiller, as Lightning used to recommend—and in fact, with InDesign CS6, that method can be buggy.)
That’s all! Your color should now reproduce better on Lightning’s presses.
If you’ve followed my earlier method and you use InDesign, here’s how you would update a file.
If you haven’t already, change InDesign’s Color Settings to North America Prepress 2.
Open your document. If InDesign asks if you want to adjust the document’s color settings, tell it to leave the document as is for now.
Replace any CMYK images with versions in Adobe RGB. If possible, these should be earlier versions, from before you converted to CMYK. As I said, that conversion often degrades color quality, and reconversion to RGB will not restore it.
Leave swatch and object colors in CMYK.
With the Assign Profiles command, assign all CMYK colors defined in the document to “U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2.”
Save and close the document, then reopen. This time, if InDesign asks about adjusting the document’s color settings, say yes.
What about CreateSpace? PDF/X‑3 files have no problem there. In fact, CreateSpace has already been handling Adobe RGB just fine for some time.
So, with Lightning’s minimum bleed for interior color recently reduced to 1/8 inch, you should be able to create just one color interior file for both CreateSpace and Lightning. You’ll still need to keep all content 1/8 inch from the gutter for Lightning, but it doesn’t really hurt to leave it that way for CreateSpace too—and if that doesn’t suit you, you can always place masking rectangles on a separate “Lightning” layer (as I do for some books). You should also be able to use a single cover—though for Lightning, you’ll have to take your exported PDF and place it on their template.
Is there any time you should stick to PDF/X‑1a? Sure. If you’re producing an interior file for black-and-white printing, that’s still the safest standard—though, even in that case, Lightning now accepts either one.
Update, May 13, 2016—I’ve been sending PDF/X‑3 files with RGB images to Lightning for several years now. Though I’ve had no trouble with proofs sent from the main facility at LaVergne, I've recently discovered that the Fresno facility is a different story. PDF/X‑3 covers I've seen from Fresno look as dark and dull as those I got in my earliest days with Lightning, before I learned to adjust CMYK for Lightning’s presses. Obviously, Fresno is processing color differently than LaVergne. And Fresno, I believe, is now printing most Lightning books for the entire U.S. West Coast.
My Lightning rep tells me that Fresno prints black-and-white books and Standard Color, while Premium Color is still printed back east. I don’t have any Standard Color books (other than one in grayscale), but for the covers of all my black-and-white books, I have now switched back to the CMYK color management tricks described in my online article “Better Color from Print on Demand.”
How can you tell where your Lightning book was printed? From the first two letters of the long alphanumeric code on the last page. LV is LaVergne, Tennessee; BV is Breinigsville, Pennsylvania; FF is Fairfield, Ohio; and FS is Fresno, California.
Update, June 19, 2016—After seeing that sending RGB images to Lightning is not always safe, I’ve seen the same thing at CreateSpace. Processing of color files there seems to vary according to the tech who handles them. I recently submitted a series of four books, all with similar covers featuring RGB images. Two of those covers came out fine in the proofs, while the other two came out dark and dull, showing improper conversion to CMYK.
In this case, the problem was cleared up by submitting those two covers again. But in the future, I’ll probably do the same as for Lightning and submit CMYK for the covers of black-and-white books.
To sum up, you can now submit RGB images to both Lightning Source and CreateSpace by sending files in PDF/X‑3—and I’m still doing that for color books—but sending adjusted CMYK in PDF/X‑1a remains the safest route.
Update, June 23, 2018—With Lightning’s introduction of new presses this year, all-CMYK color interior files no longer print consistently across all presses. Do PDF/X‑3 files with RGB images solve the problem? I’m not sure yet, but PDF-X/1a files are definitely no longer “safe”!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#RGB.
Lightning Source Launches Global Connect
Lightning Source today launched its previously-announced Global Connect program. Basically, it extends the reach of Lightning’s distribution through partnerships with printers/distributors in other countries, starting with Germany and Brazil.
The local company will market the book to local retailers, then borrow the print files from Lightning and fulfill the order. By default, a book’s pricing and discount will be based on its settings in your home currency. No returns will be allowed. Depending on the country, some book formats may not be supported.
Details are available on the Lightning site, but there’s probably not a lot you need to consider. If you’re selling your books internationally, you’ll want to enhance that by signing up for Global Connect. For publishers in North or South America or in Asia, you can do that online in a matter of minutes, while others can download the necessary form.
I wouldn’t expect a big immediate boost in sales from this, but there’s no cost to participating, and it may in time build into something significant.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#GlobalConnect.
Stumbling on Hyphenation
Though I’ve written about more recent Word versions, it is only recently that I tried updating from Word 2004 for my own publishing. I was then surprised to discover something I completely missed in my previous explorations: Word has forgotten how to hyphenate correctly.
In Perfect Pages, I wrote that Word’s hyphenation was impressively accurate. A couple of friends had since reported finding the opposite, but I didn’t know what to make of that. That is, until I caught Word 2011 trying to hyphenate the word real. (Between the e and the a.) Some quick testing was all that was needed to reveal many equally horrifying errors.
That’s when a little research brought up that Microsoft changed its hyphenation method, starting with Word 2007. It looks like the company switched from a dictionary method to an algorithmic method. I can’t give you the reason why Microsoft would replace a method that worked with one that didn’t—maybe to avoid a licensing fee?—but that’s apparently what happened. And apparently, not enough people cared—or even noticed—to make them change back!
Basically, that means Word versions later than 2003 and 2004 are unsuitable for any publishing involving hyphenation, or by extension, justified text. I now recommend you do not use any later versions for such publishing.
What to use instead? If you’re on Windows, you might try WordPerfect, with its superior justification. For myself on the Mac, I've gone back to Word 2004—which means I also have to stick to the Snow Leopard version of Mac OS X. There’s really no good replacement on the Mac for the kind of nonfiction publishing I’ve been doing—but then, I’m moving into other kinds of publishing anyway, and I expect to be using InDesign more and more.
This all leaves the question of how to edit legacy book files if their Word version is no longer compatible with your computer. Neither Word 2003 nor 2004 will run on current operating systems, and later versions of Word may change not only your line breaks but also your pagination.
Though I’m avoiding this problem so far, I know I’ll eventually have it, so I’ve prepared by creating a Snow Leopard Server virtual machine in VMWare Fusion. (It has to be the server version of Snow Leopard, because the consumer version is not licensed to run in a virual machine.) As long as I keep Fusion up to date, this should enable me to run Word 2004 on an emergency basis for the rest of my life. By the same token, Windows users could set up a virtual machine with Word 2003 on Windows XP.
I’d like to finish this post by apologizing to all readers of Perfect Pages who stayed with an old version of Word on my advice and now find themselves with no compatible access to their files. If I had been more on top of things, I could have issued a timelier warning, giving you the chance to ease your transition. I only hope you can still recover gracefully, if not easily.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Wordhyphenation.
Deciphering the Amazon Codex
Sept. 12, 2012
If you’re interested in the internal workings of Amazon, check out my new/old article, “Counting on Amazon.”
The Verdict on Standard Color
I’ve now had a chance to see a proof of one of my own books produced with the new Standard Color option from Lightning Source. This is a book I’ve previously done only at CreateSpace, since Lightning’s prices for color printing were too high to allow me to price the book reasonably. But the book still provides a good comparison between Lightning’s own two color options, since CreateSpace uses the same Indigo presses and similar paper to that used by Lightning for its Premium Color.
So, how does Standard Color shape up? Well, it’s pretty much as Lightning has positioned it: a lower-cost alternative at the expense of some quality. Here’s what I noticed:
• First of all, graphics are dithered rather than screened. In other words, they’re printed much the same as on your desktop printer, at full resolution, instead of in a lower-resolution pattern of large dots. (In the past, Lightning has screened all graphics to increase printing speed. But apparently the processors in the new color inkjets are fast enough to make screening unnecessary.) This higher resolution can produce finer detail—and that’s what I’m seeing here. Next to lower prices, this is probably the biggest plus for the new color option—though you might not notice it at normal viewing distance and it’s compromised by other qualities.
• Tones are not as smooth. In the world of photography, an analogy would be the “noise” you get when shooting an image in low light. That’s roughly how it looks. As in a photo, it’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s something you would prefer to minimize.
• In areas of flat tone, if you look closely, you can see a slight amount of vertical streaking from uneven inking. An analogy would be what you might get from your desktop inkjet if you put it in draft mode—except that these streaks are vertical instead of horizontal.
• Compared to Premium Color, Standard Color shows less “shine”—and so also has less contrast and color depth. This could be from the choice of lighter paper.
• Text is what you’d expect from the low 300‑ppi resolution that Lightning has set as a limit for these presses. It’s OK for large, sturdy type, but you’ll want to avoid type that’s small or delicate. In other words, with this color option, text has gone back to the early days of POD.
• The paper is light enough that type from the backing page shows through in light areas of the graphic, and dark areas of the graphic show through on the backing page.
All in all, I think my earlier post pretty much nailed what this new color option will be good for: color books where the focus is not on the art itself, books too long to print in color at a higher quality, black-and-white books with photos or other graphics that would benefit from a printing upgrade. And yes, as people are saying, it is a “game changer” in the sense that it will make possible a good many color books that could not previously have been printed economically.
But it is no magic bullet. One self publisher, swayed by dewey-eyed reaction to Lightning’s announcement, wrote to me asking whether it could replace the color offset printing he’d been arranging in Singapore. Well, no. As is true of all POD so far, it is simply another in a growing range of options that offer convenience at an acceptable price with quality that is, for many uses and most readers, “good enough.”
By the way, if you want to examine the book I’ve referenced, it’s the 20th Anniversary Edition of The Community of the Ark, by Mark Shepard (a former name of mine). The graphics are full-page photos, originally in black-and-white but digitally converted to duotone in Adobe Camera Raw. You can download most of the photo files for comparison with the printed versions, though at a different image size. To make sure you’re getting a Lightning printing instead of a CreateSpace one, order the book from BN.com, The Book Depository, your local bookstore, or anyone else besides Amazon. (Amazon MarketPlace vendors are OK.) Of course, if you also buy the CreateSpace printing from Amazon, you can compare quality between Lightning’s new color press and the older Indigo press.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#newcolor2.
Lightning Source’s New “Standard Color”
Lightning Source has announced its long-awaited deployment of the next-generation Hewlett-Packard T300 color inkjet presses, in the form of a new color option—Standard Color. This is to be offered alongside the earlier color option, now called Premium Color. Along with the announcement comes new versions of Lightning’s File Creation Guide, Color Book Addendum to the Operating Manual, and related price lists.
The new option is very welcome, as it will allow color printing at 50% to 70% of previous per-page costs. Still, Lightning’s announcement and documentation are also puzzling, because Lightning has chosen not to take advantage of the full capabilities of the new press.
The T300 was designed as a general-purpose POD press, for both color and black-and-white printing. Used in this way, one of its touted advantages has been that it makes practical the mixing of color and black-and-white pages at different prices. In other words, if you had only five color pages in your otherwise black-and-white book, you could be charged color rates for only those five pages, and less for all others. You’d pay only for the amount of color you used. But instead, Lightning is treating all pages as color and charging for them equally, as with earlier color presses. It’s also running the new presses at 300 pixels per inch maximum, as for its previous color printing, instead of at the 600 that is standard for black-and-white POD.
Another capability of the T300 is that it can handle different qualities of paper, all the way up to glossy. This should potentially allow it to give better color than the older HP Indigo presses that Lightning uses for “Premium Color.” (The Indigo too is an inkjet, but uses oil-based inks that don’t work on glossy.) But Lightning has instead chosen to use only lower-quality paper in the new presses—50‑pound instead of 70‑pound and still uncoated, or about the same class of paper it uses for black-and-white books.
I don’t really know why Lightning would deploy the new presses in such a limited way, but here are some possible reasons:
• The cost of black-and-white printing on the new press might be higher than on Lightning’s Océ presses.
• Lightning might want more experience with the new presses before broadening their use.
• The cost of replacing all the Océ presses right away might be too high, and Lightning might plan to do it gradually as they wear out.
• Lightning may have concluded that the new presses are not yet ready for prime time.
A hint of the latter possibility comes in an obscure note in the Color Book Addendum. Lightning advises us that Standard Color printing may be subject to random blank lines of 1/300 of an inch—these would be vertical lines caused by individual nozzles getting clogged or otherwise malfunctioning—but guarantees we won’t see two such lines adjacent or more than three on a page. This is troublesome, to say the least. But the visibility of such lines might be reduced, or even eliminated, by Lightning’s use of lower-weight paper, since that would cause the ink to spread more on the page and perhaps close the gap.
Here are some other important features of the new Standard Color option:
• Available in all trim sizes used for Premium Color or black-and-white.
• No saddle-stitching available.
• Lines per inch is “175 visual.” (Not sure what that means. Maybe graphics won’t be screened? That would be nice!)
• As with Premium Color, a gutter margin of 1/8 inch is required.
That last, about the gutter margin, is another puzzler. The margin is (supposedly) necessary with Premium Color because of the oil-based inks, which would keep the binding glue from adhering well. But I doubt that should be a problem with the water-based inks of the new presses. Why, then, is Lightning still imposing this on us?
Along with the new color option comes significant changes for any color book:
• Besides the PDF/X‑1a:2001 standard for PDF files, Lightning now accepts the more flexible—but also less “safe”—PDF/X‑3:2002.
• Instead of a quarter-inch bleed for color interiors, Lightning now requires only one-eighth, the publishing-industry standard. Yay!
• Spine text is now allowed down to 48 pages.
• Proof costs have been lowered (and probably will be matched later for proofs of black-and-white books).
So, what will Standard Color be good for? With the paper Lightning has chosen, I doubt you’ll be using it for fine art books. But it should work well for books with a few large color illustrations or a large number of small ones, or for color books simply too long to print at a reasonable cost with Premium Color. It should also provide lovely printing of black-and-white photographs.
Aside from the technical, though, there are other questions revolving around the use of Standard Color. For instance, there’s a worrisome note in Lightning’s online announcement telling us that it’s available for “Wholesale Distribution as Back Order Only.” I presume this refers to the normal practice of Ingram Book Company of listing Lightning books as in stock. This is based on Lightning’s guarantee of overnight delivery to its sister company, so that Ingram’s orders can be filled seamlessly regardless of actual stocking. “Back Order Only” would then mean that Lightning is hedging against the possibility of printing delays, in case demand for the new service temporarily outstrips capacity.
But reportedly this is only a temporary issue, for only as long as Lightning takes to acquire and set up more presses. And it might not really be much of an issue anyway. Ingram’s in-stock listings were originally meant to deal with specific problems at Amazon and Borders, and those problems no longer exist. So, having Standard Color books on backorder might might mean nothing more than slightly longer fulfillment times. On the other hand, the listing of Lightning books by Amazon seems to have gotten even less reliable of late—so this could throw in a monkey wrench while it lasts. We’ll have to see.
Another question is whether Amazon’s CreateSpace will provide a similar offering, so publishers can produce matching books from both printers. I suspect we’ll hear something from CreateSpace regarding these next-generation presses before long, but whether CreateSpace will use them in the same way as Lightning is another matter. Here too, we’ll have to see.
As for me, I’m happy to have this new toy to play with. And I’m grateful to Lightning for opening up a world of affordable color printing. I’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time.
Update, Dec. 12, 2012—Standard Color books now get regular wholesale distribution, without backordering. This has cleared up what turned out to be rather serious availability problems.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#newcolor.
Lightning Source, CreateSpace, and Your ISBN
I’ve been seeing a lot of inquiries from people who believe it’s no longer possible to use the same ISBN at both Lightning Source and CreateSpace, and that my Plan B is therefore obsolete. They’ve seen such reports in online forums, and this “fact” has even been adamantly confirmed by staff at both companies.
IT’S NOT TRUE. Books from Lightning are being signed up at CreateSpace with the same ISBN all the time—and vice versa. What’s more, in most cases, the Lightning and CreateSpace systems have no way of knowing whether your ISBN is in use at the other company. But here’s what is true:
You cannot sign up a book at Lightning with the same ISBN if it is enrolled in CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Channel. That’s because the Bookstores option of that program is operated by Lightning, which cannot handle a duplicate ISBN in its system.
Also, if you ever enter an ISBN in a CreateSpace listing, the ISBN remains in the system even if you delete the listing. If you then try to enter the same ISBN in a different listing, it’s rejected with an error message—which CreateSpace staff may then incorrectly tell you is because you used the ISBN at Lightning. Ignore this “explanation.” The way to fix this is to get CreateSpace to manually delete your earlier ISBN entry. Persist in your request till you reach someone who knows what they’re doing.
Also, if you ever start to set up a title at Lightning with that ISBN, it will remain in the system even if you never finish setting up the title. If you then try to use the ISBN again, to set up either a different title or even the same one, it will be rejected with an error message—which your Lightning rep may then incorrectly tell you is because you used the ISBN at CreateSpace. Ignore this “explanation.” The way to fix this is to find your incomplete setup on the Lightning site and either complete it or delete it. On the My Library menu, click on “Titles Not Yet Submitted.”
Just to be clear: If you’re querying either company about an ISBN error message—unless the CreateSpace EDC is involved—you should never mention the other company at all. Doing so will only get you a knee-jerk explanation with no truth to it. There is no chance the other company is involved, so there’s no point bringing it up!
As for Plan B, it’s alive and well and working for hundreds, if not thousands, of publishers. If you have a number of books, or a big seller, it is the most profitable plan for POD publishing.
As always, the best way to keep up with developments and avoid being subject to such rumors is to join the pod_publishers group on Yahoo.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#ISBN.
A Response to David Gaughran
Though I have made most of my living for the past decade from selling my self-published books on Amazon and have helped many other publishers adopt a similar business model, I still recognize the negative aspects of Amazon and how it operates.
There are others benefiting from Amazon, though, who do not possess such perspective. Among them is David Gaughran, the Kindle guru who has become a poster boy for the US Department of Justice’s attack on Apple and the publishing establishment—and in the process, has done his best to shoot himself and all self publishers in the foot.
Here is an extract from David’s public comment to the DoJ:
This, I submit, is the real reason these publishers (seem to) hate Amazon: because Amazon is creating, for the first time, real competition in publishing by facilitating and encouraging the switch from print to digital, and giving new competitors the tools and platform to really compete with the existing players.
It seems the defending publishers sought to slow this transition by forcing higher prices on Amazon and their customers (and by extension, the customers of every other retailer). In my opinion, this shows contempt, both for the readers who purchase their books and for the authors whose sales have suffered as a result of these artificially higher prices.
Though I consider David in some ways a pretty smart guy, these are the words of a latecomer to publishing, with seemingly no knowledge of the past decade of relations between Amazon and traditional publishers, and limited knowledge even of the development of self publishing and ebook publishing. It’s unfortunate that a statement based on such limited experience should have gained such prominence.
Here, David, is some of what you may not know:
• Amazon has been systematically squeezing traditional publishers of all sizes for the last decade, forcing them to offer to Amazon such discounts as are normally meant for wholesalers, and also demanding purchase of expensive and near-useless promotions as a form of protection money. The demands increase with each contract cycle, buttressed by the threat of Amazon ceasing to sell all books of the publisher’s. This has forced publishers into a tighter and tighter corner, to the point that some smaller ones have faced going out of business.
• No publisher has forced higher ebook prices on Amazon itself. Before the agency model, Amazon was buying new ebook releases at the wholesale price of the hardcovers, then turning around and selling them for retail at dollars less. The problem was that, given Amazon’s history, the big publishers knew it was only a matter of time before Amazon forced them to lower their prices to support Amazon’s lowballing—and they were understandably afraid that books would then cost more to publish than could be earned back. So, they set up the agency model, which made them less money in the short run, in exchange for greater long-term control.
• The DoJ’s case rests on a fairly creative interpretation of antitrust law, and frankly, it’s pretty far-fetched. Whether that interpretation is valid is ultimately a decision of the courts. But the publishers involved are smart, risk-averse, and have banks of lawyers checking their every step. The idea they would have purposely broken the law in setting up the agency model is simply not credible.
• The agency model helped self publishers by creating a bigger price differential among ebooks, thereby making less expensive ones more attractive. David, do you really want new books from top authors coming online at $9.99? And exactly where did you obtain that death wish?
• The agency model also helped self publishers by directly inspiring Amazon’s 70% royalty plan. This royalty was set up in retaliation for the agency model, as a way to draw authors away from big publishers. Without Apple and the big publishers, David, your publishing income would be half what it is today. That’s the benefit to you of ebook competition, which was not significant before establishment of the agency model.
• Amazon’s support of self publishers has always been spotty, halfhearted, and thoroughly profit-oriented. Newbies are encouraged because they help build the Kindle Empire and pay hefty fees to receive publishing help from CreateSpace. Established authors are lured so Amazon can stop sharing revenue with their current publishers, as Amazon wants it all to itself. That’s most of what self-publishing means to Amazon.
• The tools given to self publishers have been mostly second-rate. Take KDP Select. While established publishers have always been free to set up unlimited giveaways, self publishers were barred from doing that for years. Finally, Amazon offers KDP Select, which throws the bone of being able to set up five free days in three months—oh, by the way, if the book is made an Amazon exclusive, thereby shutting out the competition! Unfortunately, even this small boon proved overly generous. Dismayed by the effectiveness of its own offering, Amazon handicapped free books, making it about ten times as hard for them to build pairings with other books for long-term sales promotion. In other words, while trumpeting the success of KDP authors on its site and in the media, Amazon has quietly worked behind the scenes to make such success much less likely.
• Amazon as a whole cares nothing about books, printed or digital. They are sold at break-even or even at a loss so that Amazon can draw in customers for bigger purchases. This is the real threat of Amazon to established publishing and bookselling. Other members of the book community must earn a profit primarily or entirely from books, but to Amazon, books can be merely a loss leader. Customers laud Amazon for its low book prices, not realizing that they fuel a death grip on the throat of an entire industry. Meanwhile, the DoJ has put its weight behind an economic model that succeeds only by treating books as a throwaway.
Finally, David, let me tell you a story. I happened to be visiting Seattle a decade ago on the day after Amazon announced it was releasing most of its employees in favor of outsourcing customer service to India. Most of a workforce that had been celebrated for its energy, competence, and loyalty was kicked out with no notice, just to please Wall Street. It was then I first realized that Amazon, which I had previously greatly admired, and which I was sure still harbored many good people, was fundamentally heartless, ruthless, and unprincipled.
Someday, David, when Amazon no longer needs your glowing praise, you may learn the same. But by then, it will be too late.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#DavidGaughran.
More on CreateSpace in Europe
In May, CreateSpace finally announced its long-awaited expansion into Europe. Free distribution is now available to Amazon sites in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. (Not yet in Japan or China.)
This provides better availability to those sites than you can get through Lightning Source, whether you work with it directly, or indirectly through the Bookstores option of CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Channel. But of course, Lightning gets books to more outlets than just Amazon, so Lightning is still relevant for Europe as well as the U.S. And in fact, Lightning books are sold by WHSmith, which Amazon checks for price matching—so if you’re following my Plan B, it should now work in the U.K. as it does in the U.S.
Despite the benefits of the new Amazon Europe channel, there is one huge benefit that has failed to cross the Atlantic: control over Book Description. When you activate the Amazon.com channel for a CreateSpace book, your Book Description is posted on Amazon’s page for your book. If your book was already being sold on Amazon and shows a Book Description from any source other than Author Central, the CreateSpace Book Description will replace it.
As it turns out, the situation in Europe is quite different, in two ways.
1. CreateSpace Book Descriptions are being sent to Amazon UK, and in some cases to Amazon Germany, but apparently not to any other site—or at least they’re not being posted anywhere else. That means they’re missing from France, Italy, and Spain.
2. In Europe, Book Descriptions from CreateSpace will not replace those from any other source. And I mean any other. Descriptions from Lightning Source, Nielsen BookData, and Amazon’s old Books Content Update Forms (from when they were still working) all have precedence over Book Descriptions sent by CreateSpace.
Just to clarify, I’m talking about Book Descriptions sent through CreateSpace’s Amazon Europe channel only. If a CreateSpace book is signed up for the Bookstores option of the Expanded Distribution Channel, its Book Description will instead reach at least some European Amazon sites through Lightning Source—and then it will replace older descriptions.
Just listing a book is of limited value. If Amazon’s page doesn’t include enough information to convince a customer to buy, or if that editorial content is antiquated and inadequate, then the book might nearly as well not be there. So far, then, CreateSpace is failing to provide a minimal level of service for its new channel.
The first draft of this post was actually written in early June, after a week and a half of seemingly fruitless trying to get CreateSpace to remedy this situation or at least acknowledge it. But as I was getting ready to upload, I received this message from CreateSpace:
In some cases, metadata and pricing information is not updating on the Amazon Europe websites. Please know that we are looking into this and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We appreciate your patience.
That sounded promising enough that I put my post on hold. But a month and a half later, nothing has changed. While I can believe that CreateSpace wants to get this fixed, it is obviously not a high priority for Amazon. And it may never be, unless enough dissatisfied CreateSpace customers add their voices to the complaint.
So, if your CreateSpace Book Descriptions are missing on any European Amazon site—or if you want those descriptions to replace older data—CreateSpace needs to hear about it.
Update—As verified on August 20, 2012, CreateSpace Book Descriptions are now making it to Amazon’s European sites!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#CSEurope.
From Word to Kindle—Updated and Expanded
My Kindle ebook From Word to Kindle has now been updated and greatly expanded—in fact, it’s several times longer than before, with elaborations of older techniques plus new tricks made necessary by Format 8 and the growing variety of Kindles. Also, I’ve removed the article on the same topic from this Web site, as it is now obsolete.
The current version is 2.6. If you have already purchased an earlier version—you can check the version number on the title page—you can download the update by going to Manage Your Kindle (U.S.) or Manage Your Kindle (U.K.). You should see a link for updating in the Actions menu next to the title. If for some reason you can’t update that way, you can call Amazon and ask them to update it for you. Or, as a last resort, you can just delete the book from your Kindle Library and repurchase.
Please note that the book still doesn’t provide any help with lists, tables, or images—mainly because I haven’t yet worked with those myself. But I may add them to a later update.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#WordKindle2.
CreateSpace in Europe
I don’t normally write in this blog about big announcements in the POD world, because I figure my visitors will be familiar with them from other sources. But apparently many have missed the biggest such news so far this year—namely, the expansion in May of Amazon’s CreateSpace into Europe.
In two ways, CreateSpace has already been in Europe for quite some time. CreateSpace’s Enterprise customers—bigger, more established publishers—have been able to publish also through POD operations run by Amazon UK and Amazon Germany. And CreateSpace’s regular customers have been able to get European distribution by signing up for the Bookstores option of CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Channel (EDC), an option that operates through Lightning Source.
But this is something different. Now, simply by selecting the new, free Amazon Europe channel, all of CreateSpace’s regular customers can have their books produced directly by CreateSpace operations in Europe. That means constant 24‑hour availability on all of Amazon’s European sites—something that isn’t nearly possible through the EDC. (It should also mean that CreateSpace Book Descriptions will show up on all those sites, but so far they’re missing in action in Spain, Italy, and France.)
Another aspect of this change is important specifically to publishers in western Europe: Direct bank deposit in GBP or euros is now available in the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and the Netherlands. All in all, publishers in these countries should now find Plan B much more attractive—especially for European sales. Unfortunately, profits on the U.S. sales of these publishers are still subject to withholding by CreateSpace.
If you are one of those who somehow missed this important news, please let this be a wakeup call: You need to join the pod_publishers group on Yahoo. That’s where you’ll be alerted to all important develpments related to print on demand. If the flow of email is too much for you, you can always go on digest. That’s what I do!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#CreateSpaceEurope.
International Metadata and Nielsen BookData
I’ve spent much of the first half of 2012 enhancing the metadata and listings of the 30‑odd books from Shepard Publications. I’ve already written about the US phase of this campaign, but I’ve also put much effort into listings in other countries. And that part of the campaign has been quite an exercise in frustration.
Here are some of the problems I’ve run into with Amazon listings alone.
1. None of the Author Central sites for Amazon in Europe yet provide Web forms allowing authors to submit editorial content, despite this capability having been available in the United States for over two years! Exactly what are they waiting for?! And of course, Author Central hasn’t made it to Canada at all.
It’s true that you can instead send content to Author Central staff via contact form, and they will post it manually by special request. This is done even in the US, in some cases in which the Web form denies the right of editing. The trouble is that such content is then locked in. If Web forms are later provided in Europe, they probably won’t let you edit content the staff has posted manually. Besides that, bugging staff about individual entries is just cumbersome and less reliable.
2. As in the US, the Books Content Update Forms on other sites seem to have all stopped working. (This is different from the Catalog Update Forms.)
4. Attempts to update metadata at Lightning—for the Amazons that do receive it—are still susceptible to the endless revision cycle I described in an earlier post. Even with much of my sales now going through CreateSpace, I’ve found it impossible to update Lightning metadata for four of my books, including two of my biggest sellers. That means significant lost sales.
5. You would think that most of this would be resolved for Europe by CreateSpace’s new distribution there. Yet, unlike in the US, the book descriptions being sent by CreateSpace have lower priority on European sites than descriptions already there—so if you’ve submitted content through any other channel over the past decade, you’re out of luck.
So far, though, that problem is relevant mostly for the UK. On other European sites, CreateSpace book descriptions aren’t showing up at all—even when there’s nothing to replace! The CreateSpace team, after weeks of replying to complaints with lectures on waiting three to five business days, has finally recognized the problem and is looking into it. Apparently someone forgot the function that actually makes it possible to sell books! Sorry, CreateSpace, a bare listing won’t do it.
Okay, that’s all for Amazon. But if you’re working with Lightning Source—either directly or else indirectly through the Bookstores option of CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Channel—your books are available through many other booksellers outside the US, and especially in Europe. How do you supply enhanced content there? Can they too get it from Lightning?
The answer seems in most cases to be no. In Europe, metadata for English-language books comes mostly from Nielsen BookData. Even the UK and German Amazons use Nielsen for metadata slots not filled from other sources—often, for example, for “About the Author.”
Of course, as I discussed in POD for Profit, Lightning normally submits your metadata to Nielsen, and alternatively, you can get a free PubWeb account from Nielsen to submit it yourself. But neither of those arrangements includes book descriptions, one of the most important sales tools in your metadata. To submit those descriptions and have them sent to Nielsen’s subscribing retailers, you must pay a yearly fee—even though the retailers already pay to receive them!
On inquiry, I found out that the fee for a small publisher like me would be 150 GBP. Would it worth it? I decided to find out—mainly because I really only needed one year of it for all my existing books. After all, Nielsen couldn’t take back its data once a retailer had it. If I cancelled after one year, the listing enhancements would remain.
As I already knew from past experience with Nielsen, dealing with an operation that is essentially a dinosaur is not pleasant, especially from overseas. There is no secure Web form for payment, and you can’t use PayPal, either. You have to either send your credit card details by email or letter, or else mail the funds directly—in GBP only, of course. This can all take some time, but eventually you’re in.
Now you can submit your book descriptions for distribution. Nielsen allows up to 64,000 characters! Wonderful! That’s more than enough to include anything you’d possibly care to! There’s just one hitch. Just one little detail that Nielsen neglects to mention in their online documentation. The entire description must be in a single paragraph.
I discovered this through several rounds of trial and error. Every device I could think of to separate paragraphs was ignored or removed, leaving me each time with a single blob of text. I finally gave up and discussed it with my Nielsen rep. Here’s what I heard back:
We just output it as one block of text, to ensure all of our data customers can upload it without any issues. . . . As a data aggregator, we have to consider the needs of clients taking data feeds in a range of formats additional to ONIX—for example, MARC, for the library market—where formatting may be unacceptable. We therefore store unformatted text to try to suit the needs of as many clients as possible.
And my reply:
If I may say so, a more effective approach might be to supply the data in a variety of formats to meet the clients’ needs. That might make more sense than supplying data to booksellers in an inferior form that is next to useless for encouraging sales.
I was thanked for my comments and told they would be passed on to the manager of the Editorial Department, who apparently had not heard of anything like “book marketing.”
Meanwhile, I had to devise a text format for my book descriptions that would convey enough readable content to justify my investment of 150 GBP. Here’s an example of what I came up with, as submitted for Perfect Pages.
FOR UPDATES, READERS OF THIS BOOK SHOULD VISIT THE AUTHOR'S WEB SITE || Nowadays, new technologies and services have made it easier than ever to publish your book, but there's one question you may still face: Do I need an expensive page layout program, or can I just use a word processor like Microsoft Word? With this book as guide, you'll soon be producing pages from Word that no reviewer will scoff at. / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / Aaron Shepard is a foremost proponent of the new business of profitable self publishing through print on demand, which he has practiced and helped develop since 1998. Unlike most authorities on self publishing, he makes the bulk of his living from his self-published books -- not from consulting, speaking, freelance writing, or selling publishing services. In a parallel life, Aaron is an award-winning children's author with numerous books from publishers large and small. / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / "On target . . . . Concisely addresses a lot of topics that Word users need to know about." -- James Felici, author, The Complete Manual of Typography || "Excellent not only as a guide to using Word to design books, but also as a concise guide to book design." -- Morris Rosenthal, author, Print-on-Demand Book Publishing || "If you are a self-publisher, the biggest favour you can possibly do for yourself is to learn how to present your work to its best possible advantage. And in that regard, Aaron Shepard is an invaluable aid." -- Michael Allen, Grumpy Old Bookman, Apr. 17, 2007 || "If you want to use MS Word for typesetting, you really, really should own a copy of Aaron Shepard's book Perfect Pages. Nobody knows more about making Word produce acceptably typeset books." -- Walt Shiel, From the Publisher's Desk, Aug. 27, 2007 || "If you want to make your layout and formatting as unproblematic as possible and you don't want to shell out $1‑$2k for someone else to do it for you, then add this book to your library. . . . Using this book, I've found page layout pretty fun and now look forward to that part of the process." -- Zoe Winter, Indie Books Journal (blog of IndieReader.com), Apr. 12, 2010
You can see how it looks at WHSmith, a prominent UK bookseller that draws its online metadata exclusively from Nielsen.
Better than nothing! Still, for now, I would have to say that the problem of international metadata remains largely unsolved.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#internationalmetadata.
First Look at Word 2011 for the Mac
It may seem odd to offer a “first look” at Word 2011 about a year and a half after its release, but I’ve had good reason to wait. After Word 2004, Microsoft was forced to completely rewrite Word and the other Office apps to accommodate the Mac’s move from PowerPC processors to Intel. It is only with the recent release of Service Pack 2 for Word 2011 that Microsoft has again been able to offer a complete and reasonably reliable version of Word. I must admit, I still prefer Word 2004, but it won’t run on any Mac OS after Snow Leopard, so I figure it’s time to bite the bullet.
Here are the most significant changes and issues I’ve found in setting up Word 2011. (Please don’t ask me for technical support for any of this. That’s what Google, Office Help, and software manuals are for!)
• Microsoft still hasn’t figured out font management on the Mac. After installing its fonts, it does properly deactivate older font versions already installed by the Mac OS, but it fails to address other font duplication issues. This is the probable cause of the instability that seems to particularly afflict long-time Mac Word users. It’s essential, then, after installation, to run the Mac’s Font Book app to identify such issues for resolution, or else to follow documentation like the font management guide at OfficeforMacHelp.com. As a final step, you must zap Word’s existing font cache so it will be rebuilt. (You can zap it manually or use a utility such as TinkerTool System, my own choice.)
• Like Word 2008, Word 2011 uses as its default file format the new DOCX, though the older DOC format is still supported. There has been a lot of nonsense about how introducing DOCX was just a money-making ploy and how people should stick to DOC for greater compatibility. The truth is that DOCX was introduced to remedy the shortcomings of DOC; what’s more, documents not using DOCX are shut out from improvements in Word. You can always save a copy in DOC if you need to share files with a person or program needing that format.
• Custom page sizes can now be created and selected in the standard Mac fashion through the Page Setup dialog—just as Adobe apps allow!
• If you convert your book document from DOC to DOCX, you may need to reapply your custom page size before the document will print or export properly. First Select All to cover all sections, then use Page Setup.
• Word macros have been restored! And along with those, so have custom toolbars and menus!
• The Ribbon is now imposed on Mac users as it is on Windows users. Word does kindly provide a way to turn it off, but unfortunately, there are essential functions that seem to be available nowhere else—like working with levels in Outline View. Thankfully, though, Word also offers a couple of ways to collapse the ribbon when not in use.
• For Find and Replace, Word now annoyingly opens a side panel. To recover the old behavior, go into the Customize Toolbars and Menu dialog and assign “Find Dialog.”
• A variety of number styles can now be accessed in advanced fonts that contain them. For number spacing, you can choose proportional or tabular; and for number form, lining or old-style. For technical writing, this is major!
• For documents in the current format, there is one basic formatting change that may affect vertical spacing in your layouts: Page breaks are now treated as part of the following paragraph. If you previously inserted an empty paragraph right after a page break, this will make the paragraph mark move up to the same line as the break, doing away with the vertical space you were gaining. To move the paragraph mark back down and recover your spacing, simply insert a hard space between the mark and the page break. Or you can go into the document’s Compatibility settings and select “Split apart page break and paragraph mark.”
• The image handling nightmares of Word 2008 are over. No more forced antialiasing of line art, or degrading “compression” of images to save space! What’s more, Word now allows embedded color profiles, and even uses them to color manage the display! Image handling isn’t perfect, though. Images in grayscale, when dragged into the document instead of inserted, are converted to sRGB. Bitmap line art, whether dragged, inserted, or linked, is converted to grayscale. The line art itself isn’t modified—no grays are added to the pure black and white—but for commercial printing, graphics in grayscale mode must usually be at 300 ppi instead of the much higher resolutions allowed for line art. Still, with a little judicious help from Adobe Acrobat’s Convert Colors command, these quirks can be overcome, so that Word for Mac can now be said to provide adequate handling of graphics destined for print.
• Sections can now be created in Publishing Layout View, which should make it possible to use that view for book layout. In fact, combined with Word’s improved graphics handling and new color management, this may well make Publishing Layout an acceptable alternative to page layout apps like InDesign or Apple Pages for complex interiors. (But I’ll stick to InDesign for that, myself.)
• In what was very nearly a deal breaker for me, Microsoft has removed Print Preview. There is no longer any way within Word to view pages side by side with odd pages on the right, as they appear in a book, or even to see blank pages inserted automatically by section breaks. For this kind of view, you must now go to the Print dialog and create a PDF preview. You must then choose the two-page view, resize your window, and navigate to the page you want to see—and the resizing and navigating must be done each time!
I guess it could all be worse.
Update—After working with Word 2011 for a couple of months, I’ve gone back to Word 2004. Word 2011 still feels like a Beta, with lots of odd quirks and malfunctions. I guess I’ll hold onto Snow Leopard as long as I can, or wait to see if the next Word version is any better, or maybe even switch from Word to Nisus Pro for general word processing.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Word2011.
The Biggest Problem with Lightning Source
Most readers of this blog will know I’m a huge fan of Lightning Source. I’ve been publishing with it almost since the launch of the company. It was what drew me back into self publishing after a decades-long hiatus, and it was the basis of my success in this field. And beyond all that, I just admire the company immensely.
But there’s one thing about Lightning that drives me absolutely nuts: the frequent difficulty—and in some cases, impossibility—of making revisions.
Here’s what I wrote about it in 2010 in POD for Profit.
Now, you notice that when I talked about time required [for revisions], I said “normally.” There’s one instance in which you can run into significant or even indefinite delay. Ironically, it’s when your book is selling very well.
The problem arises because of Lightning’s protocol for handling revisions. When you submit your files, your rep has to pull your book out of distribution and keep it that way while the files are processed and the proof is out for approval. But when she goes to do that, if she sees that the book has orders waiting, she can’t pull the book till they’ve been filled.
So, your rep waits till the next day and tries again. The orders she saw the day before have now been filled, but . . . there are new orders that have arrived in the meantime. So, again, she’s unable to pull the book.
The next day . . . . Well, for most books there will eventually be a break in the orders. But for the most popular, this cycle can just go on and on. Each day, there will be new orders waiting to be filled that prevent your rep from halting distribution and sending your files on for processing. . . .
[And] it’s not just new book files that can trigger the cycle. Distribution must be halted to make any change in basic book data as well. Your book can get caught in revision hell for nothing more than the attempted correction of a typo in Lightning’s listing.
As it turns out, the situation was actually a bit worse than I described. At the time, I believed Lightning filled all orders overnight, but later I learned that was true mainly of orders from Ingram. Other orders normally took two or three days. So, if a revision was delayed because of an order already received, it had to go two or three days after that without receiving a single new order!
My book goes on to explain the consequences of such delays for a publisher who is using Lightning alone to supply Amazon.
Meanwhile, Amazon gets a “Revision Submitted” message from the Lightning feed. Even though the book can still be ordered—and even though Amazon itself may still be successfully ordering it—Amazon takes this as a sign of impeded availability.
As long as Amazon has stock of the book or sees actual (not virtual) stock at Ingram, that’s not a problem. But as soon as that stock is gone, Amazon changes the book’s availability from “in stock” to something like 1‑3 weeks. In another few days, it may say 2‑5 weeks. And finally, “temporarily unavailable.” At that point, of course, customers are being strongly discouraged, and the book is losing many sales—but not necessarily enough to let your rep get it into revision.
The upshot is, while you’re waiting for a revision that may never go through, you might be losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. This standoff may continue till you decide you simply can’t afford to make the change you planned and tell your rep to cancel the revision. (This is not just theoretical. I have twice tried and failed to replace my old, poorly-executed cover for The Business of Writing for Children.)
Of course, if you’re double sourcing your book with CreateSpace, the consequences are less dire, but they can still be substantial—and not only in direct loss of sales. If you’re following my Plan B, the unavailability could lead to a loss of your book’s discount, first at BarnesandNoble.com, then at Amazon.com. For this reason, a current bestseller of mine, my wife’s Smart Soapmaking, has minor updates in the CreateSpace version only. I dare not submit them to Lightning!
Unfortunately, this problem grows worse with time. That’s because of Lightning’s expanding international reach. A book in revision at Lightning doesn’t have to be pulled for distribution just in the U.S., but at every Lightning facility worldwide. That means it has to wait till there are no active orders anywhere in the world.
I dearly hope someone at Lightning still reads this blog, because, however great the problem, the solution has always been simple. As I said in POD for Profit, all it would take is delinking order acceptance and fulfillment. In other words, it should be possible to fill outstanding orders while refusing new ones coming in. Under this plan, the submission of a revision would immediately change a book’s status in the catalog to unavailable, stopping new orders, but outstanding orders would go on to be filled. Then as soon as the ordered books were printed, the revision would be clear to go ahead.
The alternative is ongoing frustration for some of Lightning’s most successful small publishers. And eventually—unavoidably, I would think—one of Lightning’s bigger clients will need to make an immediate change for legal reasons and find itself unable to do so. At that point, Lightning could well have an expensive lawsuit on its hands.
Better to fix it now!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#LightningSourceproblem.
Quickie Updates for Perfect Pages
Here’s my final installment of catch-up updates, this one for Perfect Pages, version 1.11 or 1.11.1. Please note, though, that these updates relate only to versions of Microsoft Word covered by my book, not to recent Word versions. (Since I’m still using Word 2004 myself, I have no immediate plans to update the book.)
• In Word 2003 preferences, to speed up the program, turn off both spelling and grammar correction as you type.
• As of Word 2003 SP3, “Fast Saves” are no longer available in Word for Windows, regardless of your setting.
• To get rid of WYSIWYG menus in Word for Windows, go to Tools > Customize > Options and turn off “List font names in their font.”
• To stop Word from inserting hyperlinks, go to Tools > AutoCorrect > AutoFormat As You Type, and turn off “Internet paths with hyperlinks.”
• If a Word file gets corrupted, try selecting the entire document with Select All and then copying and pasting to a new, blank document.
• To correctly see odd pages on the right in Print Preview, set your document either to different odd and even headers and footers, or to mirror margins, or to both—even if you don’t actually vary the headers, footers, and/or margins accordingly.
• The often-heard design rule to make your page’s inside margin narrower than the outside was probably developed for a traditional, sewn binding, which opens flat. With the glue bindings we have today, you can just make inner and outer margins equal, and at least 3/4 inch. The binding will automatically make the inner margin look narrower.
• Nowadays, it’s no longer standard to start chapters only on odd pages. Also, novels today often omit page numbers on chapter opening pages.
• Clarification: In my discussion of the prime and double prime characters, my warning never to use curly quotes means to never use them in place of those primes.
• Word lets you specify italics either by applying the Italic font style or by selecting a dedicated italic font—but don’t mix the two methods in the same document. Generally, applying the style is much more convenient and works just fine—mainly because it tells Word to use the dedicated italic font when available. Applying the style is also the required method for ebook text, in case you plan to convert later. Ditto all this for bolding.
• Delicate typefaces can work better on plain white paper than on cream, because the standard white that’s offered usually has a smoother surface.
• If your text needs special characters, make sure they’re included in the font you choose. For instance, you might need a good set of fractions, or fixed-width numerals for tables.
• Georgia Pro and Verdana Pro are new, professional versions of the popular Microsoft fonts, with a wider choice of characters. They can be purchased from third-party font providers.
• Indexing with text markup can be simplified by marking only the beginning page of a range. (Suggestion courtesy of master indexer Hedley Finger.)
• Clarification: In the section “Placing Graphics,” I say, “You can just link to the original graphic file, telling Word where to grab it when you print or create a PDF file.” This should be “when you print on your desktop or create a PDF file for your print service.”
• The “Lock Anchor” setting helps stop graphics from shifting position unexpectedly.
• If your print service scans bound books but not loose pages of hard copy—as is the case, for instance, with Lightning Source—it may accept pages you bind at a copy shop.
• Alongside the other ways to get Adobe Acrobat, it has so far been available in most editions of the Adobe Creative Suite. (But watch out: If you buy CS, you are limited to updating the entire suite instead of individual programs.)
• To see odd and even pages in their correct positions in recent versions of Acrobat, go to View > Page Display and select “Two-Up” and “Show Cover Page During Two-Up.”
• The Preflight feature of Adobe Acrobat Pro can be used to locate unembedded fonts, low-resolution graphics, and other errors, and often to fix the problem as well. Just choose the appropriate diagnostic profile.
• Correction: In the section “Setting Your Cover Size,” my example is befuddled. The page count that is said to yield a quarter inch at 400 pages per inch should be 100 pages.
• Though for Perfect Pages I created the cover in Word, I do not greatly recommend doing that, and I would not have done it myself if the subject matter hadn’t called for it. (My own tool of choice for book covers is Adobe InDesign.) Still, the basic principles I offer for cover layout can be used in other programs.
The rest of these updates are just if you’re on the Mac and using Acrobat with Word.
• The “Adobe PDF” or “Create Adobe PDF” choice of printer that Acrobat used to put in the print dialogue does not work with later versions of OS X, starting with Snow Leopard (10.6). Adobe has replaced it with a “Save as Adobe PDF” command, also in the print dialogue but on the “PDF” menu at the bottom. This command, though, does not use Distiller. Instead it lets the Mac create a PDF file with the system’s own Quartz engine, then attempts to convert to a PDF file of Adobe quality using PDFLibrary. This may or may not meet the standards of your print service. But you can always instead save to PostScript and run through Distiller.
• With Word 2004, Adobe Acrobat’s new “Save as Adobe PDF” command in the print dialogue does not work with imported EPS graphics. It places only the low-resolution EPS preview into the PDF file. (According to Adobe, this problem does not arise with later Mac Word versions, because EPS graphics are converted to PDF on import into Word.) Again, you can instead save to PostScript and run through Distiller.
• Some print services now recommend the PDF/X‑1a standard for all submitted files. Because Word for the Mac uses RGB color even for text, it is not possible to correctly generate interior files directly to that standard—and usually, any high-quality PDF file will work anyway. But if you do need or want to submit PDF/X‑1a from Mac Word for a black-and-white interior, you can do it with Acrobat Professional in this way: Generate a high-quality PDF file without conforming to PDF/X‑1a. In Acrobat, run the file through Preflight with the profile “Digital Printing (B/W),” choosing “Analyze and Fix.” Finally, run it through Preflight again with the profile “Convert to PDF/X‑1a (SWOP).” (For color interior files, you’re on your own. Since Word is not color-managed, I wouldn’t use it for that.)
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Pagesquickies.
Suspicions About Lightning Source
March 16, 2012
Now and then on the pod_publishers list, as well as in my personal correspondence, I see a spate of new publishers questioning whether Lightning Source might be underreporting sales. Because this question keeps coming up, I’ve posted a new article about it, excerpted and adapted from my book POD for Profit. See “Is Lightning Source Cheating You?”.
Quickie Updates for POD for Profit
In my continuing effort to catch up on updates, here are the more important ones for POD for Profit, version 1.0.
• Lightning, of course, has continued to extend its reach, with a new facility in Australia, a shared one in France, and projected partnerships with POD printers in Brazil, Germany, and elsewhere.
• My book makes a distinction between wholesalers and distributors, but these terms may not be distinct outside the U.S. Still, it’s good to keep in mind the two different functions.
• As my book says, you are not required to have a sales tax license in the U.S. if you’re not selling directly to the public. You should make this status known, though, by informing your Lightning rep, who will note it on your account. If you are then sent a Uniform Sales & Use Tax Certificate to fill out, just ignore it.
• When setting up at Lightning, it’s a good idea to sign every available print agreement, even if you don’t currently plan to take advantage of them all. This does not mean you will need to send book files to more than one location or to pay multiple setup fees.
• Currently, no books are being sold by Lightning through its Canadian channel. However, the Canadian bookselling chain Chapters Indigo might be using the existence of a Canadian price to verify that the publisher has Canadian rights. According to at least one Lightning rep, the Canadian channel was initiated for this purpose, at the request of Chapters Indigo.
• For black-and-white books, Lightning delineates the printable area of your page by starting from the page center and extending out to the trim size border only. For this reason, bleeds cannot work for black-and-white, though they will appear to work at either top or bottom because of inexact vertical paper alignment. This is also the reason your page can be centered, if you like, in an 8.5 x 11 inch PDF—or any other size, for that matter.
• Contrary to what I suggested, right-to-left books are a viable option at Lightning. Here’s one method that works, according to a couple of publishers who are doing them: When submitting the book, include a special instruction to bind it on the right side. For your cover, the front will go on the left, and your bar code, or the space for it, on the right. Do not place the cover on the template yourself. Apparently, Lightning will then take your files and manipulate them to achieve the effect you want -- basically by turning both your pages and your cover upside down. (If you want to perform this manipulation yourself, contact Lightning for details.)
• One capability question I didn’t address was about multi-volume sets. Yes, Lightning can handle multi-volume sets—for black-and-white books only—if you provide separate ISBNs for each individual volume and the set as a whole. BUT publishers who have tried this have found that Amazon will list ONLY the individual volumes, not the set. So, for Amazon, the best you can do is publish the individual volumes and tie them together by way of the title, description, and other metadata.
• For those using InDesign CS5 or later, Lightning now approves direct export of PDF/X‑1a files from that program, without use of Adobe Acrobat Distiller.
• Note that Lightning’s 240% Total Ink Limit requirement applies only to covers. That’s because it’s meant to avoid problems with cover lamination. Also, as I’ve already noted in an article, Lightning is not strict about that limit when it comes to small areas in photos and illustrations.
• When listing your title anywhere, if you are not given a separate box for the subtitle, enter the main title and subtitle together, separated by a colon and a space, like so:
• I suggest you set your publication date to the day you submit your files to Lightning or earlier. This will avoid complications, such as Nielsen BookData refusing to list your book as in print if the publication date is in the future. A future date is no longer ever useful at Amazon, which will list only the date of first availability.
• Set your publication date to a specific day, not just a month. If you give the date to Bowker with month only, BarnesandNoble.com won’t show the book as available till the last day of your chosen month.
• In a change of name, Lightning’s annual fee is now for “Market Distribution” rather than for “Digital Catalogue.”
• Amazon.com can now show listings from Nielsen BookData, and if you submit your listing to Nielsen much before approving your book at Lightning, the Nielsen listing may reach there first. When you do approve your book, though, Lightning’s data will supersede Nielsen’s. Though I do not recommend prelisting your books, listing early at Nielsen is now one way to do it. (Amazon still does not show listings from R. R. Bowker’s BowkerLink or My Identifiers.)
• If you handle Nielsen Bookdata directly, be aware that Amazon.co.uk uses Nielsen, rather than Lightning or a wholesaler, to determine the list price of your book. In other words, the list price you see at Amazon.co.uk will match your list price at Nielsen. So, to make sure Amazon.co.uk displays the correct list price, keep Nielsen up to date. (If you do not handle Nielsen directly, Lightning UK will take care of this.)
• Baker & Taylor now mostly ignores Lightning books, so it’s a waste of time to submit your listing there. In fact, just ignore B&T entirely. You don’t need it—especially now, after the demise of Borders and Borders.com, the only major booksellers making B&T their exclusive wholesaler. As for libraries, they can commonly order from either Ingram or Amazon instead—or they can place a special order at B&T, which can then order from Lightning. In fact, if the number of special orders indicates significant demand, B&T might still order a quantity from Lightning and stock it, with no input on your part.
• For BarnesandNoble.com, cover images can be emailed to ImagesInquiry@book.com.
• If BarnesandNoble.com prelists your book based on a listing from Bowker, it will assume a standard discount until it receives data from Lightning. For this reason, BN.com’s initial discount of your book may be 28% even for a short discount book.
• Discounting by Amazon is not triggered by availability or discounting from a wholesaler per se, but by discounting at other online booksellers, and especially BarnesandNoble.com. In such a case, Amazon will soon match or beat the price. One exception: Amazon will ignore a discount at BN.com if the book there is classified as a textbook.
• In support of virtual stocking and drop shipping, Lightning gives highest priority to orders from its sister company Ingram, fulfilling them by the next day, and often the same day. Orders from other customers, including Amazon, might typically take a couple of days.
• The procedure for your placing international orders at Lightning has changed. Instead of asking your rep for a separate account for ordering from another country, just ask to have ordering from that country set up in your primary account. (If you already have a separate account, you can keep using that or ask to be changed to the new system.) You can then select that country while placing your order, by way of a new Printing Location menu. Important: Be sure to then click on “Update Order” to see relevant shipping options for the newly-selected country. Note to Lightning: Good trap! But please consider making the shipping options change automatically on selection of a new country.
• When making a large or unusual change in price or discount at Lightning, you may get a message asking you to provide a reason or to “review your requested change.” These do not mean that you cannot make the change you want!
• I do not recommend ever trying to recycle an ISBN at Lightning. But if your book has never gone into distribution, Lightning says it can replace your ISBN with an internally-assigned SKU number, allowing you to reassign the ISBN.
• Correction: Copyright protection nowadays is for the life of the author plus 70 years—not 75, as I misstated.
• In regard to the Copyright Clearance Center, please understand that all I actually recommend is creating a free account, to keep your contact info current and possibly also to supply title info. I do not endorse the for-pay rights management tools, which I have not used and which I doubt would pay off for most self publishers. To create a free account, go to rightscentral.copyright.com and click the “Sign Up” link near the “Log In” button at top right. This will download a form you must fill out and send in. Once approved, you can go back to the site and enter your data.
• Baker & Taylor’s TextStream is a complete bust.
Along with these updates, I’d like to offer a brief assurance: Though the curtailment of drop shipping by Amazon is a setback for Lightning, it places the company in no danger, because most of its business has always been with established publishers supplying bookstores. Lightning should continue to grow and thrive.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#PODquickies.
Still More on Author Central
I’ve just spent two months cleaning up and enhancing book listings on Amazon in the U.S.—listings for my own books, both self-published and traditionally published, and for books I’ve published by my wife, Anne L. Watson. I was inspired to do this in part by the ever-expanding capabilities of Author Central.
In fact, for the U.S., Author Central has turned into an amazing one-stop center for nearly all your Amazon needs. Here are some of the things you can request to have handled by Author Central personnel:
Link different versions of a book—for instance, different bindings, like paperback and hardcover—to guide customers between the versions and carry over reviews.
Remove a duplicate listing by merging it into the book’s primary one. (Duplicates are often created by careless or predatory Marketplace sellers.)
Delete Editorial Reviews entered through other channels—as long as Amazon hasn’t licensed and paid for them. (For instance, you can remove any obsolete content you’ve submitted yourself through the now-defunct Books Content Update Form.)
Remove an old cover image. (This lets you upload a new one yourself, again through Author Central.)
Alter a book’s Categories or Subjects—except for Kindle Books. (But if you make any change in Categories, the book will then be limited to two Categories total.)
Remove a book from Search Inside.
There are contact links on every page of Author Central, but to request a change for a particular book, it’s best to go to the Books tab, click on the book you want, and then click almost any contact link on that page. This should automatically identify the book in a header of the message. You’ll specify the type of request as the message subject, and for this you’ll be guided through a series of menus with an astounding array of options. Browse through these to find the capabilities you want and also to discover others I haven’t mentioned.
Author Central in other countries isn’t yet as powerful as in the U.S., but you’ll find that at least most requests of these types can be fulfilled even if they’re not listed by the contact form.
Now, this is all very well if you’re publishing your own writing. But what if you’ve moved on to publish other authors? How do you gain access to these capabilities of Author Central? There are several possible approaches.
1. Have your author request the changes through their own account.
2. Do it for your author through their account. Obviously, this one requires a high level of trust!
3. Do it through an account that you’ve set up in your author’s name—with their approval, of course—but that you control entirely. For instance, I’ve enrolled Anne in Author Central using an Amazon account that I created for her but that only I use. A new, eligible Amazon account requires only a unique email address, or even just a different password with the same address. You don’t even have to make a purchase.
4. Do it through Amazon Advantage.
In regard to the latter option, I’ve already written about Advantage being the best way to submit cover images to Amazon. Advantage is a very bad way to supply books to Amazon, but you don’t actually have to do that to enroll in the program.
And now Advantage is even more useful, letting you handle matters related to the Author Page of an author of yours, even for books not supplied through Advantage. Through direct request, you can set up that Author Page, add books to it, link or merge, and so on. You can even upload an author photo and biography.
I wrote in an earlier post about using Author Central—in the U.S. only—to add Editorial Reviews to your book’s detail page, or to edit some—not all—existing ones. (In the U.S., Editorial Review is Amazon’s catch-all phrase for descriptive metadata.) You can do this even for books you’ve published through CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing.
Between this ability and the ability to remove old content, you can commandeer and optimize a good-sized portion of a book’s detail page. You can also quickly adjust it to changes in how Amazon positions the various Editorial Review sections—as when Amazon recently shifted Product Description toward the top of the page in an accordion view, while allowing two additional Editorial Reviews below it on the same page.
Want to see how an optimized page now looks? Check out the U.S. detail page for Aiming at Amazon, currently with close to 2,400 words of my own promotional material—included courtesy of Amazon.com!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#AuthorCentral3.
Quickie Updates for Aiming at Amazon
I admit I haven’t been properly keeping up with notices of changes for my publishing books. So, here’s a quick rundown of some more important ones for Aiming at Amazon, currently at version 2.1. (The version number is on the copyright page.)
Oh, and please don’t expect these notes to make much sense if you haven’t read the book! As usual, the purpose of this post is mostly to provide updates for my readers, not to provide standalone information.
• In case you never heard, BookSurge has now been merged into CreateSpace as a division for larger publishers, CreateSpace Enterprise. So, in the U.S. at least, you can just talk about CreateSpace, rather than “Amazon POD.” (The official combined name, though, sometimes appears as On-Demand Publishing, BookSurge’s original name.)
• Most direct email addresses for Amazon support are now defunct. Where available, use Amazon’s online forms to send messages or request phone contact. (Currently, all phone calls from Author Central in the U.S. are handled by U.S. staff, while messages you send from the online form may be answered in the U.S. or India.)
• When looking at sales ranks, keep in mind that there are separate ranking scales for print books, paid Kindle Books, and free Kindle Books, and that there is no direct relationship between the scales. Also, the constant increases in Amazon’s sales and number of book listings mean that ranks are generally not as high or nearly as steady as when I discussed them in my book. Now, for instance, I would say that any book that stays in the top 100,000 on Amazon.com is doing very well.
• My choice of tools for figuring out keywords for subtitles has changed. Nowadays, I would most likely use the predictive search features of Amazon and Google, typing words or parts of words into the search box to see what suggestions are offered for completion. Google’s “Related Searches” is another current favorite. I no longer use WordTracker.
• The kind of two-tier subtitles I advocated in my book are not as often needed anymore, because Amazon’s search function is now sophisticated enough to look for word variants.
• If you’re publishing through CreateSpace, that program will not accept changes in your subtitle once the book has gone on sale. But you can still alter your subtitle with the Catalog Update Form, if you can point to an authoritative Web site with the preferred data.
• Amazon apparently stopped purchasing third-party book reviews in early 2011. So, reviews from major review journals—if you can get them—no longer commandeer prime spots on a book’s detail page.
• Because of differing content, new editions and older ones are no longer normally linked so as to carry over reviews. You might still get a link, though, by requesting it through Author Central.
• In place of linking old and new editions, Amazon can point to a newer edition from the old one’s detail page to make customers aware of it. Generally, though, this is done only if Amazon sees customers having trouble locating the newer one.
• Tags are no longer referenced in search results, so they’re probably no longer worth the bother.
• Amazon’s searches no longer return all or even most results from Search Inside content, removing one of the program’s chief advantages. On the other hand, Amazon cover images have grown progressively larger, so an imposed Search Inside banner is no longer as great a handicap. (I’m still staying out of the program when I can.)
• Amazon’s choice of books to show as Frequently Bought Together is now more heavily manipulated, rather than being taken in order from the Also Bought listings.
• Amazon has stopped displaying Ultimately Buy listings.
• It has become much harder to have Customer Reviews removed, even when they clearly violate Amazon’s own guidelines. But if the review is slanderous, you might be able to get it removed by contacting Amazon’s legal department.
• It’s now easier to have Amazon Associates accounts in multiple countries. For instance, if you’re in the U.K., you can apply to all the European programs through the U.K. program site. And on the program site for any country, you can switch countries with a drop-down menu on the home page.
• When filling out Amazon forms in foreign languages you don’t read, it helps to keep a browser window open with the corresponding form in English. (Thanks to Gang Chen for this great idea.)
Of course, there have been many more small changes, but where’s the fun if I tell you everything?
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Aimingquickies.
Sales Rank Express is Back!
Sales Rank Express, my own Amazon sales rank checker, is officially back in operation, after months offline due to changes at Amazon. And it now offers more than ever, including
Quick sales rank checking of multiple print books on Amazon in nine countries, including Spain, Italy, and China.
Sales rank checking for Kindle Books in four countries. (Just select “Kindle” in the Format menu for the country you want—U.S., U.K., Germany, or France.)
More detailed stats on Customer Reviews, with a breakdown by number of stars.
Charts of the last week’s sales ranks, with visible peaks that let you make quick sales estimates and spot trends. (To see charts, turn on “Tracking” for each title.)
Enjoy! And please spread the word to all your author and publisher friends!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#SRErelaunch.
The End of an Era, or Moving to Plan B
July 6, 2011—Updated Oct. 13, 2011
This post has now been updated, greatly expanded, and promoted to a full-fledged article, “In Pursuit of Plan B.”
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#planb.
POD, Kindle, Nonfiction, and the “One Format” Rule
In Aiming at Amazon, I offer the “One Format” rule: Stick to one format in publishing your book for Amazon sales. This, I said, would avoid splitting up your sales and sales rank among the formats, leading to less prominence for any of them on Amazon. I even specifically advised against publishing both POD and Kindle editions.
But it seems that the Kindle is rewriting the rules.
First let me say that I never meant you should never publish in both print and ebook. My rule was meant to apply only to dual formats within a single market. Publishing POD for Amazon plus EPUB for Apple’s iBookstore, for instance, could obviously make sense, because it’s adding a market. Anyone buying in the iBookstore can’t buy print—so if that’s all you publish, you’re missing that sales opportunity.
Also, as I’ve said in another post, I think Kindle is a better format than POD for fiction and general nonfiction—as opposed to the kind of practical nonfiction that does best in POD publishing. That’s because you can price low enough for the Kindle to overcome customer resistance to spending money on an unknown author. And in this case, publishing POD along with Kindle can do little harm, because the POD edition won’t likely draw away many sales.
Lately, though, I’ve been suspecting that publishing practical nonfiction for Kindle as well as in POD is likewise adding a market. As Kindle users become ever more attached to their e-readers and apps, they may well search for such books first and only in the Kindle Store, settling for whatever they find there. In other words, if you have only a POD edition, many Kindle users may never see it—again, a missed sales opportunity.
This idea seemed to be borne out when I used TitleZ to examine the historic print sales ranks of six books about self publishing that are now available in both print and Kindle editions. Half showed a downward trend, and half showed a rising trend or no change—about what you’d expect with no Kindle edition to influence sales.
But pricing may also be a factor, as shown by one standout book among the six: Christy Pinheiro’s The Step-by-Step Guide to Self-Publishing for Profit!—a book on publishing with CreateSpace—priced at $3.99. Most of the other books were apparently priced low enough to take advantage of the economies of ebook publishing but high enough to maintain the kind of profit the publisher was getting from print. Christy’s was the only one to stake a claim in the under-$5 price range cited as optimum for Kindle customers.
Christy’s strategy was paying off in her Kindle sales being miles ahead of those for the other five books. And the overall sales of her own book had risen dramatically. But her print sales were significantly down—and that edition gave her a much higher profit per copy. How did this work out on balance? In response to an inquiry, Christy told me that her overall profit too had risen—but only about 20%.
This says to me that Christy’s Kindle pricing may be too low for a book with both POD and Kindle editions. On the other hand, her strategy may pay off in a big way if ebooks become the most important medium for practical nonfiction on Amazon—as has already happened with fiction. It might also suggest an alternative strategy: Publish higher-profit titles exclusively in POD, but complement them with shorter, low-priced titles for Kindle only.
It’s all an experiment.
Update—With the passage of time, I again feel there’s too much competition between print and Kindle editions of a single title in practical nonfiction. Mainly, I’ve noticed that my biggest competitors in the field of self publishing are now a lot less competitive in print, because, unlike me, they’ve all come out on the Kindle and their sales are divided. I’ve always wanted Aiming at Amazon to become Amazon’s top seller on self publishing, but I didn’t expect to achieve it by default!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#oneformat.
Why I’ve Switched to CreateSpace for Picture Books
I’ve long been known as a booster of Lightning Source, but I have to say they’re losing the battle for color books to CreateSpace, in technology if not in sales. That’s despite their using basically the same color presses and producing more or less the same print quality. After trying reprints of my children’s picture books at both of them, I’ve decided to use CreateSpace exclusively for such books for the foreseeable future.
Here are the advantages I’ve found to color printing at CreateSpace.
Printing across the gutter. Lightning makes you leave a blank area of an eighth inch on either side of the gutter in a book with glued binding. Though that area is mostly lost from sight anyway, it does look odd to break up a double-page spread with a white strip. But more than that, it means having to format the book file specially for Lightning.
The alternative is to choose staple binding. I can’t say Lightning’s staple binding looks all that bad—the staples are small and discreet—but it does look cheaper than perfectbinding, and with a picture book for kids, it’s not likely to last as long.
CreateSpace doesn’t make you do any of that. You can print right across the gutter on a glued binding.
Industry-standard bleed. Lightning asks for a quarter inch for any bleed off an inside page. The industry standard is one-eighth. If you’re reprinting a color book with bleed, you may not have a quarter inch to give up without compromising the graphic, especially if you don’t have the original art.
Recently, Lightning has begun saying you can add an appropriate color around the edge to fill out the bleed. But whether you do that or not, you’re once again forced to format your book just for Lightning.
CreateSpace asks for the standard eighth inch.
Color management. Lightning Source actively discourages color management by requiring you to remove all color profiles and aim at a color space that’s an industry standard, but a standard only for offset printing and coated paper! You can trick Lightning into printing to a more appropriate color space—see my article “Better Color from Print on Demand”—but why on earth should we have to go through such contortions just to make our books look their best?
CreateSpace’s color management isn’t super either—most color profiles are simply ignored—but color will be handled correctly if you provide all images in Adobe RGB with embedded profiles. Which makes for a very easy workflow! It also means that the files I submit now should work with any later generation of POD technology. I won’t have to go back to make further adjustments, because color management should handle them automatically.
Total ink limit. For covers, Lightning asks for a 240% total ink limit. Oddly, this is not because of the paper—the cover stock can handle the normal 300% fairly well—but because of lamination. HP Indigo presses such as used by Lightning operate with oil-based ink, and too much of this can apparently keep the lamination from sticking. Unfortunately, the lower ink limit means less contrast and overall lower image quality. Not to mention, again, having to format just for Lightning.
CreateSpace must be using different lamination. There’s no special ink limit.
Custom sizes. For me, this was the deciding factor. When you’re reprinting a picture book, you need to stick pretty closely to the original trim size, at least in ratio if not in specific dimensions. But Lightning provides a very limited set of trim sizes for color printing.
CreateSpace, on the other hand, has been offering its entire range of trim sizes for color printing as well as for black and white. And starting this year, it allows any trim size within a range of page dimensions. Yes, you can set your own custom height and width, right down to the fraction of an inch. You can even get landscape printing, though not at large sizes.
File format. Lightning requires all files for color books to comply with the PDF/X‑1a standard and to be produced with Acrobat Distiller. Plus, the cover must be submitted on a Lightning template. To me, these are only minor annoyances, but for some self publishers, they’re major stumbling blocks.
CreateSpace does not require any PDF standard or PDF producer or template. Just export from whatever program you’re using. Which is quite remarkable, when you consider that CreateSpace works through a variety of printing services, so it should require more file uniformity than Lightning.
Cost of proofs. When you’re trying to get color graphics right, you’re likely to require more proofs than for a black-and-white book. The cost of that can really add up at Lightning, with its required overnight shipping.
At CreateSpace, you can choose your shipping method. If you’re in no hurry, you can get a picture book proof, complete with shipping, for about ten dollars.
Lower print costs. For some reason, Lightning’s color printing costs for almost all page sizes are much higher than CreateSpace’s. This is not as great a factor if you’re short discounting at Lightning as I do, because it roughly balances out. But it’s still a sizeable factor when you order copies for your own use.
Of course, in switching to CreateSpace from Lightning for color books, I’m giving up Lightning’s much better distribution. But in this case, that’s less important to me than the quality of the books. Also, I’m expecting CreateSpace’s distribution to improve over time, especially in reaching overseas.
But what I’d really like is for Lightning to get its act together on color printing and match or surpass CreateSpace’s offerings. I’d like nothing better than to come back into the fold.
Update—Lightning now accepts an eighth-inch bleed, at least for the interior. (Supposedly it does for the cover too, but its cover templates are based on quarter-inch.) And the 240% total ink limit seems to be enforced only when violations cover larger areas.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#CreateSpacepicturebooks.
The Universal Book Search File
One of my claims to infamy is that Aiming at Amazon, for reasons discussed in that book, does not recommend participating in Amazon’s Search Inside program. But this is only because of Amazon’s implementation, not because I dislike such programs in general. For years, I’ve been part of Google Books with its similar search and preview functions. Recently, in response to growth of sales at BarnesandNoble.com, I’ve joined the See Inside program there as well. And I’m also trying out Bowker’s new Full Content Indexing Initiative.
But at the point I become involved in two programs for anything, the challenge becomes to create one set of files I can use anywhere at all. For that, I’ve come up with specs for a Universal Book Search File.
The following should work for Google, BN.com, Bowker, and (if need be) Amazon. Among other things, it’s designed to prevent odd pages from being displayed on the left in facing-pages view—the way they often wind up positioned if you’ve submitted separate files for covers and content. When checking this positioning in Adobe Reader, make sure you activate “Show Cover Page During Two-Up” under “Page Display” on the View menu. (Apple’s Preview automatically displays it correctly.)
Include all pages in a single PDF file, with the front cover at the beginning, and the back cover at the end. Ignore the book spine. Name the file YourISBN.pdf, replacing “YourISBN” with your ISBN.
If at all possible, make the PDF text-based, not image-based. In other words, avoid creating your file from full-page scans or rasterized page images. (But the covers can be images.)
A page in the file must show only one page in the book, and the dimensions should equal the book’s trim size. In other words, don’t output the PDF as two-page spreads instead of individual pages. Don’t submit PDFs at 8.5 x 11 inches with a small centered text block. Don’t include bleed or slug areas.
Include blank pages, including the inside front and back covers. So, you’d begin your file with the front cover, followed by the blank inside front cover, then the first page of your interior, falling on page 3. You’d end it with the blank inside back cover, then the back cover itself, falling on an even page. An exception: If two blank pages fall together, you can omit both. For example, if the final page of the book is blank, you can leave out both that page and the blank inside back cover. But in all cases, you must end up with an even number of pages.
Embed and subset all fonts.
Non-vector images should be exactly 200 pixels per inch. The same goes for page scans, if you use them.
Images should be in RGB, grayscale, or monochrome. Do not use CMYK. Use an sRGB profile for RGB images, and Gamma 2.2 for grayscale ones, with profiles embedded. (If you don’t know what any of this means or don’t know how to do it, then never mind.)
When generating the PDF—preferably not before—apply JPEG compression to color and grayscale images, but at the highest quality that allows the file size to be reasonable for uploading. Monochrome images should also be compressed. Absolute file size limit is 500MB.
Insert bookmarks in your file at significant locations, including but not limited to:
Table of Contents
Content points as appropriate (Part, Chapter, or “Beginning” of text)
Do not add any type of security.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#booksearch.
CreateSpace and the Expanded Distribution Channel
Jan. 7, 2011
The answer to both questions is, “Probably never.” It has been crazy enough trying to keep up with developments in the world of print on demand without adding the even more chaotic world of ebooks to the mix. I gladly leave that maddening task to more energetic authors.
But that doesn’t meant I’m personally ignoring ebook publishing. On the contrary, I’ve already made some successful forays into that field, and I’m looking forward to more—whenever I can get around to them. Still, I see ebooks as more useful for some types of publishing than for others.
The bulk of my profitable publishing right now is in practical nonfiction. As I’ve written, this is the kind of book that does best in POD publishing. It’s unlikely that many of these nonfiction books of mine will make their way to ebooks, or at least not anywhere they’re competing with print versions. As I’ve also written, you never want to split your Amazon sales between two versions of a book, because both versions will suffer.
What about readers who prefer ebooks? Won’t they pass up my books in favor of others? There might be a little of that, but I don’t see it as a major factor. Strictly speaking, I don’t write nonfiction books that “compete” with others. I aim to write books with innovative material that only I can provide. So, if readers want that information, they’re likely to buy my book in whatever format I offer, as long as it’s a format they can deal with. And unlike with the various flavors of ebooks, anyone can deal with a printed book.
Then why am I interested in ebooks at all? Mainly because they solve the single biggest problem remaining in self publishing: what to do with fiction and other discretionary books. POD simply doesn’t work well for self-published fiction, because at the typical price of a printed book, few readers will take a chance on an unknown quantity. So, the self-published novelist can seldom compete.
Ebooks, though, change the equation, giving the self-published author one huge advantage. Big publishers have to price their ebooks fairly high in order to support their establishments. Self publishers don’t. They can price their books low enough that readers are willing to take that chance on them.
So, even though I probably won’t write much about ebooks, I do believe they are the way to go if you publish fiction, children’s books, or any other kind of book for which readers have a wide choice. That’s exactly what I’ll be using them for, myself.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#ebooks.
More on Lightning Source Book Covers
Use Lightning’s custom template.
Produce the final PDF file with Adobe Acrobat Distiller.
Submit the file in the PDF/X‑1a format.
Apparently, Lightning’s policies have shifted. John Culleton of Wexford Press recently sent me a book with a cover created in Scribus. It had been produced without a template and had been exported directly to PDF/X‑1a format without Distiller. And Lightning had not rasterized it.
Rasterization has always been at the discretion of the individual Lightning tech that handles your file. So, I’m not going to recommend that you start ignoring the other two conditions, because I still consider them the safest way to go. I plan to stick with them myself. But it does seem that disregarding them no longer guarantees that your cover will be degraded.
Before you try this with Scribus, though, John says that it’s only a developmental release that can export to PDF/X‑1a, and you need the skills of a geek just to install and run it. The feature won’t be in an official version until some undetermined future time. Also be aware that, by default, Scribus justifies only by expanding spaces between words, not by contracting. Unless you adjust the “minimum word spacing,” your typography will look like it came from a basic word processor—in other words, pretty bad.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#LightningCovers2.
The New Universal Cover Image
In both Aiming at Amazon and POD for Profit, I provided specs for a “universal” cover image that should be accepted by all online booksellers and data services. Well, time marches on, and maximums and minimums have slowly drifted upward. The tipping point came when I found late last year that BarnesandNoble.com refused to post my cover image, despite having multiple sources for it.
So, for Universal Cover Image 2.0, you have to change one spec: Instead of making your image a maximum of 648 pixels in height or width, make it exactly 1200 pixels in the longest dimension. That’s it. All the other specs remain the same.
But as long as we’re talking about cover images and BN.com: The submission address has changed. It’s now ImagesInquiry@book.com.
I can deal with that.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#universalimage.
Better Color from Print on Demand
Dec. 29, 2010—Updated Apr. 14, 2011
This post has been promoted to the status of an article and expanded. You can read it here.
Snow Leopard, Adobe PDF, InDesign, PostScript, and Acrobat Distiller
For those Mac users who don’t know it yet, OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” broke Acrobat’s Adobe PDF print driver. In response, later versions of Acrobat Pro 9 have simply removed that driver and its associated PostScript Printer Description (PPD) file from Snow Leopard systems.
Unfortunately, that also removed the capability of InDesign to produce PostScript files for oversize pages. Many of us publishing through Lightning Source were depending on that feature for files to send through Acrobat Distiller, which is how Lightning wants its PDF files prepared, especially for book covers.
In light of this, Lightning has finally backed down from its rigid stance on PDF creation and posted a notice to Snow Leopard users, telling them they can simply export direct to PDF from InDesign.
The question is, will Lightning techs really accept such book cover files as equal to files generated by Distiller, or will they continue, despite official statements, to rasterize at least some of them, as I’ve reported before on this blog and discussed in POD for Profit.
Personally, I don’t care to find out. So, I set out to find out how to restore the Adobe PDF capability to InDesign. You’ll find the solutions I discovered on another blog of mine, My Mac Fixes.
Update—Recent advice from Lightning Source has been consistent enough that it now seems safe to export your cover PDF directly from InDesign. Just use the “PDF/X‑1a:2001” preset, or a customized version of it. (But I’m personally still using my Distiller workflow.)
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#SnowLeopardPDF.
Author Central and Editorial Reviews
Self publishers who don’t use Amazon Advantage may have noticed that it has become harder and harder in the U.S. to get your info onto Amazon’s book detail pages. Its Books Content Update Form—for years the standard way of submitting such info—has been subject to longer and longer processing times, until it seems to have stopped working at all.
So, it is with great relief I can say that Amazon has stepped up and filled the gap. In early May, it became possible to add and in most cases even edit “Editorial Reviews”—including “Product Description,” “From the Author,” and other such elements—through Amazon’s Author Central. If you’ve already signed up there, simply go to the Books tab and click on a book to find the link to Amazon’s new form. If you haven’t signed up yet—well, what are you waiting for?
Note that Amazon’s form will accept some simple HTML, but you absolutely don’t need it. Plain text works just fine. One big problem, though, is that Amazon omits blank lines between paragraphs. You can get around this by inserting a “hard space” on those lines.
Just as when using the Books Content Update Form, there are a number of tricks to submitting Editorial Reviews for maximum effect. You definitely do not want to fill in every section or submit book review excerpts in the way Amazon suggests, or else most of your effort will be wasted. For a thorough discussion of this, see my book Aiming at Amazon. And for an example of what can be done, see Amazon’s book detail page for my book POD for Profit.
Your entries appear on Amazon.com in a few days. That’s quite an improvement!
The other news from Author Central is that it is now available also in the U.K.! Unfortunately, the U.K. version doesn’t yet allow submission of Editorial Reviews, but I’m sure that will come. Meanwhile, the Books Content Update Form for the U.K. is still working.
Update—The Books Content Update Form has been removed for the U.S., and is probably on its way out in other countries as well.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#AuthorCentralreviews.
New Capabilities at Lightning Source
Lightning Source has announced new capabilities that signficantly expand the range of books it can handle. The news is summarized in a one-page flyer on the Lightning site, available after login, while details can be found in new versions of the Publisher Operating Manual and Color Book Addendum for both U.S. and U.K. Here are the highlights.
Hardcover binding is now available for color books in most (but not all) trim sizes.
Color books can now be 6 x 9 inches, and black-and-white books can now be a full 8.5 x 11 (in addition to the older 8.25 x 11).
Page count on black-and-white books can now be anywhere from 18 pages to 1050 for cream paper or 1200 for white.
Multi-volume sets are now accepted under a single ISBN.
I should mention too that there’s an extraordinary error in the U.S. Publisher Operating Manual: The appendix on Digital File Submission Standards has been misplaced! Gone! Disappeared! It’s still in the UK manual, though, so you can read it there, or else download it separately from the File Creation menu on Lightning’s home page (before login).
You’ll also find an odd version of that appendix in the Color Book Addendum, but I suggest you ignore that one! It has several serious errors, including a requirement that all images on the cover of a black-and-white book be at 3,000 dpi. And it still says that the outside bleed on color book interiors should be 1/8 inch, though all other Lightning documentation says 1/4.
By the way, while you’re on the home page (again before login), you might also download the new version of the File Creation Guide.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Lightningnews.
25% Discount at Lightning Source UK
The January 2010 revision of the UK Publisher Operating Manual for Lightning Source brought a surprise—made even more surprising by it not being posted till March, after I’d finished work on POD for Profit.
Both the U.S. and U.K. operating manuals have long said that Lightning accepted discounts as low as 20%. The U.S. manual still says that—but the latest U.K. version now says “as low as 25%.”
I discovered this when Lightning UK staff suggested that my 20% discount for POD for Profit might be the reason for trouble I was having getting that book listed at The Book Depository. I was told that the discount might be causing Lightning UK to omit the book from its feed.
On further inquiry, though, I was told by a Lightning UK manager that this was not true. Not only that, but—and here’s where it gets really interesting—there is no minimum discount. Lightning’s computers will accept any discount—yes, all the way down to 0%—and send it out in the feed. What’s more, I was told that the “minimums” given in the operating manuals are nothing more than recommendations based on market practices. Specifically, Lightning recommends
- 20% minimum for the U.S. and Canada channels
- 25% minimum for the U.K. and E.U. channels
Mind you, this is not what the operating manuals say. Instead, they specify one minimum for U.S. publishers for all channels, and a different minimum for U.K. publishers, likewise for all channels. But according to my Lightning UK contact, what Lightning really recommends is different minimums for different channels.
If this wasn’t confusing enough, there’s the question of just what will happen if you go below the minimum. In the U.S., going below 20% will almost certainly cause Ingram to either add a surcharge to your book’s wholesale price or refuse to carry the book at all. But in the U.K.?
My books at 20% are listed at Gardners and Bertrams, the two main U.K. wholesalers carrying Lightning books, as well as on all Amazon sites, the Book Depository (after the trouble mysteriously cleared up), and as far as I know, everywhere else they should be. So, exactly what benefit would come from switching to 25% for any channel?
If there’s an answer to this, I’ve been unable to get it from Lightning or from anywhere else I’ve posed the question. If any reader has a clue about this, I’d love to hear from you.
But at least till then, I’m sticking with 20% in all channels.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#UKdiscount.
POD for Profit Is On Sale
Mar. 17, 2010
POD for Profit, my new book on working with Lightning Source, is now on sale at Amazon.com and elsewhere. And yes, a great deal changed between my earlier draft and the final version. And no, I have no idea why the initial discount at Amazon.com is 28%. The discount set at Lightning is 20%!
Bad News About TextStream
I’ve written on this blog in the past about TextStream, the reboot of Baker & Taylor’s Replica Books. TextStream’s plans have sounded promising, but I’ve advised caution and patience in seeing how they play out. But somehow, a number of self publishers haven’t caught on to the caution part of the message.
So, I’d like to make that much stronger now. TextStream’s plans include a virtual stocking system at B&T, similar to Ingram’s for Lightning Source, that would give its books good availability listings at online booksellers. This was supposed to be a high priority for the company, and was scheduled for last September.
The problem is, it didn’t fly. According to my TextStream contact, the idea was for B&T to list TextStream books as “In stock, available in 3 to 5 days.” Apparently, libraries accepted that, but it didn’t convince booksellers. And no wonder! The turnaround time for Lightning is not four days but four hours!
Meanwhile, with this new “availability” scheme, B&T apparently figured it could stop real stocking of TextStream books entirely. The upshot is that TextStream books are showing as completely unavailable on Amazon and BN.com, and Borders lists them as available within four to eight weeks.
My TextStream contact tells me the introduction of virtual stocking has been “pushed back” to February, as part of “Phase 2” of the company’s revival. But whether anything they come up with at that point will work is pure speculation. Meanwhile, TextStream’s documentation is still a contradictory mess, it has no client Web site, and publisher payments are still being processed manually.
As before, my advice is to wait and see. If things work out, TextStream could be useful in a variety of ways. But for now, that looks like ice on the road ahead.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#TextStream.
The Stigma of POD
Dec. 22, 2009—Updated Jan. 1, 2010
Looking for this post? The darned thing kept growing and changing till I had to make it a full-fledged article. You can read it here.
Out of Stock and Delisted!
This is a tale about the book wholesaler Baker & Taylor and the online bookseller Borders.com. I meant to write this last spring but got distracted. Anyway, it’s still interesting, if you can follow the convolutions.
1. Baker & Taylor has long had a direct order line into Lightning Source. But it has been selective in the Lightning books it listed in its catalog, and even more selective in the books it actually stocked. And unfortunately, books that B&T listed but did not stock were not sent out in its feed to retailers.
2. Most Lightning books were not originally listed by Borders.com, because when it started out, it ordered only from B&T and listed only books in the B&T feed.
3. Eventually, Borders.com started ordering also from Ingram—but only books that were listed at Baker & Taylor but not in stock there.
4. Among the books it had to order from Ingram, Borders discovered that a fair number were Lightning Source books at a short discount. Borders didn’t like that, so it delisted just those books.
5. What Borders.com did not delist were short-discount books in stock at Baker & Taylor. Some of these were from B&T’s own POD operation, Replica Books. Others were Lightning books that B&T stocked because of demand.
6. At about the same time, though, Baker & Taylor decided to stop stocking Lightning books entirely and instead go to ordering only to fill backorders. So, B&T gradually divested itself of all stock of Lightning books.
Final result: Short-discount Lightning books are completely out at Borders.com—the first online bookseller to reject them! But you can still get such books onto there through Replica—now rebranded as TextStream.
Is it worth signing up with TextStream just for this? Not likely. Borders.com doesn’t sell that many books. But at least you now know why many books are missing!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Borders.
CreateSpace Teams with Lightning Source!
It’s almost impossible to believe. Less than two years after Amazon declared “war” on Lightning Source, Amazon’s CreateSpace and Lightning are “partners.” But what this “partnership” really means is that CreateSpace is a client of Lightning!
1. CreateSpace Direct. This is through a CreateSpace site that can sell direct to retailers.
2. Bookstores and Online Retailers. This is printing and distribution through Lightning Source and its extensive network, including Ingram.
3. Libraries and Academic Institutions. This is apparently through Baker & Taylor. (I originally thought it might be through a partnership with B&T’s POD service, TextStream, the successor to Replica Books, but that isn’t true. CreateSpace seems to be supplying B&T directly.)
Want to hear the kicker? CreateSpace’s share for books sold through the Expanded Distribution Channel is 60%—three times higher than what Lightning would require if you were working with it directly!
So, CreateSpace has joined the ranks of self publishing companies that rely on Lightning Source at least partly for printing and distribution. And just as with so many of those other companies, it shouldn’t take long before CreateSpace customers start waking to the fact that they can make a whole lot more money by working with Lightning directly and setting a short discount—for sales not only through “expanded distribution” but to Amazon itself.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#CreateSpaceLightningSource.
Version 2.1 Now Available
Sept. 8, 2009
Aiming at Amazon 2.1 is now on sale. Ordering a new copy on Amazon in the U.S., Canada, or the U.K. will give you the latest version. (France and Germany may still have a copy or two of the earlier version to sell out.)
The 240% Total Ink Limit
Aug. 7, 2009
If you’re designing book covers for printing by Lightning Source, be sure to check out “Living Within Limits,” my new article on the 240% total ink limit now being enforced.
Amazon Ref Codes
In my article “Linking to Amazon”—and in the corresponding section of Aiming at Amazon—I discussed the parts of Amazon’s Web page addresses actually needed for linking from outside, and I glossed over the parts for Amazon’s internal use only. But while these other parts may not be immediately useful to the self publisher, they can provide intriguing glimpses into how Amazon operates. The most important of these parts is Amazon’s referrer codes, or “ref codes,” for short.
Every link from any Amazon page to any other includes a ref code to describe the location of that link. And that location includes not only the page that the link is on, but also the feature that displays the link, and the link’s position relative to other links displayed by that feature.
Let’s look at a typical address you might collect from your browser’s address bar while visiting one of Amazon’s book detail pages. This is like one you might see for Aiming at Amazon.
Can you spot the ref code? Here it is on its own.
What this code tells you is that you reached this page by performing a search (“sr”) and then, on the first page of results, clicking on the sixth book listed. (Later in the address, a query ID—“qid”—tells Amazon exactly what search produced this positioning for this book, while the ref code is repeated in another format for programming convenience at the end.)
Here’s another ref code, taken from a different link but to the same page.
This one says that the link is from a feature based on purchase histories (“pd”)—namely an Also Bought listing (“sim,” short for “similar”)—and that this linked item from the Books department (“b”) was #2 on the list.
Amazon’s ref codes, combined with sales history, help Amazon learn how best to design its pages and their features so you are directed to the books you want to see and then buy them. Every time you click on a link on Amazon, you are “voting” for that particular kind of link—and the more votes that kind gets, the more likely it is to be preserved or promoted.
On Amazon, everything is testing. Little is left to guesswork!
Update—For more on this, see my article “Counting on Amazon.”
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#refcodes.
In Praise of Author Central
In an earlier post, I bemoaned the loss of Amazon’s AuthorConnect program and pooh-poohed its successor, Author Central. I’m happy to report I was wrong about the latter. This is a significant gift to all authors, including self publishers. Though it can’t take the place of AmazonConnect allowing us to post content directly onto book detail pages, Author Central has unique benefits of its own.
One of the problems with Amazon recently is that it has made it so hard to reach anyone who could solve problems. Amazon has replaced direct email addresses to various departments with contact forms that send their messages to intermediaries overseas. Some associates of Amazon’s have at least been enrolled in programs with dedicated staff to answer inquiries from those forms—for instance, Vendor Central for large publishers and Amazon Advantage for small publishers selling direct to Amazon. But self publishers working with self publishing companies or directly with Lightning Source have been reduced to using generic forms intended for Amazon customers.
Author Central changes that. Now, self publishers and other authors can receive the same kind of specialized attention that those other groups do, with dedicated contact forms and dedicated staff to answer them. At the same time, Author Central seems to carry over a little-known benefit of AmazonConnect: Enrollees get priority consideration for corrections they make to book data through Amazon’s Catalog Update Form.
Of course, there’s more to Author Central. You get your own Author Page, with a portrait, a brief profile, and a display of all your books. You can also post blog entries to appear there, with display of up to three at a time. For most of us, though, the Author Page—like Your Profile before it—will be minimally useful, and its blog will almost certainly not be worth the trouble, unless you import posts from elsewhere with RSS.
The new contact capability, though, is by itself more than enough to make this program worthwhile. And maybe there will be additional useful features to come, by Amazon’s initiative or in response to our suggestions. (Anyone want to post Author Messages on book detail pages? Let them know!)
Meanwhile, Amazon has made the enrollment process dirt simple—in fact, if you belonged to AmazonConnect, most of the set-up has already been done for you. To get started, go to authorcentral.amazon.com.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#AuthorCentral.
The Resurgence of Replica Books
Last week’s news of the Espresso Book Machine eclipsed some other news that may be of even greater importance to POD publishers, this time from Baker & Taylor.
B&T has been buying up a series of companies lately to bring the wholesaler up to speed in providing digital services to publishers. On Thursday it announced it was extending this to print on demand by contracting major printer R. R. Donnelly to run a POD center at B&T’s largest distribution facility, in Momence, Illinois, starting in September. Also planned (but not announced) is Donnelly’s installation of additional equipment at its Allentown, Pennsylvania, plant, to serve B&T’s facility at Bridgewater, New Jersey.
Baker & Taylor is not a newcomer to print on demand. In fact, it launched its POD service, Replica Books, not long after Ingram launched Lightning Source. But B&T never committed to Replica the way Ingram did to Lightning, and the service gradually dwindled to a mere vestige. It has never even developed a Web site for its customers.
All that is about to change, as B&T moves back into this arena with a vengeance. Clearly, the wholesaler wants a piece of the pie that Ingram and Lightning have been hoarding for themselves.
Besides bringing printing in-house—it was formerly contracted out to Bridgeport National Bindery—B&T will be integrating Replica offerings more tightly into the B&T catalog. A huge weakness of Replica in the past has been that B&T would not commit to carrying or even listing all Replica books. And those they did carry only showed as available when actually in stock. With outsourced printing, that meant that even listed books could be unavailable for a week at a time.
Now, though, with Donnelly’s facility on site, B&T plans to list all Replica titles as “in stock” and available for shipping within three to five days. Though not as aggressive as Ingram’s promise of overnight shipping of Lightning books, it’s a tremendous improvement.
Color book capability is also planned for the “near future”—an area in which Lightning has left much room for competition. And that Web site for Replica? Yes, that’s definitely high on the development list.
Getting Lightning books into Baker & Taylor has always been problematic, and there are parts of the market that B&T reaches that Ingram doesn’t—for instance, Borders.com, Half.com, and the retail customers of Muze, not to mention many libraries. Also, Donnelly has an international reach that may eventually help B&T reach national markets not yet well served by Lightning. So, double-sourcing books with Lightning and Replica may again become a wise strategy for POD publishers, as it once was.
Like Lightning, Replica has always allowed publishers to set their own discounts—so short discounters shouldn’t have to stay away. For small publishers in general, the main question left is whether they’ll be welcome at all. In recent years, Replica has been reluctant to work with beginners. My Replica contact tells me that small publishers will indeed be welcome, but I think we’ll have to wait and see. Certainly I would advise waiting at least till the Web site is up and running.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Replica.
The Espresso Book Machine—What It Means (and Doesn’t Mean) for You
On Wednesday, Lightning Source announced that its program for book distribution via the Espresso Book Machine was now open to all Lightning publishers. If you’re working with Lightning, contact your sales rep for the needed documents and contract addendum.
The Espresso has generated a lot of hoopla—from one standpoint, probably more than it deserves. Many small publishers see it as a promising new way to reach into the stores that now ignore them. But it isn’t. All Lightning books are already available to customers of those stores through special order. Ordering a book on the Espresso is not really different in kind from ordering it for printing and delivery in a few days. Yes, it’s quicker, but speed isn’t your main obstacle to sales.
In each case—instant printing or printing in a big distribution center—the problem for the small publisher is how to make your books known. The Espresso won’t help with that at all. Just as before, the best bet for small publishers will be to aim at online booksellers, where your books can be made easy to discover. (This is not even to mention that there are currently only 15 of these machines in the entire world.)
Then where lies the importance of the Espresso for the small publisher? I believe it is in international markets. Clearly, Lightning Source has been slower in expanding overseas than previously hoped. The expense and complexity of building a large POD operation is a huge deterrent, as is the problem of adapting to a foreign language and business culture.
But what if you have a (relatively) small machine available to regional distributors and retailers in a given country, and economical for even a small market? You would then find your books selling competitively in that country through its Internet booksellers, effectively expanding your market with no direct investment or adaptation at all.
So, don’t expect the Espresso Book Machine to do a lot for your books in the U.S., Canada, or the U.K. But look for it to open up Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Germany, and Japan. Yes, Lightning books are already available online in all these countries, with Amazon serving the latter three—but the Espresso will let your books be sold there faster and cheaper, thereby increasing demand. Don’t be surprised by a 5% to 10% boost in sales over time, just from international markets and the Espresso.
Update—Wrong, wrong, wrong! The Espresso has proven completely useless to self publishers.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Espresso.
Amazon Kills AmazonConnect
I can’t say I’m surprised. The feature set of AmazonConnect has been dwindling for several months. The first loss was the ability to assign posts to specific books. Then it was inserting graphics and video. After that one, I wrote this to the AmazonConnect people:
Why don’t you just abolish AmazonConnect and get it over with? This continual degradation is driving me nuts. What will you take out next? External links? Formatting? Text entry? There’s not a whole lot left.
Well, on May 26, we found out what was left. AmazonConnect is being phased out entirely in favor of Amazon’s new Author Central, which offers each author their own special page on Amazon. This will feature the author’s biography, bibliography, blog, and so on. In other words, it’s a glorified version of the Amazon Profile—another feature nearly useless for authors because few customers ever see it.
And your blog posts? New ones will no longer appear on your book’s detail pages! That’s right, the last remaining significant value in your AmazonConnect blog has been stripped away. We’re back where we started, with the Books Content Update Form as the primary way to submit content to those pages—a form that has lately been outsourced overseas, to novice workers who get weeks behind and often reduce our input to rubbish.
Thank you, Amazon!
For now, some of you may still be able to reach the old message submission form at www.amazon.com/connect, even if it doesn’t distribute your messages as before. Others, including all new enrollees, are simply redirected to Author Central at authorcentral.amazon.com.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#AmazonConnect.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Aiming at Amazon 2.0
You’ve all been waiting very patiently, and it has finally paid off: Aiming at Amazon 2.0 is on sale. But it’s not what you might expect, especially if you read an early draft.
I’d intended to get the book out by September, and I did come close to finishing it then. But there were important questions still to answer, and I had to publish my wife’s new soapmaking book—so I set mine aside for a couple of months.
Meanwhile, I realized I was staring at a 400‑page book that would be nearly impossible to keep up to date—if I could finish it at all—and one that was thoroughly dependent on the symbiosis between Amazon and Lightning Source—which made it extremely vulnerable. Even if, as I believe, independent self publishers will never have trouble selling to Amazon through Lightning, I keep hearing from self publishers who already believe the opposite, and who are therefore skeptical of my approach.
It was my wife, Anne, who came up with the final solution: Split the book into two—one book focused on Amazon, the other on Lightning Source, but interrelated. And that’s what I’m doing. At a svelte 200 pages, Aiming at Amazon still recommends publishing through Lightning, but it discusses other possibilities as well, with a special friendly nod toward CreateSpace. Meanwhile, you get about twice the info on Amazon I put into the original book.
And the second book? It will be called POD for Profit: More on the NEW Business of Self Publishing. Besides a detailed treatment of Lightning Source, it will cover other aspects of publishing important to those of us with our own publishing businesses. I plan to get out the book sometime within the next year. To bridge the gap for those who need the info ASAP, I’ll try to get a preliminary draft posted here soon.
By the way, Aiming at Amazon was “updated in place”—meaning the ISBN is the same as before, and you’ll order it from the same Amazon book page. As long as you buy a new copy directly from Amazon, it will be the new version, as you’ll see noted on the copyright page. I guarantee that personally.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Aiming2.
Self Publishing with Lightning Source—Alive and Kicking
Though I’ve already written about Amazon.com’s supposed policy of no longer buying books from Lightning Source—and though nothing has changed—I keep getting asked about it by people who simply cannot believe that self publishing through Lightning is still viable. So, let me say this quite clearly:
Not a single independent self publisher is known to have been affected by Amazon’s new “policy” in any way. Only larger publishers and self publishing companies have been affected—and it doesn’t look as if Amazon ever intended it any other way. If you are self publishing through Lightning Source in the manner described in my book Aiming at Amazon, it is business as usual, for now and the foreseeable future.
I’ll go farther: Amazon is treating self-published books from Lightning Source better than ever. For the first time, many Lightning books at short discount are being discounted on Amazon—by up to 10%!
It’s a great time to be publishing through Lightning Source.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#AmazonLightning.
Why No Word on Word 2008?
Mac users who follow my advice on using Word in self publishing may wonder why I’ve been so voluble on Word 2007 and so silent on Word 2008—especially since I’m a Mac user myself. Well, frankly, I’ve been waiting to fully test Word 2008 till it’s usable.
But the longer I wait, the less that seems likely to happen. Service Pack 1 has now arrived, and that’s usually the point at which Word becomes trustworthy—but not this time. In fact, reports are that SP1 has introduced a whole new set of problems.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to join the crowd of Microsoft bashers on this one. The Mac developers at Microsoft got handed a near-impossible job—mostly by Apple!
In the last two or three years, Apple has required Microsoft’s Mac developers to make three basic shifts: (1) from one programming language to another, (2) from one computer architecture to another, and (3) to the latest, much changed, and still extremely buggy version of Mac OS X. From the other side, Microsoft has required its Mac team to support an entirely new file format and to redesign the user interface—in other words, to make the biggest changes in Word’s design and operation in a decade. And to top it off, the Mac team itself decided to meet the competition from Apple Pages by adding an entirely new document model not found in WinWord—Publishing Layout View.
All this in a single update! It’s a miracle that Word 2008 came out at all.
But that doesn’t mean you and I have to pretend this is a production-ready tool. Let’s call it what it is: a work in progress. Personally, I’m hoping Mac Word will be ready for serious use by the next version. (If you think I’m exaggerating, read this Microsoft blog post about the necessity of ignoring a crash-causing bug so SP1 could be released on time.)
In the midst of this bad news, though, there’s some good. Unlike their Windows brethren, the Mac developers of Word did not ruin the program’s interface. It’s different, but quite nice. I won’t mind working with it at all.
The other good news is that Office 2008, as premature as it is, is selling really, really well. Microsoft says this will allow them to add more developers to the Mac development staff, which should mean we’ll get better products quicker.
So, if we can just wait for the next version . . . or the one after that . . . .
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Word2008.
Even Better Graphics from Lightning Source
It was only in March 2007 that I reported on the new Océ presses at Lightning Source and the radical improvement they provided in grayscale graphics, including photos. In fact, I said the improvement was about 100%. But still, I pointed out, Lightning was screening at a resolution common to newspapers, so you shouldn’t expect offset quality.
Less than a year later, Lightning has upgraded their systems in a way that pretty much delivers just that. Screen resolution on interior grayscale graphics has jumped from 85 to 106 lines per inch. That may not sound like much, but it’s right in the range where a small increase makes a big difference. Where before the screen dots were easy to spot, they’re now small enough that you have to look hard to see them. (Scanned books are not affected, since they’re stored as black-and-white bitmaps, which aren’t screened.)
Lightning had the upgrade in place and began testing on Jan. 22, but it still hasn’t officially been announced—and in fact, it might not be. But even if and when it is, the catch is that not all books will get the advantage of it.
Your older files for interior content were converted by Lightning to a format known as AFP—Advanced Function Presentation—which was designed by IBM for production printing. With Lightning’s new system, though, new files are being printed direct from PDF. But Lightning can’t very well go back to PDF for your older books without your approval of the result—so you need to resubmit your interior files to have them printed via the new system.
A hassle? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes!
Note: I previously reported here that the key to getting the graphics improvement was to produce your PDF files to the specification PDF/X‑1a:2001. This turns out to have been my own misinterpretation of confusing information. My new info comes direct from Lightning senior technical staff and is confirmed by my own testing. Submission of files to that spec is recommended by Lightning but is not required for improved graphics. All you need to do is resubmit your files.
In fact, if you’re using Word for the Mac, I suggest you avoid producing PDF files to any PDF/X spec. Without intermediate processing, this will convert your text from black to a medium gray and ruin it for printing!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#LightningGraphics.
Lightning Source and Book Covers
Though book covers from Lightning Source look just fine to most people, I haven’t been satisfied. I finally got tired of seeing strange artifacts on type under magnification and decided to figure out what was causing it and how to stop it.
I ran a series of tests, then described the fruits of my experiments on my Publishing Page in an article “Book Covers vs. Lightning Source” (since removed). Basically, it said that Lightning was rasterizing and screening all book covers, including the type, often with antialiasing. So, there was no way to get high-quality type on Lightning covers, and the only way to get clean bar codes was to let Lightning supply them later.
After posting that, though, I was contacted by Lightning Source with a request to talk to a senior technician. The resulting discussion was highly useful and revealing, as I discovered I was both right and wrong. Yes, Lightning often rasterizes covers, even when—as in my case, I was told—there is no apparent problem with them and they meet all documented requirements. But no, not all covers are rasterized.
What makes the difference? You have to follow Lightning’s recommendations as well as its requirements. Lightning Source cover technicians will rasterize an otherwise problem-free cover without notice or warning in these two cases:
1. It’s not built on one of Lighting’s custom templates, as generated on their Web site.
2. It’s not produced with Acrobat Distiller, as shown by Acrobat or Adobe Reader in the file’s Document Properties.
I’ve never liked using Lightning’s templates, so that was one strike against me. The second was that most of my cover files, created in InDesign, have been exported directly to PDF instead of printed to a PostScript file and run through Distiller. The files’ Document Properties, then, gave the producer as “Adobe PDF Library.”
Shouldn’t a direct export from Adobe’s own InDesign be good enough? It’s generally considered so, for any version from 2.0 on, but Lightning’s experience is that using anything but Distiller can cause problems. So, if they see a different producer identified, they automatically rasterize the file just in case.
Of course, I wanted to verify that making these changes would do the trick. So I sent my test cover through again, this time using Lightning’s own template and producing the PDF file with Distiller. Sure enough, the cover came back with perfectly smooth vector type and a squeaky clean bar code. Finally!
The moral? Do what Lightning recommends, whether it’s required or not!
As for those of you using Microsoft Word for book covers as detailed (but not recommended) in Perfect Pages, there’s good and bad news. The bad news is that Lightning will rasterize and screen your cover, because it’s not in a template. (Yes, I imagine there’s some way to work with Lightning’s template in Word, but it would be so convoluted, I’m not going to encourage it or even try it myself. Good luck, if you’re that ambitious.)
The good news is that your type will look decent anyway, as long as you avoid delicate typefaces. In fact, you don’t even have to bother with specially converting Word’s blacks with late versions of Acrobat Pro, which I prescribed as essential in earlier versions of my book. On a screened cover, the “pure black” you get with such conversion doesn’t even work as well as the “rich black” you can get without it!
So, if you want the best possible cover from Lightning, get a copy of InDesign and follow Lightning’s recommendations closely. If all you want is a utilitarian cover, Word will do the job nicely.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#LightningCovers.
Amazon Declares War on Lightning Source
By now, you have no doubt read about the campaign launched against Lightning Source by Amazon and its print-on-demand company, BookSurge. Lightning customers are being threatened with Amazon no longer accepting direct orders of their POD books, leaving the books available only from outside sellers on Amazon’s Marketplace.
Since February, a number of author services companies (“self publishing companies”) and some larger POD publishers have been approached by BookSurge, telling them they can move their books to BookSurge to avoid having their “buy buttons” disappear. (Amazon Advantage and Amazon’s new Lulu competitor, CreateSpace, are apparently two other recourses for salvation.) One large author services company, PublishAmerica, has already refused BookSurge’s offer and seen most—not all—of its buttons vanish. (PublishAmerica books with a pub date after March 10 are still on sale, as you can see by a date sort at Sales Rank Express.)
Though it’s generally assumed that Amazon intends to stop direct selling of all incoming POD books, Amazon itself has never explicitly said so. Its language has consistently been vague on this point, never dealing in absolutes. With the alleged April 1 deadline come and gone, and with no new, recent approaches to Lightning customers, it’s quite feasible that Amazon has already gotten what it was after—namely, compliance from most of Lightning’s largest customers.
Yes, it’s more than possible that Amazon never intended to go after and doesn’t care about the many small, independent self publishers who cluster around Lightning Source, not even thinking to mention them in regards to its new policy. Or the public uproar over Amazon’s actions may have convinced it that pursuing results farther down the food chain isn’t worth the negative publicity. Or Amazon may even realize it can’t block all incoming POD books, since it wouldn’t take much for Lightning and Ingram to disguise new ones at least, given an end to Lightning’s direct feed to Amazon.
We don’t know. It’s true, we might wake up tomorrow and find all our buy buttons gone. Still, I advise all independent self publishers to hold tight and not rush to replace your current business plan. It may be good for many years to come. And if you’re just now ready to set up with Lighting Source, don’t let this deter you. Whatever happens with Amazon, Lightning will be a key element of any profit-based POD publishing plan for the foreseeable future.
I also encourage you not to “punish” Amazon by throwing your business to Barnes & Noble. Anyone who is not new to publishing should know that Barnes & Noble is at least as monopolistic a force as Amazon. Please don’t starve one monster by feeding another. In fact, if it hurts your own books—as it will, if you direct traffic away from Amazon, leading to a reduction in its recommendations for your books—then don’t try to starve the monster at all. Believe me, you’ll wind up hurting yourself a lot more than you’ll hurt Amazon.
I’ll update this post if and when things progress. Meanwhile, you can best follow developments by being a member of the pod_publishers group on Yahoo, at finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/pod_publishers. (Before posting on this topic, you should probably read some way back through the message archives.)
As most of you know, my book Aiming at Amazon is all about selling books to Amazon through Lightning Source at short discount—and I’m ready to help any Lightning publisher keep doing that. If and when you are threatened by BookSurge, or if and when Amazon stops selling your books without notice, please contact me privately for possible counteractions.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#LightningAmazon.
Acrobat and Leopard
Those of you who are using Acrobat and have upgraded your Mac to Leopard (OS X 10.5) are likely to already know this: Leopard broke Acrobat’s print driver, destroying your ability to create PDF files through the Print dialog. This was true of all versions of Acrobat, including the current one.
I’m glad to say that Adobe has now fixed this. Acrobat 8.1.2 restores this capability. The bad news is that this is the only Acrobat version that is fixed. So, if you’re on Leopard with an earlier version of Acrobat, you’re out of luck.
Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you can’t create PDF files at all. You can still produce a PostScript file, then run it through Acrobat Distiller. And how do you create the PostScript file? The method described in earlier versions of Perfect Pages, it turns out, was changed in Tiger (OS X 10.4). The correct answer is to use the command “Save PDF as PostScript” (Tiger, confusingly) or "Save As PostScript" (Leopard, clear as day) on the Print dialog box’s PDF menu.
If you do decide to upgrade to Acrobat 8, there are some tricks to getting it installed and working at all. First, if you have a previous version of Acrobat that came with an uninstaller program, use the uninstaller. (Don’t worry, you won’t lose any custom Distiller profiles.) Then install Acrobat 8 but do not open it yet, because it will likely just crash. Instead, go to the Adobe Web site and download all the updates for Acrobat 8—three at this time, none of them cumulative. Apply each one in turn. During this process, you’ll probably see a message asking if you want to install missing components, like the Adobe PDF Printer. You’ll get another chance later, but at this point click “Cancel,” or you won’t be able to go on.
You’re now free to open the program, but you’re still not finished. From the Help menu, choose “Repair Acrobat Installation.” From your options, make sure “Adobe PDF Printer” is checked. I recommend not checking “PDFMaker Toolbar for Microsoft Office,” since this is not very helpful in the Mac version. When that’s done, I suggest you check for updates (again on the Help menu), click on the Preferences button in that dialog, and turn off automatic updating—which is probably what was causing the crashes in the first place. (It’s not uncommon, by the way, for automatic update checks to cause problems in Adobe apps.)
Also, if you have custom Distiller profiles created in previous versions, open Distiller, go to Library/Application Support/Adobe PDF/Settings, double-click each custom profile to open it, then cancel it. If you don’t open each one, they won’t show up among your choices, and you won’t see the PDF Options menu item in the Print dialog at all!
If you think this is a lot of trouble just to get the program functional, you’re right. Acrobat really blew it on this one.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#AcrobatLeopard.
20% is the New 25%
Last spring, I reported here that I would be experimenting with a 20% wholesale discount at Lightning Source, instead of my longstanding 25%. I had settled on 25% years ago when I found by experiment that Ingram and therefore Amazon.com too were imposing surcharges on books with any lower wholesale discount. So, 25% is what I’ve recommended for years, including in Aiming at Amazon, and loads of Lightning publishers have followed my advice.
Earlier this year, though, I heard of some publishers setting a 20% wholesale discount at Lightning and getting away with it. Had things changed? With a healthy 5% at stake, I decided to find out.
I’ve now had most of my books at 20% discount for several months in both the U.S. and the U.K., and I’m happy to report I have seen absolutely no negative effect. Neither Ingram nor Amazon has imposed a surcharge, and my books are selling on Amazon just as before. The discount change has likewise not affected my books’ Amazon availability status, search results placement, or Also Bought positions. And though I don’t follow BN.com closely, all my books seem to be selling normally there as well, most of them with 24‑hour availability.
In other words, the change has not affected my sales in any way I can tell. The only difference is that I’m making more money!
So, start your New Year right and tell Lightning Source to switch your books to 20% wholesale discount. The best way is now through the “Submit Revision” feature, chosen from the My Library menu. Select your book, then on the next page click on “Request Price Change.” (Thanks to Fred Zimmerman and Larry Yudelson for alerting me to this new procedure!)
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#ShorterDiscount2.
New Article on Word 2007
Dec. 12, 2007
I’ve taken all the posts about Word 2007 from my MS Word/Book Design Blog and consolidated them in a new article, “Books, Publishing, and Word 2007.” The rest of the posts from that blog have been merged back here.
Authors and Lightning Source
In my book Aiming at Amazon, I talk about several steps to setting up your own publishing business so you can bypass the “self publishing companies” that act as middlemen and instead work directly with Lightning Source. But it appears that most of what I recommended to do is no longer needed.
Lightning Source used to flatly state that they worked with publishers only, not directly with authors. But at least in the time since my book came out, they’ve changed their tone. Their Web site still encourages authors to consider an “author services” company—another term for “self publishing company”—but it also says you can work direct with Lightning if you like.
That doesn’t mean that working with Lightning Source has become as easy as working with, say, Lulu.com or iUniverse. Lightning still won’t help you put your book together—you have to supply print-ready files. Lightning also says you’ll need a high-speed Internet connection (presumably for file transfer, though you can instead send files on disk). And one business requirement I cited still holds: You must acquire your own ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers, the standard identifiers of the publishing industry).
But more formal procedures like registering a business name with your local government and opening a business checking account can be skipped, along with getting a resale license. Of course, these may be helpful or even legally required for some activities, such as selling books direct to customers. But just for publishing through Lightning Source, you can do without.
There’s one procedure, though, that I recommend strongly, even if it’s no longer required: creating a publisher name for your dealings with Lightning Source and others. You’ll avoid confusion and get a lot more credibility than if you use your personal name. And besides, it’s more fun!
By the way, when you fill out Lightning Source’s application online, you’re asked for up to three ISBN prefixes assigned to you. These are not full ISBNs but just the digits that appear in common for all ISBNs in a set. For instance, for a set of 10 ISBNs, the prefix would be the first 11 out of 13 digits. As a new publisher, you will probably have just one set with one prefix, so that’s all you’ll fill in.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#LightningAuthors.
Good and Bad in Acrobat 8
I recently got a copy of Acrobat 8 Professional. Here’s why you might want to upgrade: The Preflight feature has been beefed up and can now actually fix problems in your PDF, instead of just reporting them. You can even convert PDFs to specific standards, like PDF/X‑1a, which Lightning Source requires for color books and recommends for all covers. You can also create a custom profile—say, to check your PDF file against all specifications required by your print service.
Here’s something to watch out for: The Facing Pages view, now called Two-Up, does not automatically put odd pages on the right, with the title page standing alone. You have to request this by selecting View > Page Display > Show Cover Page During Two-Up. In Acrobat 8.0, the program reverted to the default with every new document, but this has now been fixed with 8.1
I have a few more notes for Mac users: If you have custom Distiller settings files from previous versions, you’ll have to move them. Previously, Acrobat stashed them in the system’s Library/Application Support/Adobe PDF/Settings. Now you have to transfer them to your user directory, in Library/Application Support/Adobe/Adobe PDF/Settings. Also, though you’re supposed to be able to run Acrobat 7 and Acrobat 8 side by side, their Adobe PDF printer functions conflict. Finally, be warned that Adobe’s new activation system is wonky. After activating the software, I could not access activation and deactivation commands on the menu.
In the end, this trouble with the activation feature concerned me enough that I uninstalled the program and went back to Acrobat 7. I don’t want to become dependent on any program that I might lose access to because of poor functioning. And Adobe’s record with such schemes is already poor. I’ve already had to deal with a couple of old Adobe programs that refused to start up because they were trying to contact Adobe servers that weren’t responding properly. (That’s why you should turn off automatic updating on older versions of Adobe programs.)
By the way, here’s a small correction for Perfect Pages. In regard to directly creating a PDF by printing to the Adobe PDF driver in Windows, I said it makes no difference whether or not you choose “Do not send fonts to ‘Adobe PDF’” in the driver’s properties—an option that in Acrobat 8 becomes “Rely on system fonts only, do not use document fonts.” Actually, keeping this option checked can speed up the process, because Acrobat doesn’t have to check for fonts in the document. But this works only if the document is formatted entirely with fonts found on your computer. If the document includes embedded fonts from elsewhere, you must uncheck this option so Acrobat can get to them. This could include a font embedded in an EPS graphic.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#Acrobat8.
FTP and Book Cover Images—The Joke’s on Me!
So, it was with some chagrin that I recently heard from readers that Amazon had stopped offering FTP access info to authors and small publishers. The change was sudden and seems to have affected sites in all countries. Email addresses for obtaining FTP info have simply vanished from Amazon publisher guides.
How does Amazon expect you to supply book cover images now? There are several standard ways still offered.
1. If you’re a publisher, through your Amazon rep. Unfortunately, this applies only to established companies doing significant business with Amazon and bowing to their onerous business terms. Those are the only ones that have reps.
2. With a form available to Amazon Advantage members on that program’s site. The book itself does not have to be part of the program—and in fact, you don’t have to have any books registered at the moment. But you do need to be a member, which means having registered at least one book at some point.
3. As part of the Search Inside program. This allows you access to a special form on Seller Central.
4. Through your publisher or wholesaler or distributor. For instance, if you’re publishing with Lightning Source or an affiliated “self publishing company,” you can send an image there or to Ingram’s ipage. But that also means that any new image coming later from Lightning or Ingram will replace your own. And you may have less leeway in submitting an image that’s a different shape from your book.
For many authors and small publishers, none of these are good solutions. Is there some way to still use FTP, even if Amazon is limiting its use?
Apparently yes. Existing accounts still seem to work. And what I learned while researching this issue was a real shock.
In my book, I chastised anyone who gave out access info from a private FTP account. But my criticism was misplaced. What I’ve discovered is that there are no “private accounts.” For any country Amazon sells in, Amazon has no more than a few standard FTP accounts and has handed out info on them to anyone who wanted it. The Amazon-supplied passwords I’ve so zealously guarded have been used by thousands of others!
No, I’m not going to post any FTP access info on this site. Though I don’t believe I ever agreed not to, I don’t imagine Amazon would like it.
But I will tell you this: Search the Web on “ftp.amazon.com” and “ftp-1.amazon.com” (with or without the quote marks). You’ll find several username/password combinations that will get you to the promised land. And remember that images submitted to the U.S. (or any other country) will migrate to all Amazon sites worldwide.
Update—There is no more FTP submission of book covers. Advantage and AuthorCentral are now your best options.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#AmazonImages.
Backing Up Word Customization Files
If you’ve invested a lot of time and thought in customizing Word and your own templates, you don’t want to lose any of these customizations to file corruption. So, it’s just as important to back up your custom settings files as it is to back up your documents—or more so. Word for Windows doesn’t make it easy, though. These files—including your own templates, by default—are located in invisible folders.
To access these files more easily, you can tell Windows to show invisible files and folders. This is done on the View tab of the Folder Options control panel. In recent versions of Word, you can then find the templates in C:\Documents and Settings\[UserName]\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates. The general Word settings file is in C:\Documents and Settings\[UserName]\Application Data\Microsoft\Office.
In Word 2007, your Quick Access Toolbar settings file, Word.qat, is in C:\Documents and Settings\[UserName]\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Office. Custom Style Set templates are in C:\Documents and Settings\[UserName]\Application Data\Microsoft\QuickStyles.
For your custom templates, you can instead use the File Locations options to place them somewhere more accessible for backup—though, in Word 2007, this will make them less accessible when you’re creating a new document.
On the Mac, you don’t need to deal with invisibility. In recent versions, to find the default location for custom templates, go to the application's folder, then the Templates folder, then My Templates. On the Mac too, this location can be changed in Word preferences, but without penalty. For other Word settings files, go to your user folder, then Library, then Preferences.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#WordBackup.
Finding “Hidden Fonts”
Recently, I’ve been getting questions about “hidden fonts” in PDF files created by Acrobat from Word—fonts that were not purposely inserted, cannot be located, don’t embed properly, and cause the files to be rejected. So, if you have a version of Perfect Pages earlier than 1.6 (as shown on the copyright page), here are some expanded notes on font embedding.
To make sure your PDF files appear and print as you expect, choose to embed and subset all fonts, and remove all font names from Acrobat’s “Never Embed” list. If asked for a percentage limit for subsetting, choose 100% (except with Acrobat 3, which should be told 99%). Subsetting prevents your print service’s software from substituting a different version of the font.
If your Word document includes an EPS or PDF vector graphic with type, make sure the font has already been embedded in the graphic. Otherwise, the font might not make it into the PDF file.
It’s important to use either Acrobat or the free Adobe Reader (formerly Acrobat Reader) to check the fonts embedded in your PDF file. From the File menu of either program, choose “Document Properties” and then “Fonts.” If you don’t see all expected fonts in the listing, try first scrolling through the document. What you want to read beside each font name is “Embedded Subset” or similar.
You may sometimes see more fonts listed than you expect—for instance, if you accidentally applied a font somewhere in the text, or copied text with a different font from another document. If so, you can find it in the text with Word’s Find command. Put your cursor in the “Find what” box, but don’t enter anything, not even a space! Instead, use the advanced Format settings at the bottom of that dialog box to choose the font you want to search for. To tell Word to replace that font with another, place your cursor in the “Replace with” box and use the advanced Format settings again.
Stray fonts can also be part of Word’s default formatting of automatic elements, such as bullets or numbering in lists, or reference marks in footnotes or endnotes. Though Word lets you change this font in its dialog boxes for these automatic functions, there’s generally no need if the font is embedding properly. You may remember, though, that I said fonts may not embed properly when used for automatic bullets and list numbers, which is one reason I advise adding such elements manually.
By the way, these fonts for automatic elements can’t be found with the Find command, because they’re not actually in the text! If you can’t figure out where they are and must find them, first make a copy of the document just for testing. Then delete parts of the text, testing for the problem at each step, till you have it pinpointed.
Occasionally, you may find a font that is restricted so that it will not embed. In that case, you’ll have to replace the font. But this problem should not arise with fonts that came with your operating system, Word, or most other programs.
I’ve said that Distiller for Mac OS X generates bloated files, and you’ll see that in this fonts list, with a separate subset of each font for each page on which it appears. That makes a very long list! Also, Acrobat on the Mac may substitute Arial for Helvetica—but don’t worry about that. The two typefaces are pretty much identical.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#HiddenFonts.
At Last!—An Index for Perfect Pages
Yes, I know that Perfect Pages should have an index. I knew it when I published it without one. So, why hasn’t it had one? Because I thought that revising the index for updates of the book would be too much hassle and would discourage me from updating at all. And why did I think that? Because I didn’t know how easily and how well I could index and re-index the book with Microsoft Word’s automatic indexing!
But now I know that, because I’ve used automatic indexing on a couple of other books. So, I’ve gone back and indexed all six versions of Perfect Pages to date! I’ve also written a whole new chapter on how to index automatically with Word.
I’ve included all these indexes and the new chapter in an Indexing Update, which you can download with the link below. It’s for Perfect Pages versions 1.0 through 1.5. (You can find your version number at the bottom of the copyright page, following the title page.) Later versions won’t need this, because it will already be in the book.
Update—A revised version of this update, 1.1, was posted on April 6.
Indexing Update (Zip, 1MB)
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#PPIndex.
Time for a 20% Discount at Lightning Source?
Several years ago, when I was experimenting with different wholesale discounts at Lightning Source, I discovered that 25% was the lowest practical discount I could offer. The reason was that Ingram added a surcharge to the book’s list price if that discount was any lower, and this surcharge was carried through to Amazon. A 20% wholesale discount at Lightning meant a 5% surcharge at Ingram and Amazon.
For this reason, I recommended 25% in my book Aiming at Amazon, and most Lightning publishers of my acquaintance have come to the same conclusion. Recently, though, I’ve been hearing of Lightning publishers setting a 20% discount—and getting away with it. It seems that at some point, Ingram stopped adding the surcharge for books at that discount—which is also the lowest discount they now accept. And there seems to be no penalty at Amazon either.
It seems time, then, to reevaluate the standard 25% discount that so many Lightning publishers now use, and to decide whether 20% is better. I’m not ready yet to make that recommendation, but I plan to test the lower discount over the next few months to see if it’s really safe. Meanwhile, if you care to experiment yourself, I’d be happy to know the results.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#ShorterDiscount.
Sales Rank Express—The Next-Generation Sales Rank Checker
Some of you have been using my Amazon sales rank checker, Sales Rank Express (formerly called Sales Rank MultiChecker). I’d like to announce the next generation of that checker, now available in Beta at the same address.
It’s now several times as powerful, with a lot more information presented, and a lot more convenience in looking for it. Here’s a list of some of the info available for each book (with up to 10 books displayed per page).
Number of reviews
Date of last review
Basic metadata, as it appears on Amazon
List and sale prices
Copies in stock
Summary of offers
You can search by author, publisher, title words, ISBN (10‑digit or 13‑digit), or any combination of the four. Within the results, you can then automatically look up the same info for all formats of a title (paperback, hardcover, etc.), or for the book’s top ten pairings (the competing and complementary titles used for Also Bought lists, exit offers, etc.). Searches for pairings can be chained, so you can check each book on your Also Bought list to see if you’re on that book’s list too!
Sales Rank Express has separate forms for each of Amazon’s countries—U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, and Japan—so it’s easy to check your books on sites even where you don’t know the language. There’s even a “Fix Data” button for each book in each country, to bring you right to Amazon’s correction form.
The site includes full documentation that not only describes how to use Sales Rank Express but also describes much of the significance of the data and how it relates to the inner workings of Amazon. For instance, you’ll learn that the figure Amazon reports for copies in stock can often be used to view sales almost in real time. You’ll also learn that this figure does not always equal the number of copies in Amazon’s own warehouses! (This figure, by the way, is not currently available on Amazon itself or anywhere else but Sales Rank Express.)
And it’s all still free.
Try it and let me know what you think!
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#SRE.
The New Face of Print on Demand—Lightning Source’s New Presses
In both Aiming at Amazon and Perfect Pages, I talk about the telltale low resolution and general low print quality of the Lightning Source black-and-white presses, which made photos and other grayscale images unattractive and made type look like it came from an old 300‑dpi desktop laser printer. All this has changed with Lightning US’s recent replacement of those presses with the state-of-the-art digital press Océ VarioStream 9210. (Lightning UK hasn’t made the switch yet, but is slated to do so.)
All B&W books from Lightning US are now being printed on the new presses, and I’ve had a chance to compare before-and-after printings of several books. There’s been a definite change—some of it good and some bad, with a couple of surprises.
First let me say that the improvement in the quality of photos is dramatic—I’d say about 100%. Contrast and texture are MUCH better. The quality is good enough that I would now for the first time consider doing a B&W book in which photos play a major part. Not as dramatically, the quality is improved for other grayscale graphics as well, and even for Lightning’s B&W scans of screened photos for reprints.
But let’s be clear about one thing: Lightning Source is still screening with a resolution common to newspapers. As much as the photo quality has improved, it is still only about half as good as in average offset book printing. So, you can now confidently use Lightning for instructional or documentary photos, but not for anything demanding high quality.
I’m always bemused that Lightning Source publishers are so concerned about quality of graphics and hardly ever care about type quality. To me, the roughness of type edges in Lightning Source books, noticeable even to the naked eye, has always been a dead giveaway of the book’s POD origin. It has also tended to limit appropriate type choice to robust typefaces in large font sizes. So, I was very anxious to examine type quality from the new presses. (Despite what you might think from my POD books, the Georgia typeface is not really my favorite.)
Here the result is more mixed than with graphics. Type edges are definitely smoother, both to the naked eye and magnified. But they’re also less distinct, with microscopic dots of ink placed beyond the characters’ borders. In large font sizes—say, around 12 pt.—the type does look much improved. You really can’t tell with the naked eye that it’s POD. But at smaller sizes, the type can have a slightly fuzzy look. (I might be sticking to 12‑pt. Georgia after all.)
Beyond print quality, there are two surprising side effects of the different toner used in these presses. The first is obvious as soon as you unpack a book sent right from Lightning Source: The book smells. Bad. Like chemicals. Yuck.
This smell dissipates after a few days, but I feel sorry for Lightning Source employees. I hope for their sake that they have a great ventilation system and that this odor is not as toxic as it seems. I also won’t be surprised if I get some customer complaints, since many Amazon purchasers will get my books within two or three days of their being printed. (That’s because of Amazon’s drop shipping arrangement with Ingram.) For anyone like me who normally loves the smell of new books, this odor is definitely a turn-off.
The second side effect is more elusive. I noticed at some point that I was getting a little glare off the white pages of one book. I wondered a little at that, but assumed it was coming off the paper. Then in another book, I noticed I was getting it with the crème paper too. What gives?
On close examination, I found that the paper was as dull as ever. The glare was coming off the print!
That’s right: The toner from the new presses is glossy on the page. On graphics, this isn’t really problem—in fact, it probably helps a bit, just as glossy photos look better than matte. But depending on the angle of your light source, it can actually make the type a bit harder and less pleasant to read. It also provides a new, though different, sign that the book is POD—if the smell doesn’t give it away first. Sigh.
So, there you have it: the new face of print on demand. Two steps forward, and a step or so back. Let’s thank Lightning Source for keeping up with the latest POD technology, while hoping that the next generation of presses comes even closer to what we need.
Update—Just heard from Lightning Source that, in the next few weeks, they’ll be launching a “second phase quality upgrade” for the presses—new software?—that should improve photo quality even more.
To link to this post, use www.newselfpublishing.com/blog/#presses.