Kindle Publishing 101: Amazon Made Easy

When I first ventured into the world of e-publishing, I was as green as they come.

Sure, I had a Kindle. I loved my Kindle. I even had the app on my smartphone. But I had no idea what made my Kindle book different the print books I loved so much other than the obvious fact that some enterprising person had shrunk it down into a matter of 0’s and 1’s.

Fast forward a couple months.

I was uploading bulky, awkward files onto the Kindle Direct Publishing platform and pulling my hair out when I received error message after error message. I had no idea what the difference was between a PDF, Mobi, EPUB, or DOC file other than my processing software gave me multiple choices, and I picked one that looked good. My e-books were ugly, unwieldy creations with pictures either too small to see or so large they overfilled the screen. My covers? Yeah. You don’t even want to know. Let’s just leave it at they didn’t sell any extra books.

Let’s hop forward another handful of months.

My learning curve was steep. I didn’t have tech-savvy friends I could call for back-up. I had Google, lots of trial and error, and some pretty awkward but slightly better ebooks. It took me hours upon hours to painstakingly copy and paste, readjust, delete, copy again, delete again, move, resize, and finally, FINALLY publish a book.

And let’s not even talk about those covers.

Finally, I bit the bullet and spent a tidy bit of change on some decent processing software. I still spent hours upon hours copying text back and forth from my original sources to my new formatting software. But at least, now, I was turning out finished formats that had all the bells and whistles. Fancy photographs and illustrations, spacers, opening lines, captions, and the fonts! Oh…those fonts were drool-worthy. The only problem was that when I uploaded my shiny new e-books into KDP and opened the previewer, GASP, all my beautiful work was gone! Yep. Stripped away with the touch of Kindle’s publishing wizardry. All those loving hours spent making my book as artistic and beautiful as I possibly could end up being a big flopping waste of time.

Roll tape.

I bit an even bigger bullet and paid a professional developer a colossal sum of money to overhaul both the magazine’s website and to create custom formatting software for me. He did a fantastic job. All I had to do was load stories into the magazine’s website every month, push this button, and out popped my finished epub.

All I had to do was run it through this pesky little thing called a validator. You may have heard of those? Yeah.

Screeching halt.

I couldn’t figure out why stories copy/pasted from emails, .rtf, .txt, and other random places were sending off all these error messages in the validator. I HAD CUSTOM SOFTWARE. THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN.

Roll on up to now.

I taught myself to code. Yeah. Sure did. Good thing nerdy women are a big rage right now because we’ll be taking the world by storm for the rest of….forever.

E-books are no lie.

Ready for me to explain why?

Listen up.

Do you remember the very first Kindles? They were roughly the size of a refrigerator and had maybe two functions — page forward and page back? Those beasts?

They’re still out there.

And when Amazon sells an e-book, it has to fit the programming of EVERY Kindle device stretching back to those dinosaur Kindles and stretching forward to Kindles that haven’t even been made yet.

Sound daunting?

Sure is.

So what’s their plan?

Make their files so simple, so bare bones, so few options, that they’ll work on any device. Oh yeah, and take as many different types of Kindle files as possible and smash them together into these huge files we call a Mobi.

So why wouldn’t the files I copy/pasted from manuscripts work?

Because they came from word processors. And word processors are intended for…oh…WRITING. They’re meant to make our lives as WRITERS easier, not our lives as PUBLISHERS.

What does a writer want? Bells and whistles. Auto-formatting. Spellcheck. Grammar-check. All kinds of other invisible bits of code that hide on the back side of a document that non-code speakers never see.

What does a publisher NOT want? All those pieces of code hanging out in their words when they attempt to make an ebook file.

All of this is a very long way to bring you full circle.

Many people will tell you that self-publishing is soo easy. Anyone can do it.

This is true to some degree.

But it’s also a malicious untruth.

Not many people can self-publish and do it well.

Now, if you want to do it well, you can take my long and circuitous route, fumbling about in the dark and trying to figure out what the hellfire I was doing. Or you can learn from my mistakes and do it right the first time.

My other advice is this:

The internet is forever.

Never publish something you don’t want floating around out there in fifteen, twenty, or even fifty years. If it’s not work you’re proud of creating, wait. Work harder. Edit. Outsource if needed. But do not hit “publish” until you’re ready.

Now, are you ready?

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