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The Dangers of Self-Publishing with Zero Research

One of the topics that drives me a bit nuts is the utter lack of preparedness of the typical self-publisher.  Not all, of course--but many. 

It's not just me--if you ask the owner of almost any layout house or conversion company, they'll tell you the same thing--that the typical writer comes to you with a manuscript, and pretty much nothing else.  Many don't even own an eReader and don't even really understand what eReaders do, how they work, or what "line wrapping" or reflowable means.  This makes the job of the formatter and layout person ten times as difficult--and more importantly, time-consuming--than it should be.

The "why" of this is obvious. These folks are writers, who are self-publishing not because it's a grand adventure, but because, for whatever reason, they aren't going to be trade-published.  It's self-publishing through desperation.  That's fine--I know that I for one don't care what someone's motivation is, it's none of my business--but the downside to that is, they want you to take ownership of their Knowledge Fail.  They expect you to answer all their questions, tell them whether or not they need an ISBN, whether they should register their copyright, and so on.  From our standpoint, here at, the real problem is, they aren't interested in learning more, either.  They won't read the Guides and other handouts that we've created, that help them understand what an eReader does, or how it will render their book--and that means that we waste a lot of time, answering questions or dealing with purported "conversion errors" that we shouldn't have to, because those things aren't mistakes or errors--they're how eBooks work. (Like, "why didn't you make the chapter title the running head?"--when eBook readers, by and large, don't have running heads, and those that do don't allow the bookmaker to dictate what that says; or "why did you stupidly put a caption on a different 'page' from the image?" without knowing to resize the font, play with it, to see how the image and caption flow--or don't.)

An Object Lesson--in Thousands of Dollars:

But a recent event was an object lesson in the "why" of why a publisher should do the research that any publisher should do, before embarking on their self-publishing journey. Why it's not enough to just assume that some formatter, some layout person is going to make sure that everything will happen the way it should.  

A year ago, a woman began emailing me, asking me for the various and sundry specifications needed to create a fixed-layout children's eBook in ePUB and MOBI formats.  (If you're curious about Fixed Layout, what it is and how it works, see this article on our website: Fixed-Format eBooks)  I was impressed with her efforts and diligence. She'd had an idea for a children's book and she wanted to be sure that she had everything right, before she came to me.  Wow!  This was a rare treat for me, so I responded enthusiastically, and sent her all kinds of information about aspect ratios and the like.  I even sent her information about print, as most kids' books end up in print, one way or the other.

She emailed me any number of times, and even though she wasn't yet a paying customer, I took the time needed to answer everything she asked.  (n.b.:  at this time, Createspace was still in business and going strong.)

Anyway, after about a year, she arrived at my office (by email) with her completed file, the one she wanted to be made into an eBook for kids.  I freely admit that I was a bit surprised at the size and shape of the file, for an eBook--I had discussed aspect ratios with her, and emphasized how difficult it is to make an eBook (which by definition is read on a small device) from a physically-large file and still have it be viable. The file she sent was a PDF, in which the spreads were 20" x 9".  Frankly, quite a bit larger than I'd expected, given our discussions.  

In other words, the individual pages were 10" wide, and 9" tall.  Each page had the narrative in gold-toned boxes containing the text, found along the bottom of each page.  These dialogue boxes were .09" from the bottom of the page.

The Book file, blurred
This blurred image is of the actual book in question.
The red box shows where the dialogue boxes sat.
This is a spread view--basically, two pages.

We were going to be hired to make the eBooks only, so I sat down to make out the quote.  Suddenly, something bugged me, and I went back and read her most-recent email to me.  In it, she said, 

 "I was unsure if you needed to format anymore [sic] of what the illustrator has done (layout-wise) to prep for Createspace printing of the soft cover [sic] book."

I sat there for a moment.  I sent her an email, asking her "you're planning on printing this at Createspace? Is that what you're saying?" and to my horror, she responded that yes, that's exactly what she was planning to do.

I literally didn't even know what to say.  Createspace most certainly did not have any trim size remotely close to 10" wide by 9" tall, and of equal-if-not-greater importance, Createspace did not (and does not) have side-binding, for landscape books.  You could only print top-bound (like a calendar) for landscape books, at Createspace. Didn't she notice that, when she read the print guidelines I'd sent her?

I asked her "what trim size were you planning on using, at Createspace?"  And she responded with an answer that nearly left me gasping. She said:

"If we used an 8.25x8.25 trim size on do we know if the file size of our current pdf can accommodate that? This is where it gets fuzzy for me."

What?  Now she was suggesting a square trim size, a square book, for a book that was clearly and obviously a rectangle.  This was almost literally the ubiquitous "square peg in a round hole" scenario.  What the hell?

Her next email was, to my mind, even worse:

"I think I'm feeling stuck. Is it the illustators [sic] responsibility to somehow 'set' the trim size to be a certain trim size on their end?"

To which I replied, as politely as I could, "No. I'm not saying that. I'm saying it's the publisher's responsibility to get this all set, and it's the publisher's job to tell the illustrator what trim size to draw the illos (illustrations) to, what bleed, what interior margins, if any, etc.  It's not her job to know the layout specifications  of a particular print shop or distributor--it's yours." 

She then proceeded to tell me  that the Illustrator was going to "fix it."  I told her that I didn't see how it could be done.  If you've read my previous article on full-bleed, not only were these images completely and utterly the wrong size, the wrong aspect ratio, (and certainly not square!), but they didn't have bleed, which they required, and they didn't have the interior Live Element Margin that full-bleed pages (and covers) require, either.  In short, the dialogue boxes would have to be MOVED, from where they were, further into the page.  Both upward, into the page, and away from the side-margins, too.  

The pages would have to be redrawn or cropped, somehow, to fit the Createspace trim sizes, (the closest being 8" x10"); the narrative boxes would all have to be moved, and, of course, she'd have to be happy with top-binding.

In short...none of the 50 pages of illustrations for which she'd already paid, could be used. NONE.  For all intents and purposes, she might as well have taken the thousand dollars she'd paid, for illustrations, crumpled up the bills, tossed them into her fireplace and set them on fire.  

Burning money
Unlike this image, the client's money wasn't 
"for motion picture use only," sadly.
Her mistakes cost her four digits of real money, and more.

Oh, sure...she could have asked them for a custom print size, which would take the book out of all normal distribution channels--but that wouldn't solve the top-binding issue. She could have gone to Ingram, which would solve the top-bind issue, and request a custom size--but that wouldn't solve the lack of bleed or the the interior margin issues.

Quite simply--you can't get there from here. The pages couldn't be reused.  

Yeah, I know--nobody who wants to self-publish wants to read or hear this story. They're not interested. After all--it won't happen to them, right?  That stuff only happens to other people!

But this is exactly the type of thing that we deal with here, every single day.  Fixing covers made without bleed, without adequate interior margins, fixing kids' books made without either.  Trying to fix a cover that some Fiverr made--without knowing the final page count, so it won't fit the actual print book.  Why does this happen?  Because nobody wants to take the time to actually read instructions or research what they need before they jump headfirst into publishing.  

For your own sake, not ours, try not to crack your skull open on your dive into the pool of self-publishing, You don't want to burn up a thousand bucks, in your fireplace, right?  Then remember this story--it's true, and it really happened.  

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What is Full-Bleed, and Why Does It Matter to Your Print Book?

What is Full Bleed, and How Does it Affect Self-Publishers?

velizar ivanov 790686 unsplash resized

Hearing that word "bleed" and starting to wonder if your nose is
doing something it shouldn't? Fear not--we'll get you sorted!

One of the things that we are seeing a lot lately are self-publishers running afoul of a term known as "full-bleed." Publishers with graphic, comic, and coffee-table books; publishers trying to create print books with wraparound covers. All are forging ahead, having survived the perils of publishing, only to fall at that last fence--the Fence of Full Bleed.

Basically, full-bleed is a printer's term. It means to make something a small bit larger than it is--let's say, instead of a 6x9" trim sized book page, a 6.125 x 9.250" page. A book like that has images that "bleed" off the edge--in other words, the image goes right to the edge of the page, not inside the page with a margin around it. This image, below, is a full-bleed page in a book:

An image of Jeremiah Tower's book, "Flavors of Taste," showing two pages in spread mode. One of the two pages shows a full-bleed image (an image that does not have margin around it, but goes all the way to the edges of the printed page).

This spread of pages from Jeremiah Tower's Flavors of Taste demonstrates a "full bleed image" on the left. (Used with permission from Jeremiah Tower and Kit Wohl).

As you see, there's no margin around the picture of Jeremiah, himself--his image goes to the very edge of the page, on three sides. To ensure that the cropping of the printed pages looks nice, come printing, cropping and binding time, the printers want you to make both the image a bit larger as well as the layout page too, typically 0.125" on each side (other than the gutter side, of course). That gives them a bit of "slush," so that if they make a teeny-weeny mistake when cropping (cutting) the printed page, it won't mean that hundreds or even thousands of sheets have been wasted. That's all that full-bleed means, and is, but if you do not use it, your print book cover designs might be useless.
We've had a lot of customers lately show up with interiors for kids books or with covers that are already made, for print. Aside from the obvious problem that they can't know, in advance, what size spine they're going to need for these finished covers (spines are designed in width based on final page count and paper type used for printing), a bigger, more difficult issue is that the cover or book interior is laid out for the final trim size--not for the final trim size, plus bleed. So, suddenly, they have a file that they can't use, at the KDP Print, for their book. Not for the interior, or in the case of the covers, the exterior. No bleed, no printing, no kidding.
What this means is simply that, when you tell a Fiverr or some other inexperienced designer that you need XXX for print, remember--if it's a book interior, where the images or illustrations or images go all the way to the edge, like a typical kids' book, or a book cover for any print book--you must have full-bleed settings. Each and every distributor like Ingram, KDP, Lightning Source has their own full-bleed settings, so you need to look them up and make sure that your "finished" products have bleed--or you might as well take your hard-earned dollars, crumble them up, toss 'em in the fireplace or BBQ Grill, and set them alight.
Yes, that's what I said--if you spend money to make a full-sized print cover, and neglect bleed, there's a chance that you won't be able to salvage that cover and use it. Unless you're a billionaire, and don't care about wasting money (for what it's worth, I'm pretty sure wasting money isn't how billionaires get to be billionaires in the first place...), then keep your powder dry and make sure that your cover is done right, in the first place--with full-bleed.
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How Do I See My Updated eBook at Amazon on my own Kindle?

Brain Robot 40I updated my published book, but when I download it, it's not changed. What's Wrong?

Note, this article has been superseded. The original information, published in 2018, is no longer valid.

New Information:  

Now, due to changes in KDP's policy, if you buy a copy of your ebook, after you publish it, and then decide that you're going to update it, you will not be able to obtain an updated copy on your Kindle device. yes, that's right, KDP will no longer 'push' a new copy of your updated file to you, the publisher.  

While KDP did not announce this as a major change, the changed policy--along with their policy about updating purchasing customer's copies--is clearly stated on their HELP pages, here: 

Although the title of that article originally makes it appear that you can "push" updated content--in short, you can't. Not unless KDP itself demanded that you make the changes, or that they were so significant that the original buyer would have had a disappointing experience. In short, what they are telling you is, "don't think that you can just update your ebooks willy-nilly; make sure that they are as perfect as possible before you publish!"

One can only presume that KDP was so overwhelmed with requests, for updated files being "pushed" to owner's Kindles, that they just got fed up. I do know that I've seen not one, but many publishers on the various Kindle and KDP forums nearly bragging about the fact that they've updated their eBooks 11, 15, 20-something times so you can see how KDP might have lost its sense of humor. 

Nonetheless, you've been warned--don't assume that your Kindle ebook is like your 8th-grade book report, sitting on your computer in Word. You can't just willy-nilly update it and expect to see the latest and greatest on your device--you won't. Neither you, nor more importantly--your purchasers, either.  So, edit, edit edit and proof, proof proof!

Superseded, old information, DO NOT USE or RELY UPON:

Unfortunately, just re-downloading your book won't get you the updated file. Why? Because Amazon customers can make annotations, bookmarks, etc., in their eBooks, and if a new version is "automagically" uploaded, over their existing, all that information is wiped out.  Customers don't want that, not without choosing it for themselves.  That means that you need to ask Amazon to "push" (that's the specific  term to use) the new version to your "Content and Devices" so that you can upload it to your Kindle.

 This also means that your existing buyers won't get the new, updated file, either. If you feel strongly that you want them to receive this, or have the option to receive it, you have to write to Amazon, or use their Contact Us page, and ask them to "push" the book to the buyers.  They won't do this, just because you screwed up and didn't proofread!  You have to explain to them, and make a compelling case, as to why they should notify the buyers that there's a new version, and make it available to them.

 Good luck!

---end of superseded article---

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Change to Office Hours

Hey, folks!

As many of you know, we've been open 6/days/week since 2010, both in production and in Admin.  This has primarily been due to the reality that many authors work on their books on the weekends, which results in a pretty heavy email day on Mondays.  Years ago, the load on Mondays was so incredibly heavy that we decided that it was better to work on Saturdays to make Mondays survivable.  

But it's been 8+ years, and the truth is, after that many years of 6-day workweeks, I'm pretty burned out.  I just don't feel that I can personally work in Admin that many days/week from this point forward. Yes, we'll be open in production, of course, and if books have to be shipped (sent) to you on a weekend, that will be done--but the Admin offices are going to be closed on Saturday-Sunday from this point forward.  Naturally, exceptions will always exist, and if you need help on a weekend, we can arrange something, but I will no longer be in the office answering calls and emails on Saturdays.  I'm pretty sure that even Wonder Woman takes days off--and thus, so shall I.  



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2018-19 Winter Downtime Office Hours  

santa and reindeer on the beach SM

Please read about our Hours of Operation During the Downtime, here: 2018-19 Winter Downtime Closing Announcement  Thank you!

Please note, we are having some issues with our phones!  PLEASE Email 'til further notice:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

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