Troubleshooting for Formatting, Upload and Preview (Especially For PC Users Starting in Word)
If you’re an indie author struggling with the technical side of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), this post is for you. (If not, abandon it now; this is a very technical post.) Now that I made it through the book-publishing process for the second time with my new novel Source of Deceit, I thought I’d share some things I wish I’d known a couple of months ago. While I found the Kindle e-book process totally painless and surprisingly quick, especially compared to my first experience in 2016, it took me months to find my way through KDP’s dark and scary print-on-demand (POD) forest. I was carefully following KDP’s directions, as outlined in “KDP Build Your Book – Format a Paperback Manuscript (Word for Windows),” and they do help a lot. I had done it before, so I figured I could do it again. But there were nights when I spent hours trying to formulate my document, only to realize I had to start all over. And then it happened again. And again.
The worst problem came at the very last step, which made it all the more infuriating. After working through countless little bugs, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when, upon the “upload” of my PDF document, I was finally awarded with a green check mark and a “success” message. This was after I had received messages from KDP saying it was checking trim size, fonts, image quality, margins and gutters, pagination, blank pages; generating a bar code; and preparing a print ready copy. And it was after I received on-screen pop-up messages telling me “this could take a few minutes,” and “maybe time to grab some coffee,” and “or make a sandwich,” all of which took almost an hour.
But I had breathed freely too soon, because I still could not “preview” my book, which is required before you can “publish.” That’s right. You can get the green light on the PDF upload, but still be blocked. Most frustrating is that, if KDP rejects your document at this “preview” stage, the system gives you zero indication of why. It’s just a flat-out rejection. No explanation. From what I have read in various help fora, including the KDP “community,” a lot of other people have had this same problem. The automated KDP system just rejects you, and it’s like you have no recourse, because even though KDP supposedly offers a help desk, the “helpers” don’t necessarily know what to do. In my case, for example, KDP Help got back to me, but they were unable to provide a solution.
Considering Hiring Help or Purchasing Software
Having exhausted all the advice I could find in various online fora, I felt dead in the water, so I figured I’d have to pay someone for help. Even so, answers were not easy to find. One of my first thoughts was to ask Damonza, because I have loved working with the company on my covers, which uploaded and previewed without a hitch. Damonza also offers book formatting and layout services, according to their website, but they inexplicably didn’t get back to me when I asked them about the problem I was having with my preview/upload. Otherwise, I appreciated it that Jane Friedman, whose advice about self-publishing I have been following for years, got back to me, but she recommended contacting KDP itself as the best bet. The Book Designer got back to me as well, but also suggested hounding KDP. As an alternative, The Book Designer (Joel Friedlander) proposed contacting the Alliance of Independent Authors, which could have been a next step. The publishing services company Amnet Systems quickly gave me a quote and a time frame ($50 for interior formatting in 1-2 business days), but the reply was standardized, and when I followed up with specific questions about my case, I did not receive answers, so I was dubious of their offer. Booknook.biz got back to me promptly as well, and it was with a personalized reply addressing specifics of my case, so that was a good lead. One other idea I had was to download or buy some kind of software to help me fix the problem, but the only one with excellent reviews was Vellum, and it’s only available for Mac, which I don’t normally use. Nevertheless, I did consider purchasing it and using it on my kid’s laptop, but that would have required time, expense, bother, and my own steep learning curve, as I figured out yet another app/program. So I kept looking for a faster and cheaper solution. In the end, I figured out my own problem just as I was about to hire somebody. Below, you’ll find what I learned.
What Didn’t Work (Don’t Waste Your Time Here)
One suggestion I found online was “to clear the metadata” by going to “File > Info > Inspect.” Maybe it would work for someone else, but for me, it confused matters more.
Another idea was to use “print as” or “save as” instead of “export as” to make my PDF. I tried them all in various iterations, but nothing changed. In the end, I used the “export as” method, which is what I had started with.
One KDP tech told me to “flatten all transparent objects and layers in the native program while creating your file.” Actually, since I had neither images nor graphics, I didn’t think I had any transparent objects or layers, but nevertheless I tried to follow this advice, just in case. Since they didn’t tell me how to do it, I had to research that. In the end, I realized that I had already done that as a part of the standard KDP directions, which explain how to do it in “Step 10,” in the part called “Proofing and exporting your document.” You’d think the tech at KDP would know that, since I had said that I had followed all the KDP direction, but you know how it goes. (See the link to the standard KDP directions, above.)
What Actually Helped (Do This First)
After messing around with many more potential permutations, I finally got through it—and you can too. The surprising thing is that my Number One Tip is a simple and fast fix—if only I had realized it from the start. Here are my tips, which I hope will save you weeks of time and agony:
1. The number one tip I have for you is this: Use Notepad (a .txt file) to cleanse your document at the very beginning! This is the big secret weapon—a “plain text” “.txt” document. It’s very easy, but I haven’t seen anybody give this advice. I just suddenly remembered that a txt document doesn’t carry any formatting. So my advice is to not start doing anything to format your document until you have stripped it of all existing formatting and codes using txt. The critical thing here is that it doesn’t suffice to rid yourself of your formatting in Microsoft Word. You’d think you could use the “erase” function to “clear all formatting,” or simply delete the codes, but in my experience this does not work. As I do not write code, I can’t tell you why this happens, but as a word-processing program user, I can say this trick worked for me. It seems that somehow coding becomes embedded in your document, even if you can’t see the code, and even if you use the “show” function so you can supposedly see and thus eliminate any hidden formatting. Formatting must have remained hidden, causing the KDP system to reject my document at that final “preview” step. I suspected this, but couldn’t figure out what to do about it for a while—and nobody suggested it. Why? I can’t say. Despairing, I wracked my brain and managed to dislodge a worthwhile memory, something I had discovered back in 2016 when I used Amazon’s other now-defunct POD service CreateSpace. I didn’t have anything else to lose—except time. So, I tried it, and it worked. Even though this step seems like a pain in the neck, do yourself a huge favor, and do not skip it. Specifically, before you do anything to format your document, take your entire manuscript, including front matter, and dump it into a “txt” file. That is, use “Notepad” to cleanse your document. Either open Notepad on your PC, or if it seems to have disappeared (if it has been deleted from your menu in “upgrades”), go to File Manager (or File Explorer) and do a search for “.txt”. Then, open any random document that is in this txt format, go to “File” and do a “Save as;” after that, delete whatever was in that document to create a blank txt document, and then use cut and paste to dump in your manuscript. Save it as a txt document. This takes out all fonts and whatever is hiding that causes the KDP system to glitch. Save and close the document; then open it again, select all and move the fresh clean unformatted text into a Word doc. Now you can follow the formatting directions given by KDP. My only caveat is that txt documents don’t account for italics, so whatever words you had in italic will have to be reformatted in the next steps. I repeat: Don’t forget to go back and re-insert your italics. This sounds awful, but believe me it is a lot easier and quicker than the alternatives.
2. Don’t skip the part where you are supposed to use “section breaks” to end chapters (go to Layout, click Breaks and then Next Page). That is, don’t use “page break,” use “section break.” This is especially key if you are doing a Table of Contents (although I did not). Still, I did it to ensure the proper formatting of the beginning and end of chapters; page breaks may work, but I went by the book on this one. I used a section break at the end of every chapter, and I placed it on the line immediately following the final word in the chapter, not on the same line as the final word. This may make no difference, but I’m just saying—in case it does. Also, this way, when you use the paragraph symbol (in the home menu) to “show/hide” formatting, you can see your section breaks easily. You will want to go through and make sure that you don’t coincidentally have a section break at the very last line of a page, or you can inadvertently create a blank page. If this happens, I recommend editing the text to shorten it enough so this situation doesn’t arise.
3. There were ambiguous directions regarding what to do with “section breaks” in the front matter. In the part about the directions for “Step 3: Formatting chapters,” KDP says, “You will add a section break between the front matter and book body to distinguish these parts of the book.” I did this, so I recommend doing that. But in “Step 4: Formatting front matter,” it also says, “…make sure you’ve added section breaks in between pages of your front matter as described in Step 3” (my ital.). This is wrong. First of all, Step 3 does not mention front matter, although it does tell you how to insert a section break. Second, when I placed a section break in between pages of the front matter, I got an extra blank page after each section break once the document was converted to a PDF. Other people on the internet complain of this glitch as well – “mysterious blank pages” after the section breaks – which only appear in the PDF. To solve this problem, I did the following:
I used page breaks to end the pages on each of the front matter elements, and only placed one section break at the very end of the front matter.
Then, I created a PDF and looked at it to see where I was missing a blank page (because you want certain things on the right and certain things on the left; for example, you want to see your book start on a right-facing page).
Then, in the front matter, I only inserted a section break after the specific element of the front matter where I was missing a blank page. It seems like you could assume where you’d need a section break to create a blank page, but that didn’t work; this trial-and-error method worked better. In my case, I had page breaks after pages 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the front matter, and I have section breaks after pages 3, 4 and 9. Pages 4 and 10 are blank. That is, the front matter goes from pages 1-10 (page numbers using Roman numerals), and the body of my book starts on page 11 (which is labeled as page 1). I am not sure why I needed a section break after both pages 3 and 4, because it seems like this should cause TWO blank pages, but it didn’t. I would have expected the need for a section break on either page 3 or page 4. All I can say is that the trial-and-error method got me to the right place.
Unfortunately, the lack of section breaks after every single element of the front matter meant that I could not completely avoid using page numbers in the front matter—see point No. 7, below—but since it seemed I had to choose between having mysterious blank pages in the PDF, or including Roman numeral page numbers in the front matter, I chose the latter. It’s not perfect, but it’s fine.
4. Don’t skip the part where you are supposed to use the “Style” section to create formatting for “Normal” paragraphs, headings and others.
5. Also, use the “Style” section to create formatting for any other particular type of thing you may need using the “Create a Style” function (not just the “normal” paragraph and headings), because it’s much easier if you need to make changes, and the KDP system recognizes these formats. For example, I crated a style for “letter” and “video text.”
6. Pagination can be tricky. I had all kinds of pagination problems until I used the txt trick—if I fixed thing A, thing B popped up; if I fixed thing B, thing A popped up. No matter what I did, I could not solve one problem without creating another; it went back and forth. The most confounding example of this was when my page number “5” would mysteriously disappear if I put in certain headers, but only page 5, not any other pages, whether even or odd. In fact, this is the reason I became so convinced that I had hidden code mysteriously embedded in the document. After I stripped the codes in the txt format, this problem went away, and I could use the KDP directions. So, again, start out with the clean txt document.
7. One thing I could not solve was deleting the page numbers in the front matter entirely. That is, I would have preferred absolutely no page numbers in the front matter at all. In the end, I chose to use Roman numerals for the pages of the front matter, and I was able to make some of them disappear by using “different first page.” But, as mentioned in point No. 3, above, if I used section breaks after every element of the front matter, then I could eliminate the page numbers entirely, but then I also kept inadvertently creating mysterious blank pages in the PDF. So, I had to pick my battles, and I decided to accept some page numbers on the front matter.
In my dreams, there would be a command in Word to manually override the specific page number on a specific page and/or manually override the specific header or footer on a specific page. If you could simply delete a thing here or there, then you could easily fix whatever you wanted. But that would be so simple.
I hope these tips help you avoid some frustration. Good luck!
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