Trials and Tribulations of an E-book Author

Have you ever tried to publish an e-book? Talk about frustrating. All morning, I’ve been on countless websites, digging through notes, and tearing my hair out trying to get a handle on this, without much progress. If I ever go totally insane and decide to write another e-book again, please talk me out of it, or just direct me to this post so I’ll reconsider.

Writing the book was the easy part. Shortly after returning from vacation, I’d decided that the pictures in my camera might be good enough for a photo book. It took me a few days to learn how to use Lightroom (my new photo editing software) so that I’d have images good enough to print, and then a couple of weeks to put them in some semblance of order and start writing witty yet meaningful text to accompany them. It was a logical, step-by-step process, one that left me feeling semi-talented and fulfilled at the end of each day. Not so with creating an e-book. All I feel is dumb and dumber.

Yesterday, I thought my work was done. The good thing about Lightroom is that, with one push of a button, you can send your finished photo book to to be published. The bad thing about Lightroom is that you’re locked into Blurb, and Blurb’s great mission seems to be making hardcover and paperback books. To convert your Blurb book to an e-book, you’re up the creek without a paddle, a life raft, or a canoe.

But I went ahead and uploaded the book to Blurb anyway, because I didn’t know how else to make a book. With Blurb, you have to order at least one book (hard cover or paperback). I had set it up as a hardcover and hesitated changing it to soft, for fear that it would mess up my margins, etc. So I went ahead and sprung for one hardcover copy, knowing that if it turned out shitty I’d just hide it in my closet.

All advice I’ve read stresses the importance of printing out a copy of your draft before ordering your book. I wanted to do that, but in order to print the draft, I had to convert the file to something called “pdf.” (Pretty Damn Funny?) I had no idea what might happen if I clicked on the little “convert to pdf” button in Lightroom, so I didn’t print a draft copy. I feared that my text and photos would disappear or be converted into some unrecognizable electronic version of themselves. It was safer to just send the damn thing to Blurb and let them take over. After all, I’d proofread my book a thousand times, hadn’t I?

So I sent the damn thing in to Blurb.

Once I uploaded the book and ordered my copy, I was so relieved. “That’s that! I’m done!” I thought. But I could not have been more wrong.

Within a few minutes, I received an email from Blurb saying that the “pdf” version of my book was available to download. Thinking I’d better take a look, I excitedly downloaded it onto my phone and started reading. All was well until I got to page 14. Where was the photo for that page? Somehow, I must have deleted it by mistake before I clicked “send.” Luckily, the email said that I could cancel my order within one hour. I ran to my computer and cancelled my order. OK, fine. Now to put that damn photo back in.

I searched and searched and finally found the photo in my computer’s hard drive. I guess it must have gotten deleted from Lightroom when I hit “undo” too many times. I put it back in place and resubmitted my book order. Then I looked at the next download. Uh-oh. One of my photos had gotten rotated. I still have no idea how that happened. To rotate a photo takes pressing two keys simultaneously. There’s no way I can be blamed for that. But it was an easy fix. I just cancelled my second order and started from scratch (again).

Photo rotated, I proceeded to give my book one last proofread, and decided to change a word or two while I was at it. (Editing never ends.)

Another upload, another problem. This time another photo had disappeared. I cancelled order #3, found the missing photo (somehow moving it from the desktop to the hard drive was enough to send Blurb into a tizzy), put the photo back into the book, and made my fourth and final order.

But now we come to the really frustrating part: converting my precious photo book to an e-book. First I tried Blurb, since they already had the damn book. But their conversion process changed the font so that nothing fit anymore. It would have taken me days to fix it.

I spent two hours Googling and trying various conversion programs. None of them solved the problem. For example:

Calibre — it messed up the formatting even worse than Blurb did. It cut off parts of photos, moved whole sentences around, and changed the font.

Ingram Spark — their website sounded good and I’d met one of their reps at a workshop once. I even have one of their t-shirts. I decided to go with them, and even paid $85 so they could give me an e-book ISBN number (needed in order to use their e-book service). But then I tried to upload my file to them and was blocked by a message saying that I had to convert the document to EPub. It said to “click here” to learn more. I’m sure I read somewhere that Ingram Spark will convert your file to EPub for you. When you click, you get information about what EPub is, and a warning that if you have someone else (a “third party”) convert the file for you, you should run it through Ingram Spark’s program to make sure it’s compatible. But nowhere could I find a link to Ingram Spark’s EPub file conversion service. I searched the FAQ and blog sites on their website to no avail. I sent them an email, but was too impatient to wait for a response. I called them and was on hold for ten minutes. The person who answered had to put me on hold again while he checked with his supervisor to see if they had an EPub converter. They did NOT. They recommended a program called InDesign. I already own InDesign, but, like me, it’s complicated and out of date. I was not about to buy it again. I asked if I could get my $85 back (the money I’d just spent on an ISBN number) and they said no, but I could cancel the ISBN number if I wanted to. I thanked them and hung up.

Somehow, through all the Googling I did right after that, I landed in Kindle Land. Kindle has something that apparently might work. Hooray!

I went ahead and took the Kindle plunge. I closed my eyes, clicked on “download pdf file” in Lightroom, and uploaded it to Kindle — and, lo and behold, it worked. Sort of. What I now had was a “kpf” version. (Kindle Pays Fine?) There were no changes to font, margins, layout, or anything, except for the cover, which I had to redesign using one of their templates. It wasn’t exactly the same as the one I’d designed in Lightroom, but it didn’t look too bad.

The next step in the Kindle process was something called “KDP pricing.” (Kindle Doesn’t Pay?) It has something to do with setting the price of your book, but it’s not self-explanatory. I even tried Googling it. It’s apparently an algorithm comparing your book with others like it. It sat there “analyzing historical data” for about 20 minutes. The little circle just kept spinning. I finally gave up and hit the back arrow, wondering if I’d lose my whole morning’s work. It kicked me out and I had to sign in again. Of course, that involved looking up my Amazon password, which I never can remember.

Miraculously, I was back on the page with KDP pricing. I clicked the box and the circle started spinning again, with no sign of ever stopping. I punched the back arrow (a little harder this time) and was asked to choose a “KDP Royalty Plan,” either 35% or 70%. What the hell does that mean? I Googled it and learned that you should choose 70% if your book is priced $2.99 to $9.99; otherwise you can only choose 35%. Why doesn’t Kindle automatically do that for you, or at least tell you which one means what? My book is only $2.99 so I chose 70% royalties. Does that mean I make 70% on my book? Who knows? Because here’s what the screen then told me:

Rate     Delivery     Royalty

35%     $0.00           $1.40

70%     $17.05         $0.00

Wait, what?

Determined to persevere, I ignored the above confusing numbers and clicked the “submit for pre-order” button. (I had been advised at a workshop to set the book up for pre-orders first, and change it later. I have no idea why.)

I’m pretty sure the e-book is now in process, but I’m so confused that I’ll have to check on that later. I do know that I also tried creating a softcover book with Kindle. First I tried uploading my text, but Kindle wanted me to upload something called a manuscript version, adding that I should, “click here for more information about what a manuscript version is.” I clicked and got a long set of instructions that I had to copy and paste into Word so that I could refer back to them. About the fifth step down it said to find and upload the “revised” manuscript file. Which one is that? I guessed the “kpf” version and I guessed wrong. They wanted the pdf version. OMG. But it started to upload. The next thing I saw was this very special message: “Congratulations, your manuscript has uploaded!” Halleluiah. I’m almost done.

Oh, the damn cover.

After an hour of struggling with Kindle’s limited softcover options, the text on the binding disappeared and there was apparently no way to add it back. I finally managed to complete a reasonable facsimile of my original cover, although there’s still no binding edge. Maybe the book’s too skinny for that? Oh well, I submitted it anyway.

And now Kindle wants a different ISBN number for the softcover book. I think Blurb may have given me one yesterday, but of course it’s nowhere to be found —  not in the notes I hastily scribbled while going through all of this with Blurb yesterday, and not on my Blurb account page, either. I searched for a way to call Blurb, but “Blurb is no longer taking calls.” You have to email them! So I did.

I’m waiting for Blurb to get back to me about my ISBN number. Kindle won’t let me preview the book until I give them that number, so I guess my work is done for today.

Stay tuned!


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