Amazon’s paperback creation feature

After uploading The Search For Shlock yesterday, I noticed that Amazon now can set up paperback printing through the same interface. I was a bit cautious of dipping my toes into the print world, but I’m curious by nature.

Before, Amazon had Createspace for printed books.  They might be moving over to this new platform some time in the future, but for now, it looks like this is another front end into this process.  The consensus at the forums is that Createspace is still the better way to go, but I gave it a whirl anyway.  Ebooks are increasingly popular, but some folks (like me) prefer printed copy, so I should serve my audience by offering a printed version.  Anyway, here’s what the process is like for those who might wish to reformat an ebook for print, or create a printed book from scratch.

For those familiar with publishing ebooks, setting up a printed book is considerably different. You can upload a Microsoft Word document, but you’re going to have to reformat things; you can’t just use the same document with which you created your ebook, or it won’t work right.  Ebooks are meant to use flowing, resizable text; a printed book will need the layout of how it will look exactly.  This includes the page size too (if it’s not in the list in Page Layout, which it probably won’t be, then select More Paper Sizes at the bottom).  So it’s basically a matter of desktop publishing.

You’ll have to Read The Friendly Manual for this, but I’ll cover some highlights and additional pointers. First of all, pick out a size for the book.  Then go to Page Layout in Word and set the exact same Size accordingly.  Turn on “mirror margins” as the outside and inner margins may be a bit different.  There are guidelines for the margins, but I found that I had to set the outer margin two hundredths of an inch wider than recommended to get the final copy error-free.  Since more whitespace will drive up the printing cost, you don’t want them to be too wide.  I had to adjust the “header from top” and “header from  bottom” values as well.

The more words you can get on a page, the lower you can keep your final price, though don’t go with anything so small that it will cause eyestrain. Stick to common, visually-pleasing fonts (such as Times New Roman), 10-12 points for the body text.  Note that although fully-justified paragraphs are a no bueno for ebooks, it just looks better on a printed book.  Leave an extra line before any page breaks, or it will expand out the final line in the last paragraph.  You can set up a custom Word style to help keep everything standardized.

Setting up a table of contents turned out to be a pain. One way to do it is make a line for each chapter, and to generate the page number, go References –> Cross Reference, then Reference Type is Bookmark, Insert Reference to page number.  (If the document started as an ebook, you likely used hyperlinks to bookmarks.  If there aren’t any bookmarks, go to each chapter heading and Insert –> Bookmark.)  Any minor change will likely repaginate everything, so with each chapter line item, you’ll have to right-click on the page number and update it, every single time.  MS Word has a native TOC creator.  You’ll have to set each chapter heading to one of the “heading” type styles.  Then go to References –> Table of Contents, and it can pull in the chapter text and page number.  This will default to Courier, so you’ll have to change it to whatever you’re using elsewhere.  Whenever you repaginate, you can select all the lines in the TOC, then right-click and update all at once.

That being said, I had extreme difficulty keeping the page numbers the same after uploading the document. Word 2010 allows you to Save As PDF.  (It won’t let you edit a PDF, so don’t get rid of your Word document!)  If you have Word 2007, there’s a plugin available to save as PDF.  Uploading a PDF means that Amazon’s engine won’t reformat it and change the page numbering.  Be sure to spot-check the PDF first for correct numbering.  You did recalculate pages after the last change, didn’t you?  Word isn’t Excel!

The cover is another big challenge. There are two ways to do it.  First, you can create a wraparound image including the back, the spine (calculate this exactly based on page number and paper type; RTFM for the details), and the front, then upload as PDF.  Allow space in the lower right corner of the back page for the bar code.  The other way is to use the built-in cover creator.  Naturally, I went with the second option.  On the front, you’ll need an image (JPEG will do) at least 330 dots per inch.  On the back, you can put in your photo, your author blurb, and the book blurb.  The front image was a bit of a pain, but I got it after some trial and error.  Start getting used to making huge images.  Even with ebooks, you should go with a minimum of 1400 pixels wide and a 1×1.3 width-to-height aspect ratio.  For even the smallest size paperback (as I discovered), that’s not enough.

Unlike ebooks, you don’t get hyperlinks in print documents for obvious reasons, and they’ll show up as a minor error if they’re still there. You’ll have to spell them out in the document if you want them to appear.  (Note that Amazon’s paperback guidelines disallow references to electronic publishing, and even with ebooks you can’t link to competing sites.)  Also, go to File –> Check For Issues –> Inspect Document to get any weird XML stuff cleared out; I had some of that which kept causing footer problems.  On that subject, you can put your name, title, and page number in the header.  Word allows different headers for even and odd pages.

Finally, remember that readers will be turned off by obvious mistakes, and there’s likely less tolerance for minor formatting problems than there would be for ebooks. Typos and misspellings always stick out like a sore thumb.  With an ebook, you could fix any problems and upload a new version, but you won’t get the same luxury to fix a printed book that’s already been shipped.

As for the royalties, it’s 60% of retail price minus printing costs, taxes, and tax withholding. They do tell you the printing cost, but (thus far) details on taxes and withholding are a bit unclear.  I kept mine barely above cost ($7.99 for 80K words), as I don’t want to price myself out of the market.  For the author, you might well get more bang for the bucks with ebooks, and be able to offer a lower price point (my ebook version of The Search For Shlock is $2.99).

On the other hand, 60% is likely better than you’d get with a book published by traditional print media (which is a notoriously hard business to break into for a starting author, especially if they don’t like how you look).  They have professionals to do all the proofreading and typesetting stuff, and that does cost.  If you have the talent to do all that yourself, then you’re cutting out the middleman.  The one advantage that traditional print media still has is that they have an advertising department and can get your books into bookstores.

So what’s next for me? After this, I might release Righteous Seduction in print form, as well as compilations of short stories.  I have lots of short stories in the pipeline, at various stages of completion.  This will be a major effort, but stay tuned!

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Amazon’s paperback creation feature

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