This happened last week, but I remember it like it happened last week: I’d totally messed up my first book upload.
My “turn this book on and watch the sweet money roll in” checklist was pretty much complete:
1) Beta readers had given me feedback on the final draft, and I’d incorporated their advice where appropriate.
2) I’d done extensive research on where to release the book: Smashwords vs. KDP Select, and gone with KDP Select. More on why in a later post.
3) I’d ordered and read through Building Your Book for Kindle and Aaron Shepard’s From Word to Kindle.
4) I’d downloaded, read through, and followed almost all the directions of Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide. This included formatting a table of contents that linked to all the chapters, setting proper paragraph styles, and other details that would make the book look good on a screen.
Tense, even a little terrified, I’d logged onto Amazon’s KDP Select site and uploaded the file. The system seemed to accept it without difficulty. It even told me about a typo that I’d missed. The one typo. Hey, I thought. This thing’s working! I’m going to be a published writer (again)!
And then I remembered that the file I’d uploaded was a Word file, not an HTML file. I hadn’t saved it as an HTML file.
Despite the fact that excoriating oneself with the kind of language that would make a longshoreman cover his ears in shock and horror doesn’t spur anything except feelings of self-loathing, I will admit that I engaged in that kind of behavior for a short while. I couldn’t believe that I’d screwed it up.
Tension turning to panic, I sent a quick message to Amazon, asking them to STOP THE PRESSES! What if somebody sees this piece of improperly-formatted poop? I mean, first impressions are everything. This is hardly the proper debut for a first novel. Maybe I’m in over my head.
About an hour after I’d saved the file in HTML and re-checked it for errors, I got a nice email from Amazon saying that at my request, they’d moved my book back from In Progress to Draft. My relief was immeasurable. A couple hours after that, making triply sure that I had the right file in the right format, I dared to upload it again.
A few days later, I asked an author friend whom I’d worked with and known for fourteen years to take a look at the sample chapters available on Amazon. He responded with admirable promptness, and told me about two big things to fix:
1) The long dashes I’d used to signify an interruption in speech weren’t long enough. I needed to change them to M dashes (AKA em dashes). I’d stupidly let Word do that for me. As it turns out, to get an M dash, hold down CTRL, ALT, and the minus sign on the number pad on your keyboard.
2) Because I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, I was taught to always put two spaces after a period. You shouldn’t do that anymore.
This news was slightly less agonizing, even though some friends and family had already downloaded the version with improper dashes and too many spaces. It took another hour or so, but I fixed it and uploaded a better version late that night.
The bottom line is that as a self-publisher, it’s my responsibility to make sure all these details are hammered down. I didn’t hire a professional editor to edit my novel (though one of my beta readers is a professional book editor). Proper grammar and good formatting are absolutely vital to a good product. I was fortunate to have a good friend help me with excellent advice. And now that I’ve made those mistakes, I won’t have to make them again.
TL;DR: Make sure you save the draft you plan to upload as an HTML file. Also, use M dashes where appropriate (Word won’t put them in for you), and put only one space after a period.