After a few years of publishing e-books using Amazon KDP, I finally decided to try my hand at a paperback book. Fortunately it only took me a few weeks in total, although I did have a few unexpected snags––in particular one major one that ended up costing extra days, money, not to mention frustration. Here I will go over the highlights about how I did things, which I hope will be useful to those considering making their own KDP paperback book.
The content for my book consisted of some stories I had translated and published before in e-book form, plus one new story as well as an introduction. I decided my cover would be a modified version of the cover I had used for one of those e-books. So given that my content was mostly taken care of, my first challenge was trying to figure out how to do the print book’s interior layout.
I did some research and got the feeling that many people were using Adobe InDesign, but I also heard it had a big learning curve, plus the fact it wasn’t cheap. There was also Vellum that was supposed to be easier but had a bigger one-time price, and other options that were free but seemed to have major catches (like not being able to produce a backup of the entire content).
Then I came across this page where Amazon provides templates for KDP paperback books and I downloaded the 6 inch x 9 inch templates in Microsoft Word .doc format, both with and without sample content. The reason I chose 6×9 was because it was supposedly one of the most common sizes for my type of content, and also I generally liked books of that size (unsurprisingly I had a few at home the same size).
The template without content was just a blank page, presumably with things like the trim size and other important parameters pre configured. The other template also included some sample content such as a title page, a table of contents, and a bunch of filler content for a bunch of chapters.
I had read several places that doing book design with Microsoft Word was a horrible idea (although some of those sources were biased because they were selling something), but nevertheless I tried to start cutting and pasting my content into the sample template in Word. One reason for this was that I was planning to make my first print book as simple as possible, without much in terms of special formatting or images. Things went pretty well at this stage. One of the only issues was making sure I marked the paragraph at the beginning of each section with a separate style so that the indenting would show properly. Overall, this part only took a few hours of time.
When doing a e-book, font doesn’t really matter much because generally KDP won’t use the fonts you set, and even if they did the user can change the fonts on the e-readers anyway. But with print books, fonts are extremely important since they are obviously fixed and can really affect the reader’s overall experience. I’ve seen several books which, apparently produced on a low budget, had used some unusual font that didn’t mesh with the content at all. I wouldn’t go as far to say they ruined the reading experience, but they definitely distorted it.
Despite how picky I am with fonts, I don’t know them by name very well, leaving me to try going through a long list and seeing how they look, one-by-one. However, not only was that tedious, I wouldn’t be able to easily see how they looked on real paper unless I printed samples on my own printer. So I decided to go through some of my favorite books and pick a few whose fonts I Iiked, and then figure out what fonts they were by using a few sites that would guess a font using a scanned image. This was one, though I compared results from several since none of them gave 100% accurate results. For example, selecting different words in the same image would yield different fonts, some which looked totally wrong. Nevertheless, in a few hours I was able to determine that “Sabon” font was pretty close to one of the books I used as a model, and when I changed it in my Word doc I was really happy with the result, so I kept it. The genre of the book I ended up using as a model was also vaguely similar, which gave me more confidence about my font choice.
The other thing that was a bit tricky was getting the full cover image set up, including the front, back, and side. I had the front cover mostly completed in Canva, but I had to figure out how to do the side and back. My options were to take the template from Amazon and put them together myself, or to use Amazon’s cover designer, where I could import my front page and select between a bunch of basic design options for the other portions of the cover.
I opted for the cover designer, though due to its limited functionality and awkward UI it was frustrating at times. For example, for the author picture you can only choose between a few locations, and I wasn’t able to move the image where I wanted. Also, while I could put in my own text for the back and choose the font, there was a limited set of fonts and I couldn’t tweak other things like leading spacing (the vertical spacing between lines). Even though I wasn’t that satisfied with the way the back and sides came out, to be honest they are pretty minor since the majority of people will be using the front cover image only to make purchases. For the front image, I also had some problems importing since going straight from Canva via a PNG file gave a DPI error, so I had to get a PDF and convert myself, or take the PNG file and upscale it myself (both of these techniques worked). Also for some reason the dimensions were slightly off, so I had to manually shift and scale it, a process that was tedious to get right.
For my final editing iteration I decided to have Amazon send me a proof copy. I felt this was important so I could see how the book actually looked, both inside and outside, and it was pretty cheap to purchase (only print cost plus shipping). The downside to this is that it took quite a while, 4-5 days before it was even shipped, so it took around a week in total to arrive.
I was really happy with the quality of the proof, both in terms of Amazon’s quality, and in terms of me doing the right things format-wise. There were a few formatting issues (like off-center dividers) but when I checked the doc in Word there were actually visible there as well. The font I had chosen really gave a great atmosphere, setting the tone for the reader. Also, as I suspected, doing a final editing iteration was much easier with a physical book and pencil.
There were two more formatting issues that I discovered around this time that proved a little challenging to solve. One was that text on the last page of the last story (before the “About the Author” section) went nearly to the bottom of the page, so the reader wouldn’t know the final story was over until they turned the page. The other problem was that some of the sections divided with a “***” crossed page boundaries in the last story, which while readable looked awkward.
The only real way I saw to fix these things (without making drastic changes to formatting that would affect the other stories) was to edit the text to add a few less or more lines. Doing this at one or two well-chosen spots would potentially fix both of these issues since they were in the same story.
The only problem with this solution is that this was all content translated from Japanese, and I didn’t want to change the meaning in any significant way. But by searching for lines at the end of a paragraph with only one or two words, and tweaking the prose in those, I managed to adjust things enough to fix both issues. I made mostly harmless changes like using a name instead of a pronoun, replacing with a synonym that is shorter, or similar tweaks. This was definitely something I never expected to have to do, but in the end it worked out.
Once I’d fixed a few more minor issues discovered from the final editing pass, I sent for another proof. While again it took almost a week, this one looked great, so the same day I submitted to Amazon.
To my surprise (and joy), the book was approved in less than a day with no complaints by Amazon. As soon as I got an email from Amazon I went to the book’s page and everything looked great, at least until I discovered something that would turn out to be one of the most annoying, and unexpected problems of this entire process. Here is what it said on the book page:
“Publisher: Independently Published”
What? “Independently Published”? While this may seem like a minor thing, after just spending a good amount of time and money establishing a publishing company (Arigatai Books), my publisher’s name was nowhere to be found on the book’s page. This was frankly unacceptable, and I emailed Amazon KDP support almost immediately about how to fix this. While I was waiting, I purchased a copy of the book the normal way (meaning I pay full price) because that would arrive in 2-3 days, compared to 10+ days for a less inexpensive author copy. But as for the publisher name issue, it turned out to be a lot of effort (and money) to fix.
Within a day Amazon KDP support responded that in order for it to show my publisher name instead of “Independently Published”, I needed to use my own ISBN number instead of the free ISBN option that I chose. This is all documented pretty well here, and I wish I had read this page thoroughly earlier. When I got Amazon’s response I canceled my order of the book that I had tried to buy at full price.
For the ISBN number, I had to go to Bowker and purchase it. It was $125 for a single ISBN and $300 for a set of 10, and since I am planning on publishing a bunch more print books, purchasing the second was clearly the right option. I had to put in all the information about the book (description, author bio, categories, etc.) and then wait until their database was updated. It said it could take several days, but in my case it finished in less than a single day.
Ideally, I would have just changed the ISBN number from the free one to the one I purchased myself, and be done. Unfortunately, once a book is published Amazon KDP doesn’t let you change a bunch of the meta data, and that includes ISBN. This means I had to unpublish the book and publish a new one. Even for this, in theory the process shouldn’t have been that bad, but because of how Amazon works it was more difficult than I expected.
The first problem was that there was no way to copy my details for my book and just edit the number. I had to start from scratch and cut and paste in every field one by one. Even that wasn’t too bad, except for the cover designer part where I had to manually repeat the already tedious process, and in the end I didn’t get the cover arranged quite as perfectly as I did the first time.
Having finished all the meta stuff I published the 2nd version of the book (with my new ISBN) and that too was approved in under a day, and now properly listed “Arigatai Books”. Happy to finally see this process was coming to an end, I purchased a copy of this new book at full price.
However, a few hours later when I clicked this order I saw the publisher was listed as “Independently Published”. What was going on? While it could have been a bug on Amazon’s side, this was most likely caused by me accidentally purchasing a copy of the old version instead of the new version. So I tried to cancel the book, and then ordered a copy (again at full price due to the speed) of the new version of the book.
But this raises the question of why was my “unpublished” book still available for sale? After talking to several people at Amazon (in multiple departments), it seems that the problem is there was stock remaining for my book, and until the stock was gone the old version would remain live. After all this discussion eventually I realized I had no choice but to buy the last remaining copy in the U.S. store myself, and after that the old version seemed to stop appearing in searches.
However, KDP paperback is print-on-demand, right? Why was there any stock at all? Amazon customer support responded to this question with the following: (I’ve edited it slightly for grammar and spelling)
There is an inventory usually when Amazon wants to meet deadlines for holidays, we create a small stock in order to fulfill orders, and also the books returned when purchased remain in inventory until they are sold again.
I mentioned above that I had purchased and canceled one copy, which explains one of the copies. But the second must have been due to the extra stock created to “meet deadlines for holidays”.
Even though the old version of the book was not showing up in the US store, I wasn’t confident that it was gone for good on all the other stores. Amazon support confirmed that the extra copies had only been in the US store, and the old version of the book should be completely gone within 48 hours.
It was a long, wild ride, but in the end things worked out. Although my mistake regarding the ISBN number did cost a few days and the cost of a few extra copies of my book at full price (not to mention the extra stress), it could have been much worse. While I was annoyed by some of Amazon’s policies, I realize there are good reasons for many of them, and despite a few displeasing interactions most of my discussions with Amazon’s support were productive and timely.
If you want to see how the book turned out, you can see it here.