Talking about challenges I face when publishing books using Amazon KDP is not a core theme of this blog, but I received some positive feedback about a recent article detailing some problems I had with KDP so I thought I would write up another about an experience I had the other day.
For my most recent book, what is essentially a self-help guide to increase motivation when learning a second language, I wasn’t planning to use any special formatting or other things that might cause complications, so I was expecting the publishing process to go smoothly. As I usually do for my e-books, after creating the core content in Google Docs I moved to Pages and then did the final formatting there before exporting to EPUB format which I uploaded to the Amazon portal.
As I expected, things did go quite smoothly up until the point of submission, and my book was approved for sale in record time, in only a few hours. Based on past experience I had submitted a few days ahead of when I wanted to actually release the book, but I was glad to have things prepared, so now I could do my formal release process (blog article, twitter post, facebook post, etc.) at my leisure. I did send out an email to a few people to give them an early heads up though about the release.
But then as I was looking through my book’s entry on Amazon again, I noticed something very odd: there was no page count listed anywhere. I tried on a different browser and different device, but there was no page count from any of the clients I used. I quickly sent a message to KDP support via their help section on their web portal. This was on a Thursday, and I had planned to release on the following Monday morning, at the latest.
A few hours later I got a response asking me to give them the page count so they could add it. I found this extremely strange, since the page number that Amazon had always calculated for my other books had always been different than what I calculated locally. After all, since the actual number of pages experienced by a user depends on their font and other settings, so page number is a pretty arbitrary thing. Regardless, I wanted my new book to use whatever standards they had used previously and basically told the customer service rep that his response didn’t make any sense.
When I didn’t get a response in a day or so I pinged them again, and the rep said that they had to contact another department and I would have to wait 1-2 business days. The idea of “business days” is also tricky since it is clear some people are working on Amazon on weekends, but I guess maybe this meant weekends didn’t count. If I remember correctly it was sometime late on Friday when I got this message.
By the time Sunday rolled around and there was no response, I sent another email, and it wasn’t until mid Tuesday when I finally got a response that the page count was fixed. I had actually discovered this a few hours before their email, but I wanted to get the official word from them before I considered doing any release activities. I ended up posting the release article on Wednesday, almost a week after my book was available on the store.
During the time when I was checking my book’s page a few times a day to see if the page number got fixed, I noticed the ranking in a few categories was steadily dropping from a few hundred to over 2,000 by Tuesday. I did end up getting one sale before I did the official release, likely due to the email I had sent out to a few people. But this points out something about how the ranking process works: essentially, Amazon gives a special privilege to new books, allowing them to have a relatively high ranking when they are first released, even with no or few sales. This makes sense, since it gives them more of a chance to be discovered.
I think the special treatment for new books also applies to their “new releases” lists, for example new releases for Japanese literature. At some point books have to be considered “not-new” anymore, and therefore would be taken off such lists.
My problem was that since my book was essentially in limbo for nearly a week, I lost a few days of this precious period that happens only once in the lifetime of my book. While I can try and promote my book as much as I want, once enough time passes I won’t get the extra rankings kick of a newly released book, or the privilege of being on a “new release” list.
I explained this to the customer service rep in so many words, asking if there was any way he could “turn back the clock” for the sake of fairness. After some discussion he said he didn’t have the power to do that, but would raise my feedback to management for future improvement. But what really annoyed me was his first statement of this discussion:
“Please be informed that the page count does not impact your sales, as customers do not purchase books based on page count.”
I countered back, saying flatly that I disagreed and that it’s crazy to say customers don’t look at page count. Maybe some customers don’t, but I can tell you whenever I buy a book I generally check the page count. Even if it is a novel, I try to get a rough idea (though I know this can be a spoiler, in a sense). Furthermore, my book was in a non-fiction category, so I think many readers would want to know what they were paying for. My biggest concern was that somebody would buy it and then be disappointed that the page count was lower than they expected, and write a bad review to this effect.
Also part of me was worried that there was a problem with the books content file that I submitted that caused the page count generation to fail, although I was never told what happened there.
In the end, I doubt the few days would have mattered that much; after all I was not expecting to get a top 10 best seller (thought of course that would be wonderful). But the frustrating part was that I was being penalized for a mistake on Amazon’s end, and furthermore that I don’t see how I could prevent this from happening again.
If nothing, this is a good example of the lack of control you have when using a service like Amazon KDP. While they do have a nice set of benefits with no up-front cost, the drawbacks must also be considered for those looking to publish their books.
If you want to see how the book came out––especially if you are into learning foreign languages––you can find it here (or below).