Lenore Skomal joins us today to talk candidly about how the should-be-dream-weekend of 17,500 Kindle downloads turned into a nightmare when formatting errors came to light…
Learn from Me How to Avoid a Self-Publishing Calamity – Lenore Skomal
17,500 readers downloaded my Kindle version of Bluff, my debut novel, thanks to the free giveaway promotion KDP Select offers those who wish to sign up. That was the count halfway through day three of the promotion.
I wish I could have enjoyed that number. But I couldn’t. I was too busy panicking about the fact that so many people had downloaded an unreadable version of my book.
Unreadable you say? How could that be? Especially with all the checks and balances in place when you upload a file to be formatted for ebook. I might say, you’re right about that. But I’m a rusher. I want things done yesterday. And sometimes, despite my parochial school upbringing, which made me a good soldier, you’d think I’d know better than to just strike out on my own, half-cocked. But sometimes, my ego gets the better of me, and even though I have Sister Mary Denise always in my head, warning me about being too big for my britches, I do give into my darker side.
Instead of having my book professionally converted into the correct file, I thought I would cut corners and just upload the PDF. Hey, how bad could it be? I didn’t imagine that readers would mind a few weird page breaks.
Even writing that makes me nauseous. How bad could it be? I’ll answer my own question for you. Extremely bad. Imagine the worst possible scenario in launching your first, hopefully break out novel. Especially when your strongest desire is to make this a premium reading experience for them. After all, as I have learned over the 30 years of writing for a living, it’s all about the reader.
Yeah, except in this case. In this case, it was all about the budget. Mistake. Big one.
It was an offhand phone call to my sister that set the nightmare in motion. Her best friend picked up the phone instead and after a few minutes of happy chitchat, I asked her if she had read BLUFF yet. I then heard the words that shot through me like a Medusa stare. “I downloaded it but there’s something really off with the formatting. I can’t read it at all,” she said. My heart turned to stone and my stomach launched out of my body into the chasm of panic.
I rushed to my computer and checked my Amazon reviews. Yep. There they were. Two reviews tanking the Kindle version of the novel that readers had downloaded free, saying they couldn’t read it. In sheer reactive mode, I stopped the free giveaway and checked my numbers on KDP Select. 17,500 people had downloaded the corrupted version of my book. I don’t have heart problems, but I swear I started to feel pressure in my chest.
Immediately I put out an all-points alert to my marketing consultant, Pavarti, who works under the umbrella of Novel Publicity. As we narrowed through what exactly happened, it became abundantly clear that the formatting for the Kindle version, which I did myself, was the wrong one. You can’t upload a PDF version of your book and expect it to be readable.
I tried to cut corners and despite advice from the professionals, I thought I knew better. Well, I didn’t. I also didn’t know so many readers would download my book. But I barely enjoyed this victory, because of the pickle I was in. Thanks to a recommendation from my marketing friend, I contacted a professional (Rik Hall, he’s great) and he converted the file to the necessary formats. He even uploaded it for me, since I had developed some serious cold feet about even doing the most menial of tasks online. Panic has a way of doing that to someone.
But uploading a revised file of a book on KDP doesn’t mean the problem is fixed. I had to first unpublish the book to stop the bleeding, which meant no one else would have to suffer through the horrors of trying to decipher what truly looked like a novel in broken English. Or worse, something generated by a computer that you might see in your spam file.
With the blood draining from my face, leaving me tingly and feeling faint, I posted comments to the negative reviews, apologizing for the mistake and explaining that anyone who downloaded the free version would be able to get the new version free as well. I would do anything in order to rectify this human error, which was now costing my book review stars.
Thankful beyond belief for Pavarti, who headed up damage control, I didn’t have a complete breakdown. And that’s why you hire professionals; for just such an emergency. Although, I am fairly certain Pavarti would have liked to spend her Saturday doing something other than contacting all the websites that promoted my free giveaway and working hard to get ahead of this crisis. She took over responding to those on Amazon who, in their frustration, slammed the technology of the book even though they couldn’t read the content. I can’t tell you how comforting it is to have someone who knows what she’s doing take over.
In the process, we learned that it’s almost impossible to contact Kindle Direct Publishing directly. We had hoped to get them to email those who had downloaded the corrupt Kindle version and tell them that the new one would be available for them to download soon. No dice. I still haven’t heard back from them, other than a vague email asking for more details. The problem with that, is when I hit “reply” to give them the requested information, the email was promptly returned, labeled undeliverable.
Eventually an email will go out to everyone who has purchased the book, letting them know that the updated file is available. How long that will take though, is anyone’s guess.
I still haven’t awakened from the nightmare quite yet, but I have some perspective now. And if I can offer advice to any other Indie publishers it’s this. One, you got to spend money to make money, so don’t cut corners on the important stuff. Two, when trying to navigate your ship in this whole new world, trust those who have the maps.
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