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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Widdowson

Self-Publishing Lessons

old typewriter on desk

Since Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) made self-publishing your own work free and easy, it seems like everyone is doing it. But even though it's free, there is still a lot to learn to do it well.

It’s June 2021 and my book first book, The RH Factor, was ready to publish. It had been proof-read many times over, I’d finished the cover, all the supporting text like synopses and front and back-matter, written the copyright information, and I was ready. At least that’s what I thought. But what I discovered instead, was that it was time for the universe to teach me a few self-publishing lessons.

When a book is uploaded to KDP for publication, the KDP engine checks it for errors. If it’s a paperback, it ensures that the size of the cover submitted will fit the number of pages and size of book you requested. For instance, if you chose a 6x9 book size, your cover needs to be large enough to wrap around the entire front, spine, and back of the book. But if it’s too big, part of your image might be cut off during printing. Thankfully, KDP knows the calculation, and if your cover doesn’t fit correctly around your pages, it will tell you there’s an error and give you the opportunity to fix it. You can either change the book size, reduce or increase the number of pages, or do what I did, correct my cover image size.

It didn’t even dawn on me that if I change my font size inside the book, for instance, make it larger, or make the space between lines or paragraphs greater, this will most likely increase the number of pages in the book. If you increase the number of pages, the book will be thicker and, therefore, the cover will need to be bigger. Same holds true, of course, if you decrease the font size or spacing. In retrospect, it seems completely obvious. But when you’re a first-time self-publisher, you don’t always think of all these nitty-gritty details.

I had to redo my cover a few times. Some of those changes were simply me experimenting with the title and author name fonts and how big I wanted them to be on the cover. I also futzed around with the color and saturation of the background and the syringe images. On the back cover, I had a picture of myself beside a short author bio. Only much, much later, did I realize I had forgotten to clean up the background of the photo. So if you look at the picture of me on the back cover in early copies of my book, you can see a door frame and half of a hanger in the background!


It probably would have been better to hire a professional to take a nice headshot of me. Oh, well. Maybe when my book becomes a best-seller, I’ll be able to justify that expenditure.

Besides checking the cover size, KDP also checks for spelling errors in your book. Of course, if you have a lot of colloquialisms, acronyms, or other grammatically incorrect words, they may not be genuine errors. But you should still review them all before you do your final submission.

The other opportunity KDP gives you to make sure your book is error-free before you hit the publish button, is an online proof to review. It displays, to the best of its ability, what your book will look like when it’s published. I clicked on the view online proof and spot-checked my book. I looked at the beginning pages, checked a few random spots in the middle, and looked at the back pages. Everything looked good. I was ready! I hit the publish button! I was so confident, that I ordered an author proof-copy at the same time I made the book available for purchase on the Amazon website. How audacious!

I sent out an email to all my friends and family announcing the publication of my first book. Both nervous and excited, I waited with bated breath for the feedback. Would anyone like it? Would they hate it but not want to tell me because we were friends? It was an emotional roller coaster.

It took quite a while for the books to be delivered to the people who purchased them. KDP is a print-on-demand service. That means when someone orders a book, they print a copy—one copy. There are no stacks of your books sitting in a warehouse, just waiting to be ordered. So every time someone ordered a copy of my book, it would take several days, at least, and sometimes more than a week, for them to receive it. Being able to print a book on demand is one of the reasons Amazon is able to offer this service to writers for free. They don’t have to pay for 500 books to be printed at once or invest in the storage space to store all those books while they wait for the orders to roll in.

I’m a member of a handbell group. Now, before you roll your eyes, let me reassure you that playing handbells is much harder than you probably think it is. If you’ve ever played a musical instrument, say a clarinet, flute, piano, etc., you know that you usually play every note on the page. There are exceptions to this, of course. Sometimes piano music will have a vocal part with it, for example. But generally, every note on the staffs is a note you should play. Handbells are not like that. With handbell music, you have to be able to pick out your notes among the sea of all the notes for all the bells in a song, and play only those. It’s hard to describe, but let’s just say, if you’re used to every note on the page belonging only to you, it takes a little getting used to.

So, back to the book. I went to my handbell practice at a friend of mine’s, and she had already received her copy of my book even though I had yet to receive my author-proof copy. I picked it up, so excited to see a printed copy of a book I wrote! The cover looked good, and I thought it looked pretty professional. I thumbed through it, and at chapter thirteen, I stopped and shrieked! What the hell? What were all these extremely short chapters with titles on them doing in there?

In my Scrivener writing app, I had separated sections in some of the chapters with three little asterisks. And all of those sections were now separated into completely different chapters, which were titled with descriptions of what happened in them—descriptions that the readers were never supposed to see!!!

I was devastated!

I had no idea what had happened. After bell practice, I went home, rushed to my computer and checked every page of my book in the KDP online proof. And there were the errors—in plain sight—the ones I had missed because I had only done a spot-check! I opened up Scrivener, and after searching through my export settings, I found the problem. I had defined the sections as the wrong type, and Scrivener had split them up into separate chapters just like I had told it to.

Sigh… My first of many self-publishing lessons:

Examine every single page of your online proof before you hit the publish button!

Want to learn more self-publishing lessons? Check back next week for my latest blog, or sign up to be notified every time I publish a new one.

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Apr 11

Yes! You absolutely must check and recheck the online proof. Even then, it's possible to miss something. I'm so glad KDP lets you update!

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