Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago · 7 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Lost in Amazon 6: The Joy and Agony of Book Life

Lost in tXe Amazon #6

The Joy and Agony of Book Life
The first test book for the Lost in Amazon series in now live. I don't expect wide readership. That's not why I wrote it.

It already sold three copies. I haven't started promoting it yet. I assume the three sales are from the three people who know about it. Thank you, Mom, Dad, and my sister, Viviane.


I wrote the book so I would have something to test theories on production, distribution, and promotion of eBooks in general. I'll test hose theories in this series. I'll report back successes and failures both.

"Real World PayPal IPN - A Simple-English Guide to setting up Instant Payment Notifications" is on Amazon in both eBook and print-on-demand. More about that particular nightmare a little later.

First, allow me a side-step

Over on LinkedIn, Robert Bacal called my production method "overly complicated" and "ludicrous," or maybe it was "ridiculous." 

Either way, it wasn't a nice, supportive word. 

Robert questioned why I would need to go from Word to PDF to Kindle Textbook Creator. Something about using tools for other than their intended purpose, etc, etc. 

Big whup, I do that all the time.

He also said that he sees no reason for multiple font formats. Hummmm.

Two things here. 

One, I like Robert. Sure, he can get crotchety. So can I. 

Two, I always listen to and consider what others have to say, even if I don't like what they say. That's true even if I'm sure they're wrong.

If I respect their opinion, like I do Robert's, I consider it even more, even though I'm sure they're wrong. Maybe especially then.

Think about it. Being 100% right and being 100% wrong feel exactly the same. . . until proven right or wrong.

For years, we all "knew beyond a shadow of a doubt" that the world was flat, the sun revolved around the earth, and women were much less intelligent than men (I guess they never heard of Hypatia, Mme. Curie, Hedi Lamarre, et al).

Those were "Facts". No one contested them. They were "true." 

Until they weren't.

It pays to keep an open mind.

My response to Robert

1 - Yes, creating an eBook is easy. Creating an eBook that actually looks like a book is not. Complex typography makes for easier reading. This is more true for non-fiction than fiction. 

There are only two ways to use book-like typography in a website-like eBook. The simpler is to use the "print-replica" Kindle Textbook Creator. That requires that extra PDF step which is nothing more than saving a document as a PDF. 

That's not exactly mind-numbingly complicated.

It seems to work. The eBook flew through Quality Control and was published within 4 hours.

2 - You're probably right about the multiple versions idea. The original idea was to create regular and large-type versions. A print-replica can't have its font size adjusted by the user. 

Phones have smaller screens than tablets or laptops (duh). Phone readers would need to pinch-and-zoom on every freaking page. That can get annoying in a hurry. I'm getting annoyed just thinking about it.

Robert convinced me to revisit the idea.

I reset the eBook to a font size half-way between the regular and the large-type sizes. Now, the font is a bit too big for a computer screen and a teeny bit too small for a cell phone. Neither requires adjustment.

Yes, it pays to keep an open mind.

I'm still on the fence about a multi-column version for those who prefer to read in landscape mode or on their laptops.

3 - My complete process is to write in Word supported by Dragon Naturally Speaking, Place into InDesign, Adjust the format in InDesign, Export to PDF, run through Kindle Textbook Creator. It just sounds complicated. Most of the work is in setting InDesign up properly.

A good-looking eBook is now easy to produce. 

Print versions? 

Not so much.

An alternative to CreateSpace

Amazon now lets you link a print-on-demand version to your eBook. 

That is not at frigging all an intuitive process!

"Real World PayPal IPN - A Simple-English Guide to setting up Instant Payment Notifications" is a little book. It's a booklet, really. That may be the problem. It's only 126, 6" x 9" pages. That includes a sizeable Appendix.

Reformatting the eBook for print is not a major deal in InDesign. It took about an hour. Any images used in the eBook must be rebuilt to 300dpi (dots per inch). That only took a few minutes in Photoshop.  While I was at it, I converted them to print-style CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black a.k.a. 4-color process) from the original web-style RGB (Red-Green-Blue). 

Old images get swapped out in favor of the new print-resolution ones. 

Everything was pretty straightforward and easy. 

Then I got to the cover. 

The cover must be a print-quality, print-ready PDF. That's fine. It's standard for anything going to print.

It's a single image file that's a spread of the front cover, the spine, and the back cover. 

The spine is the edge of the book. It's what you would see if the book was on a bookshelf. Its size is dependent on the number of pages in the book and the thickness of that paper. The spine must match exactly.

One hundred twenty-six pages do not make for a very thick book. 

Amazon provides guidance. Maybe it works better for books over 200 pages or so. It sure as heck didn't work for me. 

When I applied their rules, the print book failed to post. 

Here is the final cover spread. 

Look at it as if you put an open book face down on a table. The right side is the front cover. The left side is the back cover. The middle part between the vertical black bars is the frigging spine. 

It's what gave me bouts of TTS (Temporary Tourette's Syndrome).

I scared the cats. 

They usually sleep on my desk as I work. Not this time. They avoided the crazy, swearing, desk-banging human.

Cats are pretty smart. They know when to get the heck out of Dodge.

My wife thought I went nuts. Nothin' new there.


souve I'l PayPal


Nd [edAed PLOMmIEdY


Those vertical black bars are not part of the cover. I added them for illustration. 

According to Amazon specs, my spine text should fall completely between those bars. I should be able to use 25pt text on the spine. That's the size of the middle spine text. According to the math, I can go as high as 26.678pts.


I started at 25pts. Failure. I dropped to 22. Failure, again. I kept dropping the font size by 2pts until it worked. That's 12pt type on the two ends. That's what Amazon accepted. 

It's barely larger than the normal type used in the book (11pts) and less than half the size their math says I can use. 

I grabbed my copy of Melissa Hughes'  "Happy Hour with Einstein." It's a bigger book than mine, but not a ton bigger. It's 5.5X8.5 inches. . . close enough.

It's also highly recommended reading, BTW. It's rare that my wife and I both like the same book.

Melissa's book uses much larger spine text. 

There's something wrong at Amazon. I suspect Melissa's book was created on CreateSpace, an Amazon company.

Why the difference?

Someone at Amazon needs to revisit either the specs or the automated system that checks for compliance. I can't see them needing such a huge fudge-factor. I don't think that's the problem. The most likely source of the problem is the software that verifies the cover spread's conformity to the rules. 
Or, it could just be me.

The source of my aggravation

Every upload of the cover spread takes about 17 to 20 minutes. It's a big file. Amazon does a ton of stuff to it in the background.

I was ready to give up and not use spine text at all when the 12pt size passed. 

It looks silly. I don't think it's a big deal because of the way Amazon prices these things.

Pricing for Print-on-Demand

You get 60% royalty on every print book sold. That sounds nice. It's even, strictly speaking, true.

You don't get 60% after print costs. You get 60% of the sale price.

That sounds even nicer.

It isn't. 

The entire printing cost comes out of your 60%. 

How much does it cost to print,  "Real World PayPal IPN - A Simple-English Guide to setting up Instant Payment Notifications," my itsy-bitsy 126-page booklet? 

That's a good question.

Would you believe U$9.17? 

Yeah, me neither, but that's what they say.

That's for a matte color cover binding 126 white pages printed with color. We aren't talking lots of 4-color-process images here. Nor are we talking about significant ink coverage. 

It's just a little book with spots of color-coded text.

Amazon works out the minimum price it should sell for. 

Don't get too excited. It's not like they're doing market research for you.

The price they come up with is the price where your royalty covers the printing cost. My minimum was U$16.87. I set the price at U$19.99. 

I find that high.

Note to Amazon: Take the printing cost off the top and go 50/50 on royalties. I think you'd get better traction with your program. Better yet, add 10% to the "cost" and stick to 60/40. Putting the onus for printing costs on the writer's back is just wrong. At the minimum price, you make U$6.75, plus whatever pad is built into the printing cost. The writer gets nada. That's unfair to the extreme.

Don't break your head over this pricing. It's not worth the trouble to worry about it. 

Why did I go through the trouble? The reasons are threefold. 

One, this is a test. I may as well test everything I can.

Two, now that I know how Amazon spines really work, it won't take very much extra work to prepare a print version.

Three, if nothing else, seeing the print version at U$19.99 makes the eBook seem dirt cheap, which it is. Going forward, it may add a dollar or two to the eBook's price.

I find myself getting annoyed

As I write this, I'm getting annoyed. I find the printing cost exorbitant. I find the spine text useless. If find Amazon's behavior deplorable.

Still, it's their bat, their ball, and their playground. 

I wonder what would happen if I changed things about the print version.

If I change the page size to 5X8 there would be more pages. That would make for a thicker spine. Would it help? How would it affect printing cost? Maybe I'll try it and Update this post. Or, maybe I won't. I'm not sure if I care about the spine enough to bother.

What if I made the book shorter? 

A printed book can't access the web so I added appendices where the eBook uses links. Fewer pages mean less printing which means less printing cost. Or so I assume. I mean, that's logical, right? 

Logic may or may not hold sway here.

I'll see how that affects print cost and report back.

This is a good segue to . . . 

Amazon links eBooks and their Print versions

You can allow buyers of your printed book to buy your eBook at a discount or even free. The price of the eBook under this plan must be below U$2.99. Coincidently (or more likely not), that also means it would be at 35% royalty. 

That's Seriously Dirty Pool, Amazon! You're making more than enough on the print. Why hit us this way? Why not use a maximum percentage of the print-version price? Why use anything at all?

Still thinking of Melissa, allowing book buyers to buy an eBook version at $2.98 puts $1.05 in her pocket each time for no more effort. If she were allowed to go to $2.99, it would be $2.10 in her pocket. See the importance of that extra penny?

The regular price for her eBook could be $4.99. That would put $3.50 in her pocket and seem dirt cheap. 

That might also generate more leads for her company, The Andrick Group.

Food for thought.

For the test book, I think I'll remove the appendices and make the eBook free for those who buy the print book. Print buyers would have indirect access to hot links. The book would be shorter. The printing costs should dive. That would be a good thing. 

Amazon suffers from extreme price elasticity.

It will make the spine completely useless, though. I can live with that. It's pretty much useless as it is.

Besides, it'll be the first time someone could call me, "Spineless," and be right.




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About the Author

I'm a ghost but not the kind that's to pottery
wheels. I'm the wnting kind

Toften wonder if Im a tech-savvy writer or a
writing-savvy technologist Maybe I'm both. As
one CMO put it, "Paul makes tech my bitch!
That might be going a hittle too far
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Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #9

Hmmm, You piqued my curiosity, John Sliz. Why paperback before eBook? Is it because the paperback takes much longer to go live? Is there another reason?

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #8

Over on LI, Ross Lovelady suggested using an image for the spine text. I'm not sure how that would get around the strange compliance side of things. It's worth a try.

Dominique 🐝 Petersen

4 years ago #7

Good idea. Next time I have to revise a cover to CreateSpace's specifications, I'll replace the photo with a higher res one at the same time. Thanks!

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #6

I hear you, Dominique \ud83d\udc1d Petersen. My wife is also a graphic artist. She heard my fits and came to see what was what. One glance, and she said, "Those specs don't match up at all." A succinct evaluation. I really think the issue is not so much with the specs themselves as with the software that verifies conformity. I doubt they have actual human eyes looking at these things. Even an excellent coder will screw it up if he/she doesn't fully understand what's at play. For example, I can see many situations where they will play with your images and knock the resolution down inadvertently. Hence the lo-res errors. Even if they knock resolution down to 299dpi it will fail. Servers are quick, but not overly bright. What the heck will 1/300th of an inch do? Bump them to 330dpi and they will likely pass even if they screw around with them. The spine is another problem altogether and not so easily fixed. You need to accept triple the stated margin at least. UGH! Amazon really needs to revisit that software.

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #5

Yeah, well I'm a stubborn SOB. Thanks for the comment, Jerry Fletcher

Dominique 🐝 Petersen

4 years ago #4

Most of our authors have their books printed by a BOOK Printer. For the few who insist on CreateSpace, it becomes a nightmare. Having designed and formatted books, print-ready, for years, I can't believe the trouble I have to go through each time. CreateSpace tells me the resolution of the cover photo is not high enough, even though I KNOW it is 300 dpi at 100%. Or they tell me the spine dimension is incorrect, even though I used their formula to create the cover! All I can conclude is that they must have inexperienced people working for them at probably low pay.

Jerry Fletcher

4 years ago #3

Paul, You have way more courage then me my friend. I tried it once, threw my hands in the air and cursed Bezos scaring hell out our cat and the neighbors. Never again!

Jerry Fletcher

4 years ago #2

Paul, YOu ahve more courage then me my friend. I tried wending my way through the over complicated maze of publishing via Amazon, through my hands in the air and scared hell out our cat and the neighbors! There's a lot of things I'll do but this is definitely not one of them.

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #1

Melissa Hughes is mentioned in this post

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