Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property, Covers, Ebooks » Self-Publishing #Fails

Self-Publishing #Fails

6 May 2014

From Joel Friedlander:

As an author said to me last night, “This self-publishing is a lot of work, it’s hard.”

Hey, at least she has good advice and people to call on. It’s the other people I worry about, the ones who don’t know when they are poised to step right in something unpleasant, something that might require some real effort to get rid of.

Yes, it’s the Self-Publishing #Fails.

. . . .

1. Formatting for beginners.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been handed 2 books by their authors that really made my heart sink. Why? In each case the author was a professional, highly educated, well-informed and determined to create a book worthy of commercial publication.

Problem? They had each found a “semi-pro” book formatter to create their nonfiction book interiors. How do I know they were “semi-pro”? Immediately I saw things like blank right-hand pages, running heads on blank pages, an entire book typeset with hyphenation set to “off,” inappropriate visual spacing, all the usual suspects.

. . . .

3. Is That Cover Yours or Mine?

An author in the popular paranormal romance genre was just getting started in her career. She studied all the blogs that other writers in her peer group wrote, and learned how to put together a book for print on demand publishing.

She wanted a distinctive cover treatment, especially because she was launching a series, with the intent to publish a whole line of books with the same characters appearing in different settings and combinations.

So the whole representation of the story on the front cover of the first books was of a lot of concern.

She found an artist who specialized in illustrations for book covers, and the two had a great working relationship.

Together, they came up with a beautiful cover, attractive typography, and a custom illustration that truly represented the whole work.

Everyone was happy.

But then a funny thing happened. The book, and it’s sequel, started to get really popular, selling tens of thousands of copies.

When the author got back in touch with the illustrator for a new cover for the next book, she also got a shock.

The illustrator let the author know that she now owed more money for the first illustrations, and that the new illustrations were going to cost a lot more, like triple the original cost.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Covers, Ebooks

34 Comments to “Self-Publishing #Fails”

  1. This is a great article showing what pitfalls await the inexperienced.

  2. The comments on this post are good, too, especially Mary’s advice about the “letter of agreement.” So many writers don’t grok contracts in general that her point can’t be stated enough.

  3. As a book producer, the two biggest mistakes I see are: One size fits all; and not understanding the medium.

    With the one-size-fits-all crowd, they truly seem to think that a pdf equals a mobi file equals an EPUB equals a Word doc. All it equals is a mess. I get queries every week from people (often after paying a premium to a “professional”) who want to know why their ebooks don’t work and look like crap. Fortunately, ebook repair tends be fairly simple. But still… My advice to anyone looking to hire a formatter for ebooks is to ask: What program/s do you use to format? (If they say anything other than an epub editor or a text editor, walk away.) Do you do separate formats for MOBI and EPUB? (If no, walk away.) How do you convert the files? (If they say Calibre, walk away.)

    As for print on demand, it is possible to produce a pretty good book for Createspace using Word (Joel offers terrific templates). To get a really GREAT book you need a more powerful publishing program like InDesign (which is awful for ebooks, by the way). And you don’t need a degree in design to produce wonderful results. All you need is your own bookshelf. Take a look at your beautiful books and emulate them and you can’t go wrong.

    As for covers? Sometimes I wonder if some cover designers have even browsed on Amazon. Whenever someone asks me about covers, the first thing I do is send them to Joel’s site to go through the monthly cover design awards. If nothing else they’ll get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. I’m not a professional designer, but I can do monkey see, monkey do covers that work pretty well. The biggest thing the writer/publisher needs to do is COMMUNICATE. I had a lady who came to me with a horrible cover that was not only ugly, it was inappropriate. She’d blown her budget paying for it and didn’t know what to do. So we talked and I sent her on a search for ideas and we came up with a very simple design that works. She purchased two inexpensive images and I did the typography (gratis). If the original designer had known how to talk to the client, but moreso, knew what makes a good ebook cover, my client wouldn’t have wasted so much money.

    • While that was all great info, I would like to particularly pound on one thing:


      Ob”But *I* know what I’m doing”Response may be considered lodged. Somewhere in the world there is a person who can make amazing ebooks with InDesign. Odds are, you are not that person.

      • Wait…people actually use InDesign (or try to) to make ebooks?

        WHAAAAT???? Why would you even attempt it?!

      • I’ve gotten so I can tell what program a formatter used just by how the ebook works on my Kindle/s. 90% of InDesign produced ebooks do NOT work properly. Using InDesign to format an ebook is like climbing into the cockpit of a Phantom fighter jet to run down to the corner convenience store. Yeah, you’ll get there, but what a ride and look at the mess in the parking lot.

      • +1 for Sigil, especially if you’re already familiar with web design.

        Please, PLEASE don’t use InDesign for ebooks. It’s used for laying out printed material like catalogs, for gods’ sake. The only time you should ever open InDesign is when you want to produce a print ready PDF for the interior of a Createspace book (or your POD service of choice).

        Sigil for creating the epub, Inkscape for the cover, Kindle Previewer for converting to Kindle mobi, and forget about making a ebook PDF. At the very least, use Scrivener if you can’t handle the code stuff.

        • Love Sigil. If you tweak the stylesheet, get rid of the coverpage and make some adjustments to the toc.ncx, Sigil can produce an EPUB that converts beautifully into a MOBI file. 🙂 I love its built in validator, too–saves a lot of time in rooting out boogers.

        • Okay, I’m still in the learning phase, but have been following this and other blogs for awhile thinking I was keeping up. Now I feel clueless all over again. I was working through the smashwords style guide since they convert to so many other forms for you. Is this not a good way to go?

          • There is a learning curve to Sigil but it’s well worth the investment in time and effort.

            • Would people rate Scrivener for outputting to eBook ? I am part way through my first book with Scrivener 🙂

            • Take a look at Jutoh, it seems to be quite nice, and it’s easier to use for building ebooks from the ground up. (Plus, I’ve heard that Sigil is no long being supported.)

              • Another Jutoh fan, here.

                • I also am in love with Jutoh. I used to use Calbre, but all of the html editing I had to do to clean it up was a first-class pain. Jutoh is much simpler and does a beautiful job.

                  I do paperbacks in Word and they look every bit as nice as one built in InDesign–it just takes more work to make it that way. Since I know Word inside-out, though, it’s much faster and easier than shoveling my way through InDesign.

                • Here’s another + for Jutoh. I use it for all of Mrs. PG’s ebooks.

          • Coker’s guide will get you into Smashwords. It will help you create a serviceable ebook. That said, I hate hate HATE using Word to format an ebook. It’s junky and full of oddball coding and forcing it to behave takes far more effort than it’s worth. (a tip: Work in Web view instead of print view. It won’t trip you up so much with page breaks and fixed margins.)

            As for Scrivener, it can produce some fine results, but it has some problems, the number one being is that it produces bloated files (can get costly on Amazon). Plus, some of its coding can lock and interfere with user preferences.

            • Jaye – Thank for the scrivener comment … I may need to look into that it seems.

            • Thanks everyone, for your helpful advice. I will look into some of these other programs. I expect a learning curve, but if I’m going to put in the effort, I’d like to get good results – and you’re right Jaye, Word is a big pain so far.

          • Remember, it’s against Smashwords TOS to use their conversions on other etailers. Also, the Meatgrinder’s output is… sausage at best.

            If you write in Word or a Word equivalent, five minutes with Sigil will get you an EPUB that’s superior in every way to the ones Smashwords generates, and you can upload ’em right to the other etailers. The workflow is dazzlingly simple.

            • Mac – Would you say that this would also be good advice to me, using Scrivener ? considering Jaye’s concerns about the quality of Scrivener’s eBook output ?

      • Wait, let me get this straight: I should use InDesign to make an ebook, and then try Calibre for my paper book, right?


        Lots of passion here from you guys. Love it.

      • Yeah, some of us former typesetters hate InDesign as a print book designer but have to use it anyway.

    • Thanks, I hadn’t explored the ebook function in InDesign and now you’ve saved me the trouble of bothering. I’ve been using Scrivener and Sigil anyway.

      As a person who learns by “reverse engineering” I am surprised that more people aren’t studying their bookshelves for layout clues for their print books. This doesn’t have to be complicated.

      I would add that for covers, people should look at the artist’s portfolio. If the stuff in it is ugly, keep walking. And the bookcase is useful for this, too, because the copyright page on all your books will say who the cover artist/designer was. They’re usually freelancers. And before paying for the art, have them send you a mock-up to make sure they understood what you were going for.

  4. #3 left a red facepalm on my cheek. It’s like a lawnmowing company charging you more for the second cutting because the grass grew lush and thick after the first one.

    What is it about a work-for-hire contract that is so freaking hard to understand?

    • The problem was one was never signed, so that left the rights up in the air. Frankly, I would have told the @#$@#$ to @#$@#$ off, rather than replace the book cover. Let him take me to court.

  5. I think we need a book in the series “Self ePublishing for Dummies”.

  6. I use Jutoh and have had no problems making the mobi and epub files. They always turn out just fine.

    • Another vote for Jutoh. I bought it a few days ago after trying other programs and running into some tech problems with them and my operating system. Jutoh was just right for quickly getting oriented and compiling an ebook I’d set up with a Word style sheet. The tailored TOC was pretty easy to build too. From what I can tell, Jutoh also offers templates for building an ebook from scratch within the program.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.