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One Helluva Launch

5 December 2018

As regular visitors to TPV know, Mrs. PG launched a new book yesterday.

We did not have liftoff.

Depending upon your point of view, the rocket either emitted a lot of smoke without moving or exploded on the pad.

The contents of the new book were not the correct contents.

Authors reading this will understand Mrs. PG’s feelings about this situation.

User error was PG’s first thought. KDP error was his second thought.

After his hurried attempts to remedy the situation were uploaded (Note to Amazon – Why can’t changes to an already-published book be placed in an accelerated review queue? In a situation like Mrs. PG experienced, the minutes seem like hours, etc.), PG checked the two earlier books in the same series via Look Inside on Amazon.

He discovered strange content problems in those two books previously published via KDP and whatever Amazon is calling Createspace these days. An ebook might have problems while the POD book was fine even though they were based on the same manuscript.

None of the reader reviews for the earlier books mentioned any of the issues PG found in those books, issues that would have been obvious to anyone who spent more than five minutes reading the books.

Paranoia entered the mélange of PG’s emotions.

He immediately changed the password for Mrs. PG’s KDP account to one that is twice as long as the old password. (If you need a quick random password, you can obtain one up to 50 characters long at no charge from LastPass – https://www.lastpass.com/password-generator .)

PG then fixed the content problems with the earlier books, previewed the fixes and uploaded the corrected manuscripts to Amazon.

Since nothing is going to appear on Amazon for “up to 72 hours” and PG was more than a little stirred-up, he examined the formatted book files that had been submitted to KDP. They looked fine and showed none of the problems that appeared in the as-published versions.

PG peformed a quick check of the KDP discussion boards and found a lot of authors who had difficulties with formatting, but nothing that sounded like the issues with Mrs. PG’s books. He’ll go back today for a deeper dive.

At this point, PG believes (crossed fingers) that all the errors in the book released yesterday are in the process of being resolved.

PG is a bit tired this morning and needs to write a macro to automatically check the publication status of Mrs. PG’s book every ten minutes, but has a couple of additional thoughts.

First, PG and Mrs. PG would like to thank everyone who read PG’s announcement of Mrs. PG’s new book on TPV yesterday, went to Amazon to check it out and promptly posted comments on TPV reporting problems with the Look Inside content. This was the first indication we received that anything was wrong with the book and it enabled the PG’s to get a quick start on a fix.

Second, from experiences during a prior life, PG understands a bit about the process of rolling out a program update through a large computer system with machines spread across various geographic locations. From what he has read about Amazon’s publishing systems, he suspects books and book listings (and likely other product listings) are rolled out around the world on a batch basis. However, PG believes it should be possible for Amazon to respond to a request by the publisher of a book in much less than 72 hours.

Some ideas:

  1. An author/publisher should have access to an emergency unpublish function that would quickly take an individual book offsale without removing the book’s listing, changing its content or doing anything that should require a review by Amazon. Just remove the buy button and replace it with a message that says “This book is temporarily unavailable” or something to that effect. As authors know, once a book is submitted to Amazon for review, KDP locks the author’s ability to do anything with that listing prior to publication. This emergency unpublish command should be available to stop a book that is in the review process from going on sale once the Amazon content review is completed or to quickly interrupt sales of a previously published book while changes or corrections are made and reviewed.
  2. If an emergency unpublish is requested by the author, the Look Inside function in the book’s listing should also be deactivated. If the author is making a content change, the old content should not be available for viewing.
  3. PG would be willing to pay a small fee for each access to an emergency unpublish function. From Amazon’s standpoint, assessing a fee would help avoid abuse of the function and provide some compensation to the company for interrupting a review process that is already underway.

At this point, PG is not certain whether any third party somehow tampered with one or more of Mrs. PG’s books or not. Neither does he know whether some exotic glitch in the KDP system was involved in mixing up content from multiple books by the same author or not.

This entire fiasco could be a series of user errors.

As mentioned at the top of the post, however, the discovery of content issues with multiple books at the same time and the lack of red flags about those content issues in the form of negative reviews, emails from friends who bought the book, etc., for previously published books that have been on sale for several months suggest that something strange may have happened to multiple books at about the same time.

PG does not, however, view the events of the last 24 hours as early indication of an alien invasion of earth or of Amazon.

If any visitors to TPV have insights, experiences, suggestions, publishing process recommendations, etc., PG would appreciate hearing about them in the comments or via the Contact Page.

Books in General

22 Comments to “One Helluva Launch”

  1. Yikes! Thank you for alerting the rest of us. I hope everything goes smoothly. And an “emergency kill switch” for books with major glitches would be a good thing indeed.

  2. This is terrifying!

  3. Not sure at all what could have gone wrong with the upload, PG, but one thing you might double-check is Track Changes on the source file.

    I have learned (the hard way) that Track Changes, especially in Word, is very aggressive. It can appear that it’s off and none of its markup or comments are showing, but then when a doc is converted into an ebook, weird markup and odd characters suddenly show up.

    My protocol now is to make sure I toggle off Track Changes, Accept and Turn Off Track Changes for all markup and manually delete all comments. Then I’ll pop the text into a text editor to make doubly-sure that no artifacts remain. It’s a pain, but it beats the alternative.

  4. Another trick is to use Amazon’s little mobi creator and then side-load it to your kindle (or use the PC kindle simulators) to see what your customers will see.

  5. Thanks for the suggestions and sympathy.

    We’re making headway, but I really wish Amazon could do a faster turnaround on corrections/changes.

    • “PG believes it should be possible for Amazon to respond to a request by the publisher of a book in much less than 72 hours.”

      This is an economic limitation, not a technical one. Amazon believes they will maximize *their* outcome by allowing themselves up to 72 hours to respond. Sadly, they are probably right.

  6. If it’s a formatting issue, there are some simple things to do for ebook formatting. For my Windows PC, I prefer Atlantis Word Processor for converting to EPUB. For Apple, if you prefer Mac, Pages is great for conversion. I prefer to write in Word, but when I want to convert to EPUB, I’ll open Pages and open the Word file there to convert to EPUB. I’ve never had any problems.

    For Amazon, I always upload a .doc or .docx file. I’ve never found any problems. I always also use the Kindle eBook Preview after uploading the file and cover to check my files before hitting the publish button.

    There’s also a little program that I like for previewing files for Amazon called Send to Kindle. It’s from Amazon and has been a blessing for previewing my Word formatting prior to it going into the official Amazon Kindle conversion. You can send any file to your Kindle for reading, so it’s not necessarily an author tool but is very handy as an author tool.

  7. It occurs to me that maybe everyone doesn’t rename their file with every update. I was told a couple of years ago that Amazon retains every file and that multiple files with the same name can create problems. Since then, I make sure that every time I update the text, the update has a unique name. I don’t want any confusion if I can avoid it.

    • Ha! Having been bitten by that elsewhere my book docs get saved by date or release candidate ( MyBook3OfFolly181205.doc or MyBook3OfFollyRC2.1.doc ) so I know which one I’m playing with/sending.

    • Ohhh, I do that by default, especially after I got into web development, and discovered re-caching issues when I uploaded replacement files but reused the same name (instead naming a photo as “photo” I should say “photo_2” if it’s a replacement of the first photo).

      Using the same name sometimes meant the old and busted version was retained on the page, instead of the new hotness I intended to show instead. So I got into the habit of incrementing file names of every asset I intend to upload. After every edit/revision I increment the file name as Story1.0, Story1.1,etc. The final version would be named Story_final. This is a good habit for any kind of web-production, including blogs.

  8. To better understand and eliminate possibilities…

    How many files were uploaded for this most recent book?

    If one and only one, was that file subject to editing, where the editor (whomever that may be) inserted comments?

    I encountered a situation where I found editing comments appeared while reviewing what I thought was a final, ready-to-go file. Surprise. I forget how I did it, but I purged the file of the editing stuff, and continued with no problem.

    I found my Word file held all this stuff, and apparently kept it forever. Meanwhile, I’m charging along, fat, dumb, and happy, totally unaware of the sleeper cells waiting to strike.

    Anyone with a better understanding of Word know how to purge the edit stuff so it can’t ever manifest? Might be something to put at the top of a Best Practices checklist.

    • One way to clean up a Word document is to save it as an RTF file. Open the RTF file in WordPad (this is for Windows users) and save it. Saving the file in WordPad strips out a lot of complex formatting. Then open the RTF file in Word and save it as a DOC file. To be safe, don’t overwrite the old version!

      A shortcut method is to copy and paste a document from Word to WordPad, save it, re-open it, and copy and paste it back.

  9. I’m sorry to hear this. I can’t imagine anything more irritating to authors (and of course their family and close friends). Amazon has done wonders for authors but sadly is at its worst when dealing with them when things go wrong. In this case we can only speculate what may have gone wrong, and I’m not sure how helpful this is. The problems with the earlier books have me scratching my head in any event. The only possibly relevant internal change at Amazon I’m aware of recently is that they are apparently in the process of changing DRM for Kindle For PC/Mac, and perhaps also for updated kindle firmware, which may have required a re-conversion to existing books to produce kfx versions with the new drm. This is sheer speculation, but it may be interesting to download an azw3 copy and see if the problems appear in that format also.

  10. Normally Amazon allows you to review a proof copy before going ‘live’. I never do the final step until I’ve looked over the proof. (Through Kindle Create and the Paperback upload)
    FYI and Good luck.

  11. Hi from the UK

    Looking at the WOOT TV Series on Amazon.co.uk, there seems to be a problem with the series linking. The title of the first book appears as Breaking News: A Novel of Romantic Suspense (WOOT TV Series Book 2)and on the main page Book 2 of 3 in The WOOT TV Series (3 Book Series). Despite this, the books are listed in order on the page that displays them all.

    • Terry – Thanks for your comment.

      The series numbering was one of the elements of the books that went crazy recently. Breaking News should be reverting back to Book 1 in the series.

  12. PG, thank you for the thanks: having posted about the problem I then started worrying that I should have contacted you in private, though I may have spurred Tim Illingworth to carry out his illuminating comparison of the titles.

    As for the roll out of books, all my pre-orders turn up on my Kindles shortly after midnight UK time so I’ve always supposed that Aussies (if they buy from Amazon’s AU site) get their books well before me with the USA coming in later. I have wondered if the release in the USA is by time zone with Hawaii trailing in after everyone else.

  13. PG and Mrs. PG, this sounds like a nightmare, I hope it’s getting resolved quickly. Balkan Echo looks a lot more final in the Look Inside, but I noticed that on the copyright page there are a few places that look like placeholders (“Book Title”, “Name of Company”, and an ISBN with mostly zeros). I hope Amazon hasn’t traded one problem file for another, but I thought you might want to be aware of it. Best wishes on your continued wrestling with the release, may you sell lots and lots of copies once the kinks are ironed out.

  14. If you are starting from a docx, I find it helpful to run Files->Info->Check for issues->Inspect Document and let Word scrub the doc for you. I don’t know if it would have avoided your issue, but I’ve noticed that conversions run more smoothly if Word takes down its scaffolding for you.

    • For someone like me who is still living in 2007 this was initially puzzling. A little investigation showed that the procedure for me is Word Button->Prepare->Inspect Document->Inspect though I’m not really sure what it is then offering to remove.

      • Word docx files are a complex collection of zipped up XML files. Msft puts a lot of stuff about your document in them, much of which is not used for rendering the document, only for recording and controlling the editing process.

        When you parse a docx, which I do for some crude utilities I have written for myself, you can run into some rather odd information, especially on changes to the format. I find this difficult to process correctly every time. Msft’s Word devos know much more about their files than I do. I doubt that I am alone in this.

        When your docx is converted to other file types, like mobi or azw3, the conversion program has to parse out the information it needs. I find using the Word scrubbing tool cuts down on the unexpected parsing. I suspect the Amazon and other conversion tools are more reliable with a scrubbed doc.

        Word’s scrubbing tool is kind of a kludge, IMHO, but reality is what it is. Word HAS gotten much more reliable in late years.

  15. K. Victoria Chase

    Congrats on the book launch!

    You could probably sell that status update macro. You know we authors are addicted to the refresh button. 😉

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