Self-Publishing Jokes


1. How do you get an indie author to wash your dishes every day for a month?

Make a deal to buy his book at the end of the month.

Please, please, please.

I’m begging you.

Please buy my book.

2. Why did the self-published author cross the street?

To tell anyone and everyone about his book.

Extra, extra.

Read all about it.

I wrote a book.

3. What’s black, white, and slightly red?

Thousands of self-published books.

Does that book really have…

a typo in the title?

4. Why does an indie author use his phone a dozen times during dinner?

To check his stats.

What? No sales in the last 45 minutes?

Not even a view on my blog?

How can that be?

5. What causes a depressed indie author to jump up to cloud nine?

A great review.

I loved this book so much…

I wish I could marry it and

bear its children.

6. What sends an enthusiastic indie author into a state of depression?

A bad review.

This book would have been better if…

the author had taped pages from

a dictionary to a wall and thrown

darts at it to choose the words.

7. What kind of review does a self-published author feel is unfair?

One with fewer than three stars.

“** 2 stars. Would have been great, but…”

But, but, but…

Why does there always have to be a BUT?

That BUT stinks!

8. What takes months of hard work to build, yet can be destroyed by uttering a few stupid words at the wrong time?

An indie author’s reputation.

You obviously don’t know how to read a book!

9. Why do authors self-publish?

Because they can.

I think I can, I think I can.

See. I just did.

10. You might be an indie author if… you’re more likely to know your book’s current sales rank than the date of your anniversary.

Sorry, honey. You know I’ve been busy.

But look how many books I just sold!

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

Seriously, though…

If you’re familiar with my blog, you know I’m an avid supporter of self-publishing.

Indie publishing is an art, but it’s also a business. Readers expect quality books for the money and time they invest in them.

Let us remember that there are, in fact, many excellent self-published books out there.

If we can’t laugh at ourselves, what gives us the right to laugh at anyone else?

So I offer this little dose of self-publishing humor, perhaps mixed with a bit of realism, so we might laugh at a few jokes, remember to smile when we get frustrated, and strive to improve while enjoying the experience.

Chris McMullen

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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Sell More Books

Fourth Quarter Pic

How to Sell Books

Perception marketing: A great book doesn’t just appeal to the target audience, but attracts the target audience.

  • A fantastic cover that the target audience loves. “Wow, look at that!” “That looks like a great read.”
  • A title that creates interest, is easy to remember, and indicates what to expect. Three words or less for fiction, but informative and including keywords for nonfiction.
  • A killer blurb that creates interest, flows well, has the right vocabulary and writing style for the target audience, and clearly shows what to expect, but doesn’t give away too much. Concise for fiction, separated into bullet points for nonfiction.
  • A look inside that looks professional, catches interest immediately and engages it throughout, and delivers on the expectations created in the blurb.

Delivering on the promise:

  • A great book that engages the reader’s interest throughout and exceeds the expectations created in the blurb and look inside.
  • A story that generates strong emotions, balances opposite emotions, and pleases the reader so much that the reader craves more. Nonfiction that provides excellent content and presents it at the right level for the target audience.
  • A book that goes beyond expectations so that it generates many word-of-mouth sales.

Word-of-mouth sales are critical toward building strong and lasting book sales.

Change Your Perception

You want to create a fantastic perception for your book. Start with the perception that you have when you are developing the concept, choosing the title, writing the book, editing, formatting, designing the cover, writing the blurb, perfecting the look inside, and marketing:

  • Don’t think: “I’ve seen books with worse covers sell,” or, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Think: “I want the target audience to drool when they see this cover.” Do: Spend time on your cover, tap into available resources, get feedback, get help if necessary.
  • Don’t think: “I’ll just get this book out there and see what people think.” Think: “I want to know that the target audience will love this book.” Do: Get feedback before you publish. Do you really want to risk selling just a few books after all your hard work? Isn’t worth the extra effort—whatever it takes—to ensure a positive, lasting success?
  • Don’t think: “I want everyone to see my book.” Think: “How do I find and interact with my target audience?” Do: Learn effective marketing techniques.
  • Don’t think: “I need to scream loudest to get my book discovered.” Think: “How can I get my target audience to discover my book?” Do: Build a content-rich website with content that will interest your target audience, and write more quality books.
  • Don’t think: “I don’t know if it’s worth investing in editing, formatting, or cover design because I might not even sell 100 books.” Think: “I want to write a book that people will love, which has a significant audience (it’s okay if it’s a niche audience; in fact, that may be a plus), which will sell enough to make an initial investment worthwhile.” Do: Your research on top-selling, self-published books similar to yours. Study covers, blurbs, titles, look insides, copyright pages, title pages, first pages, author pages, blogs, and marketing tactics.
  • Don’t think: “That reviewer is personally attacking me.” Think: “My book evoked a strong opinion,” and, “Is there anything useful I can take from this review?” Do: Focus on writing more books and marketing effectively. New sales will help to generate more reviews. Quality content will help achieve valuable word-of-mouth sales, which will help to offset any negative reviews.
  • Don’t think: “Let me try to summarize my book.” Think: “My blurb needs to generate interest, engage the reader, and make the reader curious.” Do: Study effective blurbs of similar books, especially top-selling self-published books.
  • Don’t think: “___ doesn’t matter as much as ___.” (Fill in the blanks as you please.) Think: “Let me excel at my strengths, shore up my weaknesses, and achieve good balance,” and, “Let me get it all right, not just part of the book.” Do: Assess your strengths and weaknesses, and strive to improve.
  • Don’t think: “This will do.” Think: “I want my book to be fantastic.” Do: Your best to make that happen.

Visualize an amazing book from cover to cover, and the packaging and marketing, too. Work hard to make your vision a reality.

Don’t settle. Put in the time, effort, and research to achieve a wow-factor.

Chris McMullen

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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Golf Joke (featuring King Arthur, Merlin, and Tiger Woods)

Golf Hole

King Arthur is bored, so Merlin brings him to the 21st century for a round of golf.

They come to a long par 5. It’s a dogleg left, wrapping around the driving range.

Merlin tees off first. He takes the safe route, hitting his ball right down the fairway.

Hoping to take a shortcut and reach the green in two, King Arthur aims his drive across the corner of the driving range.

Unfortunately, the shot comes up short and his golf ball winds up inside the driving range.

Merlin says, “Come on, Arthur, just hit a safe shot down the middle.”

“No way,” replies King Arthur. “If Tiger Woods can cut this corner, so can I.”

So King Arthur gives it another try. Again, his shot comes up short, ending up in the driving range.

Merlin repeats his advice to just play it safe.

But King Arthur insists that he can cut the corner just like Tiger Woods.

Once again, King Arthur’s drive winds up in the driving range.

Merlin hands King Arthur a suit of armor. He tells King Arthur to go retrieve his golf balls.

A golfer on an adjacent hole happens to pass by Merlin in search of his own golf ball, when he sees a knight in shining armor wandering through the driving range.

Upon seeing this ridiculous image of a knight walking through the driving range, the golfer asks Merlin, “Who does that guy think he is? King Arthur?”

Merlin promptly replies, “Nope. He thinks he’s Tiger Woods.”

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

Notes: This is a little twist on a classic golf joke involving Jack Nicklaus, Jesus Christ, and Moses. I got the inspiration when I lost a ball in the driving range and my dad suggested that I could retrieve my ball if only I had a suit of armor handy.

What Is the Most Important Part of a Story?

Book Play Pic

That Depends

For someone who will definitely be reading the story, the most important part is likely to be something like:

  • the storyline
  • the characterization
  • the writing style
  • the way the words flow

But unless you’re an established author who already has a large fan base, you don’t have many people who will definitely be reading your story.

The problem is that nobody can read your story until the story is found.

And people who discover your story judge the story by many other factors besides the story itself.

Therefore, the most important part of the story could actually be something like:

  • a cover that attracts the target audience and visually indicates the genre
  • a very well-written blurb that captures the interest of the target audience
  • a professional-looking Look Inside and a really great beginning
  • an assortment of balanced, genuine reviews

It almost seems like today’s marketplace is saying that the story itself doesn’t matter at all.

But that’s not true:

  • A fantastic cover, amazing blurb, and stellar Look Inside will backfire if the story isn’t good. So the story will be critical.
  • Word-of-mouth recommendations are invaluable. It’s hard to find a good book. it’s not easy to gauge how good a book will be from the product page. But when someone you trust recommends a book, suddenly a good book is easy to find. But it takes more than just a “good” book to really thrive on recommendations.

Yet, an incredible story with a so-so cover, so-so blurb, and so-so Look Inside has major hurdles to overcome:

  • It doesn’t matter how wonderful the story is if people don’t discover it and decide to read it.
  • Sales rank counts against a book with a great story when it takes a long time for people to discover the book and start spreading the word. For a book with a history of slow sales, the growth to a stronger sales rank is harder to achieve than to maintain strong sales out of the box.

Therefore, the most important part of a story may very well be marketing.

Effective marketing (which is often free or very low-cost) can help a book get discovered, and can help to generate word-of-mouth referrals.

Marketing isn’t the answer for a lousy story. But effective marketing can help a great story get off to a good start and grow.

It’s kind of unfair, perhaps, but it is what it is:

  • Those few sentences you write in the blurb are in some ways more important than a hundred thousand words carefully strung together to craft a story.
  • The thumbnail image of the cover can impact sales more than the story itself.
  • Today’s marketplace in many ways favors traits that many gifted writers lack:
    • Social interactions to help spread the news about your book.
    • Publicity skills to help build a positive image as an author.
    • Marketing skills to build your book and author brands.
    • Business orientation (and more social skills) to put together and benefit from a focus group.
    • Financial investment to prevent editing and formatting from deterring sales.

There are some exceptionally gifted authors who are highly introverted, passionate but not business-minded, great at writing novels but not at writing blurbs, and focused on the story but not the cover, who could really write books very much worth reading.

The current market makes it tough for their books to get discovered and rise to the top. Even if you hire someone to help with marketing, much of the most effective marketing involves your personal interactions.

The current market rewards a book with a pretty good story that has a fantastic cover, killer blurb, and stellar Look Inside. The bestselling books should all have killer stories, right? The market should be structured in such a way as to promote the best stories.

There are some incredible stories at the top. But there are also many okay stories where the books thrive in other ways (including the author’s reputation or the publisher’s name). And there are some gems of stories hiding in the haystack.

(One way that writing multiple similar books helps is by generating your own fan base and reputation. Provided that your books get discovered and sell.)

Customer reviews could help with this, and many do, but in reality there is nothing in place to prevent a review from making a book seem much worse than it actually is. And there is nothing in place to guarantee that a favorable review is accurate.

Again, the story does matter. If it’s not good, it will ultimately become a sales deterrent. An exceptional story can generate valuable word-of-mouth sales… once it finally gets discovered.

But there is much more to success than crafting an excellent story.

Between the story, cover, blurb, Look Inside, editing, formatting, and marketing, if you could have one of these be good and all the rest outstanding, your best option might be to have the story itself to be the one that is merely good. That’s insane, isn’t it?

It’s easy to criticize the system, but not so easy to suggest an efficient, economical solution. The real problem is that you can’t properly judge the story without first reading it, so we’re trying to buy books based on other criteria.

Any gatekeeping system seems to introduce its own set of problems, and so doesn’t seem to be a practical solution. The current system works on free enterprise, and the worst tend to drop to the bottom (i.e. the lousiest books aren’t getting in the way of the best books, except for those rare excellent books that just aren’t getting discovered at all).

It’s not really about what it should be. We’re not in charge to make such decisions. (And whatever we would do might be worse. It’s easy to criticize, not as easy to solve the problem.)

It’s about understanding how the system works and making the most effective use of this knowledge.

Chris McMullen

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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Self-Publishing Is Like Golf


Self-Publishing Is Like Golf

Front Nine:

  1. Both seem easy until you try them. You think you’re gonna make a hole-in-one the first time out on the golf course. You think you’re going to sell 100,000 books your first year. Whoa! Where’s that easy button when you need it? Reality check in aisle three.
  2. One little mistake and you can look pretty silly. Great big swing… ball goes almost nowhere. Oops! Did I just do that? No, it was a practice swing. Honest! Misspelled the title. Three whole pages in italics. Paragraph gone missing. Page numbers out of order. Feel like crawling under a rock now?
  3. The easiest things can be the most frustrating. Miss a two-foot putt? Whiff the ball? Try not to break your club. Misspell your name? Accidentally upload the wrong file? Don’t smack your forehead too hard.
  4. There is always a silver lining. You can have 17 miserable holes, but if you get one birdie, it makes your day, it brings you back to the course. Even if you hit 100 miserable shots, you’re bound to have one good one, so that even your worst rounds leave something positive to provide encouragement. Whether your self-publishing venture seems like a success or failure, there must be something good you can take out of it. If nothing else, you’re a published author. You can see your book in print. Your first book is a learning experience. Kind of like being thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool. Infested with crocodiles. Hungry crocodiles.
  5. Mulligans are tempting. It’s easy to shank your teeshot on the first hole, and tempting to start over by taking a mulligan. It’s hard to nail that first book, too. Don’t worry too much. Pen names can help with that.
  6. You’re expected to observe proper etiquette. Don’t talk while your opponent is swinging. Don’t walk in your opponent’s line. Don’t spam your friends with repeated advertisements for your book. Don’t pester your ex-girlfriends for reviews.
  7. You can spend a ton of money that won’t necessarily help. Seven bucks for one ball that might not last more than one shot. A few hundred bucks on one club. Thousands on equipment. Hundreds more to dress like a golfer. The shot might look ugly, but you’ll look great on the course. You can spend hundreds on a cover, hundreds on editing, thousands on marketing. But if the content reads like a slice in the water hazard, it could be a book that looks great, yet doesn’t sell. Except to your mom.
  8. There is a ton to learn. It takes time and patience. Lessons can help, if the instructor knows what he’s doing. Even if you receive great advice, it’s easy and common to go against it. Because you’re the one newbie who isn’t going to make any mistakes, right?
  9. Out of bounds hurts. In golf, it costs you a stroke and distance (and a seven-dollar ball). There are boundaries in self-publishing, too. Like not commenting on all your reviews, telling your fans whether you wear boxers or briefs (maybe this is one time when telling is better than showing!), promoting your book on your competition’s blog, or reviewing your own book. You will get caught and the penalties will be severe. We’re talking tar and feathers.

Back Nine:

  1. You must clean up your mess. When you take a divot that goes further than the ball, you must repair the real estate. When it takes five shots to get out of the bunker, as an added bonus, you get to rake your mess. When you discover typos in your book, whether it’s selling or not, you fix them. It’s just the proper thing to do. Like covering a puddle with your new leather jacket so a woman you don’t know can walk across the street without getting her feet soaked.
  2. All golfers, golf-courses, books, and authors are not created equal. Some courses are much easier than others. Some golfers are much better than others. Some books have wider appeal than others. Some authors have more talent or experience than others. But it can still be fun for everyone to play the game. And when it isn’t fun, you get to exercise your vocabulary of four-letter words. All too often.
  3. There are rules to be followed. On the course, a marshal looks for signs of slow play, un-raked sand traps, and high heels on the greens. A rulebook dictates how to determine relief and penalties. Competitors attest your score. Retailers decide what can or can’t be published. Amazon determines what is or isn’t acceptable behavior. Yes, the rules do apply to you.
  4. Luck is involved. The ball doesn’t always bounce the way you’d expect. Sometimes it skips across the pond. Other times it hits a sprinkler in the middle of the fairway and rolls out of bounds. A great book can get a lousy review right off the bat. Or the right person can fall in love with your book and tell hundreds of people about it. Or your boss can discover you’ve been moonlighting as an author.
  5. Never fear, help is near. You can have a caddie carry your bag, help you choose the right club, walk off the yardage, tell you which way the putt breaks. Experienced authors can help you with formatting, publishing tips, marketing advice, which finger to pick your nose with.
  6. Practice can help. Hit a bucket of range balls. Spend time on the putting green. Write, write, and write some more. Read, read, and read more, too. And when nothing seems to help, maybe try some of that advice you’ve been ignoring. You know, the advice that requires doing hard work. But not that advice promising amazing results with super shortcuts. That’s the kind of advice where you pay hundreds of dollars for someone to toss you into a dumpster. And then you try it again because it didn’t work out the first time.
  7. Golf and self-publishing are both spectator sports. There is a gallery in golf to watch the pros, and millions of viewers on t.v. to support the sport. Authors have readers. A pro has a fan base in the crowd to support him. Authors have small followings, too. Whoa, dude! You’re, like, famous now!
  8. Starting out, you have a ton of anxiety for no good reason. On the first tee, you’re highly visible. People on the putting green, at the driving range, in the clubhouse, pulling up in the parking lot, or walking by can see your shot. Why do you have all those butterflies? It’s not like your name is Jack Nicklaus. You’re not expected to drive the ball 350 yards down the middle of the fairway. All those butterflies show up when you press that publish button, too. You don’t even have a gallery yet.
  9. Natural talent and years of hard work can pay off big time. You could become a scratch golfer. You could finally become a bestseller. Then, of course, you’ll meet that perfect someone and drift off into the sunset.

Nineteenth Hole:

  • Whether you finish a round of golf or a book, you deserve a little time to celebrate. If you make a hole-in-one or become a bestseller, the drinks are on you. Whether you can afford it or not.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen


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Formatting the Look Inside

Look Inside

Amazon’s Look Inside

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offers previews for how your e-book may look on the Kindle, Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, Paperwhite, iPad, iPhone… but not the Look Inside.

Yet prospective customers checking out your book on Amazon see your book’s Look Inside before making the purchase.

The Look Inside can significantly impact sales.

At the same time, Kindle authors tend to experience more formatting issues with the Look Inside than on the Kindle, Kindle Fire, and most other devices.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for a book to look great on a Kindle device, but format incorrectly in the Look Inside.

This problem plagues indie authors self-publishing their books on Kindle. Once they finally master Kindle formatting, the Look Inside is the last big hurdle.

In this article, we’ll explore how to format for the Look Inside. One example we’ll examine in detail is how to create non-indented paragraphs that don’t indent in the Look Inside.

Why Doesn’t the Look Inside Format Right?

Well, the technical answer involves a discussion about what is “right.” The Look inside is ultimately generated by a program following instructions. In the end, the Look Inside is “right.”

It often seems like the formatting is wrong when the author compares the original Word file with the Look Inside.

Some of the formatting that may look right in Word can get lost in translation on the way to the Look Inside.

The Look Inside sees a set of HTML instructions generated from the Word file.

Note: Even though you may submit a Word document to KDP, what the device reads is a set of HTML instructions that tell it what to display—ultimately, your submitted file is converted into a mobi file, which essentially contains a set of HTML instructions based on the Word file that you submit.

Often, what the Look Inside displays from reading those instructions differs from what Word displays on the screen.

What a Kindle, Kindle Fire, iPhone, iPad, Kindle for PC, and the Look Inside display on the screen can vary from the same set of HTML instructions generated from a Word file.

The Look Inside interprets the HTML more strictly, which is why the formatting is hardest to get right for the Look Inside.

From Word to Kindle

Kindle doesn’t see the Word document the way you do. It sees a set of HTML instructions.

The beginning of the HTML defines a set of styles used in your Word file. For example, there is a style for heading, subheading, titles, and a Normal style for the paragraphs of your body text.

Kindle (or iPad, or whatever device is being used) displays the different parts of your book according to these different styles.

If you highlight all or part of a paragraph and change the formatting of that text in Word, this carries over into the HTML.

Then the HTML says something to the effect, “Use the normal style, but change the indent size and add italics.”

This is where the Look Inside problems can begin. The Look Inside may format according to the style, and disregard some of those exceptions created by highlighting selected paragraphs. Other issues can arise from unclosed HTML tags.

The HTML generated from a Word file can get pretty messy, with all sorts of style exceptions built into the HTML, with <span> tags dispersed throughout, and with font settings redefined within the paragraph blocks. (You don’t want the file to define font size or style within the paragraph blocks. Not only can this cause formatting problems, but the device user expects to have control over these settings.)

Microsoft Word’s Styles

Much of the problem can be resolved by using Microsoft Word’s built-in style functions religiously. Modify the heading, subheading, title, and Normal styles to suit your needs.

Then make a new style that’s essentially a copy of the Normal style for paragraphs that need to be non-indented. I’m going to call this the NoIndent style just to give it a name.

When you’re modifying the styles, click on the Format button and adjust the Paragraph settings, too. Set the First Line indent for the Normal Style. It might be something like 0.2″ (since the common 0.5″ would be really large on a device with a small screen, especially an iPhone or the basic Kindle). Don’t use the tab key at all (and don’t use the spacebar to create indents). For the NoIndent style, set First Line to 0.01″.


  • I specifically have Microsoft Word 2010 for Windows in mind. (Other versions may function similarly, though they can lead to important differences.)
  • If you set First Line to “none” or zero, it won’t work. Use 0.01″. (If you try to make it too small, it won’t take.)
  • Go to Special in the paragraph menu to find First Line, then set the By value next to it.
  • You see all the styles at the top of the screen, on the right side of the toolbar, in the home tab.
  • Right-click a style to modify it. When modifying the style, click the Format button to find the font and paragraph menus.
  • You can even build pagebreaks into the styles. Click Format, select Paragraph, then click the Line and Page Breaks tab. There is an option to pagebreak before. If you have pagebreaks that aren’t respected, try this (but realize that a Look Inside displayed as a single, scrolling page isn’t going to implement this).
  • To create a new style (for NoIndent, for example), click on the funny icon in the bottom-right corner of the styles menu on the home tab (the little icon is below the A’s where it says “Change Styles”). This will pull up a new window on the right side of the screen. Find the three buttons at the bottom of this window. Click the left button.

Apply the styles to sections of your document one by one. You can highlight a section and click the style, or you can place your cursor in a paragraph and click a paragraph style from the menu.

You want every block of text in your file to be associated with a particular style.

Except when you have to have different styles in the same paragraph (e.g. you wish to italicize, boldface, or underline specific text, or create subscripts or superscripts), you want the style to dictate the formatting. Go into the Font and Paragraph menus when modifying each style to create the formatting you want there. Don’t use the font and paragraph tools on the menu at the top of the screen to make these adjustments (except to adjust specific text, with something like italics, within the paragraph).

For example, set the linespacing in the paragraph menu by adjusting the style itself and applying the style to the text. Don’t do it by highlighting text and setting the linespacing.

Be sure to check the font menu when modifying each style (from the Format button). If you go into Advanced, you may find that Word’s defaults have adjusted the kerning for selected styles (you may or may not agree with these settings, so you should check them out). The font color should be automatic except when you need to apply a specific color to selected text.

You want to have a larger font size for headings and subheadings than the normal text, but you want to achieve this by setting the font size within each style. If you select text and apply a font size or style to the selected text, this causes problems when an e-reader interprets the HTML instructions for your file.

Check the “Automatically Update” box when modifying each style if you want changes to that style to be applied to text that has already been set to that style.

Word’s styles can get mixed up. What you want to do is start with a document as clean as possible (in the worst-case scenario, this can be achieved by cutting and pasting your document into Notepad and then back into Word). Then apply one style to every section to avoid any mix-ups.

Don’t select text and set specific font styles (e.g. Georgia). Don’t select whole paragraphs and set linespacing, indents, or other paragraph options. Instead, apply a specific style to those paragraphs. Make the paragraph adjustments in the style (for every paragraph of that style in your document), and apply the style to the paragraphs rather than modifying the paragraphs through the toolbar at the top of the screen (except by clicking the styles, like Title or Normal, found on that toolbar).

How to Create Non-Indented Paragraphs

Let’s work through a concrete example that plagues the Look Insides of many Kindle e-books.

Most traditionally published books don’t indent the first paragraph of each chapter. Popular novels do indent paragraphs, but not usually the first paragraph of the chapter. Check out several popular traditionally published print books. If you understand what I mean by “not indenting the first paragraph of the chapter” (see the two pictures below) you should observe that this is very common among those books.

Examine the two examples that follow. The first example has all of the paragraphs indented. The second example doesn’t indent the first paragraph of the chapter. The second example is very common among traditionally published books. However, it can be a challenge to implement this on the Look Inside. (Many traditionally published books put the first few words in CAPS in e-books, instead of using drop caps, as drop caps can format improperly on some devices. Tip: If you write fiction where this is common, try putting the first few words of your blurb in CAPS, too. I’ve seen this done effectively in the blurbs of some popular traditionally published books.)

IndentedNot Indented

Even if the first paragraph appears non-indented on the Kindle device, it may still appear indented on the Look Inside. But there are ways to get this right.

Let me illustrate the wrong ways first. Definitely, don’t use the tab key to indent some paragraphs, thinking this will correctly distinguish between which paragraphs are or aren’t indented. This might seem intuitive, but it doesn’t work (there will be inconsistencies). Similarly, don’t use the spacebar to create indents; it doesn’t work either.

Here is another wrong way. Better, but still wrong. If you highlight the first paragraph, click on the funny little icon in the bottom-right corner of the paragraph group on the home tab, change Special to First Line, and set By to 0.01″, it might not work. It will work on the screen and may work on most devices, but may not work on the Look Inside.

Here’s the problem. You can see the problem firsthand by looking at the HTML. You don’t need to know anything about HTML to peek at it and learn what’s going on. If you want to see Word’s HTML, Save As a filtered webpage (you want the one called Webpage, Filtered). Click Yes to the question that pops up. Find this new file on your computer (e.g. it might be in My Documents; it will be wherever you just saved it to). Right-click this HTML file and Open With Notepad.

When I adjusted the first paragraph’s indent the wrong way, as I outlined two paragraphs ago, the paragraph tag for the first paragraph looks like this:

<p class=MsoNormal style=’text-indent:.7pt’>

Compare this with the second paragraph:

<p class=MsoNormal>

You don’t have to know HTML to see the difference. Each paragraph sets the style to Normal. The first paragraph says to indent 7 points (0.01 inches).

The style=’text-indent:7pt’ setting will tell some devices to ignore the Normal style and indent the first paragraph 7 points (very little).

But the Look Inside may not accept this override. The Look Inside sees that you’re using the Normal style, which was previously defined to indent 0.2″. There are two different sets of instructions.

The better way is to provide a single set of instructions. That leaves less to interpretation.

This time, instead of highlighting the first paragraph and changing First Line from the home tab, I’m going to define a NoIndent style. I’ll do this by creating a new style based on the Normal style, and give it the name NoIndent (the last bullet in the section above called Microsoft Word’s Styles explains how). Then I’ll modify the NoIndent style (again, look for the bullets in the previous section for instructions). While modifying the NoIndent style, click Format, choose Paragraph, and set First Line there.

Now I simply place my cursor anywhere in the first paragraph and click the NoIndent style from the home tab. Prest-o, Change-o!

This time, the paragraph tag for the first paragraph looks like this:

<p class=MsoNoIndent>

Now this paragraph only has one set of instructions. When Amazon’s Look Inside reads the Kindle e-book, the class=MsoNoIndent statement will tell it to indent the paragraph according to the previously defined NoIndent style, which says to indent just 0.01 inches.

You can improve on this. Find the style definition for the NoIndent style in the beginning of the HTML file. Change 7pt or 0.01in (whichever it says) to 0 (that’s the number zero, not the letter O). This doesn’t work in Word, but it does work in the HTML file.


  • Don’t open the HTML file in Word. Use Notepad to examine and modify the HTML.
  • If you have images in your file, you want to create a compressed zipped folder as explained in Amazon’s free guide, Building Your Book for Kindle.
  • Also look for span tags that include font definitions. If you remove these, be sure to remove the closing tags, too, which look like </span>. The Find tool can help you locate these.
  • Search for text-indent with the Find tool to see if any paragraphs are indenting through this setting instead of through a style definition.
  • Seemingly endless italics, boldface, or underline that’s not intended to be there may be caused by unclosed <i>, <b>, or <u> tags. For example, <i>italics</i> makes the word “italics” appear italicized. If the closing tag, </i> is missing (or typed incorrectly), the italics will keep going and going and going…
  • Other things you might look for are images. For example, instead of specifying the width and height in pixels, for large pictures that you’d like to fill the screen, you might remove the current width and height statements and replace them with width=”100%” (don’t set both the width and height this way; just set the width; however, if you have really skinny pictures, i.e. skinnier than the Kindle Fire, you might prefer to set the height instead of the width).

Chris McMullen

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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One Space or Two After a Period?

One Space or Two

One or Two Spaces?

It turns out that, in today’s world, the correct answer is almost always one:

Use just one space after a period.

Later in this article, I will show you how that extra little space can make a big difference in Kindle formatting.

If you want to learn why one space is better than two, why most educated people believe that “two” is the correct answer, when it’s really “one,” and how this misunderstanding has evolved, check out a really cool article called “Space Invaders” by Farhad Manjoo in Slate Magazine:

If you self-publish, this becomes a practical matter:

  • Examine traditionally published books carefully. You’ll see that one space after a period is almost universal.
  • Two spaces after a period can exaggerate gaps in justified text. This is important for both print books and e-books.
  • On Kindle e-books, that extra space can create a noticeable formatting problem (as I’ll demonstrate in the last picture of this article).

Study the following picture. The first paragraph uses two spaces after each period, while the second paragraph uses just one. In both cases, you can see large gaps in the justified text. But in the second paragraph, on any given line, the gaps are consistent across the line. In the first paragraph, there are very large gaps after the periods.

One Space Example

Tip: Activate Word’s hyphenation tool to help reduce the gaps in justified text.

  • In Word 2003, find this in Tools > Language > Hyphenation. In Word 2010, it’s under Page Layout > Hyphenation.
  • Go to File > Options (look below Help) > Advanced > Layout Options (it’s at the bottom, and doesn’t seem like something you can click, but you can click it) and check the box to hyphenate like WordPerfect in Word 2010.
  • Increase the hyphenation zone to avoid excessive hyphenation. Something like 0.4 may work well.
  • Manually hyphen by inserting a hyphen in a natural syllable break (consult a dictionary).
  • Manually override an automatic hyphen by placing your cursor at the beginning of the word and pressing Shift + Enter.
  • Don’t do any manual hyphenation until the book is virtually ready to publish. If you do any revisions to your book, you must inspect carefully for the impact those revisions may have on manual hyphenation adjustments (e.g. a small revision in a paragraph could cause a manually inserted hyphen to no longer appear at the end of a line).
  • Don’t do any manual hyphenation in your e-book. (But, of course, you should have hyphens in compound words that use hyphens, like self-published.)

If you use two spaces after a period in a Kindle e-book, this becomes noticeable whenever a period happens to fall at the end of a line. Look closely where the red arrows point in the picture below. The top paragraph uses two spaces, while the bottom paragraph uses just one, after a period. The bottom paragraph has better formatting.

Kindle Test Two Spaces Show

If you already have two spaces after each period, it’s easy to fix this mistake. Simply use the replace tool. Enter two consecutive spaces in the find field and a single space in the replace field.

Chris McMullen

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


Click here to jump to the comments section:

Cover Reveal

Boxed Set of SP Books 3d with reflection

As you know, I have a few books on self-publishing. The first was originally published in 2009. I designed the original covers myself, and felt they worked for nonfiction: The main point was that the titles were easy to read in the thumbnails.

The big problem for me was that my covers didn’t have a unified look. So I hired Melissa Stevens ( to make them more unified and to add an image that might help them pop. We settled on a geometric approach, arranging the covers of my books in a cube, spheres, and a pyramid.

She also designed a matching header (you can see it now at WordPress and Facebook), shaped like a cylinder.

The cover that impressed me most was the boxed set (coming soon) that I used for this cover reveal above. I like this perspective, which shows off the front cover while still allowing for ample detail on the spines.

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.



Educating Kindle Customers



Most Kindle owners don’t fully understand what their Kindle devices can or can’t do.

Some customers leave negative reviews, where if they had simply known how to best utilize their devices, this negative experience might have been avoided. (There are also Kindle e-books that could be formatted better. In this post, I’m focusing on the former, not the latter.)

Some customers have implausible expectations for what a book might do. If they had reasonable expectations, they might be more easily satisfied with their purchases.

Authors have three choices:

  • Blame Amazon. Customer buying and reading experiences with Kindle will remain unchanged.
  • Ignore it. Nothing improves this way, either.
  • Help educate Kindle owners. In your marketing and even in your books, you have the opportunity to improve prospects for customer satisfaction.

You don’t need to setup a class to help educate Kindle owners:

  • Mention relevant notes in your Kindle e-books or even in the description. For example, if you have pictures that may look better zoomed in, you could explain that many e-readers (don’t assume the customer is using a Kindle) have a zoom option, then as an example you might mention how to zoom in on the Kindle Fire.
  • Include a short Kindle tutorial on your website. It needn’t be comprehensive; it could simply highlight a few important points that many Kindle customers aren’t familiar with. Focus on points that relate specifically to your books.
  • If a point may be particularly important for Kindle customers who buy your book, when you mention your book, you could include a short tip that may help Kindle owners get the most out of your book. Then you’re not just advertising your book, you’re also providing free help.
  • Have you read a book or tutorial that shows you how to make the most of your Kindle Fire? Review the book on your blog. Post a link to the book or tutorial on your sidebar.


Here are a few examples of things that some Kindle customers don’t know:

  • You can download a free app, Kindle for PC, to read any Kindle e-book, even if you don’t own a Kindle device. Suppose you publish a book full of colorful images. You might mention in the description that it’s best read on a device that supports color, then suggest Kindle for PC (with brief instructions, or where to find them, for how to download this free app and read a book with it) for those with b&w devices.
  • Did you know that you can double-tap on an image in the Kindle Fire to enlarge it? Then you need to click on the X to resume reading.
  • It’s possible to enable automatic book updates. From Amazon’s homepage, when logged in, place your cursor over Hello, Your Name, Your Account near the top right. Click Manage Your Content and Devices. Find Automatic Book Update on the left. Note: This doesn’t provide an update whenever the publisher (who may be the author) uploads a revised file. The publisher must first contact KDP, then KDP must verify that improvements were made, and KDP must decide it’s worth notifying customers. If you update your book and succeed in persuading KDP to notify customers of the update, you might want to let your fans know about this and how to get the update.
  • Want to clear the furthest page read? Visit your Kindle Library (similar to setting automatic book updates, explained in the previous step—simply pick this option from the list instead). Use the Actions button at the right.
  • Try not to laugh, but some customers actually don’t know that you can return a Kindle e-book in 7 days if you’re unhappy with the experience. Authors see returns (sometimes, too many) in their KDP sales reports, and therefore assume that all customers know how to return e-books. Yet many don’t realize that this is possible. Is this something you wish to advertise? Good question! On the one hand, if you already have too many returns, you may feel reluctant to encourage more of them. On the other hand, think of those customers who review books based on the first few pages. A percentage of those reviews are from customers who didn’t realize that they could have returned the book (while many also are from customers who already did return the book, or, worse, didn’t even buy it). Note that there appears to be some threshold, where if you return “too many” e-books you may lose this returnability option.
  • I was reading a Kindle e-book once where all of a sudden every other page was blank. At first I wondered how anyone could publish a novel with intermittent blank pages. Then I deduced that it wasn’t actually formatted that way. I powered my Kindle off, then when it restarted, the book didn’t have blank pages anymore. It surely wasn’t the publisher’s fault, and the problem turned out to be easy to fix at my end.

Authors, Too

It’s not just readers who may benefit from some Kindle education. Many authors can use this, too.

Keep in mind that some authors don’t react well to unsolicited advice given specifically to them. But most don’t mind learning something that was posted on social media (so long as they don’t suspect that their book was the motivation for the post). Yet there are some authors who openly ask for advice.

Try to learn what your options are before you publish. For example, did you know about the Kindle Comic Creator (which might be relevant for picture books other than just comics)?

About Me

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Ratings and Reviews at Amazon, Suddenly?

Ratings 2

New Ratings

I noticed a new ratings number at Amazon today: .

Look closely at the top of the page, below the author name. Between the gold stars and the 34 reviews tally, you see the number 56 (well, I suppose it’s subject to change before you read this post).

When I place my cursor over the 56, I see a gray rectangle near my cursor that says, “56 customer ratings.”

When I place my cursor over the 34 reviews link, it pulls up a chart showing all 56 customer ratings, averaging out to 4.3 stars.

Scroll down to the review section and the chart is different. That chart shows 34 reviews, averaging out to 4.4 stars.

I only see the non-review ratings on my paperback books. I don’t see any non-review ratings on my Kindle e-books at this time.

(By the way, if you click on the Kindle edition, you can see that the cover is changing. Melissa Stevens,, designed the new cover.)

Author Central is still only showing the reviews.

In case you’re wondering, I have a book that has one rating, but no reviews:

If you have print books for sale on Amazon, I know what you’ll be doing for the next few minutes. 😉

Now we can speculate. Is this here to stay? Is Amazon just testing it out? Will it be coming for Kindle e-books, too? Time will tell.

You may be wondering how customers gave those ratings. Keep in mind, these weren’t from the end of a Kindle e-book, as the ratings are only showing on paperbacks presently. I had to go to my account at Amazon and explore to figure out how to rate books without reviewing them. I won’t be rating any books though; I much prefer giving reviews.

Has it occurred to you that ratings are anonymous? I’m not ready to think about the ramifications of that…

~ Chris McMullen ~