School not Meeting Your Child’s Needs? Amazon May Have a Book for that…



As a teacher and a parent (and before that, a student), I’ve seen the different sides of the classroom experience.

Even with an exceptional teacher at a fantastic school with amazing students, it’s difficult for a class to fully meet the diverse needs and expectations of all the students and their parents.

A school curriculum is (ideally) designed to best meet the needs of the students.

But some students and some parents are looking for material that isn’t part of the curriculum (or isn’t covered as much as they would like).

There are a variety of reasons for this, such as:

  • advanced students looking for more of a challenge
  • parents who want to expose their kids to the way they had learned things
  • material that is no longer taught at many schools (like cursive handwriting)
  • parents who want to improve their teenagers’ chances of getting into a competitive university
  • students who are looking for books with clearer explanations and instructions
  • parents whose kids need extra help
  • students who need more practice
  • adults who wish to self-study or relearn old skills
  • students interested in special topics not taught in schools
  • people who wish to learn a specific skill
  • students who need to prepare for an exam
  • students hoping for a quicker way to learn a topic
  • lifelong learners

Obviously, no single book can meet all of these needs.

You can find some books that meet some of these needs in bookstores, but the market for these different types of books has grown far wider than what you can find in a bookstore.

Many students and parents have turned to Amazon, where teachers, tutors, instructors, and other educators are publishing a fast-growing variety of supplementary books.

Do you wish that your calculus course had included some more challenging problems? Or do you wish that there was a calculus book for people who want to understand what calculus is without having to take the class? Either way, or anywhere in between, you can probably find a book for that.

I published my first book back in 2008, and I have since published several math workbooks as part of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of workbooks. (I’ve also published a few science books.)

It started when I realized that my physics students weren’t as fluent in fundamental algebra and trigonometry skills as they needed to be. I thought to myself, maybe students could benefit from some extra practice.

It turns out that some students (and parents) were looking for such extra practice.

My books have developed considerably over the past decade, as I have come to interact with many parents and students who have used my workbooks. I continue to discover new ways that people would benefit from supplemental workbooks.

I’ve also discovered many other authors who are publishing supplemental material on Amazon. I don’t think of these authors as competitors. Rather, I realize that their books are very helpful. The growing number of supplemental educational books helps to attract students and parents to Amazon, and we all benefit from this.

Most people don’t buy a single educational book. They often buy several books. If not now, at some point in the future they will probably purchase more books. The customers-also-bought lists help customers find additional books, and later on Amazon will show customers recommendations based on previous purchases.

If you’re an educator who is thinking about becoming an author, if you want to write a textbook and have it adopted for classroom use, you probably want to work with a traditional academic publisher. However, if you’re thinking about preparing supplemental material, the road to publishing is simpler in some regards if you use Amazon KDP. At least, you should explore all of your options and decide what seems best for your book.

Either way, the goal is the same: Let’s help students learn. 🙂

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks

Amazon KDP Supports Indie Authors—and You Can, too, through New Year’s Resolutions #PoweredByIndie

Book Butterfly

Image from ShutterStock.


First, a little history: Amazon KDP celebrated Indie Publishing Month a few months back. At the time, they featured a special landing page for indie books, and encouraged authors to use the #PoweredByIndie hashtag with relevant social media posts.

With the new year, Amazon Kindle is again supporting indie authors. This time, it’s through New Year’s writing resolutions.

For one, Amazon created a landing page for indie authors’ writing resolutions and recommendations for indie books (it’s worth exploring, as the page includes many books and audio books geared toward writing and publishing):

Also check out the Amazon KDP Facebook page this month (or any month, as you can often find publishing tips there):

Finally—and this is where YOU come in—Amazon is encouraging indie authors to use the #PoweredByIndie hashtag on relevant social media posts, namely your own writing resolutions and indie book recommendations.

This is a great time to show your support for indie publishing.

  • What are your writing resolutions for the new year?
  • Which indie books would you recommend?

Help readers discover #GreatContent (another cool hashtag) among the world of indie books.

HAPPY 2017!

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

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

Click here to view my Goodreads author page.

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

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


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The Indie Advantage

Genre Pics


In many ways, self-published authors have an advantage.

The benefits of self-publishing are there for the taking. Not everyone is taking them. And just because they are there, it doesn’t mean they can be taken without much effort.

If you elect to self-publish, you need to understand the benefits—and the drawbacks—in order to take full advantage of what it has to offer.


The success of many traditionally published books hinges upon building great buzz and launching the book with a bang. This may entail going on book tours, sending out advance review copies, paid advertisements, stimulating pre-order sales, book signings, readings, or book launch parties, for example. The buzz-building promotional plan itself goes beyond just getting early sales momentum: It can affect bookstore and library orders (and placement within the stores), coverage in high-profile reviews, and prospects for high-profile appearances. Traditional publishers print thousands of copies up front, so success depends strongly on selling printed copies quickly.

Indie authors tend to publish print-on-demand paperbacks and e-books, neither of which requires predicting how many books will sell and investing a large sum of money to meet this expectation. Thus, success doesn’t necessarily hinge upon generating a great many sales early on.

Rather, an indie author’s best chance of success is to adopt a long-term publishing and marketing strategy.

It’s okay to implement some of the strategies that traditionally published authors employ to help build buzz. In fact, generating many early sales helps to give a book more exposure and accelerate word-of-mouth recommendations. It’s just not as critical to indie authors. Some of these strategies—especially, paid advertisements—tend to be more effective for indie authors after they’ve established a fan base and delivered several quality books to the market.


But don’t try to build it in one day. Think long-term.

When you finish your first book, focus on writing more quality books. Get started with marketing and test out various strategies to start building a following and gain valuable experience, but put most of your time into producing quality content. Directing traffic to a blog or Facebook author page and including a sign-up for an occasional email newsletter can pay great dividends years down the line. In the beginning, you just need some basic blog or author page to accumulate likes and follows, or a basic occasional email newsletter to build a valuable database. You also want to establish helpful connections with other authors, editors, designers, etc., and you want to learn more about formatting, publishing, and marketing.

As you publish more books, you want to grow your author platform and your marketing, and you want to draw increasing benefit from your growing fan base. By posting regular content to your blog that would draw in your target audience, what begins as a simple blog can slowly transform into a content-rich website. One of the most meaningful blog stats is the number of daily visitors coming from search engines. If your blog draws in search engine traffic and you can increase the frequency of this traffic over time, your content-rich website has much potential to become a highly effective marketing tool.

Once you’ve built a following—especially, one that consists largely of actual fans—you have great prospects for launching your future books with buzz. Things can start out very slow, but they can also accelerate greatly at some magical point. Your author platform can reach a point where you suddenly look more professional and more popular. Word-of-mouth sales can reach a point where you draw in regular sales just from this—and these kinds of sales can offset bad reviews and other issues that are beyond your control.

But the keys are to deliver quality content to the market and to present it with packaging that appeals to your target audience. You’re not going to get those valuable word-of-mouth sales without the former, and you’ll lose out on many sales to new customers who discover your books without the latter.


When self-publishing, authors have full control over their work. This gives the author great freedom—sometimes, perhaps, it’s too much freedom. The choices we make when we self-publish—and there are many: cover design, editing, style, looking things up when unsure, researching conventions, choosing to go against the conventions, and many more—can have a significant impact on sales.

Go ahead and do whatever you want. Doesn’t mean that you’ll find readers who want what you wanted to do.

You must balance freedom of design with how many readers you’d like to attract.

Many self-published authors feel, “I don’t mind sacrificing my readership to do what I prefer,” yet may change their mind when they see how few readers they have. (Could be zero!)

It pays to get feedback, especially an assortment of brutally honest opinions from the target audience. Most authors are reluctant to do this, and either wind up publishing material that could have better attracted and pleased an audience, or finally get this valuable feedback in customer reviews (sometimes, it would have been nice to learn this before publishing).

In the traditional route, you get feedback from agents and editors. At least you have an editor or agent who believes that your work has enough of a shot that it’s worth investing in. So, if nothing else, you have some direction. Then you may also get an editor (or team) to help with some of the decisions. The publisher may take the cover design decision off your hands completely.

One problem with self-publishing is that you can do it without any feedback of any kind. Don’t like to socialize? Well, no feedback seems appealing. But this is one of the biggest pitfalls. It’s a trap, as it lures you to do the wrong thing. Seek feedback. You need it more than you realize.

In the end, you can’t please everyone and you will need to make several publishing decisions. But make an informed decision; don’t go it alone.


There are scarcely any production delays when self-publishing. This is most advantageous when publishing time-sensitive material, such as a current event or nonfiction information that relates to a new trend.

If you’re not benefiting from one of these situations, there is no reason to rush.

But most self-published authors do rush.

This sacrifices quality, editing, formatting, feedback, and even content or storyline.

The author might feel that it’s good enough.

But the reader who paid money and invested many hours in the book may feel that it should have been better.

The same author wants a good review. The same author wants customers to recommend the book to others. So why rush the book to market when a little more work would give the book its best chances of success?

Don’t settle. Unless you only want to attract readers willing to settle. There are millions of books to choose from if you’re a reader willing to settle for less. Give readers a reason to choose yours.

Well, one way that delivering content quickly to the market can help all authors is by publishing several similar books, which often helps with marketing. But don’t rush it. Quality content makes the difference.


You don’t have to write for mass appeal to self-publish successfully.

You can cater to a smaller audience. You can try out something new.

You’re not restricted to what an agent or publisher believes will have enough appeal.

But that doesn’t mean that you’ll instantly attract a niche audience.

While you can write what you want, there won’t necessarily be a market for it. So it pays to get feedback.

If there is a niche audience for your book, this audience won’t necessarily find your book. So you need to learn how to market to a niche audience, or to build your own audience.

It is possible to write to and attract a niche audience. The trick is to learn how to do this effectively so that you can take advantage of this opportunity.


It’s only self-publishing if you insist on the word “self.”

It’s really indie publishing, meaning independent.

What’s the difference? The difference is that you can indie publish and get as much help as you’d like along the way.

There are tons of free resources (even here on my blog, but if you need more, just try Google).

You can ask questions when you want help or advice, and it’s amazing how often good tips and suggestions are given. Try asking on the KDP or CreateSpace community forums.

There is a helpful, interactive community of indie authors. For example, look no farther than WordPress. There are many helpful publishing and marketing posts here, where authors often reveal valuable tips, and most are happy to provide help in the comments section.

Sometimes you need actual help, rather than advice. If you shop around wisely, you can find an affordable yet quality proofreader or cover designer, for example.

Get advice and help as you need it.

You’re in charge. That gives you great freedom. You also have a responsibility to your readers (who can easily choose not to buy your book if it doesn’t meet their standards).


Another thing that you control is price, and by choosing the price you also control your own royalty.

Since traditional publishers’ prices aren’t coming down noticeably, you have the opportunity to give readers an affordable alternative—a reason to save money and take a chance on an unknown, self-published author instead of going with a popular, traditionally published author.

But you don’t need to dive for the bottom, either. Many customers feel that you get what you pay for and so shop in the $3.99 to $5.99 price range for Kindle books or $9.99 to $19.99 for many print books. Of course, it depends on the quantity and quality of the content, and also varies by genre or subject.

You have the freedom to experiment with price, if you don’t feel sure about the best choice.

You also have the opportunity to create a short-term promotional price. But one thing you may learn is that price doesn’t sell books. Price can be helpful for marketing when you advertise a short-term promotion. Free and low-cost advertising tend to be most effective for books, and there are many free ways to gain exposure.


Many self-published authors who are thriving in the new age of publishing are doing so through effective marketing.

Numerous self-published books aren’t selling at all because of no or poor marketing. Realize that even the cover, blurb, and Look Inside are part of the marketing.

You can earn a high royalty—e.g. 30% on a print book or 70% on a Kindle e-book—depending on the list price that you set (hey, if you sell yourself short and give yourself a low royalty, that’s your choice).

Traditionally published authors often earn 15% or less (it may be much less).

I’m much more motivated to market a book knowing that I’m earning a nice royalty on every book I sell. If I published traditionally, I wouldn’t be so motivated to market my books. If 70% doesn’t motivate you to market your Kindle e-books, I guess you’re not too interested in earning money for the hard work you did to write your book.

I see some self-published authors who are very motivated to market their books. Higher royalties can be a strong motivator.

There are authors with exceptional marketing skills. These authors should self-publish. They know they’re going to sell books. Why not make a higher royalty for the effort?

Not motivated by money? There are other reasons to market. Market your book so that you can share your passion for writing with others.

I became motivated to market my books when I realized that it could be done without salesmanship and advertising. I started looking for other ways to approach marketing. I discovered that it can be fun to try out new marketing strategies and see how they work.

A nonfiction author, for example, who enjoys helping others can market in the spirit of providing help. It could be free help on a blog, or free help at a seminar, for example (though some people will pay money to attend a workshop).

There is ample free information about marketing available, and there are so many different ways to approach it that you can find things that work for you.

Marketing can start out very slow. Get the ball rolling and eventually it can grow.


When self-publishing, it’s easy to make revisions.

You can change the cover, blurb, even the content itself anytime you wish.

When you receive valuable feedback after publishing (of course, before publishing would have been best), it’s not too late to incorporate that feedback.

When you publish traditionally, it’s very hard to make revisions.

In nonfiction, it’s often necessary to make updates to the content to keep the book relevant. This is a huge advantage. You can respond to changes in the industry almost immediately.

It helps with marketing, too. When you write a new book, you can go back into your old books and promote it right there on a list of the author’s other books. You can even put a sample chapter in your other books.

Read Tuesday

Imagine a Black Friday type of event just for book lovers.

You don’t have to imagine it. It’s called Read Tuesday, and it’s free:

Please support the Read Tuesday Thunderclap. This will help spread awareness on the morning of Read Tuesday (December 9, 2014). It’s easy to help:

  • Visit
  • Click Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr and sign in.
  • Customize the message. (Optional.)
  • Agree to the terms. All that will happen is that the Thunderclap post about Read Tuesday will go out the morning of December 9.
  • (The warning message simply means that Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr need your permission to post the Thunderclap message on December 9. This is the only post that Thunderclap will make.)

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 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
  • Boxed set (of 4 books) now available for Kindle pre-order

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


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Self-Publishing Expenses Gone Wild!

Editing Cloud


One of the major benefits of self-publishing is that you can do it (virtually) for FREE.

And, if you set a reasonable list price, the royalty rates are very high.

So with high royalties and minimal costs, if you can stimulate any sales at all, you should easily make something.

There is very little risk.

However, the number of authors who are investing big $$$ in self-publishing and who are losing big $$$ because their self-publishing expenses greatly outweigh their profits is staggering.


It can cost next to nothing:

  • Zero set-up fees at print-on-demand indie publishing companies like CreateSpace.
  • Zero set-up fees at most major e-book publishing services like Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook, and Kobo.
  • Minimal cost to order one or more printed proofs for paperback books.

If it costs you next to nothing, you don’t have to sell many books to start making a profit.

But many authors aren’t spending next to nothing. Many are actually spending big money self-publishing their books.

  • Some are spending hundreds, like $200 to $500. This isn’t too bad, but it will take hundreds of sales just to break even. It’s a risk.
  • I’m amazed by how many spend $1000 to $5000. If they don’t sell thousands of books, it will be a bad investment. If they never sell 100 books, it will be a great loss. It’s a huge risk.
  • Can you believe that some indie authors spend more than $5000, sometimes over $10,000, publishing a single book? That boggles my mind.


One problem is that there are so many ways to invest money on self-published books.

Many authors are acquiring major expenses:

  • Cover design can cost $100 to $1000 (or more) for a custom cover. You can get one for $50 or less that’s pre-made. Or you can pay $5 and up for images and make your own cover. Or you can find free images that allow commercial use (but if you do, you really want 300 DPI, especially for a print book).
  • Professional illustrations inside the book cost additional money on top of the cover (though sometimes you can negotiate interior illustrations at a discount when purchased with the cover).
  • Editing can cost anywhere from $100 to $2000 (or more), depending on (A) the qualifications and experience of the editor, and (B) the type of editing services that you need. Simple proofreading is the least expensive option. You can even hire this from CreateSpace. If you need help with storyline suggestions, the writing itself, or formatting on top of editing, costs can grow significantly.
  • Book formatting is another major expense that one can invest in. It can be expensive. But you can also do it for free. Especially, if you plan to publish several books, you can save big $$$ by taking the time to learn and do this yourself.
  • Authors also invest in e-book conversion services. Learning to format your own books can save you money twice: once with the print edition, and again with the e-book.
  • You can also publish an audio book with the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). If you write in a genre that appeals to truck drivers, for example, this can be a compelling option.
  • If you would like to have your book translated to Spanish, French, or Chinese, for example, you can pay good $$$ for translation services. Make sure the language is supported at Amazon before you spend the money! Definitely, do not rely on Google Translate to do this for you (it will be far from satisfactory to translate a book this way).
  • A variety of fees can come with designing a website (though you can get a free website at WordPress and design it yourself). You can register a domain name, pay money to avoid advertisements, upgrade for custom features, pay for web hosting, hire a web designer, or pay for a host of enticing services that many website builders offer.
  • Although much of the most effective marketing can be done by the author for free, there are many marketing expenses that one can acquire: advertising fees, press release distribution, video trailer design, bookmarks, promotional items, contest expenses, bookstore signing fees, etc. If you want to really spend big $$$ on marketing, hire a famous publicist.
  • If you publish with an imprint of your own choosing that isn’t simply your last name, you may need to register a DBA (doing business as) or starting an LLC. You can spend big money if you wish to trademark the name. (Legal Zoom can help with many legal issues, such as filing DBA’s or trademark applications.)
  • Authors can really break the bank publishing with vanity presses. You can publish for free with many self-publishing services, like CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook Press, Kobo Writing Life, and Smashwords. Traditional publishers, if they accept your proposal, won’t charge you any fees (though maybe it would be worthwhile for you to hire a contract attorney once you receive a legitimate offer). Vanity presses, on the other hand, involve hefty start-up fees.

Even the little expenses can add up. The lower the cost, the easier it is spend the money, but after you pay for several of these, it can get expensive:

  • Paying for printed proofs plus shipping/handling. One proof can cost as little as about $7 if it’s short, black and white, and shipped in the United States. If it’s in color or several pages, the cost goes up, and for international authors, shipping can be quite expensive (Ingram Spark may be an attractive alternative for UK authors).
  • Some publishing services, like Ingram Spark or Lightning Source, charge setup fees.
  • Sometimes setup fees grow if you opt for additional features, like enabling additional sales channels (CreateSpace, though, now offers free Expanded Distribution).
  • It costs $35 (in the US) to register for a copyright. It’s not necessary: Your copyright starts as soon as your work exists in print, whether or not you register. But copyright registration entices many authors, as it’s one extra step toward protecting your rights, and it makes it easier to convince Amazon, for example, that you are indeed the copyright holder, should the question arise.
  • You can spend $9.99 to $575 buying ISBN‘s from Bowker (in the US), for example. (You can also get a free ISBN from CreateSpace, or a free ISBN for your e-book at Smashwords. Don’t use your CreateSpace ISBN for your e-book, and you shouldn’t use your Smashwords ISBN for Kindle, for example. You don’t need an ISBN for Kindle, though, as you’ll receive a free ASIN.) Some of these options are tempting. $9.99 at CreateSpace lets you use your own imprint. Buying in bulk with Bowker lowers your cost if you prefer the benefits of buying your own ISBN directly (or if you’re not publishing at CreateSpace). It can get really expensive if you publish several books, since each edition of your book needs a different ISBN. Then if you make major changes, you’re supposed to create a new edition with a new ISBN (perhaps not necessary with the free CreateSpace ISBN or free Kindle ASIN).
  • How about a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)? You can get one from CreateSpace for $25 (but be sure to do this before your proof is approved), for example. Of course, it’s hard for self-published authors to get into libraries…
  • Stocking up for a reading or signing, or to sell in person, requires purchasing several author copies in advance.


If you invest in absolutely everything that you can invest in when self-publishing a book, you could easily spend tens of thousands of dollars. Very few books of any kind will recover such deep expenses.

Is this an expense that really makes sense? That’s a question you should ask yourself every step of the way.

You should try to lay off most of the expenses that I listed above, if at all possible.

Treat it like shopping at the grocery store on a limited budget:

  • Figure your total expense before spending any money.
  • Cross non-essential items off your list.
  • Find cheaper alternatives. (With grocery shopping, you might go with a non-branded alternative. Do the same with your publishing expenses.)
  • Set a reasonable budget. Stay within your budget no matter what.
  • Calculate how many books you must sell just to break even. If there aren’t reasonable prospects for this (do your research!), cross things off your shopping list.
  • If it’s not on your list, don’t buy it.
  • See the money-saving tips that follow. (It’s like shopping for groceries with coupons.)

Here are some money-saving tips:

  • Do all the formatting yourself. There is an abundance of free material (even on my blog) to help with this. When you need help, visit the CreateSpace or KDP community forum and politely ask a specific question. It’s amazing how often a formatting expert replies with a helpful response. Anything that you can do for free, and do reasonably well, will save you big money. Formatting will save you two ways with print and e-book editions. Extra effort spent on your first book will save you much more money in the long run when you publish several more books.
  • Do you really need a LCCN? Indie books are highly unlikely to wind up on library shelves unless you actively market for this channel and have great ideas for how to do this effectively. Throwing money out there and hoping is not a marketing strategy.
  • Market your books yourself for free. Throwing money at advertising isn’t a band-aid for marketing ignorance. The truth is, when it comes to book marketing (which doesn’t work the same as commercial advertising of brands seen on t.v., although branding is important), free and very low cost marketing done by the author tends to be far more effective than paid marketing services.
  • Many people and businesses are eager to accept your money. They definitely profit when you pay them. The more money you invest to self-publish your book, the more likely you’ll wind up in a deficit. They know your hopes and dreams (big sales, good reviews), and they know your fears (no sales, bad reviews, newbie mistakes), and they will use this effectively to sell you things that you don’t really need. Be wary.
  • Keep your expenses to a bare minimum until you have several books out. Don’t break the bank on your first book. (Yes, you want to make a great impression, but settle for making the best impression you can on a low budget. Yes, you can do this.) The more similar books you have out, the more effective marketing tends to be. Plus, if your first few books are getting some steady sales, this will boost your confidence that you can sell books (and it will give you a realistic guide for how much of your expense you can recover).
  • Most expenses can wait until you start making a profit (but not editing, as that will get you some bad reviews). Don’t bother with an audio book or translation, for example, until you’ve earned enough royalties to pay for these services without taking a net loss.
  • Start out with a free WordPress website. Don’t upgrade or pay for any fees until you’re making a profit from your book royalties, though you can grab your domain name in the initial stages, if it’s available.
  • Keep your business expenses to a minimum. In the beginning, you have no idea how many sales you will have. You can register for a DBA if you plan to publish many books, but LLC, trademark , or other expenses can wait until you see how sales are going (though if you want legal advice, you should consult with an attorney).
  • If you know people with great language skills, you may be able to recruit them to help with proofreading (perhaps for a reasonable fee). Especially, if they enjoy your writing, it can be a win-win situation. But don’t be a lazy writer (worrying about mistakes later: the fewer mistakes there are, the easier it will be to eliminate all but a few) and don’t rely on others to catch your mistakes (they are your responsibility). Use text-to-speech to listen to your book: It will help you catch mistakes that you don’t “see.”


There are only two big expenses that I would recommend considering when you’re just starting out. Most other expenses can wait until you see how things are going.

Don’t dig yourself into a hole. Wait until you’re making a profit, then consider investing some of your profits. This way, you won’t suffer a loss.

These two services can make a huge difference in some cases, and therefore they are well worth considering:

  1. Cover design. It’s critical for marketing to have a cover that (A) appeals to your readers and (B) clearly signifies the precise genre or subject. If you can achieve these two goals yourself, that’s great. If you’re a nonfiction author, making the title clear (and relevant) in the thumbnail is more important than the picture, and thus it’s easier for nonfiction authors to design fairly effective covers by themselves. Most fiction authors who don’t have graphic design skills really need to spend $100 to $300 on a highly effective cover. But if the book is lousy, a great cover won’t sell it. If you have a great novel and don’t excel at graphic arts, then I do recommend finding an artist who can deliver a fantastic cover at a reasonable price.
  2. Editing. Most authors need to pay $50 to $200 for basic proofreading (and they need to do the research to find a proofreader who can do this job quite well). Those mistakes can deter your sales. The last thing you want is a review to complain about mistakes and to have a Look Inside that confirms what the review says. There are writers with excellent language skills, but even they often miss mistakes in their own writing because they read what they intended instead of what’s actually there. Text-to-speech can help to some degree. Use Word’s spellcheck to catch obvious mistakes, but don’t rely on it (there are many mistakes that it will miss). You definitely need additional pairs of eyes that can reliably help you out. Editors might convince you that it’s worth spending $500 to $2000, especially if you need storyline help, better character development, or serious writing help. But it’s a tough call. That’s a huge investment, and many books won’t make that $500 back. When you’re starting out, you really need to save where you can and invest wisely.


You may have heard that it takes money to make money, but what you might not have heard is that many authors are spending more money than they will ever earn from their royalties. By the way, this includes traditional authors, too.

Be smart with your money. Any investment is a risk. Wait until you’re making a profit, then investing some of the profits allows you to experiment with services without suffering a loss.

Be patient. Think long-term. Wait until you have several books out and history of sales to judge by before investing good money to self-publish a new book.

Do your research before investing money on a service. Check out the designer’s portfolio. Contact authors who’ve used their services and discuss their experience. Ask for a free sample (e.g. edit one chapter of your book), and consult help judging the quality. Do a cover reveal at various stages of the design. Seek brutal feedback on your writing and cover in the early stages. Ask questions before purchasing the service. Study your contract.

Remember that throwing money out there and hoping is not a marketing strategy.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 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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Learn Much about Self-Publishing by… Blogging

Blog First

Hands-on Self-Publishing Experience

Blogging at WordPress can teach you more about self-publishing than you might realize.

Think about this, and strive to get the most out of it.

It would be wise to blog before self-publishing for the hands-on experience every authorpreneur needs to be successful.

But even if you’ve already self-published, it’s not too late to make the connection between blogging and indie publishing.

Here are several ways that blogging at WordPress can help you become a more successful authorpreneur:

  • Crafting the title. You have to write titles for your blog articles, so you get plenty of experience trying out titles and seeing how much attention your posts get. The title is a very important part of your book. Without blogging, most authors would have no experience or practice writing titles and seeing what interest they stimulate. Study the titles of articles from popular bloggers.
  • Content popularity. Writing about different topics, you can see which seem to be more popular or less popular among bloggers. The best way to learn what people like is through first-hand experience.
  • Keywords and categories. Gain experience choosing categories and tags for your articles at WordPress. You’ll need to choose categories and keywords when you publish. For your blog, you can type phrases in Google to see how popular they are, and for your book, you can try phrases out at Amazon’s home page. When you come across popular blog articles similar to what you write, check out the tags and categories that they used.
  • Cover design. Preparing or linking to images in your posts gives you some feedback regarding how to attract an audience visually. You also see images that evidently attract much attention to popular blog articles. The more you prepare your own images, the more you learn little tips.
  • Look Inside. In the WordPress reader, people only see a short sample. Bloggers strive to learn how to use the beginning of the article to create interest in the article. Similarly, at Amazon, you need to write an engaging blurb and Look Inside.
  • Writing practice. Blogging offers writing practice for self-published authors. You can even try out a new style or genre, with real readers to offer feedback.
  • Build your brand. At WordPress, you strive to build your blogging brand. This will carry over to becoming an authorpreneur, where you need to develop brands as an author and for your books.
  • Learn about marketing. You get firsthand experience trying to market your blog, which will carry over to book marketing. You get to see what other authors do in the way of marketing. Plus, blogging helps you build helpful relationships that can help you with your marketing when your book comes out. Some of your followers will serve as your initial fan base, too.
  • Monitor traffic. WordPress shows several stats that help you analyze your blog traffic. This can help give you a sense of the potential of your blog to help with marketing—a small percentage may be your initial fan base, but more importantly, the search engine traffic helps you see what frequency of outside visitors discover your website daily. The number of likes per post gives you some idea of your active following, which can pale in comparison to your total following; the search engine traffic is the number with the greater potential.
  • Get support. Relationships that you build on WordPress can support you with advice, reblogs, feedback, and more when you begin your self-publishing journey.
  • Explore formatting options. You have to format your posts here at WordPress. As you try new things in your articles, you gain some formatting experience. An e-book formats much like a webpage.
  • Test an idea. Got an idea that you want to test out? Try a sample on your blog and get some feedback.
  • Meet your audience. A thin slice of your WordPress following will include readers from your target audience. These interactions are golden.
  • Device management. Over time, you happen to view your blog from your pc, laptop, a friend’s iPad, a cell phone, etc. This gives you some idea about how various things format on different devices. That’s good experience for the challenge of formatting e-books that read well across all devices.
  • Analyze stats. Stats at Amazon are pretty limited—royalties, sales rank, reviews. You get many more stats here at WordPress—countries, views, likes, follows, shares, comments, etc. Such data can be valuable. You could even make a graph of your blog views for the month and compare it with your sales graph to see if there may be any correlation.
  • Website development. Indie publishers need to have websites, Facebook author or book pages, author profiles, etc. The experience you gain transforming your blog into a website will help you anytime you need to create a webpage or website.
  • SEO. You write articles hoping to pull in traffic from search engines. You gain experience with SEO as you try out categories, experiment with how to include keywords in headings and body text, etc.
  • Grow a following. You’ll develop a following here at WordPress. Setup an author page at Facebook and link to it at the end of your posts, and feed your WordPress posts into Facebook (but don’t also feed Facebook into WordPress or you’ll get double posts). Similarly, feed your blog into Twitter (but don’t feed from Twitter to WordPress or Facebook, or again you’ll get double or triple posts). Create profiles at Google Plus and LinkedIn, and your WordPress traffic can help you grow a following everywhere.
  • Build connections. Meet fellow authors, editors, graphic designers, small publishers, and more in your WordPress interactions. Indie authorship is a supportive community, for the most part.
  • Create buzz. When you release a book, your blog will help you create buzz for it.

Of course, there are many other benefits to blogging. For example, you can make some great online friends, and you can find some excellent material to read for free here at WordPress. Arguably, friendships and great reading material are the BEST parts of WordPress.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 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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Good News for Indie Authors

Good News

July, 2014 Author Earnings Report

Check out the July, 2014 author earnings report:

It has some good news for self-published authors:

  • Indie authors found success with the Amazon bestseller lists, topping the Big 5 numbers in some statistics.
  • Indie authors drew in good revenues from bestselling e-books.

Also worth noting:

  • The Big 5 e-books made more revenue for Amazon than indie e-books, even though indie e-books drew more author revenue.
  • It’s worth reading the note about DRM being a bad idea. See the graph to see which price ranges this affects most (in some cases, the difference is slight; for others, it’s significant).
  • Check the graph that sorts data by genre. You can see that indies do well in more genres/subjects than just romance.
  • The charts also include small and medium publishers.

Successful Indie Authors

Here is a recent article from Yahoo Finance, highlighting recent indie author successes:

While this article looked specifically at romance writers, the previous report showed that indie are having success in other genres and subjects, too.

The big thing to remember is that there are millions of books to choose from:

  • You need a cover that attracts your target audience. If it attracts the wrong audience, it will cost you much traffic. If the cover doesn’t look quite right, it’s a lost opportunity.
  • The blurb and Look Inside are your only sales tools at the point-of-sale. They need to be immaculate. They need to engage the reader immediately and keep it throughout.
  • It’s worth perfecting the content. Word-of-mouth sales are golden. You need excellent ideas that will attract readers, and a writing style to match.
  • Market for long-term success. Real success takes much time and patience to build up.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 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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Quality vs. Profit—Is it a Choice?


Why not Both?

Jack Eason posted an interesting article recently entitled “Profit or Quality” (click the title to check it out). While that post analyzed this in the context of video games, it got me thinking about this in terms of self-publishing.

You might be wondering whether or not it’s really a choice. Shouldn’t lesser quality result in lower profits in the long-term? Shouldn’t better quality be favored in the long run?

Well… to an extent.

You could spend an outrageous amount of money publishing a book in the highest possible quality:

  • First off, how about a nice textured hardbound cover with full-color images. If the book costs over $100, you might not sell any. So much for profit! Suppose we restrict ourselves to e-books and inexpensive print-on-demand publishing.
  • Well, you could spend thousands of dollars on formatting and editing services. If you aim for the highest possible quality (not necessarily given by the most expensive service), you might not make any profit at all even if you sell a thousand books.
  • A few writers claim that you should spend years honing your craft, perhaps you should even pay good $$$ to develop the skills you need. Invest hundreds of dollars and wait a few decades and surely the quality will be better, right?

Okay, so going to great lengths to make the quality extreme might not lead to any profit at all. It might leave you considerably in the red.

Let’s look at the other extreme. Suppose you spit out a new novel per month. You’ll have a platform of dozens of books on the market in no time. You’ll always have a book in the Last 30 Days new release category, helping to give exposure to your previous books. Assuming you succeed in drawing in readers, your fan base will grow, so that when you release each book, there will be more and more people waiting for it.

But how much quality can you provide spitting out a book per month? Won’t the ideas, storyline, editing, and more suffer greatly?

The best solution probably involves some compromise:

  • Achieve the best quality you can at a reasonable cost.
  • Invest extra time to significantly improve the quality. I’m not saying to hold off publishing for years. But if a few months could greatly improve the quality, consider that your book might be available for decades. Those few extra months could greatly improve sales over those decades, and the sales of other books that you haven’t even published yet.

Each reader has expectations. Some are higher than others. The higher the quality of the book, the more likely it will exceed those expectations. When it doesn’t, that leads to no sale or no recommendation (maybe even a bad review).

Quality is important for the long-term. Exceed a reader’s expectations and you can gain valuable word-of-mouth referrals in the long run. You can build a fan base that eagerly anticipates your next book. But don’t rush that next book out for all your enthusiastic fans, or there may not be much anticipation for the next one. Once you create high expectations, you must work to deliver on the promise.

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 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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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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