Gifting ebooks outside the US: Any Problems?


We received a new comment on Misha’s article about how and why to gift an e-book today. It relates to gifting ebooks at Amazon outside the US.

Does anyone know if this is a problem? For example, suppose you live in the UK and wish to gift a Kindle ebook to a friend who also lives in the UK. What’s the best solution?

Bookstores Versus the Internet

First contestant: brick & mortar bookstores

Do you remember the joy of standing in a bookstore aisle, staring at hundreds of books, trying to find some good books to read?

  • Most of the books were turned sideways such that all you could see was the spine. You weren’t choosing the prettiest covers.
  • There wasn’t a number attached to the book to tell you how well or poorly it had been selling.
  • The only reviews of the book were great quotes about how awesome the book was on the back cover, dust jacket, or first pages. You didn’t see an average star rating right beside the title. There wasn’t anything bad written about any book in the store.
  • If you wanted to find a possibly neutral book review, you had to read a newspaper or magazine article. Not just anybody could express a written opinion about the book in a highly visible place.
  • Books definitely didn’t come with any reviews that spoiled the endings.
  • When you picked a book up, it didn’t come with a list of books that other customers had bought. When you brought a book to the front counter, the cashier didn’t set several other books next to it and say, “Other customers who read that also purchased these.”
  • After you read the book, the bookstore didn’t contact you and ask you to review the book. The bookstore also didn’t contact you to let you know when those authors released new books.
  • There weren’t customers standing around in the aisle trying to sell you their used books for less (or even more!) than the list price (plus shipping!).
  • Most of the books were presented side-by-side without any special treatment. We didn’t see the books stacked in some order determined by the bookstore. We didn’t need to scroll through several pages to find the least popular books.
  • We never bought books with dog-ears, cover wrinkles, ripped pages, or any other visible imperfections without realizing it prior to the purchase.
  • There weren’t twenty million books to choose from. There weren’t nearly as many books in any particular genre.
  • The chance of the bookstore freezing or crashing was fairly remote, and if you picked up a virus, it usually went away after a few days and a little medicine. Even if the system was down, you could still pay cash.
  • When the book was in stock, you didn’t have to wait several days for it to arrive in the mail.
  • Every book in the store met some minimum standards. There was a limit to poor writing, the number of typos, poor formatting, storyline issues, etc.
  • The free sample was 100%, not 10%. Just imagine if all of the books on the shelves only had 10% of the pages, and you only got the rest after you checked out.
  • When you approached the register, you found an assortment of fashionable bookmarks. Sure, you can still buy bookmarks if you search for them, but you don’t see them when you check out. You also don’t need one for your e-reader.
  • If you had a question, or when you checked out, you interacted face-to-face with a person.
  • You probably didn’t have family members, friends, and acquaintances begging you to read and review their books.
  • There was a slim chance of meeting a cute someone in the bookstore (a plus if you preferred to date people who actually read books).
  • Many bookstores allowed you to take a break and drink coffee. The next time you order a book online, see if they will deliver some coffee to you while you’re browsing.

(Why was this written in the past tense? Brick and mortar bookstores haven’t completely died out yet…)

Second contestant: online booksellers

Let us not forget the wonders of technology:

  • In the old days, you wouldn’t buy a book wearing just your underwear or pajamas (or less). If you did, maybe reading would have been much more popular…
  • You don’t need to go to the bookstore on your lunch break. Traffic won’t cause you to get there after the store closes. You can buy books at two o’clock in the morning, if you please.
  • You can have the book delivered right to your doorstep. There is no need to leave the house.
  • If you have an e-reader, you can even purchase an e-book at two o’clock in the morning in your underwear without leaving the house and start reading the e-book right then and there.
  • People who are addicted to cell phones or who love using laptops and PC’s can browse for books on their favorite devices, and even read them that way as e-books.
  • You don’t have to find a dictionary if you read an e-book. It’s right there on the device. (Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone will take a moment to find out what the word means…)
  • Millions of books are in stock or will be available in just a few days. There are now print-on-demand books that are always available.
  • With twenty million books on the market, there is a much improved chance that the book you’re really looking for actually exists. If it doesn’t exist, nothing at all prevents you from becoming the author to write and publish it.
  • Through self-publishing, authors have much more freedom in what to write and how to write it, which provides greater selection to the reader.
  • You may be able to buy the book for less used. Some books sell for just a penny plus shipping and handling.
  • You can resell your used book after you read it to recover some of the cost.
  • All e-books mark themselves; you don’t need a bookmark. The e-readers will even let you highlight text.
  • It’s very easy to find the top-selling books, and to see how well or poorly a book has been selling, in case you wish to judge how popular a book is.
  • Read customer reviews to see what other customers had to say about the book. Some opinions may contradict one another, some may be helpful and others not, some might not even be pleasant, and it might be entertaining. You can even vote on how helpful the review is (or you can ignore the wording and just vote on whether or not you like what was said).
  • It’s very easy to ship a book anywhere in the world; e-books can be gifted.
  • You don’t need to find your receipt to return the book.
  • Adults books can be read with greater discretion as e-books.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volumes 1 and 2)

Kindle Pitfalls

Anyone can publish an eBook on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), but there are many pitfalls to navigate in order to produce a professional-looking product. The main problem is that the eBook layout works like a web page, whereas most writers are experienced with word processing.

So what are the pitfalls, and how do you avoid them? Hold onto that thought (or just skip ahead).

To make matters worse, Amazon’s free resources – the KDP help pages (, Building Your Book for Kindle (, and Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing ( – are largely geared toward the basic use of Word to prepare an eBook, while not revealing the subtleties entailed in achieving a professional design.

Word is designed for creating pages with writing and drawings, whereas eBooks format like a reflowable web page. When a Word document is uploaded to KDP, what Kindle is interested in are HTML instructions. Unfortunately, the HTML that Word generates does not translate as well as could be desired into eBook format. Even if you convert the document to HTML before submitting the file to KDP, unless you clean it and tweak it, there can still be undesirable and sometimes even unpredictable behavior in the converted eBook.

KDP provides a previewer to help catch the mistakes. Actually, there are two previewers, and both are available in Step 6 of the publishing process. The online previewer is tempting because it’s so convenient and also much more aesthetic – it mimics each device visually. But the downloadable previewer is more reliable – you can catch errors with it that you might not find on the online previewer. Once you install it, find it after it’s installed, and figure out how to download and view your book with it, you must inspect it carefully to find mistakes on all of the devices (like the different eInks, the different Fires, and the iPad and iPhone). Not uncommonly, an eBook sometimes looks perfect on all but one device, which makes it important to check each device.

Nonetheless, the indie author who researches the basics of Kindle formatting with Word and invests the time to properly check the formatting across all devices is likely to encounter unforeseen, yet very important, problems: the confounding Look Inside. Many customers will judge the professionalism of the eBook based on this Look Inside. Unfortunately, KDP’s previewers don’t offer a preview of the Look Inside feature. The Look Inside adopts the strictest interpretation of the HTML, and often formats Word-originated HTML instructions differently than indie authors intend. For example, it’s very common to see the first paragraph of the chapter indented on the Look Inside even when First Line is set to 0.01” in Word. What do you get when you cross the challenge of properly formatting the Look Inside with the lack of a Look Inside preview and indie authors who have spent months or years writing, editing, and formatting their work? F.r.u.s.t.r.a.t.i.o.n.

Amazon does get into some of the subtleties in a publication that’s not nearly as easy to find as the resources mentioned above. They have a technical guide designed for professional publishers – and that’s how it’s written, too. When you visit the KDP help pages (first link above), click “Announcements” on the left, select “Introducing Kindle Format 8,” and look for the “click here” link toward the end of the article. This 79-page PDF reveals technical details about text and image guidelines and which HTML code is supported.

But most writers want to be able to publish a high-quality Kindle eBook without having to learn HTML. The self-published author who has a gift for storytelling and has spent years perfecting his or her craft has a disadvantage compared to a webmaster experienced in HTML. The webmaster can easily create a very professional-looking eBook, and even use HTML to make the description pop out with headings and figures. The poor writer who has mastered Word, but who doesn’t want to learn HTML, will suffer a few flaws in the finished product.

Here’s the thing: You don’t actually have to learn any HTML in order to perfect the appearance and functionality of the eBook, and you can even make a fancy description without knowing any HTML (see my other blog post called “Eye-popping Blurbs”).

That’s right! It’s a thousand times easier than it seems. You don’t need to be able to read and understand the HTML. You don’t need to be able to write HTML. You just need to know which lines to look for and how to change them. You just need a concise, handy resource that says to look for A, B, and C in the HTML, and change them to X, Y, and Z. It is as simple as it sounds.

Why don’t we do it? Because we didn’t see a convenient table of what-to-look-for-and-what-to-change-in-the-HTML guide when we visited KDP’s help pages and read KDP’s free formatting guides.

The first step is to format the Word document in such a way as to produce HTML with as few issues as possible. To this end, many basic Kindle formatting guides – and even Amazon’s free guides, to some extent – emphasize steps such as these (this list is not intended to be comprehensive, but does provide a healthy sample):

  • Not using page numbers, setting page margins, inserting headers or footers, making bulleted lists, and many other features that we like to use in printed books.
  • Using the Styles to format normal, first paragraph, heading, and title text.
  • Going into the Paragraph dialog box to set First Line to 0.5” (or 0.3” may work better, in general, but not as well as tweaking the HTML) for the normal Style and 0.01” for non-indented, justified styles (as you can’t make the eBook left-aligned by pressing the Align Text Left button) in order to avoid automatic indents.
  • Eliminating all use of the tab key (use the normal Style instead to create indented paragraphs).
  • Removing most special symbols.
  • Replacing some special symbols with other symbols. For example, Word’s AutoFormat tool can make en (–) and em (—) dashes by replacing consecutive hyphens (like –) as you type, but they may not be supported by every device (especially, the older Kindles). If instead you manually hold down Alt while typing 0150 and 0151, you can create these dashes as supported symbols.
  • Using a single space after a period and before the next sentence instead of two spaces (otherwise, when a sentence happens to end at the margin edge, the extra space causes one of the lines to appear mis-aligned). (I have another blog article about this, which is called “A Silly Little Space.”)
  • Formatting pictures centered on their own line and wrapped In Line With Text, with the size set to 100% (by right-clicking the picture, selecting Size and Position, and setting Width and Height in the Size tab) – even if the picture looks bigger than the page shown on the screen (just worry about how it looks in the downloadable previewer).
  • Creating a table of contents using bookmark hyperlinks.
  • Changing font size through Styles instead of using the Font tool on the Home tab.
  • Holding down Shift while pressing Enter instead of just using the Enter key at the end of a paragraph where a blank linespace is desired between paragraphs (in order to produce more reliable results); just ignore the strange spacing that it creates because the eReaders will ignore it, too.

We then save the Word document as a filtered webpage (not a single file webpage). If there are pictures, we right-click the file, choose Send To, and pick Compressed (Zipped) Folder. Then we find the newly created folder with the images and copy/paste it into the compressed zipped folder. This step is needed, for example, to avoid black lines from appearing on one or more edges of the pictures.

All of this work, all by itself, still doesn’t result in a perfectly formatted eBook. First, it is desirable to clean the HTML – i.e. to remove bloated instructions in order to help make the HTML more reliable and less ambiguous. Fortunately, there are some programs that can help do much of this automatically (you can find a list, for example, in the Kindle Tutorial that I recommend in the next-to-last paragraph – but not in Volume 1 of the book listed on the signature line; I’m trying my best to avoid possible confusion). It takes very clean HTML code to make the Look Inside appear professional.

Next, you need to open the HTML in Notepad and learn what to look for and how to change it. Here are a few things worth looking for (sometimes there may be more than one way to do it, and exactly how to change it depends on how the HTML looks on your device):

  • Change the indents from 0.5” (or 0.3” or whatever you used for First Line in the normal Style) in terms of the em (like 2 ems) – or set it as a percentage of the paragraph width (like 8% across). In the former case, the size of the indent is based on the size of the text (this is the technical specification that publishers use in print, and often in eBooks, too); in the latter case, the size of the indent is based on the width of the paragraph (visually, this may be appealing so that the indent is the same percentage on an iPhone or a PC). You want your normal paragraph styles to look like <p style=”text-indent: 8%;”> (or a value like 2em instead of 8%) at the beginning of the paragraph followed by <p> at the end of the paragraph. You can do this with the Find and Replace option. Examine the body text in the HTML in Notepad to see what the begin paragraph code looks like, copy it into the Find field, and type the Replace text carefully. Be sure to only edit the normal paragraph styles this way.
  • Manually change the paragraph style to 0% instead of 8% (or whatever you set for the indented paragraphs) to create any non-indented paragraphs (or stand-alone, non-centered lines) – like the first paragraph of the chapter (which you would have set as a first paragraph style in Word). In Word, you had to set First Line to 0.01”, which is slightly noticeable, because (none) doesn’t work; yet this doesn’t always show up in the Look Inside if the HTML isn’t tweaked. But as long as you’re tweaking the HTML, you may as well set it exactly to 0%. And if your HTML is super clean, you’ll have zero indents to begin each chapter in the Look Inside, and on paragraphs of the copyright page and table of contents, and any other non-centered paragraphs that you don’t want indented (provided that your HTML is very clean and you simply apply this code to each such paragraph).
  • Remove spacing between paragraphs. Modify the above suggestion with <p style=”text-indent: 8%; margin-top: 0; margin-bottom: 0″> at the beginning of the paragraph.
  • Use special symbols not normally supported. Kindle supports Unicode symbols 32 thru 255 (first link below), whereas a larger set of Unicode symbols is available using HTML (second link below). You just have to look up the HTML name of the symbol and write it after the ampersand (&) symbol. For example, &hearts makes the heart symbol (♥) when converted to Kindle’s mobi format. In your original Word document, you could write “insertheart” where you would like to include the symbol, use the Find tool to find it in the HTML with Notepad, and then change it to &hearts to make this symbol, and you can do something similar for other supported HTML symbols.

  • Prevent two words or a number and units (for example) from breaking onto separate lines. For example, if you would like 6 ft. to stay together (i.e. remove the possibility having the 6 at the right end of one line and ft. at the left end of the next line), replace the space with &nbsp; (as in 6&nbsp;ft.).
  • Improve the formatting of pictures. For example, if you already have a Word-generated HTML file with pictures set to absolute values (i.e. specified the number of pixels in the width or height), you can use Replace to change the width to =”100%” instead of the absolute measure and to delete the height specifications (just leave the Replace field blank).

After you publish your eBook on Kindle, you should view the Look Inside to see how it looks on the PC. Then go to the product page and download the free sample to your computer. This way, you can use the downloadable previewer to see what the Look Inside looks like on each device. If you have a Kindle (or maybe you can borrow one), you can view the Look Inside that way, too. (You should also view the entire book that way, just to see for yourself.)

I recommend a book called Formatting of Kindle Books: A Brief Tutorial by Charles Spender (to which I have no affiliation whatsoever; I simply found this book very useful for my own endeavors), which explains many of the details for how to properly format a Kindle eBook using Word, with a separate chapter on how to clean and edit the HTML. (My own publishing guide, listed below, covers both paperbacks and eBooks, but doesn’t get into the professional eBook details – like those discussed in this blog article – until Volume 2. Volume 1 is available now, while Volume 2 will be released sometime in the spring of 2013. Charles Spender’s tutorial is focused on the Kindle, and is very detailed regarding Word and HTML formatting, while explaining HTML so that those of us who don’t like HTML can figure out how to properly tweak it.)

Let me admit that I’m currently in the process of improving my own eBooks. For the past few years, I’ve been personally investigating the limitations of Word and seeing firsthand how well Word can yield a Kindle eBook, along with what does or doesn’t work, and have just begun the process of tweaking my own HTML. I still haven’t quite implemented all of my own suggestions in all of my own eBooks yet (some still even feature those dreaded double spaces; and I also need to update the formatting of some of my earlier paperback books), but I’m getting there. May you instead embrace the HTML tweaking from the beginning and perfect it the first time. 🙂

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

Those Silly Short Lines

A hyphen or a dash. Short dash, long dash. Those silly short lines.

We all know that the hyphen (-) is used to hy-phen-ate, and we all know that the short line is used to do this, so it should be easy to remember that the short line is a hyphen and the long line is a dash. Yet we sometimes forget. (It really doesn’t help that there are two types of dashes, each different from a hyphen.)

The keyboard just has a hyphen. No dash. You can easily make a dash in Microsoft Word. With Word’s AutoFormat as you type feature turned on, type two hyphens consecutively mid-sentence, like this – and they turn into a dash.

The better way to make the dash is to hold down the Alt button while typing 0150. Why does it matter? If you publish an e-book that you typed in Word, it might make a difference.

The downloadable Kindle previewer (said to be more reliable than the online previewer) with Device set to e-Ink device and Kindle Selected, for example, might show a box in place of a dash made from Word’s AutoFormat feature. Use the Alt method to produce the symbol without AutoFormat. (That’s for those of us who cling to the convenience of Word. The safer way is to learn how to properly modify the HTML.)

The en dash (–) is just one of two common dashes. The other is the em dash (—). Hold down Alt and type 0151 to make the em dash. It’s said to be good form to choose one dash or the other and be consistent.

Well, be as consistent as English allows. Use the en dash for a sequence, as in 42–81 (this time without the space). Give credit to the source of a quote with the em dash, as in the following (this time with the space).

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. — Cyril Connolly

Here, the em dash indicates a quote (in lieu of quotation marks) and also indicates the author to whom the quote is attributed. (If you want to use a horizontal bar instead of the em dash, you know too much for your own good. Or, at least, for my own good.)

We know that the letter ‘n’ is shorter than the letter ‘m,’ so this should help to remind us that the en dash is shorter than the em dash. We still sometimes forget.

The en dash is used with spaces – like so. The em dash is used without spaces—like this.

When reading e-books, we sometimes see the hyphen used in place of the dash. Was it a mistake? Or was the author playing it safe, worried that an e-reader might not recognize the dash? Or did the author see a box in place of the dash when carefully checking the previewer?

En–ie em—ie miney moe,

Pick a dash by its toe!

If it hyphen-ates,

Let it go!

This blog was brought to you by the following punctuation marks:




Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (and Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace – coming soon)

What Was that Indie Author Thinking?

1. “If anyone complains about the grammar, I can hire an editor later.”

– You can edit your work later, but you can’t remove the bad reviews.

2. “My cover might stink, but the content is good.”

– People won’t notice the content unless they first notice the book.

3. “Let me just publish the first chapter to get some feedback about my writing.”

– Would you go to the video store to rent just the first scene of a movie?

4. “Opinions from my friends and family aren’t biased.”

– Do you trust the views expressed in infomercials?

5. “I’ll respond to that review to show everyone how wrong it was.”

– You’ll be showing everyone how wrong it was, all right. Just the wrong ‘it.’

6. “People will judge my book for the ideas. Spelling and grammar don’t really matter.”

– There are over a million well-edited books to choose from. Why choose one that isn’t?

7. “It looks perfect on my screen so the ebook will look perfect, too.”

– Get ready for a big surprise!

8. “Where can I buy some reviews?”

– Did you just ask that out loud? Even worse, did you just type that on Amazon’s community forum?

9. “Why doesn’t Amazon market my book for me?”

– What about the other twenty million books? Should Amazon market all of them?

10. “Why were my reviews removed?”

– Did you write them yourself? Did your friends or family write them? Did you exchange reviews with another author?

(Note: These weren’t quoted from real people, but do simulate many opinions that hundreds of indie authors have expressed.)

It takes much time and effort to write a book. First, you need a great idea. Then you have to iron out the details. The writing itself is a monumental task.

Most indie authors do put much thought, time, and effort into their books. This blog wasn’t written to try to disparage the self-published author. Rather, it reflects how much more work is involved in publishing a book than just writing.

Traditional publishers have editors to improve and perfect the writing, graphic artists to design an attractive cover, and experience with marketing. The self-published author who has finally finished the time-consuming project of writing the book is suddenly faced with all of these responsibilities.

The indie author began his/her project because he/she loves to write. Someone who excels at writing often doesn’t also excel at editing, cover design, marketing, and – this is so important! – public relations. For the person who loves to write, writing is by far the easiest part of publishing.

We can understand the common mistakes that many indie authors make. Unfortunately, people tend to dwell on mistakes, and the mistakes help to give self-publishing a bad name.

There are many quality self-published books, though; and it’s natural for people to enjoy the exhilaration of discovering a gem. A significant percentage of book customers are themselves indie authors. If you add to this number their friends and family, there is a large population of potential customers who may be willing to support the self-publishing concept.

Although it is possible to understand the common mistakes that many indie authors make, the bottom line is that the customer expects a good product in return for his/her investment.

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

A Silly Little Space

One little press of the spacebar can make a huge difference.

One  teensy  weensy  little  extra  space  was  added  between  the  words  of  this  sentence.

See the difference?  It’s just a space.  What does it matter?

How many spaces do you use after a period before starting the next sentence?  A very common answer ─ even among well-educated people ─ is two.  Those same people tend to be very surprised to discover that publishers actually use just one space ─ not two ─ after periods.  That’s right, if you don’t believe it, you should start pulling traditionally published books from your bookshelves and inspecting them.  If you look closely, you’ll see that there is just once space there.

Most of us were taught that there should be two spaces after a period.  Historically, the reason for the extra space has to do with the typewriter.  The trend of adding this extra space continues today – as many teachers continue to teach what they were taught.  This extra space is actually a good idea for teachers:  Just like double spacing an essay, an extra space after the period leaves a little more room for annotations on students’ papers (specifically, a correction note for capitalization at the beginning of a sentence of punctuation at the end).  Teachers are also probably used to seeing this extra space, and so it may look strange to their eyes to suddenly see one space instead.

The problem is that so many people who were taught to use two spaces in school are now self-publishing books.  Thus, the two-space trend has entered into the publishing industry.  Here’s the thing:  Traditional publishers use one space, not two.  If you want your book to look like a traditionally published book, then one space following a period is the correct answer.

Look, I’m a two-spacer myself. I have used two spaces in every paragraph of this blog, until now. This paragraph just has one space after the period. The paragraphs that follow also just feature one space. Compare the paragraphs to see the difference.

Which do you prefer? You could say that it’s just a matter of style. It’s an aesthetic quality. Right?

Wrong! If you publish ebooks, the correct answer is to use just one space after the period – not two. Why? Because the text displayed on ereaders may occasionally show a formatting issue when two spaces are used instead of one.

Word processors, such as Word, accommodate the extra space nicely. If a sentence happens to end at the end of a line, Word will hide the extra space. This is convenient because many teachers require this extra space on essays or lab reports.

However, ereaders often do not hide this extra space. When a sentence ends at the end of a line and a new sentence begins on the next line, the extra space either appears at the end of the first line (making it appear to end short compared to the other lines) or at the beginning of the next line (making it appear to start late compared to the other lines). So if you want even margins in your ebook, use one space instead of two after periods.

Stuck in the old ways? So am I. Here’s what you do: When your manuscript is finished, use the Replace tool to collapse two consecutive spaces down to one. (And if you can retrain yourself to use one space instead of two, your thumbs won’t have to work quite as hard to type a book.)

You may be interested in an article called “Space Invaders.” It’s the resource that enlightened me. Here’s the link:

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

E-readers: A Love/Hate Relationship

She unties the ribbon, peels the wrapping paper off, and opens the box.  What is it?  A Kindle Fire!  That’s awesome!

She turns it around to find the power button.  It doesn’t come on.  Hmm.  Oh yeah, it needs to be charged.  She finds the charger and plugs it in.

A while later, the Kindle is charged and turns on.  Service?  What?  It doesn’t come with free service?  It needs wireless service!  Let’s see.  There is free wireless at the coffee shop, but a router must be installed in order to access the internet from home.

After a trip to the electronics store, she has a router.  It should be easy to install, right?  Where is the modem?  She crawls under her desk, bending her body so that she can connect cables to the back of her CPU, modem, and telephone.  So dirty!  Electronic devices are dust magnets!

It’s time to try it out.  Not yet.  Need to wash those hands first.  What?  Still no service!  Of course.  The hardware is connected, but the software hasn’t been installed.

Where are those instructions?  Setup.  Three easy steps.  She follows the directions to install the software.  She tries using the Kindle again.  It still doesn’t show up.  So frustrating!  Ah, finally!  There it is.  Enter the password.  Ta-da!

Receiving a present sure can be a burden!  But well worth it.  Now it’s working.  Just look at the graphics.  What is that design?  Gears?  It looks incredible!

She wonders what to do first.  Let’s get a book!  Click ‘books.’  That was easy.  Sort by ‘title.’  Wait a minute!  There aren’t any books here.  Where are the books?  Okay, there aren’t any books on the ‘device.’  Better click ‘store.’

Best sellers, popular categories, daily deals.  So many choices.  It’s almost time to start preparing dinner.  How about a cookbook?  That might not be a popular category.  Where are the other categories?  Let’s hit ‘browse.’  Didn’t work.  What?  That’s not a button.  Maybe cookbooks will be a popular category.  She clicks ‘popular categories’ to find out.  Way down at the bottom, there is ‘all books.’

Wow!  This is really cool.  It’s like having a bookstore in the living room, on a bus, or in an airplane.

Huh?  All of the books are in order on a single list.  Where are the categories?  Oh, there is a ‘refine’ option.  Is it an ‘eBook’ or a ‘single’?  What is the difference?  Try ‘eBook.’  Finally!  There is a ‘cooking, food, & wine’ category; subcategory ‘meals.’  Where is dinner?  Ugh!

She puts her Kindle down and logs onto her desktop computer.  She visits Amazon, finds Kindle, and clicks on ‘Kindle eBooks.’  Oh, this is so much easier!  That’s the book.  Kindle for PC?  No, not for PC; for a real Kindle.  Hmm.   There is a ‘deliver to’ option.  What is a ‘cloud’?  This word ‘cloud’ was on the Kindle.  Let’s see…

All right!  There is finally a cookbook on her Kindle Fire.  Need to turn a page.  Oh, it works like a cell phone.  Small picture.  Is there a zoom button?  Where are all the buttons?  That’s power…  When she presses the screen, some touchscreen options come up at the bottom.  She increases the font size, but the pictures are still small.  These other buttons don’t zoom either.  She finds more touchscreen buttons at the top.  Still no zoom, but there is a ‘more’ button.  Must be under ‘display.’  Nope.  Where is the instruction booklet?  She checks the packaging for the instructions.  No instructions!  Which evil genius designed this infuriating gadget?

She touches the picture.  Nothing happens.  She touches it twice quickly.  The picture opens on its own page, larger than before.  What was that?  Double-click to zoom?  It’s not like there is a mouse…

After finding a suitable recipe, she begins following directions to prepare lasagna for dinner.  Why is the Kindle off?  It must have timed out…  She turns it back on and retypes the password.  Incorrect password!  Must have touched the wrong letter.  Try it again.  She continues cooking.

She returns to the Kindle to read the next step.  What is that on the screen?  A smear!  Already?  It’s brand new!  Need to get a screen protector… and a case.

What is that message on the screen?  Fifteen minutes of battery left.  No way!  Dinner won’t be ready for another thirty minutes.  Better find the charger…

During dinner, she reflects on her first experience with her new Kindle Fire.  There was a slight learning curve, but it wasn’t too bad.  She is getting the hang of it.  It’s really convenient.  The graphics are awesome.  It functions like a great big cell phone.  Not only can she buy any book and read it anywhere on a fairly big screen, she can even browse the internet anywhere that she has wireless access.  Very cool!

Later that night, with her Kindle fully charged, she begins reading a science fiction book that she found.  Which is more convenient ─ portrait or layout?  She settles on portrait mode.  Trying to scroll onto the next page, she accidentally turns back a page.  No biggie.  Another time, she holds her finger on the spot a little too long, and the word is highlighted.  A window pops up, showing the pronunciation key and definition.  A built-in dictionary.  That’s amazing!  She also sees ‘note’ and ‘highlight’ options.  Impressed, she tries to do this again with another word.  A display comes up instead.  No, not that.  She tries again, holding her finger in place longer.  Aha!  That’s it.

As she continues reading, she notices that some of the indents are longer than others.  That’s strange.  Why isn’t there a standard size for the tabs?  A while later, she finds a little square in the middle of a sentence.  What is that little box doing there?  How funny.  Several pages further, she discovers a hyphen-ated word in the middle of a line.  Aren’t hyphens used at the end of a line?  In the next chapter, she spots a misspelled word.  Really?  This is the age of technology.  The book is digital.  The author must have used a computer to type it.  Neither the author nor the editor used spellcheck?  How is this possible?

Attempting to scroll onto the next page, suddenly an internet browser opens.  What is going on?  She is reading a book, not going online.  When she closes the internet browser, she spots a hyperlink in the middle of the page.  Oh.  Must have clicked that by mistake.  This book is like a minefield.

The next day, a friend inquires, “So what do you think about your new Kindle Fire?”

She replies, “Oh, I absolutely love it!”

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