In this article, I will discuss how to update a book on Amazon through both Kindle and CreateSpace.
Since I have just done this with one of my own books, I will use that to provide a concrete example.
Here are some of the concerns that I had when I did this:
- Should I create a new edition or upload new files into the old edition?
- Will it be worth the effort of making revisions?
- For how much time will the paperback be unavailable once file revisions begin?
- How will the revised edition impact customers who own the old editions?
I will share my experience with these questions, but first I wish to illustrate some marketing points with the Look Inside.
The cover, blurb, and Look Inside of these books illustrate some important marketing features (although the sales rank of the paperback has slipped from not being available for a while during file review).
Here are links to the books, in case you may wish to check them out:
The new cover was designed by artist Melissa Stevens at www.theillustratedauthor.net. For comparison, you can view the old cover (which I made myself) here:
Let’s begin with the cover.
- I feel that the new cover looks more professional and has more pop. The old cover may have more effectively conveyed the content, but I wasn’t happy with the look. Changing designs like this hurts branding efforts, but I feel that the potential of the new cover outweighs this risk.
- The title is more visible in the thumbnail. This is a very important marketing point for books that sell through visibility on Amazon.
- Check out the gold starburst in the top right corner (hidden by the Look Inside triangle, yet will be a nice surprise for those who click to Look Inside). Sometimes, a subtle feature can make a big impact.
- A single image is more memorable. It’s tempting to fill up the entire cover with designs (I’m guilty of doing this with some covers), but simple designs can be more effective with branding.
- Maybe the Kindle cover is a little narrow. I went with Amazon’s recommended 1:1.6 aspect ratio to try it out; I usually go with something wider. I like the way this ratio fits in the Fire, but the cover is automatically skipped anyway when purchased. I’ll probably go with a wider ratio with my future Kindle covers.
Next, I’ll comment on the blurb:
- Shorter blurbs are often more effective. For one, the longer a blurb runs, the harder it becomes to maintain the shopper’s interest. You want to grab that interest quickly and encourage a peek inside.
- Nonfiction blurbs can be longer than fiction blurbs, but need to be divided into paragraphs or use bullets. I added blank lines and boldface through CreateSpace using basic HTML, and did the same at Author Central (where HTML is optional) for the Kindle edition. It’s better to do this at CreateSpace for the paperback (then preview it immediately in your eStore in case there are mistakes) than at Author Central if you have the Expanded Distribution (since other retailers, like Barnes & Noble, may use your HTML).
- An update stands out at the top. The “brief description” paragraph makes it look like a short blurb, especially since the only other text you see without clicking “Show more” is about the author. My goal is for the customer to peek inside. But for those who want to learn more first, they can click “Show more.” The list in the long description might format better as bullets (one thing I’ll consider changing).
The Kindle edition’s Look Inside has some noteworthy features:
- In my opinion, the best features are subtle. Subtleties can make the Look Inside seem professional or amateurish, and can put the shopper in a good mood or bad.
- Note how the first page of each chapter is properly non-indented. Even when there is no indent on the Word file and no indent on the actual Kindle file, there are often indents in the Look Inside. The way around this in Word is to properly create a Style for non-indented paragraphs (also apply this to lines from the copyright page) with First Line set to 0.01″, then edit the HTML in Notepad to change the 0.01″ indent to zero. It’s important to have consistent indents and proper non-indents.
- I set the indents to 2 em’s, not a value in inches. Go into the HTML and change the value in inches to a value in em’s. An em refers to the size of the letter M, which will vary with the device’s screen, font style, and font size. Using a value in em’s instead of inches helps the indents look good on any device, including the Look Inside.
- There is a formatting issue with drop caps in Kindle devices. A common alternative is to put the first few words in ALL CAPS.
- I like that colorful bookshelf (drawn by Melissa Stevens, who also designed the cover). I think it adds a little pop on devices that support color. There is a danger in using too many images in the Kindle edition. Shorter images tend to be better. A main concern is not distracting the reader from the text or detracting from the story. It’s ideal to use a light decorative touch that adds appeal. It’s not easy, as there are many potential pitfalls (image quality, fitting the content well, interrupting the flow, creating orphans, etc.).
- The cube is repeated. When you buy the book, you don’t see the cover, you just see the cube first. But in the Look Inside, you see both. That repeated cube is another thing I’ll consider changing.
- There are a few subtle features that I may improve, but overall I’m pleased with these Look Insides.
The paperback Look Inside is somewhat different:
- The paperback features drop caps, grayscale decorative touches, headers, page numbers, and a slightly fancier chapter heading style.
- Note that there are no headers or page numbers on most of the front matter (until the second page of the introduction), the odd-page header has the title while the even-page header has the chapter name, and the introduction has Roman numeral page numbers while the body has Arabic numbers. It’s a little “fun” to achieve this in Word, but it’s worth doing. The “secret” is to insert Next Page section breaks (instead of page breaks) where you want the header or footer style to change and place your cursor in the header or footer area and uncheck Link to Previous to make the Same as Previous flag disappear.
- When the paperback Look Inside first updated, it was showing 100% of the book. Bursting bananas, Monkeyman! That’s why you should always check your Look Inside. CreateSpace was very quick to respond to my inquiry and the problem was quickly remedied.
Let me address the questions that I raised in the introduction.
Should you create a new edition or upload new files into the old edition?
I chose to upload revised files, but this may not necessarily be the best decision for you:
- My original edition had 41 reviews and a healthy sales rank. I wanted to keep these, not start from scratch.
- If your book has only a few reviews, including a bad one, you might prefer a new edition.
- If your book has a history of slow sales and you’re hoping for better, a new edition offers hope. It’s easier to maintain a good sales rank than it is to overcome a history of slow sales.
- A new edition gives you added visibility through the new release filters (i.e. Last 30 Days and Last 90 Days).
- It is possible to have a new edition linked to an old edition (kind of like how the paperback and Kindle editions can be linked). This consolidates reviews, but doesn’t transfer sales rank from the old edition. Note that if the revisions are significant, recently Author Central has been reluctant to link the different editions. (Doesn’t make sense to me…)
Will it be worth the effort of making revisions?
The risk is that you can spend much time making revisions, and may even invest money on editing or cover design, but might not see any improvement in sales.
In my case, the book had been selling frequently enough to warrant the effort of an extensive revision and the cost of cover design. Here are some points to consider:
- If you’re strongly committed to having multiple titles out and a professional author platform some years from now, even if it’s a slow going in the first couple of years, then any improvements you can make now might have a significant impact on your distant future even if you don’t see any short-term benefits.
- More feedback from your target audience about your current edition and your potential revisions can help you decide if the changes may be worth making.
- Even if the revisions don’t improve sales, if they make you feel better about your book that may be enough to make it worth doing.
- If the changes are relatively minor and you’re content with sales now, you might consider the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. You can always make the changes in the future. This depends on how minor the changes are.
For how much time will the paperback be unavailable once file revisions begin?
When you upload new files at CreateSpace, your book won’t be available until you click Approve Proof. This can take as little as 12 hours or so, if you view the Digital Proof carefully and okay the changes. But it can take much longer, especially if you order a printed proof. The printed proof is more reliable, while the Digital Proof is quicker. Watch out for chain reactions: You can add a word on page 2 and it can cause crazy changes to the layout and formatting of pages that follow. It’s worth viewing every page.
You can get caught by surprise: You might get some unexpected error (like not making any changes to the cover, but seeing the cover changed or getting an error message about the cover) that takes days to resolve.
Your sales rank will rise while your paperback book is unavailable. I’ve had books with sales ranks that had held steady between 10,000 and 50,000 for months, which rose up to the 100,000’s after uploading revised files, for which the sales rank didn’t return to normal for a couple of weeks. This particular book was in the 40,000’s prior to revising the paperback files, and is presently at 200,000.
Kindle e-books are different: Your old edition remains available for sale until the new edition takes over.
For either edition, it can take a few days for the Look Inside to fully update. Occasionally, this is quicker (this time, the Kindle updated within a day), and sometimes it takes longer.
How will the revised edition impact customers who own the old editions?
With Kindle, if you upload revised files instead of creating a new edition, it’s possible for customers to obtain the new edition at no cost, and it may also be possible to notify your customers of the changes:
- Login to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), click the Contact Us button (in the bottom left corner of most pages), choose Publish Your Book, and select Making Corrections. Copy and paste the ASIN from your product page into the form, then type a message in the space below.
- In your message, describe the changes that you made very specifically.
- Wait up to 30 days for KDP to investigate the changes.
There are three possible outcomes:
- KDP determines that the revisions are minor. Customers won’t be notified, but can receive the updated edition, depending on their settings under Manage Your Kindle.
- KDP determines that the revisions are major. Customers will be notified that an updated edition exists. They must use Manage Your Kindle to get the update.
- KDP determines that the revisions are critical. KDP will remove the book from sale until you correct the issue. Once the issue is resolved, customers will be notified of the update.
For paperbacks, previous customers will simply have to buy a new edition in order to get it (well, I guess they can sell the old one used, which means a new customer receives the outdated edition…).
Even worse, shortly after the transition, it’s possible for a customer to receive the old edition when buying the new edition directly from Amazon. One possibility is that Amazon may have copies of your old edition in stock, e.g. through returns. Another possibility is using a third party printer to fulfill an order, for whom it may be several weeks before the update occurs.
You should order a copy of your book from Amazon.com to see how it looks. Rarely, there is a problem with the files at CreateSpace that causes the old edition to continue to print, or strangely a hybrid book that seems to be a combination of the two editions (this is very rare, but it’s worth checking just in case you win the “lottery” here).
The Kindle edition of my updated book will be on a Countdown Deal for 99 cents from March 21 thru March 28, 2014 in the USA. (If you live in the UK, you’ll have to wait a month or so. Sorry, but the UK price had been below the minimum, and the rules require waiting a month after making the UK price eligible for a Countdown Deal.)
Amazon.com paperback customers can always get the Kindle edition for 99 cents through MatchBook.
If you have the old Kindle edition, just wait patiently. I put in a request for KDP to make the updated edition available and to notify customers. It may take up to a month for the updated edition to become available through your Manage Your Kindle settings at Amazon. (KDP may or may not notify you of the update. We’ll see…)
If you have the old paperback edition and wish you had the new one, I’m sorry. If you’d really like the new edition, try using the Contact Me feature here on my blog.
My newest self-publishing books are called A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Volumes 1 and 2 (see below for links to these). How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon.com is my original self-publishing guide from 2009: It has been significantly expanded and updated, but my Detailed Guide is more thorough (especially, if you have both volumes, as the second volume includes many subtle formatting tips and a huge chapter on marketing).
I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:
Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers