I don’t do this as often as I should (read other people’s books on self-publishing). It’s not because I don’t think they have good things to offer. Mainly it’s the result of a reasoning and a fact. First, I don’t want to accidentally plagiarize someone while writing. So, I tend to keep others’ writing out of the memory banks. Second, most non-fiction on book publishing is far too expensive for my little budget.
But I picked up a copy of Aaron Shepard’s Pictures on Kindle: Self Publishing Your Kindle Book with Photos, Illustrations, or Other Graphics, or Tips on Formatting Your Images to Look Their Very Best (New Self Publishing) yesterday. I read through it in a couple hours. I found it interesting and useful—though probably not in a way you expect.
I found a new respect for authors using Word to format your Kindle books
Your level of pain tolerance is simply amazing. I knew Word was difficult to use, but I stand appalled. As all of you know, I use InDesign and Photoshop for writing, editing, graphic production, and so on. The ease with which these apps solve production problems tends to make me unsympathetic to Word users. I repent of that attitude. My career gave me tools not commonly available to self-publishers. But I want you to know, there is a better way, if you need that relief.
I do understand the seeming necessity. If it’s all you know and the only software on your computer, then you use it. There really is no free, or even low-priced alternative. Good tools are always an investment in your future. But painful doesn’t begin to describe the tortures necessary to use Word and the freebies. I’m saddened by what you must tolerate.
More importantly, I found out more about why Kindle causes design pain
It’s a world developed for Word users by PC/Android programmers. The compatibility issues are immense, but the basic programming mindset is not focused on designer options, but on ease of production for Amazon. Even reader comfort is a secondary issue for them. An excellent designer is always primarily concentrating on producing book designs which offer incredible readability with top-quality graphics to help the reader easily absorb the content. That attitude is quite a ways outside the Kindle paradigm. That’s neither good nor bad, simply reality.
In the Kindle universe, excellent book design is very difficult to execute. Part of that is due to the lack of coherent instructions from Amazon on best design policies. Amazon’s assumption is that the uploader of books to KDP is a design-ignorant author using Word with no illustration skills and cheap stock art or self-shot photos. I don’t think that’s true anymore.
Nevertheless, Amazon remains closed-lipped about their processes. They reprocess our books without our knowledge or input, making changes we cannot control. Developing reliable techniques and workflow is only roughly possible. Plus, their proprietary format is severely compromised in many ways—both typographically and graphically. The need to produce books which work in both black & white, e-ink Kindles and full-color, high-res, HD Fires is a real problem. You have some poor choices to choose from.
Kindle graphics are a crap shoot!
Yes, there are ways to minimize your losses. Aaron gives some good advice about techniques to do this. But I was struck by how many times he said: Amazon may just reprocess your graphics without your knowledge and change them radically.
The information he gives about Amazon’s fixed layout options is helpful. However, most books have no need for this option. Books like mine, with 200-300 graphics, can use them well (and my sales stats prove that, as I have written on several occasions). But these graphically intensive fixed layout ebooks are not commonly offered on KDP or Nook. iBooks handles them well, as does Kobo. However, in this area also, Amazon dominates sales.
My standard advice, to produce inline 600- or 1200-pixel-wide JPEGs or GIFs, remains solid. But, outside of my cozy world of InDesign and Photoshop, the jungle is dangerous and unpredictable. I’ll be happy to introduce you to my world. If that’s not an option for you, Aaron’s book gives you good advice.
Should you read the book?
It’s a good book. Aaron writes well and explains thoroughly. If you have no graphic design background, it will be very helpful. If you have graphic design experience, this has little to offer. Basically he makes the case for me that, if you write and produce several books a year, you really need to take the time, make the effort, and move to Adobe’s Creative Cloud apps with InDesign CC and Photoshop CC—plus all the rest of them. You be able to cut your production times by 70% to 90% with far better quality ebooks produced. [Yes, that’s just a guess based on how I do do things in CC compared to what Aaron is recommending in Word in this book.]
If you do not have the time to do that, you should probably hire someone to produce your books. Doing it in Word is dangerous to your health: mentally and physically. That level of frustration and stress is not good for you.