Learning the Ropes by Jen Smith

Learning the ropes as a new Indie author is not easy. There is endless information on the web to sort through and countless people and companies offering a wide variety of services for a broad range of prices. I feel compelled to tell folks about an unpleasant experience (to say the least) I had with a company that I overpaid to format my book for Kindle, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble in hopes to save someone from making the same mistake I did. After the blood sweat and tears of actually completing my book and the good fortune of having a close friend that is an amazing editor I made the soul searching decision to publish independently. I’m pretty tech savvy and thought that I might be able to figure out the formatting myself but wanted to make sure it was done correctly so I hired a company out west. The women that ran this company did speaking engagements about the ebook industry and had written a few books herself about writing books to develop your brand. Her website was equally impressive. I went ahead and paid her what I know now is way beyond the going rate for formatting.

Everything seemed fine and dandy and all of the formats were uploaded and published on the appropriate sites and I was off and running developing my online author platform. I sold a few books here and there and picked up a few good reviews. All seemed well until my husband bought me a Kindle for Mother’s Day and I downloaded my book. When I opened it up I was shocked to see the text all to the left, there were no indents for the paragraphs. When I called the women whom I hired to do the formatting she began to try to explain to me that she looks at ebooks everyday and that this was normal for ebooks. I refused to cave and sent her several examples of properly formatted ebooks with indents for the paragraphs. I also pointed out that one of her own books was improperly formatted. She agreed to fix the problem then saying that this was an Amazon issue and that the preview in Amazon showed the indents but the Kindle didn’t. Wait a minute. Didn’t she just say text all to the left was normal? Now it’s an Amazon issue? Maybe this is an Amazon issue or maybe not, I’m not sure but I have my doubts.

After a period of coming down from this huge disappointment that many of my ebooks went out to the world poorly formatted making me look like a total incompetent newbie, I realized that the white space had not been incorporated either. To me, white space is very important to the read, indicating when the time, situation, or location has changed and the story is switching gears. When I contacted the format company again requesting that the white space, which was in the original manuscript I sent, be added back in, the woman said, “The nature of ebooks is that white space is removed, which is something you should be familiar with since you also read ebooks. It’s also something that should have been brought to our attention when the ebook was originally formatted months ago.” I thought- I just read JD Mader’s ‘The Biker’ and there was white space in it- great read by the way.

Being new at this whole game how could I have possibly known that I was supposed to indicate that I wanted white space? In all honesty I was starting to feel bullied and was getting more and more disgusted with the entire situation. Yes, I know that I should have checked every file to make sure the book was correct but I trusted that the people I hired knew what they were doing. This is the point I want to get across, be careful. There are a lot of hackers out there taking advantage of this explosion in self publishing. Getting involved in author groups and learning from other people’s mistakes like mine can help the new author have a positive experience and produce a quality product. After all of this, the woman had the audacity to ask me for an additional $75 to put the white space back in. That was it, I was done. I reached out to an author friend I met through social networking and was recommended a person for formatting that gave me perfect files for Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes & Noble for only $35.

I used to believe you get what you pay for but this is not always so. I paid a lot of money to a company I trusted would produce a quality product and this didn’t happen. I recommend not letting anyone else push the ‘publish’ button for you. Knowing what I know today I would have had them download the files then I would have checked them in the Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords sites to make sure they were perfect and pushed the publish button myself. All-in-all I am still psyched to be an independent author. I’m selling some books and I’m busy writing the next one. I’m still learning all the time through author groups like Indies Unlimited and individual relationships with other authors. These relationships keep me motivated and give me the support I need to learn from my mistakes and help others on the same journey.

Anyone else make a mistake we can all learn from?


Jen Smith is the author of SICK: a riveting memoir about drug dealing, addiction, and surviving abuse. Learn more about Jen Smith and her book SICK at her blog http://jensmithsick.com/. Social network with Jen on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/JenSmithSICK and Twitter https://twitter.com/JenSmithSICK.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a version of a post that first appeared on Jen Smith’s own blog. It is reproduced here with the consent of the author.]

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8 thoughts on “Learning the Ropes by Jen Smith”

  1. Good post. I was very lucky to hook up with some good people quickly, I'm sorry you had to go through that. And yeah, I read everything twice (again) before I hit publish. I have read my books WAY too many times.

  2. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. I was lucky that I got a good, local woman to format my books for Smashwords for $35.00 each as well. But your experience smacks of another version of all the vanity 'self-publishing' companies out there. It feels like, for every good, helpful person or company out there, there is horde of charlatans and users.

  3. I've only put two shorter works on Kindle so far, but anyone can learn how to do it with just a little patience and a few headaches! Well, at least with text only documents. Pictures and text are an entirely different ordeal 😉 I've had the most trouble with paragraph indents as well, but any formatting can be remedied. It's horrible that the woman you worked with made such shoddy excuses.

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