Why Amazon Just Doesn’t Play Fair With Formatting

The Kindle Fire seems to give formatting problems without warning for self-publishers

Self-published author Catherine Tosko on why Amazon should write a story of their own before publishing other people’s.

Someone I know has just published their second book on Amazon and due to formatting issues has completely given up on selling any more books due to bad reviews, not about the book but about the formatting.

Then the same day, a friend, a well known self-publisher had the exact same problem with Kindle Fire formatting that I had six months ago when I published my book and is probably tearing his hair out as I write.

Why? Because you can’t even trust the Previewer you are sent to by Amazon to test the different formats for Kindle and iPhone and it’s basically becoming a massive problem to know which is skinny, which is fat and short, which is for photos, which needs headers – ridiculous.

What gets me is as a self-publisher is that I should be able to not worry if Amazon or Apple bring out a new device. I am not saying that CreateSpace/ Amazon should retrofit every single book uploaded to their system. No, I am suggesting something that as a web development specialist by trade I have suggested to many clients. Retrofitting is thinking inside the box and is of course impossible.

What needs to be done is some mad skills type thinking (well just smart thinking) on the bottom of the planning ladder.

When the concept of a Kindle Fire or whatever it will be next is actually not made.

Before the stakeholders plan what we call “user stories.” You see, what happens, or should happen in any product development is a stage that is a pre-planning stage, where people who know nothing about IT or machines or how the old “inter-web” works, but are investing in that product write down in layman’s terms what they expect to happen when they take that new machine out the box. There are several business methodologies for this including PRINCE2 and Agile.  These “stories” are literally like this and anyone can write them with a pen and paper (We used Post-Its on a white board):


So what is missing in my opinion is that at the next planning meeting for a new “device” (the word makes me think of medieval torture) is someone to champion a user story like this: “I want a device that doesn’t require any existing publisher on Amazon to change the format of their already existing document so that they don’t suddenly find out via a bad review that their book is out of kilter because of the new device settings.”

Can’t really be that difficult.

  • Thanks Catherine, as we are currently in the process of trying to tweak our formatting to publish an Adobe In-Design file on `CreateSpace, this post is timely. I wonder which format your contact was using – whether there are likely to be more formatting issues with Word files or with In-Design. It would be good to find out how widespread the problem is.

  • Catherine Tosko

    He was using Word. I think the issues come up on footers, images and headers by the looks of it. Also paragraph spacing is really hit and miss. I should say it depends on the sort of book you are publishing. I know one contact had only text, and lost the last part of each page. The other was using a mix of images and text and the issue was that the images wouldn’t fit the screen and stayed small and fixed. I think it’s a big ask to expect customers to have to worry about all these problems as it means you have to become a formatting expert, which after all kind of defeats the spirit of self-publishing in my opinion, which should be about the book itself. But it definitely puts readers off the work if it is formatted wrong.