Thursday, 5 October 2017

Correcting your book on Amazon

This is a short piece about correcting your errors and updating your ebook, mainly on Amazon. It's an interlude to break up the series of Q&A discussions about my 1st two books — this article is aimed at Indie authors.

Sigh. Well, I thought it would be a short piece. After all, the process can be explained in a few words: update/correct your MS. Upload it to Amazon. Contact them and ask them to offer the new version to people who have already purchased a copy.

Here's what Amazon say about the process:

But I remembered Stella (my wife) telling me how much feedback she'd had from very satisfied users of her technical manuals saying how valuable it had been to get step-by-step instructions. Somehow the article just grew….

So, yes: the mechanics of making the correction to the edition you have on sale is straightforward: update your manuscript and make sure the same changes are made to your ebook edition. If you're using Calibre to generate the ebook file, that's trivial:

  1. Save your MS as a Microsoft Word .docx file
  2. In Calibre, select your book and Choose "Add files to selected book records" (then select your corrected .docx file). If asked about replacing an existing .docx, of course choose that option, since that's the whole point!
  3. Still in Calibre and with your book still selected, choose "Convert books".
  4. Choose ".docx" for the input format and (for Amazon) ".mobi" for the output format. For other publishers, you probably want to choose ".epub" as the output format to upload to your publisher.
  5. Click OK. Calibre will spend a minute or so creating the .mobi file in your Calibre library. Upload that file to Amazon.

E.g. for me, under Linux:

$ ls -l "/home/luke/Calibre Library/L. J. Kendall/Shadow Hunt (99)"

-rw-rw---- 1 luke kendall 511043 Jun 9 17:33 Shadow Hunt - L. J. Kendall.docx
-rw-rw---- 1 luke kendall 1279081 Jun 9 17:35 Shadow Hunt - L. J.
-rw-rw---- 1 luke kendall 535810 Mar 26 2017 cover.jpg
-rw-rw---- 1 luke kendall 5658 Jun 9 17:33 metadata.opf

After the upload

This is where things get interesting.

What happens next is that Amazon will check your updated file before releasing it for publication. Basically, I think they check to make sure the book still matches its description and represents fair value, since Amazon has a duty to protect its customers. I imagine a small minority of shonky people try to use Amazon to scam or exploit people. Amazon works diligently to protect its customers from that.

This check can be quite fast if you're lucky, but may take up to two days (if I recall correctly).

At present Amazon provides no mechanism for you as an author to summarise the changes you made (for their staff who check your changes). I assume they have excellent internal tools for making the changes visible, though.

Amazon will send you an email when the updated file is released and available. On your Amazon Kindle Self Publishing page, under the Bookshelf tab, you'll see the book listing has changed back to LIVE

I think it's a good idea to have something like a revision number somewhere visible in the first few pages, so you can Look Inside to make sure the right version is there and available, and readers can also easily determine if they have the latest version.

Oh, and I strongly advise you to at least flip through the online preview of your uploaded content to at least glance at every page. This should pick up any outrageous things that have gone wrong — like blank pages, a shift into italics for long stretches, missing page breaks, illegal characters appearing instead as grey blobs… that kind of thing.

So, that's it — all done?


Sure, people who buy your book from that date onward will get the new and corrected edition. But what about previous purchasers — won't Amazon distribute the corrections to them automatically? Or at least, offer it to them?


The reasoning is that people might have made bookmarks and annotations, and preserving those when the underlying text shifts and changes is a tricky problem.

So, does Amazon at least inform existing owners there's a new version available?

Again: nope.

Well, at least you can inform people that there's a new version available, yeah?

No, not really. You don't know who bought your book. You can broadcast the news, but even if an existing purchaser goes to Amazon and re-downloads the book, they get the same version they originally purchased. Nor do they get the new version even if they delete the book from their device and re-download it!

Purchasers can only get the new version in one of two ways. One, by directly contacting Amazon and asking specifically to be given the new version. One of Amazon's people will then check and send them the new version manually. Which is a lot of effort for all concerned, right?

The other method requires no effort on their part, provided you do the right things. Using this second method, Amazon will send an email to all purchasers with a link they can click on to get the new content if they wish. Much easier. But you have to do some work as the author, to make that happen.

Have a look at what Amazon themselves say about this topic:

You may think readers can set the options to get automatic updates; perhaps this works only in the US. After I'd tried and failed to get the updated version of another author's book, that I had purchased, after I knew she had updated it (waves to Barbara Strickland), I finally gave up and contacted Amazon via chat, to get the new version. After a bit of back and forth, the helpful Amazon rep pushed out the new content to me. But I wanted to know why I couldn't get it myself, so the chat continued:

Me: Great, thanks. But *surely* there must be a way for customers to do that without contacting Amazon? I was hoping to blog about the correct way to do this...
BTW, the new version is on my tablet, so that's good...
[Amazon rep.]: Thanks for your feedback.
Luke, is the automatic book update option turned ON on your account?
Me: I believe so... I'll check...
[Amazon rep.]: full link)
Under settings, scroll down and you can see Automatic Book Update.
Please confirm this option once.
We value your support and look forward to the continued opportunity of serving you. Would be there anything else that I can assist you for today?
Me: Thanks. Yes, it is turned ON.
So, why did it not update, given that Automatic Update was already turned on?
You can still help me by explaining what should have happened, or by explaining why it did not update automatically.
[Amazon rep.]: Luke, some Kindle book update can be initiated only from our end.
Me: I believe that even with Auto Update, updates aren't pushed out automatically by Amazon because Amazon worries that people will lose their bookmarks, reading position, etc. So I though there was some user action required, to get an updated version. (And then I couldn't find a way to do it.)
[Amazon rep.]: Yes, you understood it correctly.
Me: So you're saying that there is no way to get an automatic update to a new version, except by contacting Amazon and asking them to do it for you manually? (I know that if the author goes to the trouble of requesting updates to be sent automatically, and I am not asking about that. I am asking about the situation when the author does not do that extra step.)
(I am having trouble understanding that Amazon don't provide such an obviously-useful feature: an option to "refresh/update" the book to the latest version.)
[Amazon rep.]: I can understand your concern completely. However, currently we don't have an option to process the update automatically without the request made from author or customer.
In this case I take it as feedback and forward it to the appropriate team.
Me: Thanks. I will do the same, from my end. I will also blog about it.
[Amazon rep.]: Customer feedback like yours helps us continue to improve the service we provide, and we're glad you took time to write to us.
We're regularly working on improvements to your experience with Amazon.

Pushing out the update

You can get Amazon to offer your update to all existing purchasers, by contacting them and asking them specifically to do so. It does take some work, however. The main thing you need is a clear and reasonably detailed explanation of what you have changed. You contact Amazon, and provide that information, and wait for up to seven days (usually) while they check the changes and your explanation, and decide whether it is a good enough reason to offer the new version to existing purchasers.

It's a little bit tricky, but not too bad.

For the explanation, they will happily accept very detailed lists of exactly what changed. E.g. for most of my (embarrassingly many) updates to Wild Thing after its initial release. E.g. for Release 5 (blush), my explanation to Amazon started with a summary:

Release 5: Based on reading the 1st (proof) printed copy: numerous small improvements (punctuation, word choice), several small continuity errors fixed, several typos fixed, changed to us US-style punctuation within quotations.

"Global" changes:

+1) Replaced all pairs of "<non-breaking space><space>" by plain "<space><space>" (7,000+)

+2) Fixed all wrongly-spaced chapter headings (approx 10)

+3) Changed from British/Aust style quotation-punctuation style ('He said "Yes, really", then…') to US/Canadian style ('He said "Yes, really," then…') in majority of cases (approx 150). (The remaining examples, for unusual situations, are deliberate!)

+4) Replaced all British/Au-preferred "towards" with US-preferred "toward" (approx 30)

Below, the underlined portions of the "before" (left text, Release N-1) and "after" (right text, Release N+1) are to highlight the specific changes. The page numbers refer to the page number in the 5"x8" print edition: they are given just as an approximate indication of the location for the ebook edition.

(Followed by the detailed list of every change:)

Prolog, p6,p7 (punctuation)
'Or might they not even seek → 'Or, might they not even seek
but I believe! → but I believe.

p9 (punctuation, phrasing)
a hammer blow on meat, signalling → a hammer blow on meat signalling
her elbow against his ribs → her elbow into his ribs
and Shining Hair completed her spin → while Shining Hair completed her spin
as if expecting → as if he'd expected

p10 (punct)
husband's chest each impact → husband's chest, each impact

p11 (clarity)
She lunged, grabbing → She lunged forward, grabbing

p14 (clarity)
the female figure → the adult female figure

p15 (punct, typo)
the rigging lines he → the rigging lines, he
But you will → 'But you will
swallowed the land yacht.' → swallowed the land yacht.

Chapter 1, p21 (word choice)
before collecting herself → and she collected herself

Chapter 2, p27 (word choice, punct)
wall of affection → wave of affection
to his office → to his office.

etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Only on one occasion did I have trouble with Amazon. I had found an appalling error in the conversions, that had been present for volumes 1 and 2 for some period. What had happened was that in every place where I had used a blank line as a separator, to indicate a small scene shift or a passage of time, the conversion to .docx and then .mobi had lost the blank line — so the two scenes were jammed together! (I fixed this by making sure each empty blank line contained a "non-breaking space" character. This prevented the automatic stripping of these blank lines.) I provided just a summary of this change, and a sample of the places where this had happened, and uploaded the fixed versions. However, I got back a peculiar message from Amazon asking (I thought) more detail about my changes:

For example:
&gt; Location 129**
&gt; Error: Her mother have tol me
&gt; Correction: Her mother has told me.

For months, as we went back and forth, the miscommunication continued. It was literally only while writing this blog article today that I realised they weren't quoting errors they had seen in my book and were concerned with, or couldn't find, as I thought they were telling me. I kept asking them to check the book they were looking at, and seeing the above errors, since those errors were not in my books — not realising they were giving me an example of the level of detail they needed, and were asking for additional specific examples.

Contacting Amazon

Okay, so, how do you contact Amazon to ask them to do this? First, login (Sign In) to your Amazon Kindle Select Program page:

Scroll down to the very bottom. You should see a small, pale grey link called "Contact Us":

Clicking on that will lead to lots of useful help topics, but for this task you need to select "Book Details" under the "How can we help?" list of topics, and under that, select "Update a Published Book" and provide the explanation of what you changed, that we discussed above. You'll see from the template text they provide, Amazon also wants the title of your book and the ASIN (e.g. for my 1st book, Wild Thing, the link looks like this:

Click on the "Send Message" link after you have filled in all the details (it will be quite long), checked it to make sure you haven't got silly typos or errors in your message, copied it and saved it away for your own records in a file or into an email you send to yourself.

Then wait for the news from the approval from Amazon.

So: is that it? Is it done now?

Why, yes, Mr Jones. I believe it is. All that's left is to perhaps notify your readers in your own social media that you've fixed problems and they might like to accept the offer of an improved version, when Amazon emails them.

And I think this blog article is done, too. I hope it's helpful for a few Indie authors!

Next time, I'll continue with the series of Q&A discussions about the 1st two books in The Leeth Dossier.

1 comment:

Barbara Strickland said...

Some really good info, thank you. There is so much self-published authors need to know.