Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Never publish a rough draft... But don't assume you haven't, either

Even in the best relationships, there are bound to be a few hiccups.

 I love Amazon, not just for the convenience and competitive pricing, but also as a business partner. In the past, when they've called on writers to show their support, I've been there, and when I've had to go to KDP for help, they have always been polite and expedient. Unlike many traditional publishers, Amazon treats authors like valued partners. We provide them a product and they distribute it to readers. It's a symbiotic relationship that benefits all of us. Authors get better royalty rates and we maintain full control over our product. Readers get greater selection and lower prices. Amazon gets a cut of the profits, providing a service with very low overhead.

Unfortunately, even in a great relationship, things can happen...

One example is my latest steampunk novel, the Dragon's Breath. I published this book on October 30th, nearly six weeks ago. It's the third book in my Iron Horse series, and as such, Amazon's system should automatically include it in their listings so that anyone browsing my books will see I have a new title out. In other words, the book should link to the rest of the series and the series page should include the latest book. Usually, this happens within the first week of publication, or two weeks at most, but it hasn't yet. Being the patient, understanding person I am, I waited a whole month before I even contacted support. I just heard back today -a week later- that they're still troubleshooting the issue. I know, it's not huge, but every little thing can and does have an affect. As an independent businessman, I have to pay attention to all these details.

Another example: I recently found out that the KDP publishing system sometimes has difficulty sorting out which version of a book they should publish. What does that mean? Well, I recently heard about an author who put up a title for pre-order, prior to publication. In order to do this, the Kindle publishing system requires you to upload a file even though it won't be sent out yet. It's the same process for any e-book. Even if you're not ready to publish, you must upload a file in order to get your information in place and sorted out. I usually upload a rough draft of the book I'm working on. Then, right before publication, I upload a final draft.

The author I mentioned above uploaded a blank file. When it was time to publish, the author simply replaced the empty file with the final draft and then hit the "publish" button. Should be no problem, right? Except the system didn't replace the old blank file with the new one. It published the wrong one. Thousands of empty books went out on the day of sale. It was a mess, and it exposed a serious problem that I and many others had never been warned about.

KDP's automated system apparently keeps some -or all- of the files you upload, and it can't always tell which file should be published.It turns out other authors have had this problem, and only knew because they caught it themselves. The example I used was probably a best-case scenario because Amazon was able to easily correct the problem by sending out the final draft to all those readers. But what if those readers had been given a rough draft instead of a blank file? What if there are thousands, maybe even millions of books floating around on Kindles that aren't even the final version? Imagine the hit in sales an author could take when thousands of people are reading his rough drafts by accident. Honestly, it's a bit nerve-wracking to think about.

I have contacted Support regarding this issue, and I hope to hear back in the next day or two. In the meanwhile, I'm doing the only thing I can think of to prevent this from happening: I'm renaming the files of every single book I have published with a dated name, and re-uploading them to KDP. Hopefully, by integrating the date into the file name, this will force the system to recognize the newer file by its numerically higher name instead of allowing it to make some other arbitrary choice between multiple files. I don't know if it will make any difference or not, because I can only guess as to how the KDP system works, but it's worth the extra effort just for the peace of mind knowing I've done all I can.

I have run into other little issues here and there: From time to time, Amazon changes their algorithms and my sales drop into a hole for a day or two. Sometimes, their system flags and deletes good reviews on my books, while leaving reviews that were clearly posted as an effort to mislead readers about the content of my books. Despite all that, I know that the KDP techs do their best, and I sympathize with the difficulties they face. After all, KDP is HUGE, and the people troubleshooting these problems are usually not the ones who designed and wrote the software. On top of all that, Amazon regularly implements changes to the system, which can have unintended consequences to other aspects of the program. I'm sure it's a headache for them, and it doesn't make it any better when thousands of writers start shooting them emails titled "WTF?" or "What the h--- happened?"

I don't want to be that guy. I do want to be aware of potential flaws in the system, and if I find out about them, I want to make sure others are aware also. Hopefully, this issue isn't as bad as it sounds. Hopefully none of my rough drafts have accidentally gone out to my readers. If they have, then I'm sure KDP will be honest about it and do all they can to make it right. I'll update when I hear from them. In the meanwhile, if you publish through KDP, you just might want to take a look at your file names and consider making those changes.


I wrote this post a few days ago and before I could even publish, KDP responded. According to their response, the Kindle publishing system does NOT permanently keep previous files. When a new file is uploaded, the system is supposed to automatically replace the old file. Unfortunately, this does NOT happen immediately. According to the official response, it can take up to forty-eight hours for the changes to work their way through the system.

That's good news. But it's also terrible news. Why? Because I rarely upload the final version until I'm ready to publish. It's the last step in the publishing process. That means anyone who has purchased one of my books during the first few days of publication, at any time in the last FIVE YEARS, has likely read a rough draft.

In their response, KDP advised me that it's probably best never to upload a rough draft. Umm, yeah. Good to know. I wish I'd known it five years ago and hadn't been doing it all this time. And about The Dragon's Breath: Turns out they fixed that problem, too. Which is excellent news. It now links to the series correctly. However, it took over six weeks, with my personal involvement, to get the situation corrected, which makes me wonder if the same thing could potentially happen with one of these rough drafts. Is it possible that one of these rough draft files has been sold to my readers for weeks, or even months without correction?

I don't know. I have no way of finding out except to purchase a copy of each file after I publish it, and then immediately read it, looking for errors that I know were corrected in the final draft. Yes, I do feel sick to my stomach. It's humiliating. Worse yet, it's potentially damaging to my career (and to anyone else who's ever done this). There's no way to count how many possible readers have been turned off by downloading an unfinished file.

Going forward, I'm going to avoid creating the book in KDP until I have a final draft... or, at the very least, I will keep a blank file to upload in that situation. At least then, I'll know what has gone out to my readers and will be able to quickly remedy the problem. I'll also keep renaming my newly published files, just in case. This is probably unnecessary based on what KDP has told me, but it's best to take every possible precaution.

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