Monthly Archives: March 2016

Problems with KDP Online Previewer

Update 8/28/18: Some readers are finding this post via Google. If you’re currently experiencing delays with KDP, it’s likely because of users migrating from CreateSpace.

The problems described in the post below are from 2016 and have since been resolved by Amazon (see updates at the end).


In the last week, we’ve received reports that the Amazon KDP Online Previewer, available after uploading your book, has ceased to function for many books generated by Vellum. When launched, the KDP Previewer shows a spinner for some time before finally displaying an error:

The server is down or took too long to respond

We’ve verified that this happens with both newly- and previously-uploaded books, including books that once displayed in the online previewer without issue. Judging from the reports we’ve received, problems with the previewer began about a week ago.

This bug is limited to the KDP Online Previewer. The apps and devices used by readers are not affected, nor are features such as Look Inside.

After some search, we have found at least one specific bit of styling code (CSS) that triggers the problem (though there may be others). A media query that operates on the dimensions of a reader’s device causes the online previewer to fail. For example:

@media (device-width: 768px) {
    h1 {
        font-size: 120%;
    }
}

Media queries like the above allow for style to be adjusted according to the size of a screen, and Vellum uses them to compensate for the inconsistencies in layout across Amazon’s devices. They are perfectly valid CSS and are even discussed in Amazon’s Publishing Guidelines [PDF]. These media queries function across Amazon’s devices and apps and, until recently, caused no problems with Amazon’s Online Previewer.

We are sometimes able to work around Amazon’s bugs, but we can’t work around this one without affecting how books are seen by readers. Unfortunately, a remedy for this bug can only come from Amazon.

We have filed a report and contacted KDP about this issue. If you encounter this bug with your own books, we encourage you to do the same, and welcome you to link to this post for background. Given that this only recently broke, and given that we have narrowed the problem down to this very specific bit of CSS, we hope that if Amazon is made aware of this issue, then they will be able to address it quickly.

In the meantime, we recommend using other means to preview your books, as discussed in our guide to Proofing Your eBook.

Update 5/24/16: A few users have received responses from Amazon confirming this issue and that it will be resolved “once [Amazon releases] an updated version of the Online Previewer.”

Update 1/27/17: Amazon’s recent update to the KDP Online Previewer appears to have fixed this issue. Unfortunately, we have now noticed that, in some cases, this preview does not exactly match what your readers will see. To get the best idea of how your books will look, we still recommend proofing as described in our guide to Proofing Your eBook.

Kindle eBooks and the Table of Contents

Recently, some authors have been affected by a change in Amazon’s policy toward eBooks that include a Table of Contents (TOC) at the end. Although this technique has long been used to prevent the TOC from taking up space within the Look Inside, Amazon has since decided to not allow it, in some cases removing books from sale until they are updated.

Although by default Vellum places a Table of Contents in the front of your eBooks, it also includes a switch that, when turned off, caused the TOC to be placed in the back:

Table of Contents Settings for Insert at Beginning of Book

You will want to revisit any Kindle eBooks you’ve generated with this switch turned off. By re-enabling Insert at beginning of book in TOC Settings, your book will include an HTML TOC in the front, which is what Amazon recommends.

But we know that many authors would prefer to not have a TOC as a page in the book, especially since it is included within Amazon’s Look Inside.

And so, with Vellum 1.3.6, we are changing the behavior of this switch. When on, it behaves as before, and an HTML TOC will be included at the beginning. When off, however, the HTML TOC will be omitted entirely. (In either case, the logical TOC, a hidden file that informs navigation, is always included.)

When choosing to exclude the HTML TOC, please take into consideration that, although the Kindle Guidelines do not state that it is required, including an HTML TOC is “strongly recommended.”

Vellum 1.3.6 is available to Direct users today. If you are reading this on your Mac, click Check for Updates to download it now.

Update 3/16/16: Amazon has since posted an announcement stating that “absent any other issues of quality, locating the TOC at the end of a book is not in itself outside of our guidelines.” Given the severity of Amazon’s actions (which included citing these guidelines), we are waiting for more information before making any further changes to Vellum’s behavior.

Vellum 1.3.5

We’re pleased to announce the release of Vellum 1.3.5, a minor update with the following new features:

  • Optionally use your own URLs for Store Links, should you want to create an evergreen link or use an alternative linking service.

    Custom Store Links

    You can read more about Custom Store Links on our Store Links Help Page

  • Use the right mouse menu in the Text Editor to Apply Smart Quotes to a selection

Vellum 1.3.5 also includes these smaller improvements:

  • Improved legibility of the Trace book style on eInk readers
  • Restored missing Paragraph After Break style for Trace
  • Fixed TOC layout issues for multiple-author anthologies
  • Improved sorting when dropping multiple Word files onto the Navigator
  • Fixed potential crashes when creating Store Links

Updating

This update is available to Direct users today. If you are reading this on your Mac, click Check for Updates to download it now.

If you downloaded Vellum from the Mac App Store, then this update will be available after it is approved by Apple, a process that typically takes about a week. To learn more about how to upgrade to this latest version of Vellum, please read our guide to Updating Vellum.

Update 3/4: Vellum 1.3.5 is now available from the Mac App Store.