Print Quality Concerns About Self Published Books from Kindle Direct Publishing

Updated on September 27, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.


If you spend any time in the online author forums for self published authors, you’ll see a variety of questions and concerns on book printing quality, particularly the quality of print on demand (POD) printing done by Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). At the heart of the problem is self published authors’ inexperience with the printing process and technologies.

Let me explain why I feel pretty confident in my opinions on printing concerns. At one time, I was a marketing manager where I was in charge of buying and checking printed marketing materials. On bigger projects of thousands of pieces, I sometimes would have to check test runs of the jobs done on really BIG, high-speed commercial presses. Before a print job would get to that point, I had to work with graphic designers on creating artwork for print production, and worked with printers and print brokers on job estimating.

Then I spent over 15 years as the editor and print advertising sales director for a regional trade newspaper. Plus, I studied graphic arts, both for electronic and traditional printing press tech, including 4/color full color process printing.

Now, back to our discussion.

How Print On Demand (POD) Books Get Printed

Do you know how print on demand gets done? It’s really quite amazing. It looks like a giant photocopy machine. Take a look at the following video. I'm not sure if KDP uses this exact machine, but whatever they use will have similar (or maybe superior!) capabilities.

As you'll see, there’s very little human intervention. So you can understand why you need to carefully proof the manuscript you uploaded to KDP in Launch Previewer mode. Strongly suggest ordering a physical proof, too, to make sure it’s all good before making it available for sale.

Print On Demand Equipment Example

“Customers are getting damaged books!”

This author concern is puzzling to me. Since 2012, I have used KDP (and the former Createspace which merged with KDP) for print books, and I have never, ever had an issue receiving damaged or misprinted copies of my books. Never. And if something went wrong, it was usually due to my own user error.

Something that has popped up occasionally in forums are author reports of customers getting copies that are damaged, scratched, bent, misprinted, etc. The authors are concerned that a damaged book will ruin their reputations. Okay, let’s all calm down here! I have my own personal experience with KDP’s printing which has been positive, though I’m not saying damaged or defective books don’t or can’t happen. But there’s a good chance that authors are overreacting.

First off, how are the authors getting reports of these alleged damaged books? Customer reviews on Amazon? Are they ordering checking copies themselves at retail price? Personal contact from readers which may just be comments from picky, petty family and friends? And how many reports are being received? I’m curious about all that. In all the years I’ve been self publishing, I’ve never received even one such complaint.

One author said that she had heard about printing “defects” from people “around the world.” Let’s address that here, too.

If you use KDP’s POD program for your paperback books, the books will be printed in a facility that is closest to the buyer’s shipping address. They are not all printed in one place! Nor are they warehoused in one place if they are warehoused at all. That’s what print “on demand” means. It’s printed when it’s ordered and there is no stack of your books waiting to be sold. However, if you look on your print book’s product page, you might see that X number of copies are left. It’s possible that Amazon/KDP may have a couple of copies on hand if they anticipate there may be more sales coming quickly. But, in general, they would not want to tie up warehouse space for self published books that may have spotty sales activity.

From my experience with printing, I know there can be a variety of factors affecting how a printed piece ultimately turns out. Even such things as humidity can have an impact. And with copies being produced at several locations, each location’s equipment, conditions, and operators could create slight variations in how the final printed output of the same book appears. Some of the variations would not be considered “defects” by printing standards. The defective nature may be the author’s or reader’s opinion of how the look of the book matches their expectations.

I have to wonder, too, if some readers may just not want to pay for the book. So they’ll buy and read it, say it’s damaged and then seek a refund. If, indeed, a KDP-printed book is received by a reader in a damaged or defective condition, Amazon will handle the return with their usual efficiency, offering either a refund or replacement. Be comforted by that fact that if you use KDP, you have Amazon’s massive support system handling your customer service issues. These things can happen to any print book or product on Amazon.

Set Realistic Expectations for Print On Demand Print Quality!

Expectations of Printing Perfection

It’s interesting how many authors completely freak out when their inexpensively printed POD paperback books don’t look like high-priced books from traditional publishers. It’s like expecting a plated steak dinner from a fast food restaurant drive-thru.

For example, authors who are not familiar with printing processes may have expectations that their glossy book covers through POD should be mirror-surface perfect. That’s unrealistic. POD produces a really good quality printing job at a very reasonable price, and will keep getting better all the time. But it probably won’t rival a book published and printed by a big traditional publishing house. Maybe what these authors really want is a trophy book to show off to their friends. Get your ego out of the equation! Be realistic about what quality you can obtain to keep within your budget and keep your book at a competitive price point.

Admittedly, minuscule scratches on a glossy printed cover can happen. A glossy varnish (that’s what they call the protective coating that goes on your book cover) is highly susceptible to scratching from handling, packing, etc. So some minor scratches are inevitable due to the more fragile nature of the surface. And where it really shows is on covers that are solid black or a dark color. I’ve seen in on some of my own dark covers, but it wasn’t unacceptable. If this is a big concern, you might want to opt for the matte coated cover which is varnished with a dull finish that is less prone to showing scratches, fingerprints, etc. Or choose a cover design that doesn’t include large areas of solid black or dark colors.

Another thing that happens with books that have large areas of solid black or dark colors is that the ink coverage may appear lighter in some areas. True, if the variance is significant, it’s obvious and unacceptable. However, a slight variance would not be considered defective.

Print and Book Quality Issues with Kindle Create

One area where book quality is currently having some issues on Kindle Direct Publishing is with the new Kindle Create tool that is still in beta mode as of this writing. The tool is truly amazing and will help many self published authors avoid the high cost and hassle of formatting print books for POD.

However, the main problem that still needs to be worked out is how the equipment and software handle hyphenation and widow/orphan control (single words being left at the end of paragraphs or at tops of pages). I explain in the following video.

Authors need to decide if they're okay with these issues while this tool is still in development. I'm using Kindle Create and leaving the books I created with it as is so I can monitor the tool's development and progress over time. If you feel it's too unacceptable, then you need to format manually (or hire a designer) to get it perfect.

“Should I just print it on my own and offer through my website or fulfillment?”

Whether they’re unrealistic with their print quality demands, or spooked by potential or real complaints about print problems, some self published authors think that contracting printing of their books with a commercial printing company will help them get the perfection they hope for.

If you’re a first-time self published author, I would strongly discourage you from getting your books printed on your own. The learning curve for buying printing is huge. You’ll make rookie mistakes that could cost you up to thousands of dollars or more, depending on the project. If the mistake is due to your error, you’ll be paying to redo it because printing companies suffer no newbies. Plus, you usually have to meet a printing minimum for them to even work with you. Remember that self published books may only sell a couple hundred copies in their entire lifetime. You may never recoup your printing investment, and you could be stuck with boxes of books in your garage.

Also, if you print on your own, you’ll have to use a fulfillment program such as Amazon Advantage to sell through Amazon. That means more cost to you, on top of the cost of the actual book printing. Ouch. You may end up making very little profit, compared to self publishing and selling through KDP.

Think selling your book direct to customers will give you more control over the print quality and shipping care issues? That can be even worse than using a fulfillment program such as Amazon Advantage! Sure, you’ll be able to handle and control every aspect of the printing, order, and fulfillment. But do you want to? Plus, you’ll have the added hassle of handling sales taxes (which is getting more and more complicated and costly) and shipping.

Other authors seem enamored with the printed product they’ve received by self publishing with other non-Amazon, non-KDP platforms such as IngramSpark. That’s possible. But I have to question why authors are publishing on multiple self publishing platforms in addition to KDP. That’s a hassle to manage. And programs such as IngramSpark can do everything that KDP can do, plus hardcover. So why are they even messing with KDP?

Select your self publishing partners carefully, and understand the publishing and printing services each one can provide. When considering self publishing companies, I’d suggest ordering a copy of another author’s self published book that’s been produced by the company, and that’s very similar to the one you’re working on. That could help you determine which one might be a good fit for your work.

Just remember that the more perfection prone and demanding you are, the less profitable you’ll be. Also, learn about the printing and production process with a smaller, less demanding book project before you dive into producing your “masterpiece.”

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Heidi Thorne


    Submit a Comment
    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Linda, I've found that the author communities online and social media are a never-ending well of topic ideas. In all honesty, I've never thought of some of these things before either. But then I'll see it pop up in an author question and it springboards into my brain.

      Thanks for reading and for your kind words, as always! Have a wonderful day!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Your articles often contain information about important topics that I've never considered before. You've created another very useful article, Heidi.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Doris, you've identified a big problem with Kindle eBooks... no make that Kindle authors. Even without looking at an example, I can tell you that the problem is often caused by the author. Authors often use bullet points and other auto formatting in Word that KDP's system cannot render properly. Actually, Word's auto format capabilities can cause all kinds of problems in many other book formatting scenarios, too.

      Glad to hear you've used Kindle Create for your family member's book. Bless you for taking on the task of reinventing it for Kindle. :) Also glad to hear you sort of got paid. Hope it sells a lot of copies so you do.

      If you didn't see any problems in the preview mode, it's likely it will be a good rendition of it on a Kindle. KDP has that piece of the Kindle Create puzzle pretty well figured out. It's very similar to Launch Previewer mode that's on KDP, without having to wait interminably to see it render. And the Table of Contents feature is awesome. On my last Kindle Create experiment, I basically dropped a non-formatted (except for chapter section breaks) Word document into KC, and did all the paragraph formatting, TOC, etc. in KC. It turned out just fine and was so much easier than fighting with a Word document uploaded directly to KDP.

      Now, as I noted in the video, if KC can tackle the hyphenation and widow/orphan control for print, it will be a giant leap forward for self publishing.

      Thanks so much, as always, for sharing your experience with us! Good luck with the family member's book project. Have a great week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Peggy, thank you so much for sharing this info with your writer friends! Agreed, I do think that getting some competing books done by other authors using the same print/publishing company is helpful in determining which are good options.

      Children's books can be quite challenging on so many levels, particularly on the printing side. I did do a separate post on the challenges of children's books if your friends need some additional insight.

      The issue with children's books is that hard cover and full color editions can be very expensive to produce. Authors may never make back what they invest in them which is sad. All the more reason to learn as much as you can about the printing and publishing process before forging ahead.

      I so appreciate your support! Means a lot. Have a wonderful week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Pamela, I hope that what I share is a help for those newbie authors. It's such a complicated game for sure.

      Thank you so much for your kind words! Have a lovely week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Marie! Probably wise to keep it as an eBook on KDP/Kindle. And for the hard cover edition, the likes of Lulu, IngramSpark, and BookBaby may be your only choices unless you print it on your own. Those companies can also handle the Amazon distribution if you need it.

      Glad you've figured out a print strategy that works for your book. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us! Have a beautiful week!

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      7 weeks ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      Thank you, Heidi, for presenting this subject. I recently published my first children's picture book on Kindle. I chose not to get into a printed version, so I left it as an e-book only.

      Quite frankly, I prefer traditional publishing methods. My ideal is hard cover for picture books. Of course, Kindle does not offer that at this time.

      This is a very helpful piece.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      7 weeks ago from Beautiful South

      Heidi, I found your article to be very informative about PODs, but may I ask you a question about ebooks through KDP? I read a lot of ebooks that I assume are published through either Createspace or KDP, and I find a few that have very sloppy, inconsistent tabs and paragraphing. Their instructions are to set tabs at about 3 spaces, but I've read several with tabs from 5 to 7 spaces, and some paragraphs have no tab at all. Is this the fault of the author or the program?

      I ask this because a couple of months ago I finished editing and rewriting on KindleCreate a nonfiction book by a family member, a college professor with an EdD. When I say "rewrote", I literally mean it because there were too many problems with his first edition that was published through a small publishing company in a paperback format only. So he asked me to sign on as co-author with 50% of sales profits going to me because he realized he couldn't afford to pay me for the necessary hours. I agreed, and did this as an "as told to" book.

      Anyway, Kindlecreate instructs one on how to set the margins, tabs, etc. formatting of the book. I followed their instructions and see no problems, unless it is something I overlooked. However, when I push that "publish" button I want to know that the book won't encounter any formatting problems unless it's my own error, which I'm working hard to avoid.

      Thank you for your very helpful articles aimed at self-publishing.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      I have a neighbor who wants to publish books for children. She will probably be very interested in reading this. Your idea of purchasing books from different publishers is an excellent one to determine how each book looks like as the final product. I will forward this to her. Her writing group might also be interested in reading this.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      Again, this is an excellent article about the pitfalls of self-publishing. Your experience in this whole industry is always reflected in your articles. I like your video as well. This very informative article would be good for anyone to read that is new in the book publishing game.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Mary, you're right. Like anything else, first-timers are overtly concerned over things that really don't matter in the long run or the big picture. But everything is in sharp focus at that time. So I understand why they're concerned.

      Thanks for offering that perspective! Have a lovely week ahead!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Liz! I hope your family members are paying you for it. :) That's a lot of work. If they do decide to self publish, wish them the best.

      Thanks for chiming in and have a great week ahead!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Flourish, it's so easy to lapse into "just so." And as I keep experimenting with new projects, I have had to learn to be good with "good enough." Otherwise, I'd never move forward.

      I see so many authors either stuck in either waiting until things are perfect, or having high anxiety that what they did isn't perfect. One instance of this was almost heartbreaking. I knew why she was so upset. Unfortunately, it was due to her high expectations that could not be met.

      Yes, buying a book from another author who's done the same thing is a good way to test. And always buy a physical proof.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Happy Sunday!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      8 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is a very thorough explanation Heidi and thanks for explaining it so well. First time self-publishers are often concerned about their image so the quality of the book is important. However, you have a very strong point about publishing on your own.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      8 weeks ago from UK

      I have read your well-balanced and informative article with great interest as I am currently involved with the editting and proof reading of two books by family members. They will make their own decisions about self publication in due course.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      8 weeks ago from USA

      I like the tips at the end about perfectionism. I prefer things “just so” and have long struggled with what’s good enough. When something impacts me financially that’s where I draw the line though! It’s good to see how printing fared with another author. Buying their book and investigating it for yourself is a good way to find out reliable information.


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