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Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing won’t accept Chinese characters–or will it?

August 30, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 6.44.20 AM

The book’s done but not yet published. (It also turned out to be 460 pages long, so you’re going to get your money’s worth!)

My wonderful designer here in San Francisco, Craig Johnson, has created a beautiful manuscript for the print-on-demand version that will be available through Amazon CreateSpace. We need to do one more pass just to make sure no stray layout errors have crept in as it made its way from a Word document to InDesign to PDF to Amazon. I’m hoping within two weeks it will be available for order as a printed book from Amazon.

Believe me, as SOON as that moment comes, I’ll post.

The e-book version is turning out to be quite a bit more problematic.

Amazon says it does not support Chinese as a language and that therefore “At this time, we cannot guarantee that it will not be unpublished,” with the “it” being A Parent’s Guide to Mandarin Immersion.

Amazon only supports European languages. You can find a full list of them here. Chinese is not one of them.

For over a month now I’ve been trying to find out whether a book which contains Chinese characters will work as an Amazon e-book.

The book is written in English, but it contains many examples in Chinese. Here’s one from chapter 4: How Immersion Works:

When our younger daughter was in third grade we spent a week or so in the spring going through a packet of math questions for the standardized test all public school students in our state take each year. The test, and practice questions, were in English. She’d been studying math since kindergarten but it had all been in Mandarin.

One of the questions was, “Which of these shapes is a pentagon?” Below were drawings of three different shapes.

“That one’s a sānjiǎoxíng, that one’s a liùbiānxíng and that’s a wǔjiǎoxíng,” she said, pointing to the triangle, the hexagon and the pentagon. She knew the geometric forms and could easily have passed the test—except the test was in English.

What she didn’t know was the English word for五角形, or wǔjiǎoxíng.

Thankfully, that was easily fixed. I asked her what wǔjiǎo meant and she correctly said it meant “five sides.” Xíng, she told me, meant “shape.”

All I had to do was tell her that “penta” meant five. Then I asked her which shape was a pentagon. “五角形! That’s a pentagon,” she told me.

My concern is that if the Chinese characters don’t show up, the book will be a lot less useful for parents. As we’ve all experienced, sometimes computer programs that don’t support characters will show them as black rectangles or question marks rather than the actual character. Clearly,that’s not going to work for this book.

So I’ve been emailing with Amazon and the news is confused.

In an email I received Friday from the help desk at Kindle Direct Publishing, I was told this;

Since Chinese is one of our unsupported languages at this time we don’t handle information on at which version people are being able to see the Chinese. Also we can’t actually encourage our publisher to use an unsupported language, because once the book is in review for our quality team they will look at it and will advertise to you this is not a language we support, and most likely will ask you to unpublish.
However, if for example you still want to use it and publish in this language, we can not be responsible of how the book is going to show up on the different devices, and can not guarantee a good customer and reading experience .

This could mean that when I upload the manuscript file to Amazon, the system will kick it back as “unpublishable” because it contains Chinese. It could also mean it will go through just fine. I’ll keep you apprised.

The print option will still be there, so the book’s coming out no matter what. But e-books make up 30% of the U.S. publishing market at this point so clearly there are lots of readers for whom that is the preferred form.

Interestingly, I’ve purchased several Kindle e-books from Amazon which contain Chinese and the characters were perfect. In fact last week as a test I bought a copy of a bilingual kid’s book called Lisa can read by Sujatha Lalgudi which is in Chinese and English. It came through just fine.

At this point I think my best bet will be to publish the book on Amazon as an e-book but include a lot of caveats that some versions of Kindle may not support Chinese characters. I’ll try to keep a constantly updated list of which ones work, so that people who want to buy it will know if they should go for the printed edition or the electronic one, depending on which e-reader they use.

The cover above is the most recent draft, there are a few typos which will be fixed in the final, but I wanted to give you a taste of what’s to come.

And because people keep telling me I need a pronouncer to go with it, here are two: Weise rhymes with geese and Chenery is CHEN-ah-ree.

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