Formatting For Kindle

Today, I’d like to welcome Kait Nolan to my blog to celebrate her recent release Forsaken by Shadow.  I asked if she could share information about how difficult it is to format for the Kindle.

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I was hanging out in Tweetchat a few weeks ago with J.A. Konrath and a bunch of other writers. We were talking about ebooks, which is no big shock given that Joe’s become a poster boy for putting your work out in e.  What positively shocked me to hear, however, was how hard everybody thought formatting for Kindle was.  In fact, it seems to be the prevailing consensus that this is a difficult process to do right.

      Frankly, I think they’re smoking something.  Formatting for Kindle is NOT HARD.  Seriously, I finished mine in half an hour, and most of that was spent paging through the output searching for errors (and not finding any).  I think I probably had such an easy experience because I’d been through formatting for both PDF and Smashwords FIRST, which eliminated a lot of the buggy issues that seem to come up if you’re just formatting for Kindle.  What follows is a very abbreviated summary of steps to take.  It doesn’t cover everything.  Check out the Smashwords Style Guide and Aaron Shepard’s Perfect Pages for an in-depth discussion of e-formatting. 

      I guarantee that the number one mistake that people are making is to either a) directly upload their Microsoft Word document into the Kindle processor to chew up (which is going to spit out all kinds of nastiness) or b) directly saving their Microsoft Word document as html and uploading that (which also spits out gobbledygook).  What’s the commonality here?  Yeah, that’s right.  Microsoft Word. 

      Now don’t get me wrong.  There are many things I love about Word.  It’s my preferred word processing program in most cases.  But it does not play nice with the Kindle system because as Word has become more advanced, it tries to do more and more stuff it THINKS we want for us—which results in embedded codes that produce the ick when you upload it into the Kindle system. 

      So allow me to introduce you to your new best friend: Open Office.  Free, simple, and saves perfect html format files with a little work.  Go, download, install.  We’ll come back here later.

      I want you to go back to your original Word file.  We’re going to clean it up a bit first.  Do yourself a favor and save a new file right now.  If you muck something up, you’ll still have the original.

      Now, first and foremost, you’re going to remove any headers, footers, and page numbers.  They are really irrelevant in an ebook because with the reader’s option to change the font and size, it mucks up how the text flows on the e-reader, thus plunking down page numbers and headers in weird places.  Not to mention that once you change the font and font size, it changes the pagination.  Most e-readers have a page number functionality/progress bar kinda thing at the bottom, so allow it to use that for page numbers. 

      Next up, don’t use any funky fonts.  Straight up Times New Roman.  Garamond.  Maybe Verdana or Georgia.  Be sure to use a serif font.  What’s a serif font?  Well, you have Times New Roman, which is a serif font, vs. Arial, which isn’t.  Notice how there are more hooks and lines and such that cross the Times New Roman letters?  This is what makes it serif.  Serif fonts are easier to read.  What about size?  You want something nice and standard.  12pt is recommended. 

      Now you probably have all your formatting that you like already done in your Word file.  Italics where they belong.  Indents and the like.  Go print yourself a paper copy so you know where all that goes. 

      Whether you’re running Word 2007 or something earlier, I want you to poke around on the toolbar until you find something that looks like a backwards P.  It’s called a pilcrow actually.   It’s usually around the paragraph settings.  This is Word’s Show/Hide feature and it’s going to show you all the formatting in the document.  Now click it.  You’re going to see all kinds of funkk looking marks like arrows and lines and paragraph returns.

      If you see a little arrow in front of a paragraph, it means you’ve used tabs to indent your text.  This is a great big no no and is the number one bad habit of writers.  Likewise if you see a series of dots ………   That’s creating indents with spaces, also bad.  You’re going to find and replace those.  In the Find box enter ^t (this is the reference for tab) and in the Replace box put nothing.  Replace All.  If you used spaces, figure out how many, then enter that many spaces in the Find box and again nothing in the Replace box. 

      Now you’re going to apply indents using the ruler bar—the RIGHT way to do indents.  Make sure your Ruler bar is showing.  Now you can either Select All text or just select the text of your chapter (not including your chapter heading).  See those two triangle looking things to the left of the rulerbar?  Grab the top one and move it over as far as you want your indent.  In a print document it would probably be half an inch.  This is generally too much indent for e.  I like somewhere between .25” and .33”.  Do that all the way through your document (assuming you’re doing it chapter by chapter).  If you don’t dig indents, you can do block paragraphs by having 2 paragraph returns (those backwards looking P things) after each paragraph.

      Those are the big points where stuff gets mucked up.  Now I want you to save your document and close it.  Now go into Open Office and open your document.  Do a quick review to make sure it’s the way you had it in Word (it should be).  Now Save As and select HTML.  Why not do this in Word?  Because Word mucks it up.  I don’t know how exactly, but it was a mess when I tried it.  Open Office just saves a cleaner HTML file.  And this HTML file is what you’re going to upload into the Kindle processor thing.

      As I said earlier, these are only the very, very basics of formatting for Kindle.  I highly highly recommend formatting your book for Smashwords first using their Style Guide (because of course you’re going to go through Smashwords so you can release to Sony, Barnes and Noble, the iBookstore and others, right?), then using Perfect Pages to fine tune things.  The Style Guide is free and Perfect Pages is worth every penny of the $12.60 + shipping.  You won’t be sorry.

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      For those who are interested, my debut paranormal romance novella, Forsaken By Shadow, is available at Scribd, Smashwords, Amazon, and the iBookstore.  It is the first in the Mirus series.

      Banished from their world with his memory wiped, Cade Shepherd doesn’t remember his life as Gage Dempsey, nor the woman he nearly died for. But when Embry Hollister’s father is kidnapped by military scientists, the only one she can turn to is the love from her past. Will Gage remember the Shadow Walker skills he learned from her father? If they survive, will Embry be able to walk away again?

Kait’s writing blog Shadow and Fang

Kait’s cooking blog Pots and Plots

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22 thoughts on “Formatting For Kindle

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Joely Sue Burkhart » Formatting For Kindle --

  2. Pingback: The Popularity of E | Kait Nolan

  3. I was pretty shocked when I heard some people had trouble formatting for Kindle. I was like… seriously? It’s the PDF stuff that’s hard. Not formatting for Kindle. That’s just a simple file saved as HTML. But then, I followed the Smashwords Style Guide exactly (I use Georgia font), and used Open Office. I’m married to a Windows/Microsoft hater. So he converted me to using Open Office several years ago.

    I never mess with Word.

    Partly because when you download a new version of your OS, or get a new computer with the basic version of the Windows OS on it, they only let you “try” Word, then you have to buy it. Pffffft. Whatever. I hate Word. They just make it more and more complicated and user-unfriendly.

    I didn’t realize how much Word screws people up in formatting. So yes, use Open Office. Also, be really careful about upgrading when you have a version you like, because lots of stuff gets worse and worse the more it gets upgraded and changed. Like Firefox. Mozilla Firefox used to be the BEST browser and IE sucked. Now FF freezes up on me for anything remotely important and I have to go back to IE.

    So don’t assume “newer” is better. It’s usually not.

    Okay, I think I preached enough on your comments section. Great post, Kait!

  4. Awesome. Thanks so much, Kait (and Joely Sue)! I was thinking I’d have to hire someone to do my formatting, and now … not so much. :)

  5. I’ve starting uploading some short things into Smashwords and I am ASTOUNDED how much BS digital gobbeldy goop Word inserts. I do NOT use tabs, I do NOT use more than one space, and I ALWAYS use the ruler bar for paragraph indents. Still, they pop up in my manuscript. Same thing with the !)@($&^ smart quotes. I turn them off, and, somehow, Word still finds a way to put some in. Of my three ebooks, one converted without a hitch, one had one error, and the other… I clean up the goofs, save, and there were new goofs. ARRGH! Finally got it fixed, though.

    I only use Word because that’s what Bantam wanted. Have you had any issues with publishers having problems with Open Office created files?

  6. Well, as I’m an indie, I haven’t had to concern myself with what publishers want. However, you can save documents in Open Office in virtually any other word processing program: .doc .rtf, whatever, so you can use Open Office and still send them a file in whatever format they want. .doc seems to be standard.

  7. Kait, Apple Works saved in a multitude of formats, too, but whenever PC people with Word tried to open my files (all saved as .doc format via the Save As converter) they had problems, lots and lots of problems. So I’m a smidge concerned that simply saving something as a .doc file format isn’t good enough and will cause yet more aggravation. Just wondering if anyone’s had experience in moving files from Open Office into Word, especially from Mac to PC and back again.

  8. :D It’s been my experience that Mac doesn’t play nice with anybody except other Macs. Via PC I’ve never had any problems moving back and forth between Open Office and Word

  9. Hi Kait, can I ask a stupid question? Why can’t I just print to pdf from Word and pull that into Kindle (if I ever get to doing this)? I mean, what exactly happens to the formatting? I already use both the pilcrow and the Reveal Styles and Formatting options to clean up anything and everything in all the documents I use, so wouldn’t it work if I just pdf it from Word?

  10. I’m not sure if the Kindle cruncher thing accepts PDF as a format at all. If it does, I’m not sure what it does, as I’ve never tried that. But in general PDF does not work the same way other ereader formats do. A PDF is very much like an image as opposed to a stream of text. They do not allow for seamless resizing/formatting of text based on reader preference, so I don’t think it would work the same.

  11. Deniz, just went and pulled this from the Kindle site “For optimal results, please upload files in MS Word, HTML, or PRC format. Other formats such as PDF may lead to poor conversion quality. We are working to improve the conversion quality for PDF and other formats.”

  12. Just getting into this process myself. Sigil is a lovely, lovely program that makes this all a lot easier; it’s a “what you see is what you get” editor for e-books.

    Here’s a very easy workflow:
    1) Use OpenOffice for the word processing.
    2) When you’re done (assuming you’ve learned/followed basic e-book style guidelines and stripped out all the wonky formatting that will trip you up) export the writing to an xhtml file
    3) Open that xhtml file in Sigil, and fiddle with the writing in e-book form, to your heart’s content.
    4) When you’re done, save it as an epub, verify the epub, and if it passes the test,
    5) Open the epub in the Kindle Previewer program — which both lets you see what the file would look like on a physical kindle, and converts the epub to a handy-dandy mobi file.

    It’s really not that hard. Took me about six hours of dedicated head-banging-against-the-wall to figure out the whole process from start to finish, and that includes the time it took to scour Google for all these convenient pieces of software and install them. :razz:

  13. You are basically a genius and saved me much frustration. You would have saved me more if I’d looked for help about 4 hours ago. Word even in doc form, may, however, be worse than you think. The backwards P thingy does not reveal ALL formatting. At least mine didn’t. I think it used to once upon a time. Who knows? (It’s buggy. I lost spellcheck for a while.) I thought I had cleared all the tabs, which are set automatically after returns. Even on my experiments with allegedly NO formatting, I couldn’t get it right on Preview. When I switched to Open Office, I was able to use their reveal feature and all of the sudden 720 of those arrows showed up. However, I couldn’t find and replace on Open Office because it didn’t recognize the “carrot t”. I discovered that even though Word didn’t reveal the arrows, it allowed me to find and replace them per your instructions. I then opened in Open Office, saved to HTML and voila!

    Thank you so much for not making me do the clear format thingy which (a) wasn’t actually working anyway and (b) would have meant losing the italics even if it did work.

  14. I want table of contents in my books. I have found the following to be true.
    1. TOC requires marking of chapter headings. Sigil is great, but epub headings are not the same as mobi headings. :cry: So don’t bother making a TOC in Sigil if you want to load it on your Kindle. I wish there was a mobi Sigil. I just love the index on Sigil. But kindles don’t have indexes ???
    2. Marking headings in word is simple. Not sure about open offiice. Have just started using it, but the table of contents procedures are non-intuitive and only slightly more complex than word. Making a clickable table of contents in Word is easy, but many steps. Groan. Still it seems that Open office provides better HTML. If you want to transfer the TOC into mobi, you need to start with and HTML text. So the TOC must be made in Open Office.
    3. The word TOC does not transfer to open office. The marked chapter heading do transfer. :razz:
    4. This seems really stupid, but i wasted hours with several copies of Caliber open. Then the html could not be “seen” by Caliber. Groan. Otherwise the process is really easy.

    • You actually can create a TOC in SIGIL that works on Kindle. You have to generate the TOC in HTML (it’s a choice in the dropdown) and it works fine. Once your EPUB is saved, open it in KindlePreviewer, a free program from Amazon. Your TOC works great this way and you can also edit how it looks, which is nice. I’m a believer in SIGIL and I use it for my professional formatting services. Hope that helps!

      Cheers, Kevin

  15. Thanks for this article but my spaces aren’t deleting and I notices the “…….” sometimes looks like there is a space like this “…. .. … …” Do I count each series of dots as one?

  16. I use similar steps. In OpenOffice I also fix a few additional things, like add space between and after headings (with styles.) My next step is to just convert using Alkinea, as it includes a table of content. Their site also includes a template for OpenOffice which includes front and back matter.
    For my last book, I just dropped Word. The main issue is the grammatical corrector: it’s not as good in OO, but it’s good enough.

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