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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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