3 May 2011

ADVICE INSIDE: Formatting My Book for Kindle - Which Format?

Hi all,
I played around with formats quite a bit on my little test setup. I reckon I have probably generated my book 1000 times already and will probably do it 1000 times again before I'm happy with it. For info on my 'test rig' see the previous article on where to get your downloads and how to actually do it. If the steps aren't clear then let me know and I will put some more detail in there.

I guess the interest in kindle books is on the increase. Having played around with it a bit I can save you some time if you have a book to format for the kindle.

Read on...........

So here are some things I tried and a comment on how well they worked.....

You might be aware that MS word inserts a bunch of additional info in a HTML file when converted. One thing to bear in mind if you are working with an editor like notepad after starting with an MS word file. You will need to 'clean' the HTML tags up quite a bit.

I will assume that most of you know a bit of HTML - if not then go and have a play with some of the language here.

Essentially if you can write a blog or webpage then you probably know as much as you need to know already. If not then concentrate on formatting text, how to use headings and how to italicise or bold your text.

Some things to note about kindle. I am not aware of the extent of the HTML tags supported by the kindle. If anyone knows of a list like this then let me know, this would be very cool. I do have an ambition to provide everyone with a file on this blog that you can download and use as a HTML formatting template, maybe we should have one for word also. This way you will be able to concentrate on getting it the way you want it instead of learning yet another new thing just to move on. Let me know if this would be useful.

Caveat: I'm not sure if some of the things I say below are attributable to mobipocket creator (thanks you guys) or to MS word (I guess thanks to you too). I suspect that mobipocket is 'smart' enough to take things that word does and turn them into appropriate HTML tags that the kindle can handle.

I almost exclusively used


which is Heading 1 in MS word for the main chapter headings. For all sub-headings I used


which is heading 3 in word.

I found it hard to get spaces between headings and paragraphs even if I inserted a HTML
or break (I think I inserted one on the line above to show what happens - it is just like hitting enter but you have a BR inside your < and > - if I actually do it here I will get a new line), essentially a new line. It seemed that Kindle only recognizes one of them and not 2 or 3 in a row. The way around this is you want to create some separation is to use the word feature of continuous breaks. You can find this under insert, break, continuous. Then you get a dotted line across your page which shows the break. Don't forget to put your word in the mode to view all the spaces and breaks etc so you can see the formatting.

What works? 2 continuous breaks after each paragraph heading, 2 between paragraphs, 1 after each bullet in a list (word bullets work fine). Like I said, mobipocket probably interprets that somehow - don't question the magic, just use it and insert enough to get the format you want.

You will need to decide on left or centre justification of headings. I used a bit of both, just to make the text line up nicely with the headings. Have a play with it. You can also add italics to your headings and see how that goes. Colour is ok too.

General text
The text format is pretty standard. I would just caution a few things. 1.5 line spacing seems to do something, double line spacing has no effect at all. Make sure that you have free flowing text in your paragraphs. You don't really get to control the line length on kindle. An example? The kindle user can set the number of words per line or the text size on their machine. Because we have no control over that the best thing to do it to make sure that whatever they do in terms of sizing - your format can still look appealing and easy to read. The best way to test this is to change the settings while you are testing your document on kindle for PC.

So, remove all line breaks etc - you know, don't press enter or return at the end of a line. Let kindle handle that.

What you can control is the paragraph break. Insert a return, enter or at the end of a paragraph to start a new one. I found that a continuous beak or two looks a bit better for my book but I imagine that a novel will be fine with just the new para immediately after the previous one. Have a play with it.

You can use bullets. It took me a while to get it right and have the text 'wrap' properly. The secret was to make sure that the word bullet feature was applied properly. I saw some dots that I thought were bullets after an initial conversion to word. They weren't, they were just dots - these looked ok for a while, until I started to alter the line or page size in the kindle. Advice: if you need to use bullets then just use the word bullet feature.

I did notice that indenting made a bit of a difference on my bullets, also that when using a numbered list that the result of an A, B, C or 1, 2, 3 was a bit random. ie I would put A, B, C and get 1, 2, 3 as the output in kindle (even though word said the opposite - weird). In the end I played with it until I got A, B, C. How this worked was unclear :)

I have had no trouble with images. Just copy them into word the way you usually do. I haven't found any special problems. Just note that some kindles are greyscale in the text, some are in colour. Make sure you consider your whole audience.

Using the Kindle Publishing website
One thing you can do is upload your HTML file to the publishing site and then preview it in a kindle reader (greyscale style). This looks a bit different to the Kindle for PC result you have been working with up until now. The benefit is that this reader is provided by Amazon as well so you know that it is correct (so is Kindle PC but in that version you are checking how your book will look on, well....kindle for PC)

So, without publishing your unfinished book you can go and check out how your book will look on the greyscale version. You even have the option of downloading the file from Amazon that is used to produce that preview - maybe start from there for your next round of editing.

I hope this was useful, as I learn more I will let you know. I didn't want to repeat the zipping up of files and images for final upload, we can go over that in a different blog. For now - maybe this can help you to use the things you already have on your PC (and a few that you can easily get) to get cracking on formatting your book for kindle.

For me - I will keep going with 'Five Ideas to Change the world' Issue 1 - at least the writing makes my wife laugh even if the formatting still has a few weeks work to go. Anyone want to try their hand at some cover art?

I give kindle, the apps, the business model and Amazon in general an 8/10 for potential to change the world. What next?

Thanks for reading.

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