Kindle Conniptions: How I Published My First E-Book

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how to format books for the Kindle. The meager scraps of information that are available from the Help section of Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, the site where authors and publishers submit books for the Kindle Store, are cryptic and poorly organized. Almost everything I now know about this subject, I learned from Kindle Formatting: The Complete Guide to Formatting Books for the Amazon Kindle, by Joshua Tallent.

Kindle Formatting is itself a $9.99 Kindle e-book, although you can also order a paperback for $19.95. It’s a worthwhile purchase either way, because it’s chock full of arcane little details that Amazon doesn’t tell you about and that you’d never figure out on your own.

For example, I learned from Mr. Tallent (a digital publishing consultant with a firm called eBook Architects) that the only format that really looks right once it’s converted to AZW—and the only one that gives you the control you need over the book’s final appearance and behavior—is plain old HTML. And the easiest way to create a Kindle-ready HTML file is to make sure that your initial Word file uses consistent styles for elements like body text and chapter headings.

Since I use Word all day every day, I had thought I understood the program. But Tallent’s book forced me to figure out previously ignored features such as the styles pallette, so that I could then spend a couple of hours going back through the book’s 80 chapters and making sure that every headline was in “Heading 1” style, every dateline was in “Heading 5” style, and so forth.

Once that was done, I could save the Word file as a Web page (being sure to click the option for “Save only display information”—another arcane but crucial detail) and be reasonably sure that the formatting would be consistent once the book was on a Kindle. The next step, however, was to use a text editor to go back and remove the unfathomable amount of cruft that Word leaves behind whenever it saves a file in HTML. This is pretty much a manual process, though decent text editors—I used one called TextWrangler—have global search-and-replace functions that can speed it up. I was able to complete this part of my e-book project while I was stuck on a plane and had nothing better to do. But it’s a good thing it was a 10-hour flight to Alaska, or I would never have finished.

Oh, did I mention niceties like a hyperlinked table of contents? If you want one of those in your e-book, it’s a good idea to create it in Word before you convert it to HTML. The best reason to make sure that all of your chapter headings are in the same style is that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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11 responses to “Kindle Conniptions: How I Published My First E-Book”

  1. phil says:

    If Mr. Tallent can convert a book in one to six hours, what’s the problem? If I were an Indie author and could make 70% profit on each eBook sale, that cost for a contractor seems like nothing. Sounds like there’s certainly no need for a major publisher, if that’s all the work it takes to format a book.

  2. P J Evans says:

    LEarning how to create a Word formatting template took me several hours, with an instruction book, the one time I did it. That was for a manual at work (about 160 pages, with illustrations, which means a format for captions also).
    The entire manual required two or three months, because I had to redo all the images in it also. (At least I got paid for part of it – most of the work I did at home, on my own time.)

    Anyone who thinks ebooks can be done without editors needs to try it.

  3. Bill says:

    One reason you had so much trouble is that Word produces *really* *horrid* HTML, as opposed to clean well-formed HTML. That’s partly because they’re Microsoft, and partly because Word is a product that’s evolved over a couple of decades rather than being built cleanly from scratch, but it’s also partly because HTML and Word are designed for radically different problems. Word is designed to let you make pretty-looking marks on screens and specific-shaped paper, while HTML is designed to let you categorize the *information* in a document, so that somebody (not necessarily you) can display it on a display that doesn’t necessarily look like yours.

    An HTML reader might be displaying contents on an 8.5″x11″ portrait-mode piece of white paper, or on a wristwatch, iPhone, or billboard, so what HTML really cares about is that one bunch of words are an H1 header and that you’d like to anchor a given picture at this point in the document, not whether the bunch of words are in 14-point boldface small caps or have enough room before a page break. There’s an auxiliary standard, CSS, that lets an HTML author give some hints about how you’d *like* the reader to display the document, if they can, but it’s just hints, because that’s the reader’s decision, not the author’s. And since Word is primarily about display (and PDF almost entirely about it), it’s got to add a bunch of ugly format requests around every HTML information tag, because the author might have changed the heading format partway through the document, or might have just specified that a given paragraph was in 14-point bold-face without indicating that it was an H1 header.

  4. bowerbird says:

    wade said:
    > Since I use Word all day every day,
    > I had thought I understood the program.
    > But Tallent’s book forced me to figure out
    > previously ignored features such as
    > the styles pallette

    whoa. you’ve “ignored” styles? seriously?

    that’s a pretty brave thing to be confessing!

    all this time i thought you knew your stuff.

    > I bet that the first company to build
    > a decent e-book editor would get
    > snapped up by Amazon or Apple.
    > Entrepreneurs, are you listening?

    oh please. haven’t the “entrepreneurs” caused
    more than enough damage in the e-book space?

    i’m coming out soon with a simple light-markup
    authoring-tool that lets writers write in plain text,
    not bothersome, clumsy, heavy, intrusive markup.

    button-clicks will output e-books in powerful .pdf,
    and several versions of .html (for different purposes),
    as well as .rtf. other converter programs out there can
    then auto-generate the other formats you might want.

    my authoring-tool will be cross-platform and cost-free.


    p.s. send me your word file or your .html file, or better yet
    both, and i’ll show you how easy your book could have been.

  5. Wade,

    Thank you very much for purchasing my book and for your kind comments on it. I am very glad to know that I helped you in your conversion project! Hopefully the next book will be much easier to do, and do feel free to drop me a line if you ever need advice or assistance.

    – Joshua

  6. Matt says:

    Interesting article, I wonder whether the next version of Word will (as some whisperers are suggesting) have an export to ePUB feature. Seems like that would be a good idea and make life for a lot of self-publishing eBook authors a lot easier.

  7. Outtanames999 says:

    So it turns out that the Kindle (and probably all other ebook readers – uh the machines, not the people) are the dumbest devices ever invented. And to think, people pay money for them.

    For you see, the dirty little secret is that you could read these Kindle books on your non-smart phone circa 2007 because that is how dumb the Kindle devices are.

    Amazon themselves says their Digital Text Platform (DTP) “handles .mobi file formatting and images very well. For more information about the Mobipocket format and the Mobipocket eBook Creator, please visit the eBook Creator homepage Important: Only unencrypted mobi files are supported.”

    Turns out Mobipocket Creator is free.

  8. David says:

    Great Post! I am currently finishing up my first book project and I plan on self-publishing it. Any words of advice would be greatly appreciated!