Formatting Issues when publishing for the Kindle

When I was converting my collection of short stories for the Kindle, I had two formatting issues with the .html file I’d created from MS Word.

The first was with the spacing between chapter (or story) titles and the following text. For some reason, some of them were spaced correctly and some were much closer together than the others. The fix was really simple: I opened the .html file in notepad, did a search for the title in question, and then underneath the code that contained the title inserted the tab <br>. Those who know basic html will know this is a line break, but it brought all the spacings into line for me.

The second problem was a bit more complicated. The .html file had defaulted the paragraph settings so the first line of each one was indented. I didn’t want it to look that way and spent a few hours messing about with it. In the end, I found a section of code in the document that Word had created that looks like this:

p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;

I inserted the following line in this section (below the margin-left line): text-indent:0in;

The secondary problem, however, was that Word had applied the MsoNormal class to some paragraphs, but not to all. So whilst that fixed the problem, it didn’t fix it everywhere. So what I then did was to replace all the paragraph tags in the document with the MsoNormal class. To do this, I selected Edit > Replace in notepad and set it to replace <p style= with <p style=MSONormal. This set all the paragraphs to the correct class in the style settings and the indent code was then applied across the whole document.

When I was formatting The Haiku Diary I wanted to ensure that the book had three Haiku per page, regardless of whether it was being viewed on the Kindle, the Kindle DX, or any of the Kindle apps. But by this point I’d made so many changes to the .html that I didn’t want to go back and put page breaks in the Word document and then go through all the other changes again. So instead I trawled through the .html file (again in notepad) and inserted the following line after every third poem: <br clear=all style=’page-break-before:always’>.

I also wanted to indent the date beneath each Haiku and used the following code to do this: <p style=’margin-left:180.0pt;text-indent:250.0pt;line-height:normal’>.

If you’re a web developer or html and CSS expert this will all be second nature to you – you’ll probably know better code than the stuff MS Word auto-generates. But for those of you struggling to find answers to your formatting issues (as I was), I hope this helps.

Publishing Your Ebook for the Amazon Kindle

Publishing your book as an Ebook for the Amazon Kindle is relatively straightforward and is a good way to promote yourself as a writer as you can control the pricing and use your work as an introduction to other publications. Writers such as Stephen Leather and J.A. Konrath (aka Jack Kilborn) are doing it and you can have a book up on both the UK and US Amazon sites in a few hours.

Amazon provide a full guide on how to get content onto their site, which can be found here. But there are steps you need to follow to ensure you have the correctly formatted content:

Step 1 – Formatting

The first step is to get your work into a html format that is recognised by Ebook conversion programs. The easiest way to do this is to create your text in MS Word and to save it as a Web Page, Filtered document.

The main thing to remember here is that you want the sections of your book to be laid out correctly, so make sure you put page breaks between the title page, copywrite page, introduction and each individual chapter before you save it as the web version.

It is also useful to set each of your chapter headings as a Header in Word. This will help generate the table of contents for your Ebook when you come to create it.

Step 2 – Converting

The next step is to convert your book into a Kindle Ebook file. Files must be in .prc format, and the best way to achieve this is to use the free Mobipocket Ebook creation software which can be downloaded here.

Mobipocket Creator is quite intuitive to use and there are basically just 4 steps you need to follow to get your content into the correct format:

1. Upload your .html file into the creator
2. Upload a cover image (can be .jpg or .png – I talk about covers a bit further down)
3. Create a table of contents
4. Build your book

Table of Contents are really easy to build. If you made all your chapter headings true Headers in Word, then in Mobi you just add the entry h1 to the first box on the index creation screen. The tags added to headers in Word will be recognised by Mobi and a table of contents will be automatically generated. This will allow your readers to navigate directly to individual chapters on their Kindle and enhances their user experience.

Step 3 – Create a Cover Image

If you want it to look professional and to sell, your Ebook needs a decent cover. There are plenty of places out there that will design one for you for the ‘bargain’ price of around £300… But there are cheaper options. My covers cost me nothing – here’s what I did:

I took a few black and white photographs that I’d taken a while back. Then I loaded them into a free design application you can download – Serif Drawplus Starter Edition. I created an A5 sized drawing in here, set my photograph as the background, and then played about with the fade effects and the text effects until I had something that looked ok. Then I exported it as a .png file, opened this file in Paint and saved it as a .jpg. Then I had my covers.

It takes a bit of messing about, it’s a bit of trial and error, but I think you can get some pretty good results for a lot less than it costs for a professional designer. Maybe they could be better, but I’m not sure the difference in quality is reflected in the difference in price.

If you don’t have any images to start with, there are plenty of sites on the internet that sell stock photography for a few pounds – just be sure to check the licensing agreement of the image you buy. Fotolia is a good one, as is Shutterstock.

Step 4 – Check your Build

It’s really important to check the output of the Mobipocket Creator at this point as although using Word generated .html files is the easiest way to start this process, the software does do some things that you might not expect it to.

There is a free Kindle Previewer application you can download from Amazon which shows you, approximately, what your book is going to look like when it’s purchased and downloaded by your readers. That can be downloaded here. What I did was to open my book up in this, proof read it and then go back to the beginning of the process to iron out any formatting issues before building again and rechecking.

Tip: you don’t have to start from scratch with Mobipocker Creator. To rebuild after formatting changes, simply go to the Publication Files section, delete the file that contains your main book content and then re-add it before hitting Build again.

See my next post for tips on formatting errors in the Build process.

Step 5 – Upload your Ebook to Amazon

I won’t cover every step for the upload as this is available in Amazon’s document here. But it’s really straightforward and just involves putting files and images in the right place and answering questions on categories, price etc. It takes a day or so for your book to appear, and then you have the challenge of trying to promote it…

I’m currently trying promotion techniques on my two books Oblivious and The Haiku Diary, so I’ll post again with some details of what’s working and what isn’t.