Friday, May 16, 2014

Formatting Your Kindle eBook

The last time we were together, we talked a bit about publishing your own eBook. Since that's a recent topic of discussion, and since there were quite a few hits on that post, I wanted to continue with that subject and expand on it a bit more today.

If you’re planning on publishing your work as a digital edition (eBook) and selling it through Amazon, here’s a brief primer on some very basic things you need to know in order to give your finished product the professional appearance it deserves. This is not an advanced narrative on .html coding (which you don't really need to know) but rather a few pointers that most beginners will find helpful in getting their manuscript into a professional form. If nothing else, it will provide you a good starting point for avoiding most of the common mistakes that first-time publishers make.

The following information is taken from my new How-To manual on the same subject, and it's written with the presumption that you’re using Microsoft Word as your text editor. If you’re using something else, you’ll have to translate these instructions into the language of that software. So let’s begin.

First of all, you don’t need to include a bunch of returns to get your curser from the end of one chapter to the start of the next. In fact, you don't want to do that. Instead, after the period in the final sentence of your first chapter, hit one return. Then go to the top tool bar and select INSERT, BREAK, PAGE BREAK. That will force the chapter heading to the top of the following page when it’s viewed on an e-reader. Then go back and delete all of those extra returns. If you want to see all of the formatting symbols, go to the top menu bar and click on the paragraph symbol. (It's that little thing that looks like a backward capital P.) That will make everything show up. It's an on-off toggle, so clicking it again will turn them off.

The next item, and one that a lot of authors have issue with, involves paragraph indents. If you’ve created your document using tabs for your indents, don’t remove them. You can format the document to create the indents you need. Following is the simplest and quickest way to accomplish this, but it’s going to involve a little clean up at the end.

STEP ONE: Go to EDIT, SELECT ALL. Obviously, that’s going to highlight everything in the document. But doing it this way is much faster than doing one paragraph at a time. Now that we have everything selected, we need to let the software know what we want it to do with the paragraph indents.

STEP TWO: Go to FORMAT, PARAGRAPH. This will open a new window with several options. You’ll need to specify the choices you want. The top item is ALIGNMENT. Make sure it’s either set to LEFT or JUSTIFIED, whichever you prefer. I personally think the justified alignment reads better.

The next section is the paragraph indentation. The first window asks for a value. Don’t enter anything in this area. To the right of that box is a drop down menu. Click the arrow and select FIRST LINE. When you do that, the default value that should pop up in the next window is .5”. I usually change this value to .2". And that’s it for that part. Click OK.

At this point, you’ll need to go back through your document and adjust anything that shouldn’t be indented. Some of these areas might include chapter headings, copy that you want centered (which will still be centered, but it will be moved to the right of center by whatever indent you selected). You’ll also need to check your first and second pages, which typically contain the title, the copyright, the ISBN data, etc. Be sure to use the PAGE BREAK at the end of those pages as well, and get rid of all those extra returns.

The next thing you’ll need to do is check the indents you just specified. You may discover that some of your paragraphs are indented twice the amount you wanted, since we didn't remove the hard tabs. Word will typically ignore those tabs since you’ve formatted the paragraph, but sometimes it will lose its mind and give you a double indent. Just delete them if you see any.

Next comes page numbers. If you’ve inserted them, you need to remove them. Since the Kindle screen is a different size than an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, which is typically what most writers set their default page size at, and since readers can vary the size of the type on their screen, you really have no idea where the pages are going to break. We really don’t need a page number appearing in the middle of the screen. So just delete them. Also delete any headers or footers you’ve added to your Word document. Finally, when you’re ready to save, save your file as a .doc document so you can modify it later if necessary. Later, when you get ready to covert your book to .mobi, you'll need to save it as an .html file.

We've covered a lot of material here in a short amount of space, and it may sound a bit confusing. If you want a lot more detail (with screen shots) and some tricks on the proper method for adding graphic elements such as chapter heading icons, charts, photos, etc., you may want to download a copy of my new eBook that will give you a more complete and detailed version of everything you need to know. 

Here's a LINK if you'd like the complete step-by-step directions for getting your book formatted, converted, and uploaded to Amazon.


  1. Great info, Michael! Very useful. I'll pass it on to my clients who want to be published in to sell their books on Kindles.

    A quick way to select the whole document is just Control + A (for All).

    Good stuff!

  2. Jodi -

    Thanks for the comment. Feel free to pass anything along.

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