The 4 “Do’s” and 997 “Don’ts” of Formatting your eBook for Kindle – Part One

It’s hard to believe, but if you are an indie author you may find that thinking up and writing 25,000 – 100,000+ words of content for an eBook or print-on-demand book is actually one of the easier parts of the indie publishing process.

Most writers like the activity of writing itself. The process is not always out-and-out fun and it is still very much work, but it is usually enjoyable work. The real drudgery comes after typing the words “The End,” and sometimes even after the first few major revisions. The tediousness sets in when you reach the stages of “line-editing” and formatting, particularly if you are building an eBook version.

As you can infer from the only-slightly sarcastic title of this post, I’m going to offer up some “service journalism” for all you first-time indie writers out there who are thinking of publishing to Kindle. Tis’ my hope that you can learn from my baptism by fire and have a smoother publishing experience!

Here in part one I’ll cover a few of my recommended “do’s” for formatting. The don’ts will be reserved for part two.

Do’s

Read the “Building Your Book for Kindle” guide before your manuscript is in its final form 

Seems pretty basic, eh? But taking the time to do this and following a few of the Kindle guidelines while you are writing and editing can save you headaches further on.

The more important advice to heed is to avoid using things like tabs, manual indents and unnecessary line breaks and carriage returns. These can cause problems in HTML and you’ll likely end up having to go back to remove them afterwards.

One of the mistakes I did when writing 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss was write in block paragraph format with my initial manuscript. This is using blocks of text without indentation and with an empty space (or carriage return) between paragraphs, essentially the style used on this blog. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing this because it works well for computer screen reading.

However, as I moved to the proofing stages, I found this format didn’t transfer as well to the smaller and more book-like Kindle screen. Paragraphs seemed to run together and it was generally not pleasing to the eye. Eventually I had to bite the bullet and remove some 2,300 paragraph and return symbols from my working draft and add in first-line indents.

Download an HTML editor and learn the basic tags:

The KDP formatting guide would lead to believe that once you save your Word document as a filtered web page it will transfer over just fine to Kindle. Sadly, the truth is usually different. While in some cases you might get lucky and have a clean conversion to HTML, oftentimes you won’t be so fortunate.

The trouble with converting a word processor file to HTML using the “Save As” function is that you typically end up with messy code that can cause all kinds of formatting inconsistencies. Programs like Microsoft Word insert lots of style definitions and spans that you most likely don’t need. And if any errors arise out of the conversion process, they will be carried over when you convert the HTML file for Kindle.

The best way to combat this problem is to download an HTML editor and touch-up the code of your converted eBook files. You don’t have to become fluent in HTML, just slightly conversant. If you can pick out a few of the important HTML tags like <p> for paragraphs, <b> or <strong> for bold, <u> for underline, and develop an understanding of how style definitions work, you’ll have a way to clean up some gremlins that might arise from the conversion process. A good way of learning is just to convert a very short Word document, maybe a page or so of text with some different elements, and then playing around with the resulting HTML code in the editor.

There are numerous free HTML editors available for download on the web. I personally use HTML Kit-292, while Notepad++ is another popular option used by many eBook authors. If you are a user of Adobe Creative Suite then Dreamweaver would also work well.

Authors who take their formatting really seriously will often advocate building a style sheet from scratch in an editor so that you have full control over the layout and appearance. If you’re doing something complex like a graphic novel or comic book, this step is probably necessary. But if your book is uncomplicated and mostly text, like a novel, you can usually get away with converting directly into HTML from Word without having to make too many touch-ups after the fact.

If working with HTML is too daunting, there are many eBook formatting services that will be happy to do the grunt work for you. At a price of course.

Preview your eBook on an actual, physical Kindle (if possible)

Sure, the Kindle previewers (both the downloadable program and the web-based emulator inside KDP) are nice. But don’t put complete trust in them that they are replicating what your eBook will look and behave like on an actual Kindle. There is something tactile and reassuring about being able to read your work on the device itself and verifying that things like hyperlinks, page breaks, and bookmarks are working correctly.

If you own a Kindle, you can email a converted MOBI file directly to your device and it will perform like an eBook downloaded from the Kindle store. You can find your Kindle’s email address in the on-board settings menu or in the “manage your Kindle” section of the Amazon website. The naming format is usually something like JoeBlow_8976@kindle.com.

Think hard about how many tables, graphics, and artistic flourishes your book really requires

You can manipulate and add to the appearance of your Kindle book in a variety of ways, but bear in mind that some enhancements work better than others. Tables built in word will transfer fine into HTML, but tabular data isn’t always handled well by Kindles. On the other hand, bulleted lists usually display fine.

While I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing an ambitious eBook vision, those of us who are programming-challenged or averse need to recognize that using lots of tables, images and fancy formatting will increase the odds of stuff going wrong on a DIY eBook formatting adventure.

So as you go through your content creation, take the time to think about how your draft work might translate to an eReader and if there are opportunities to streamline its appearance. Are all those images necessary to the book, or are some added in gratuitously? Could some of your tables be shortened or even simplified into list form? Do you really need to position yourself as the next Dave Eggers by using 500 footnotes in the course of your roman a clef?

Remember that first and foremost you are building a “book.” It’s likely that your readers are going to be most interested in your story and your writing (in most cases). Using a fancy drop-cap at the start of each chapter can look cool, but a reader engrossed in your words might barely notice it. Keep the emphasis on having good writing that is formatted cleanly.

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Coming up in part two, a look at some of the many, many, many, don’ts of Kindle formatting!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Despite U.S. Thanksgiving occurring unusually late in the year in 2013, it still somehow seems to have crept up without warning. Here in Canada of course, “Canadian Thanksgiving” is fading into a semi-distant memory now. We celebrate our fall feast in mid-October, well before Halloween.

Growing up and living in a border city, I’ve come to have an appreciation for both the Canadian and American versions of this indulgent holiday. I have numerous friends and coworkers who are Americans or have dual citizenship, and fraternizing with them over the years has helped to hone my understanding of the differences and similarities between the two celebrations. My stepmother (now a dual citizen) also originally hails from the USA. This has led to some years of observing both Canadian and American Thanksgiving, a tradition I highly recommend.

Living so close to America also affords some substantial fringe benefits when U.S. Thanksgiving rolls around. I can head across the border to take part in the madness of Black Friday sales if I want, and I can listen to Garrison Keillor wax nostalgic about the wonders of marshmallow casserole on the NPR station relayed out of Mount Pleasant. Oh, and the NFL games that air on the Thursday holiday generally have the potential to be actually entertaining.

While door-crasher sales, weeknight football games, and frustrating travel experiences are all essential to the American Thanksgiving experience, I think there is no question that the pulsing heart of the November holiday is found in the tradition of Thanksgiving dinner.

Now many of us who partake in this grand meal approach it with the mindset that it is one of a handful of occasions on the eating calendar where “calories don’t count.”  This is an attitude that, for the most part, I agree with. In 25 Principles I have a chapter devoted to special occasion meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. The standpoint I adopt is to not agonize over something that happens once a year, and instead focus more on what we do every day.

But not everyone is able to indulge freely at turkey-time with an unburdened conscience.  Some diet-conscious folks agonize over the possible caloric damage that the holiday meal might be wreaking on them. For those who want to know, there are resources available. The Toronto Star runs a feature called “The Dish” where they send meals (usually restaurant or fast-food, but sometimes home-cooked items) to a nutritional lab for a calorie breakdown and nutrient analysis. The results are generally depressing.

In 2011, the overseers of the The Dish feature decided to train their guns on Thanksgiving Dinner. They dispatched a full plate of “Canadian Thanksgiving favourites” (turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, commercial stuffing, green bean casserole etc.) and a slice of pumpkin pie to the lab for scrutiny.

The results that came back were professed to be “surprising.” It was determined that the whole-shebang (including the pie) clocked in with a total of 1,125 calories.

(You can read about the full nutrient breakdown, ingredients used, serving sizes, and methodology in the Star article.)

So a little over 1,100 calories for the core of a Thanksgiving dinner, is that a lot? Well…it’s a fair bit. Probably 40-50 per cent of many people’s daily caloric needs would be met by that one plateful of food (and follow-up slice of pie), and certainly many people would be going back for seconds. But considering that Thanksgiving is on the Olympic podium of big home-cooked meals, it’s hardly terrible, and maybe even surprisingly better than expected.  Even the authors of The Dish offered what was, by their standards, encouraging praise.

As I say in 25 Principles, it’s not hard at all to match or exceed the calorie totals of a meal like Thanksgiving with a trip to a fast-food joint or restaurant that few of us give any second thought to. It’s not rare outlier meals like Thanksgiving or Christmas that are causing us grief; it’s all the little “just because” food celebrations we have all the time that are the bigger problem.

For my American friends, relations, and readers, if you’re gearing up for a big feast today, or in the next few days, don’t sweat the possible dietary damage too much—because it might not be as bad as you fear anyways. And besides, Thanksgiving comes but once a year; there are 364 other days where you can be more frugal with your food choices.

25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss – Now Available for Kindle!

25 Principles

The “temporary” cover for 25 Principles. Permanent cover coming soon!

After thousands of hours, hundreds of cups of coffee, and only two or three near-nervous breakdowns (all figures approximate), I’m pleased to announce that the revolutionary eBook, 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss, (by yours truly) is now available through Amazon for all Kindle devices and the Kindle reading app!

Canadians can buy the book for the insanely low price of just $4.99 ($ CAN) from the Amazon Canada website, while American buyers can get it from Amazon.com for whatever the equivalent of $4.99 Canadian is in US funds. But wait there’s more! If you are a member of Amazon Prime you can “borrow” the book for free through the Amazon lending library—hard to argue with that!

What is 25 Principles all about? You could say it’s like a series of linked essays about losing weight, living well, and making personal changes in our modern age—why these things seem so difficult and how they can be accomplished more easily. It’s not a diet book per se, but there is a lot of practical and actionable advice. The “blend” is one part philosophy, one part practicality, one part humour, with a couple sprinkles of interesting trivia and the odd dash of motivation thrown in for seasoning.

If your curiosity has been piqued, you can download a preview (approximately the first 10 per cent of the book) from Amazon. You can also read a sample chapter (in PDF) that I have posted over on the 25 Principles page, to get a feel for the writing style and the content that is covered.

Now I know: some of you may have had bad experiences with other independently-published eBooks you bought or read in the past and you might be reluctant to take a flyer on this one. Allow me to reassure you, because this isn’t another one of those slap-dash monstrosities you come across in the Kindle store—like those embarrassing 2,500 word “books” that can be read in seven or eight minutes. The eBook version of 25 Principles clocks in at just over 96,000 words (down from a first-draft length of over 107,000) and it would be at least 300 pages in print—by my estimates. It’s no Crime and Punishment, but you’re not going to start and finish it on your morning subway ride either.    

If you’re one of those throwbacks who hasn’t been won over by eBooks yet, be advised that I’m in the process of building a paperback version of 25 Principles that I hope to have available by January 2014. This will be my ongoing project for the next month or so. Along with straightening out some Byzantine tax and administrative stuff with Amazon—which apparently will qualify me to work as a Certified Public Accountant by the time I’m done.

25 Principles has been a huge undertaking for me, and it was also the catalyst for getting this blog operational. I’ll have more posts in the future exploring the themes and ideas that are central to the book, as well as details on new formats and offers. With Christmas and the holidays coming (and New Year’s Resolutions not far behind) there will be some special promotional offers forthcoming with the book. Of course you—my loyal blog readers (all three of you)—will be the first to know about these when they arrive.

Thoughts on the Rob Ford PR Fiasco

I

There’s a new entry in the lexicon of public relations boondoggles and its name is Rob Ford. When you have a political scandal where the mayor of a five million-person metropolis is caught on video smoking crack cocaine, and somehow that isn’t the most-shocking or lurid moment, then it’s time to declare that we are venturing into an undiscovered country in terms of PR disasters.

Ever since the Toronto Police confirmed on October 31 that they had obtained the long-rumoured video of Ford smoking crack and making derogatory remarks, the embattled mayor has proven able to continually one-down himself in ways that beggar belief. After the Toronto Star released a sad video of a severely intoxicated Ford ranting about killing someone, there was a brief outpouring of public sympathy towards the mayor, and there were many urgings for him to get help for his very obvious personal demons. But since then, Ford with his defiance and ill-chosen remarks has found ways to squander much of that public concern and good will.

At this point, Ford’s reputation is beyond irreparable. His antics have managed the rare feat of enraging the entire political spectrum; left-wingers already found him to be anathema and now they can’t stand him even more, while many conservatives are left fuming at his dissembling and use of Bill Clintonesque semantics to try and explain his behaviour.

They’ll be talking about this imbroglio in public relations and crisis management books for the next 150 years. The hard thing to figure out here is what exactly the lesson is or what the teachable moments are. Other than Rob Ford did everything completely wrong.

II

Was there a play that might have offered Ford some measure of redemption, or at least the opportunity to salvage some credibility and dignity? Likely, the only thing he could’ve done would be to have owned up to his sins when the first stories about the then-alleged crack video surfaced in May. Doing this could have engendered public sympathy, and he would have received some kudos for being forthright at a time when the tape’s existence was still uncertain.

But there would have been risk in that. When the allegations began, I thought about whether the mayor of a major urban centre could hope to keep his position after confirming that they smoked crack and consorted with drug dealers. The answer I came up with – Marion Berry notwithstanding – was almost certainly “no.”

So in a way, Ford’s early decision to go the stonewalling route is understandable. And for a while, against all odds, it looked like it might even work.

Unfortunately, it’s always a thin line between a ballsy gamble and an idiotic decision. If this were the 1960s and the Ford inner circle was reasonably confident there was only one Zapruder-like film of him sparking up a glass pipe in existence, then maybe it would’ve worked, given the apparent strength of the mayor’s underworld ties. They might have been able to obtain and destroy it and no one would have been any the wiser.

However, this being the digital age, they probably should’ve operated on the assumption that said video had been copied several, perhaps many times. As such, its eventual surfacing would be quite likely. And once it did, they should have concluded that Ford’s mayoralty would then become untenable.

III

One of the important tests used in civil law is the standard of the “reasonable person.” What would a reasonable person believe would happen to the mayor of Canada’s largest city if said mayor admitted to smoking crack, buying illegal drugs, and drinking and driving, in addition to having a host of related unproven allegations swirl around him during his time in office?

Most reasonable people would almost certainly think that the mayor – Rob Ford in this case – would be out of his position in no time. He’d resign of his own volition, bow to pressure and resign, or be forced out some way or another.

You would think. However, if one thing has become clear throughout the course of this sordid mess, it’s that the cruise missile of rational thought has yet to penetrate the Ford bunker. Even in the teeth of all this mounting disgrace, Ford remains insanely committed to carrying on. Not resigning, nor even taking a leave of absence. And likewise, he is unshakeable in his determination to finish out his term as mayor and then stand for re-election in 2014.

And, as there is no legislative option available to either impeach him or have him recalled, it seems that, incredibly enough, he might actually be able to do this. Even his future political prospects can’t be completely written off. Although some recent polls have cast a pall over his prospects for re-election, he still retains enough of a base of supporters that it would be conceivable that he could squeak out a victory in a race with several other strong candidates to divide the anti-Ford vote.

Despite all the damage done to his reputation and to the reputation of Toronto, Ford keeps lumbering forward, bizarrely unsinkable, like the giant World War Two aircraft carrier that the British proposed to build out of ice and sawdust.

IV

There are lessons and cautionary tales that can be extracted from the Ford situation. The biggest one, that politicians and similar public figures, and the public relations people who advise them, should be aware of, is the phenomenon of the shrinking private sphere. Small electronic devices that can record videos are going to continue to proliferate. High-profile individuals are going to have to be more aware of the possibility that they could be surreptitiously recorded in unguarded moments.

Of course, instances where political leaders are filmed smoking crack or consorting with gang-bangers will probably still be rarities. Situations like Mitt Romney’s ill-judged musings about 47 per cent of Americans being dependent on the government will be more the norm. Although, you do have to wonder what sort of chicanery occurred in the past when it was harder to document personal frailties.

But mostly, the lesson from this unwinding affair is that it’s still possible to be amazed. Rob Ford has taken us to new lows, and it’s possible we haven’t even found the bottom yet. His actions are one thing, but even more astounding is his attitude. You can only marvel at the degree of cognitive dissonance it takes for him to declare that a city worker should be fired if they were to be seen sleeping on the job. Yet, his own admissions of smoking crack, being publicly intoxicated on multiple occasions, drinking and driving, and shattering the boundaries for on-camera decorum with this interview are apparently all forgivable because he can admit to making mistakes and sometimes apologizing for them.

Whether it’s Ford himself, the daily media circus, or the surreal atmosphere at Toronto city hall, punctuated by ex-pro wrestlers and people dressed like this showing up, there comes a point where you just have to abandon hopes of understanding this fiasco while it is still unfolding. The only thing to do in the interim is to try to admire the chaos.

The First Post

Everything has to start somewhere. In the words of Rage Against The Machine, “What better place than here? What better time than now?” If you’re a time-traveler from the future looking for clues, here’s where it all begins.

As you can infer from the URL and title, this site exists as an extension of my writing interests. I’m an independent author living in the Canadian hinterland. My big upcoming debut work will be an eBook entitled, 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss, scheduled for release by the end of November 2013. You can scope out more details about me on the About page if you feel so inclined.

However, these pages are going to be about more than pushing eBooks and providing a venue for experimental tone poems. With the blog, I plan to write on various and sundry topics of interest to me. This will include essays on health and fitness, personal development, and public relations, in addition to shorter news items and humour pieces. Occasionally, I might even throw something up about the indie publishing game.

It’s going to be a big of a piecemeal effort to get the site fully up to speed. Once I’m up and running, I hope to keep a posting frequency of a couple of times per week, but I’m sure there will be both quieter periods when I’m tied up with other things, and prolific times when I get riled up about some topic or another.

That’s about all for right now. This post is more-or-less just a rust-off exercise. Keep reading, as bigger and better things are on the way!