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

Welcome to Part Two of the Do’s and Don’ts of formatting your eBook for Kindle! Don’t forget to read Part One if you happened to skip it. Here we are going to cover some of the “don’ts” of the formatting process. These are some of the errors and gremlins I made or encountered during the run-up to publishing 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss on Kindle.

Kindle Formatting Don’ts

• Assume WYSIWYG 

I know the Kindle guide tells you this, but it can be tempting to think that once you’ve made your filtered HTML file(s) that you can be confident in the appearance of your book. This isn’t the case. Your converted Word-HTML file might look nice and consistent when you open it in Word, but you’ll have to open it in an internet browser window (or the preview pane of your HTML editor) to see what it “really” looks like. Like me, you might find your book that has a consistent appearance in Word actually renders out much differently.

Use the “start” bookmark as directed by the KDP guide

This was the last “gremlin” I encountered as I was getting ready to publish and I found it head-bangingly frustrating. The KDP formatting guide tells you to insert a “start” bookmark where you want the book to open at after it is downloaded. This (in theory) would let you skip over some of the “front matter” of the book (like copyright notices, dedications etc.) and start the reader at a point of your choosing.

When I did this, I found the converted book opened incorrectly on all versions of the Kindle previewer and on a test copy I sent to my own Kindle. It would begin with my ISBN number as a single line at the top of the page, even though I had a page break immediately thereafter. Even after fiddling with the HTML I couldn’t get it working properly. After consulting some help on the internet, it appears that the bugs must lie within the Kindle conversion software itself.

The ultimate step I took, which was not my first choice, was to avoid using the “start” bookmark altogether. If you do this, your book will begin at either the first page of text or the first element listed in your table of contents when it is opened on a Kindle (it won’t default to your cover though). Leaving out the “start” bookmark will not cause the Go To: Beginning button on a Kindle to be greyed out or not work, it will still function and will take the reader to whatever the Kindle identifies as your first page.

I realize that this is hardly an ideal solution. I don’t know if my experience is representative of every Kindle publisher, so if you want to attempt using the Start bookmark and seeing if you have better luck, than go right ahead. But if you encounter a similar problem as I did, there doesn’t seem to be a ready fix, other than dropping the bookmark.

If you do leave off the Start bookmark and you don’t want your readers to have to wade through a bunch of boilerplate to get to your main text, then consider moving some of your front matter to the end of your book instead. Things like dedications, acknowledgements, and even your copyright notice could all be placed as “back matter” instead of leading the main text.

• Build your book in Kindle previewer (or conversion program) and upload that to KDP

You know I thought I was really smart when I found out about the downloadable Kindle previewer. With it, I could preview and even build my eBook directly on my computer. When I was ready to publish to Amazon, I would be able to upload an already-finished MOBI file to KDP and not have to worry about bugs in the conversion process.

The only thing is that there is always a bug. In this case, during the proofing and testing stages I found out that the Table of Contents button on the Go To: menu option didn’t work on any of the previewers, or when I sent a copy my own Kindle. This happened even though I had carefully inserted a TOC bookmark as per the KDP guide’s instructions. And no matter what changes I tried with the source file, the button remained stubbornly greyed out every time I created a new MOBI file in the previewer.

I just about went crazy trying to fix it. Unhelpfully, I did a Google search and came across old articles and posts from earlier generations of Kindles (circa 2010), explaining complicated programming-based workarounds to get the Table of Contents button working. Fortunately, before I went headlong down that path, I found some alternate instructions and was able to solve the issue.

As it turns out, to ensure that your bookmarks format correctly and thereby enable the GoTo buttons to work on the Kindle, you need to upload your finished HTML file or zipped folder to the KDP website for conversion. They won’t work in MOBI files built on Kindle Previewer There is no explanation for why this is the case, but it is the case.

If you need a copy of your converted eBook file, you can download the finished MOBI file from KDP after it converts. Once you have saved to your computer, you can send it to a Kindle to preview or use a program like Calibre to convert it to other eBook formats like ePub.

Use textboxes or drawn lines to set-off sidebars

If you’re book is non-fiction or instructional in nature you might be interested in using “sidebar” sections that are set-off from the main text. Sidebars are commonly used to offer digressions on tangential topics of interest, tell interesting facts or anecdotes, and sometimes to emphasize or reiterate important points or statements that were made earlier. A familiar example of the last type are “pull-quotes;” these are often seen in magazines and sometimes in web-based articles. A pull-quote is where a statement or remark is set in a larger font size to draw the reader’s attention to it to make it stand out from the surrounding body text.

If you are like me, your first instinct is to try using text boxes, lines, or other inserted shapes in Word to achieve these sorts of effects. The long and the short of it is that these sorts of graphical elements are just not going to work in most cases when you convert your book for Kindle. Text boxes end up being saved as image files when your Word document is converted to HTML and they will output differently. Manually inserted lines can show up in wacky places and with the wrong lengths. To build in the sort of in-text elements discussed earlier, we need to use tools that will transfer over better to HTML.

You can use the table function in word (or HTML if you know enough code) to set-up side-bars and call-out type boxes using single-column tables. As was mentioned in part one, tables aren’t always the greatest in Kindle because they can end up being broken across page turns in inconvenient places, but c’est la vie. They do allow for better relative positioning and resizing within the text thanks to their HTML attributes.

An even simpler solution is to use the horizontal rule tag <hr> in your html editor to break up text or set-off side-bar sections from the main narrative. This is what I did for my sidebars in 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss.

If you are specifically interested in using pull-quotes, you could try using the <blockquote> tag, as this tag has been designed specifically for them.

Summary

Whew! When I started writing this little series, I thought it would be fairly concise…so much for that dream. Anyways, if you have stumbled into this post and its earlier sister post, I hope you have a found tips that will be helpful to you on your own indie publishing journey. If you have your own Kindle formatting tips, insights, or horror stories, I’d be keen to hear about them!

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