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May 22, 2023  |  Publishing a Kindle book, Part 1: The original manuscript  |  1936 hit(s)

I self-published a book recently. (Crash Blossoms, Eggcorns, Mondegreens & Mountweazels: 101 Terms About Language That You Didn't Know You Needed) I used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which lets you set up and then publish Kindle ebooks, paperbacks, and hardbacks. The print versions are print-on-demand.

I learned a few things about the process (by no means everything), so I thought I'd capture so that I have a reference for the next time I decide to do this. :)

I've done this in a multi-part blog post series.

A couple of the individual parts are sort of long, sorry. I didn't want to split them up any more than this, though. Here's what's in this first part:

The Word file

I wrote the manuscript in Microsoft Word. For better or worse, Word files (.doc, .docx) are a (the?) favored format for importing into the KDP pipeline.

Using styles

My advice is that if you're intending to publish to both Kindle and as a print book (paperback or hardback), use styles in Microsoft Word. As I'll explain later, this will make it easy for you to convert things like headings for the Kindle, and to convert hyperlinks into something else in the print editions.

For most publishing needs (fiction, say), it's probably sufficient to use styles for headings and body text. I wanted to use some special formatting, so I created custom styles. (I love styles.) In the sections that follow, I have a short list of the styles I created. These are specific to my scenario, which is a non-fiction book; I'm not suggesting that you follow this lead. If you're not a style nerd, skip to the General formatting section later.

Paragraph styles

Normal. The body text for my book was all in the Normal style. For the original manuscript, it doesn't really matter what your style settings are. The settings for your Normal style don't become important till you're formatting for print, which I'll explain when I get that far.

Example. I wanted a special style for paragraphs that were for examples. I defined this style as .25 inch indent, non-default paragraph spacing. In my manuscript, I had this as a contrasting (sans serif) typeface—that didn't matter for the ebook, but it did later for the print book.

Blockquote. I created a different paragraph style for when I had a longish cite from another source. This was indented, and it used the default typeface, but 1 point smaller.

Related terms list. At the end of each entry I have a "Related terms" heading followed by a paragraph that lists related terms in the book. I wanted to be able to control the formatting of this list independently of the body text. This ended up helping a little later for the print edition.

Character styles

I really went to town on character styles, many more than I needed. A couple of notes about character styles.

Word as word. I created a character style for when I wanted to call out a term that I was talking about. This renders in the default font and in italics.

Word as word emphasis. This style was for when I wanted to call out an individual part within a word-as-word. This renders as italics + bold.

Example emphasis. A style for calling out something within an example. This uses the same font that I used for the Example paragraph style, plus italics + bold.

Hyperlink. I had links in my manuscript, both external links (to websites) and internal ones (to other sections of the document). When you create a link in Word, it styles the link as Hyperlink (blue + underline). It became important later to be able to work with this style.

As I say, I had many styles. You can see that a lot of the character styles end up rendering the same: italics, bold, italics + bold, etc. This is generally true of character styles—there are a limited number of ways that you can format words. Still, it's useful to have "semantic" styles: styles based on the purpose of the formatting, as opposed to what the text looks like.

Using semantic styles did end up being beneficial. For the most part, the look of the text didn't matter much for the ebook—Kindle has its own ideas about how to render text. (Some of the styling information translated to the ebook when I exported it to Kindle, as I'll eventually explain.) Styles were particularly useful later when I formatted the book for print—when I was laying out the print version, using styles made it easy to change my mind about how I wanted things to look in print. That said, I would have been okay with fewer character styles and with using direct formatting for the few oddball instances.

General formatting

In addition to formatting using styles, I did the following formatting.

Non-breaking spaces. I added non-breaking spaces when I wanted a space but didn't want Word to break a line before or after a piece of punctuation.

Non-breaking hyphens. I used non-breaking hyphens when I didn't want Word to break a line before the hyphen:

So that's what I did in the Word manuscript. In the next installment, I'll talk about how I worked with the Kindle Direct Publishing tools to prepare my manuscript as an ebook.

Up next, Part 2: Formatting the Kindle ebook