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I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Perhaps the most fundamental truth about nature is beyond the human intellect, the way that quantum mechanics is beyond the intellect of a dog.

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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 3:09 PM Pacific


  03:10 PM

Part 2 of a series about what I did to self-publish an ebook and then a paperback version of it.

When I began working on creating a Kindle version of the book, I duplicated my manuscript—I had the original Word doc and then a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) version of the Word doc, where I made all the Kindle-specific changes that I describe below. This meant that if I decided to make a content change, I had to make it in both documents.

Here's what I cover in this part:

Some Kindle basics

It helps to understand a couple of things about how Kindle works. (I'm not an expert, so bear with me.)

  • Readers can pick a preferred typeface, font size, paragraph spacing, paragraph alignment (left, justified), and some other layout features. Being able to change these settings is one of the great features of reading ebooks, actually. This means that although you can set these things in the manuscript that you upload, readers might change them. That said, you can control a few formatting settings, like relative font size.

  • A lot of Kindle e-reader devices don't support color, so color by itself isn't going to be significant for readers using those devices. You'll want to try to be sure that everything in your manuscript also works with a non-color display.

  • People can switch between dark mode (light text on dark background) and light mode. One person noted that this was an issue with graphics—if someone is reading in dark mode, a light-colored graphic really pops out, sometimes in unpleasant ways. Spoiler: I have no solution to this issue.

When I wrote my original manuscript, I did a few things that I had to ponder when converting to Kindle (and later to print):

  • I had a lot of links to websites, i.e. external to the book.
  • I had a lot of internal links, i.e. cross-references to other entries in the book.
  • I had a lot of footnotes. Some were asides, some were additional information, some were … well, anyway, I had a lot of them.

I realized that a lot of people would be reading their Kindles offline—that is, in airplane mode. I wanted to make it clear to readers when a link was external, so that they didn't click it and then get the "You're offline, do you want to turn off airline mode?" message over and over. Therefore, in my KDP manuscript, I added a caret (^) to every single external link, like this:

I did this by hand, but the process was a little easier because in my Word file I used the Link Checker tool from AbleBits. Among other features, this tool produces a list of all the links, so that helped me home in on the external links.

Because the convention of using ^ after a link to mark it as external wasn't necessarily obvious to readers, I added a section in the introduction to the book (and only the ebook) that explained this convention. I did this although I don't think people read introductions, and I also feel fairly strongly that formatting shouldn't require explanation.

Footnotes introduced a different problem. The conversion tool for Kindle (see later) can handle footnotes fine. In fact, better than fine; it can generate footnotes that include Wikipedia-style back links to return you to where you clicked the footnote.

However, the converter turns footnotes in your Word file into endnotes in Kindle. Because I had over 100 footnotes (probably unwise), it would have meant an enormous section at the end of the book, and I didn't want that.

So I created chapter endnotes, in effect. In the Word doc, at the end of each chapter (i.e. each entry), I added the words "Note 1," "Note 2," etc. and then the text of the corresponding footnote. I restarted the note numbering for each entry, and I manually made sure the numbering was sequential in the text and in the footnotes. Then I used Word bookmarks and internal links to manually create the links to these chapter endnotes. I also manually created the backlinks to return to where the footnote was marked. This sounds confusing, but here's an example:

Needless to say, this was a lot of work, and somewhat error prone. More than once I questioned the wisdom of my approach and of footnotes generally. Nevertheless, that's what I did. (I can explain this process in more detail if you're interested.)

I'm pleased to say that this worked great. It imported perfectly into the Kindle book and has exactly the effect I wanted.

The Kindle Create tool

Amazon has a free tool that's a huge help for creating books: Kindle Create (hereinafter KC).

The tool lets you import a .doc/.docx file, fix up the formatting (with some limits), preview the result, and then create a file to submit for publishing. Although you can edit and format most text, you can't edit everything—for example, at the time I was using the tool, you couldn't make any changes in lists.

The tool also lets you create a title page, a table of contents (TOC), an Acknowledgments page, About the Author page, and so on. I had already created those in my original manuscript, so I didn't really take advantage of those features.

Importing and applying styles and formatting

The KC tool supports a modest selection of styles, which they call elements. These include Chapter Title, Subheading, Block Quote, and Body Text. These are fine for a lot of uses, such as novels.

Headings as chapter titles

When you import your Word file into KC, KC recognizes text that's styled as a heading (any heading, not just Heading 1 paragraphs) and marks those headings as Chapter Title elements. When the import process finishes, KC offers you suggested chapter titles that shows you everything that it thinks is a chapter title:

You really want to scrutinize this list and unselect the elements that are not real chapter titles. You should do this right at the beginning, because it's easier to do this now than to fix up the formatting later. When I did this, some of the non-heading paragraphs were marked as Chapter Title elements, I don't know why. I just unselected those as noted here.

All other text

As far as I can tell, anything other than a heading style from the Word file is imported as Body Text.

However, KC imports the formatting (as opposed to the style) of text in your Word document, up to a point. Kindle renders body text using the reader's choice for typeface and font size. Beyond that:

  • Character formatting. KC imports italics, bold, color, underline, and other basic character formatting. It retains font sizes that you've applied, but not typefaces/font families. For example, because KC doesn't import font families, I don't know how to get it to import a monospace font like Courier or Consolas.

  • Paragraph formatting. In my manuscript, the body text was aligned left; in other words, I didn't explicitly set alignment to center, right, or justified. When KC imported the text, paragraphs were justified, which is the Kindle default. (As noted, Kindle readers can change this.) During the import process, KC retains paragraph formatting such as line spacing and indentation. If you've aligned paragraphs center or right, KC retains that. If a paragraph has a non-default font size, the import process retains that, too. For example, I set the font size for my blockquote paragraphs to be 1 point smaller than for body text, and the import process respected that.

  • Page breaks. Page breaks are retained.

  • Links. Links in the Word file are imported as links in the Kindle format.

After you've imported the Word file, you can (mostly) manually edit and format text in KC. The formatting options are fairly rich: you can set font (including font face), color, bold, etc. For example, if you want to set some text to monospace, you can do that in KC with manual editing. For paragraphs, you can set indentation, spacing, and justification.

You can also "cascade" your format settings for the element you're playing with. (This is like CSS, or in Word, like making a change in Word to the style definition for that text.) For example, by default, KC renders all Chapter Title elements (headings) using all caps. However, you can select a heading (element: Chapter Title) and then set casing to UPPER CASE, lower case, Title Case, or None. I did this—I selected a heading, set casing to None, and then made sure that the Cascade formatting changes for elements option was selected:

This told KC to leave the casing of my headings as I had set them in the manuscript. Because I enabled the "cascade" option, it made this change to all my headings.

I mostly did not make text or formatting changes in KC (except for headings, see previous). Instead, when I wanted to change the formatting, I went back to the KDP version of my Word doc, changed formatting there, and then created a new KC project and re-imported my text. I ended up doing this many times—4? 6? 10? I forget. I did it however many it took me until I'd ironed out all the issues I found in KC and until could import a clean doc. I did this because I knew I was going to need to do further work in Word later and I wanted the changes to be in the Word doc.

Tables

My manuscript had several tables in it, but I'd read repeatedly that ebooks don't handle tables well. For small tables, I converted them to graphics. Here's an example of a small table that I converted to a graphic—I just took a screenshot of the table in the original manuscript:

A lesson I eventually learned here is that before you take the screenshot, make sure that the text of the table is perfect. And make sure that spell-check and grammar-check haven't left squiggly lines under words in your table.

For large tables, I didn't try to create graphics from them. Instead, I converted them into lists. In HTML terms, I emulated a description list, though I did that manually, not through styles.

Here's what one of those tables looked like originally:

And here's what I converted it to:

To do this, I created a special paragraph style for the terms and descriptions so that they'd be indented and so they'd have a smaller font size. I had to manually convert the original table to this new set of styles. But once I'd done that, the KC tool respected these formatting choices when it imported the text.

Still, lesson learned: if you know you're going to publish in an ebook format, stay away from tables.

Graphics

I had read that KC could import embedded graphics directly, and that was my experience. fwiw, I had only JPEG and PNG graphics.

KC imports any alt text that you've assigned to graphics in the Word file. But you can also write alt text in KC if you didn't do it in Word.

In KC, you can resize a graphic using t-shirt sizes: Small, Medium, Large, or Full. If you choose Large or Full, the graphic is centered. If you choose Small or Medium, you can also specify whether you want text to flow to the left or right of your image.

As I noted earlier, someone pointed out to me that graphics will pop out at them uncomfortable way if they're reading in dark mode. As of now, I have no answer to that issue.

Previewing in KC

The editing layout that you work with in KC is a pretty good approximation of what the text will look like. But KC also has a Preview mode that lets you get an exact sense of how the book will look like in different form factors. You can choose to preview in Kindle E-Reader, Tablet, or Phone device types.

When you're done with KC

When you've got your text done in KC, you save your project as a .kpf file. That's the format you use for the next stage, which is to set up your Kindle book for publishing.

Up next, Part 3: Publishing the ebook

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