If you’ve never published a Kindle book before, you might wonder about the nuts and bolts of creating the book file itself. My advice is not to worry too much about it until you’ve actually written something.
Done that? Good. Then the first thing you should know is that Amazon’s publishing program will accept a wide variety of file formats. The ones it recommends are doc, .docx, HTML, MOBI, ePub, RTF, Plain Text, and KPF.
To Word or not to Word?
Many Kindle authors write and format their e-books using Microsoft Word. Formatting for Kindle is a different animal from the writing itself, though. If you upload a Word doc that doesn’t have the proper layout or the right codes embedded in it, you can end up with a mess.
Amazon gives detailed instructions on its publishing platform (KDP) for formatting a book in Word to ensure that pages flow correctly and that it has chapter breaks, a linked table of contents and other bookish elements. There is plenty of free instruction on the web as well, such as this.
If you already have Word, that’s all you might ever need for your Kindle book projects (the text part, anyway; cover image creation is a different matter). However, you should be aware that many would-be indie publishers struggle using Word for this purpose. The Kindle forums I follow brim with posts from frustrated folks wondering what they did wrong in Word to make their book come out sporting inexplicable text gaps or littered with random markup code.
How I’ve done it
If you’re willing to spend a little money, a better route than wrestling with Word’s peculiarities is to get a dedicated e-book formatting program. My favorite is Ultimate eBook Creator. (More on UEC below.)
You might be interested in the path I’ve trod in this regard.
My first book (a self-help title) was one I had originally made to be sold as a PDF from a website. When my plans for that fell through, I uploaded it, in its PDF form, to Amazon. This worked, sort of, but as Amazon warns: “We accept PDF files, but they can contain embedded formatting and/or images that don’t convert well to eBooks.” Later, when I had to upload a new file because some readers were complaining about errors, I abandoned the PDF format.
My advice: Don’t use PDF for your Kindle books.
For my next project, a series of reference books in the area of genealogy, I used HTML. This continues to work fine for me. I have more than 400 genealogy titles on Amazon at this time, and further ones planned. But please note:
- I already knew how to code in HTML.
- This type of book doesn’t demand much in the way of styling (readers only care about the information).
- I was able set up a simple HTML/CSS template that I use over and over, like a cookie cutter, because these books are so similar to one another.
Many new publishers won’t have these things going for them. So, for most of you, I wouldn’t advise trying to directly create your books in HTML. If you have a reason to want to, do a web search for “Kindle HTML templates.” Here’s one simple one. You can also find tutorials, of course.
Here’s an example of one of my genealogy books, that I created with HTML. The layout is basic and pretty boring looking, I’ll admit. The people who are researching these families just want the info, though. They don’t care about pretty styling or a gorgeous cover. At least that’s my assumption.
For HTML editing I use Amaya, by the way. It’s old and lacks some bells and whistles, but it’s free and it’s WYSIWYG (I use it in split-screen mode so I can go under the hood and tweak the raw code as necessary).
For other kinds of books, I needed something that would let me do fancier stuff, and make the process as painless as possible.
UEC: My publishing happiness machine
At one point I tried creating a Kindle book using Open Office, a free alternative to Word. I couldn’t make it work, despite reading tutorials on the subject. OO actually seems more clunky than Word for this task. A couple of other programs I looked at weren’t much better.
Then I found Ultimate eBook Creator.
Nowadays, I use UEC for all of my Kindle books, except for the genealogy ones I discussed above. There’s lots to love about it. For me, the highlights are:
- The learning curve is short and easy.
- I can set up reusable style sheets that then do all the heavy work of making my books look exactly the way I want.
- I can apply different styles to different sections if I desire.
- It’s easy to reorder chapters or other sections on the fly.
- I love the precision controls for inserting images.
- It creates automatic back-up copies of my book with every save (this can be turned on or off).
- It has built-in spell checking, find-and-replace, and other word processor-like features that make it — almost — an all-in-one tool for book creation.
- It creates linked TOCs (tables of content) automatically.
UEC has many other cool features, but these are the most important ones from my perspective.
Now, why do I say it’s almost an an all-in-one book creation tool? One place it could use improvement is in the special-character department. Particularly, I want my quote marks to be rendered as curly quotes and my double dashes as true em dashes. UEC has a tool for inserting special characters on a one-by-one basis, but — unless I simply haven’t figured out how yet — it doesn’t allow you to switch them on for a whole document.
In practice, what I do is write my book in Word, which provides the automatic rendering of quotes and dashes that I want. Then I copy and paste my text from Word into UEC, and voilà! It’s pretty easy. (I prefer copying and pasting, but UEC has a feature for directly importing Word docs that you could use instead.)
UEC’s creator, Nitin Mistry, has provided wonderful and quick support whenever I’ve had a question or problem. He also works to improve the product, and from time to time releases new versions.
With UEC you can output your finished book in MOBI, ePub, Word or PDF format. All of the major e-book publishing platforms accept ePub, so you’re not limited in publishing only to Amazon. PDF format is probably what you would use if you were offering a book as a download from your own website, or just sending it around to friends or colleagues.
Go here if you’d like to learn more about Ultimate eBook Creator.
What about Scrivener?
If you’ve been around writers at all, whether in online forums or in person, you’ve probably heard of Scrivener.
Scrivener is a program beloved by many writers, including many best-selling authors. You can format books for Kindle and other e-book platforms with it. However, that’s not its main purpose. It’s a comprehensive tool for planning, outlining and writing a book from start to finish, whether you plan to publish it as an e-book or as a traditional printed book, or both.
I can’t begin to describe all of Scrivener’s features. And for me that’s the problem. I find it overwhelming. Even its most ardent fans will admit that the learning curve for using the program bends toward the stratosphere. I don’t need all that complexity just to knock out the kinds of books I do.
I do own Scrivener, and from time to time will open it and try to become more familiar with it. But speaking personally, I think the only time I might need all its capabilities is when I finally get around to writing my great novel. Being able to outline a plot, store information on characters, places and events, and visualize it all on Scrivener’s cool-looking virtual corkboard, would then be quite helpful.
Meanwhile, I don’t find Scrivener of much use for my publishing activities right now. You might be different, though, so do take a look, if nothing more than to see what the fuss is all about. There are versions for Windows and Mac.
(Disclosure: If you purchase Ultimate eBook Creator or Scrivener through my links in this post, I will receive a commission. This has not affected my evaluation of these products.)