This guest post is written by publishing authority and two time best-selling author Kristen Eckstein.
Anyone who’s tried formatting their eBook themselves will tell you it’s no small feat. There are hundreds of conversion programs and Kindle “meatgrinders” that promise clean Kindle files, yet deliver a file full of gobbledygook. Some common formatting issues include wacky spacing, entire sections or chapters bolded and italicized, paragraphs split up, text flowing behind pictures and more.
If your Kindle book has bullet points, graphics, tables, block quotes or any other special formatting issues, this tutorial may not work for you. All those issues insert extra code that translates into “junk” code when the .doc file is turned into a bundle of XHTML files. Getting rid of the junk code requires a solid knowledge in XHTML programming and bundling in EPUB and MOBI formats. However if your eBook does not contain these formatting issues, here are 6 Easy Steps to turn your Microsoft Word document into a Kindle book:
Step 1: Type it clean
Use the default settings in Microsoft Word. Don’t justify your text, don’t hit “Enter” twice after a paragraph to insert extra space, never ever hit “Enter” over and over again to get your next chapter on a new page and don’t use tabs to begin paragraphs. You can customize some settings like first paragraph indents and spacing between paragraphs, but keep in mind every customization you make is a chance for more junk code to sneak into your Kindle file.
Step 2: Insert page breaks
After you’ve closely followed Step 1, start at the top of the document, place your cursor at the beginning of each section and chapter and hold down the “Ctrl” or “Cmnd” key on your keyboard and hit “Enter.” This will start each section on a new page and insert the proper code for the Kindle file letting the eBook software know that section is to begin on a new screen.
Most eBooks consist of the following sections created with page breaks:
- Title page, including author’s name and publishing house (if applicable)
- Copyright page
- Table of Contents
- Foreword (if applicable)
- About the Author
- Appendices including Bibliography, Glossary and Advertisements
- Index (only when using a professional eBook programmer
While making your page breaks, remember to leave one blank page for your Table of Contents.
Step 3: Apply styles
Starting at the top of the document again, go through your entire book and apply the default “Heading 1” style to each section or chapter title (ie: Introduction, Foreword, Chapter 1… etc.) and the default “Heading 2” style to any subheadings throughout your book that you want to appear in the Table of Contents. If you don’t care if subheadings appear in the Table of Contents, you can just make them bold. The important thing is to set them apart so your reader knows you’re making a new point.
This step can also be done during the writing process, and the default styles in Microsoft Word can be customized. Keep in mind font types are limited on Kindle software, so it’s usually best practice to stick with the default font. The more you customize your fonts, sizes, colors, etc., the more information gets translated into the code and can potentially be turned into junk code causing issues down the line. Keep it simple.
Step 4: Create your Table of Contents (TOC)
Microsoft Word has the built-in capability to link styles with Table of Contents listings. Each version of Word is different, so I recommend you consult the “Help” menu for instructions. Usually the TOC commands can be found under a “References” tab.
Using this built-in system, determine what you want your TOC to look like. For example, if you wanted subheadings from Step 3 to appear in your TOC, be sure to choose settings that include subheadings (“Heading Style 2”) in the listing.
Place your cursor at the beginning of the blank page you reserved for your TOC in Step 2 and insert it there. Everything should be hyperlinked. Page numbers will probably appear as well, but these will disappear during the conversion process.
Step 5: Convert to MOBI
If you’ve followed Steps 1-4 carefully and don’t have much (if any) extra special formatting issues such as bullet points, images, tables, etc., you can use a converter tool to create your MOBI file, which is the file format recognized by Kindle devices and apps.
I highly recommend the Kinstant formatter or Scrivener. I’m personally more familiar with Kinstant and feel it’s so easy to use even an untrained novice can create professional-looking Kindle books. It’s also the best formatter I’ve found currently available on the market. Whichever formatter you choose, follow their simple instructions to upload your MS Word document and cover image to their temporary conversion servers (your file can be deleted immediately after so it doesn’t stay on their servers). Then, using the Kindle Previewer app on your computer, preview your Kindle book to see if it meets your expectations.
Keep in mind even though the Kindle Previewer app gives you the option to preview what your eBook will look like on multiple devices, it doesn’t always show everything the same way a real Kindle device will, so it’s always best practice to copy your MOBI file onto an actual Kindle and preview it that way. I preview my eBooks on both my Kindle Keyboard and Kindle Fire to make sure they’re readable.
Step 6: Upload!
At this stage you’re ready to upload your eBook to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system. Sign up for an account at KDP.Amazon.com and fill out the information about your eBook. Click “Publish” and within 48 hours your eBook will appear on Amazon.com for sale!
Congratulations! You just completed a Kindle book in six easy steps!
The Kindle dilemma
Using the above steps does not always guarantee your Kindle book will remain free of errors as new Kindle software is released. New software reads Kindle files differently on different devices, so you may find yourself having to reformat your eBook. For example, I had over 2,000 downloads during a free promotion for my Kindle book How to Write a Non-Fiction Book in 3 ½ Days, which is a book I created using the exact six steps above and was released before the new Kindle Fire HD went on the market. Shortly after the new HD appeared, I received an email from Amazon stating there was a formatting issue with my eBook. Having had no reports for thousands of previous downloads, I deduced it was the way the new software was translating the code.
Instead of taking the time to reformat it myself, I sent it to my Kindle programming team to clean up for me. If you find you’d rather spend your time writing or marketing your business and less time with your hands in the techno pie, you can hire a professional eBook programming team to convert your files for you. In addition, if your files include those special formatting issues mentioned earlier, you may find you need to outsource this portion of your eBook production to a qualified team through a publisher, distributor, or our professional programming team.
About the Author
Kristen Eckstein is a highly sought-after publishing authority, two time best-selling author and award winning international speaker who has started 45 publishing companies and published 133 books and eBooks. She is founder of the “I am Published!” Ghost Publishing program, the Self-Publish On Demand training program and the “21 Ways” book series. http://UltimateBookCoach.com
Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com
Join Kristen Eckstein, Guy Kawasaki, 10 more digital publishing experts…and me at the first LIVE
Digital Publishing Online Intensive
March 6-26, 2013
These are great tips for anyone that is new or getting use to publishing on Kindle. I read through on Amazon how to format a book but it took a few trial and errors before getting my books correctly formatted. Your tips are very helpful.
Nina Amir says
Glad you found them useful. Kristen is the go-to Gal for all things ebook.
Tom Spallone says
Can you tell me if I can use standard bullets? I can’t seem to get a straight answer.
Nina Amir says
I think so. But reach out to someone who is a self-publishing pro, like Carla King.
Amanda Socci says
Very, very interesting. I am wondering if converting MS Word document files to notepad and then working with them with a “stripped code” would help. Well, I’m not even at the stage of formatting yet, as my book is not complete. It is still helpful information, though. Thank you Nina and Kristen.
What version of word is the best to use ?
Hugh Beaumont says
I published a Kindle book, but now would like to reformat. How do I proceed?
Nina Amir says
You can reformat your book at any time and re-upload to Kindle.
grest article for a novice on formatting for kindle. Been reading several sites but still wondering about some points. I’m almost ready to publish but still looking for errors and asking a few people to read a chapter and give feedback. Still not sure about margins, what size. Should book be justified and what size to use for publishing ( 5×7 or larger) how to indent for paragraphs since you say not to use tabs. Line spacing (what size to use and then spacing between paragraphs. Do you use page numbers? And how to create page numbers not to include cover, name of author and copyright date, and dedication. I have MS word 2000, 2007 and 2010 on a laptop and tower computer. Not sure which is best.
P.S. Also forgot to ask what is MOBI and how to convert document into it? Thank you for any assistance you can offer. Anxious to publish and see what, if anything transpires.
Hello everyone! In terms of conversion from pdf to epub or mobi formats, I suggest to see this free online tool http://kitpdf.com/ which can generate fast results.
Nancy Basile says
Thank you so much! This was easy to follow and took away a big part of the learning curve for me. I appreciate it.
but you don’t mention that by following your step 3 and 4, as per Kindle advice, and your contents are left aligned but your chapter headers are centred, then everything will take the format of that which you first format. The point is, using your and Kindles, instructions, you cannot have Eg. left aligned contents and centred chapter numbers, and sub-headers.
IE. If you first format as per your No. 3, then everything will take that format. So, your contents and chapter headers and sub-headers will all be either left aligned or centred, as per the first part of the document you format. That is, whether when you initially format centred or left aligned text. You must choose one format style, you cannot have two or more. Either be honest with your advice, or give it in full.
Hi, nevertheless, have tried your 6 easy steps, just like Kindle instruct, and am awaiting results. Thanks.
Nina Amir says
Hope they work for you, Ann.
I followed the advice based on kdp’s instructions, but it still took a decent amount of reworking to get the formatting to an OK state. For one, the paragraph breaks were not clear, and I had to use double breaks.
Two, I would have to arbitrarily put page breaks in more than I wanted because it was often the case that a subheading or picture would appear seperate from the text in awkward ways.
Three, the formatting headaches were inconsistently displayed on different devices (kindle, smartphone, tablet, etc), so it was often a pain to fix these errors.
Do you have any advice for coupling a subheading or image to text so that they’ll always display on the same kindle page? Would fix a lot of formatting headaches and be greatly appreciated.
Nina Amir says
I don’t, Robert. Try contacting Carla King (www.carlaking.com) or Joel Friendlander (www.Thebookdesigner.com).
LuAnne Hightower says
language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms; nonsense.
LuAnne Hightower says
Nina Amir says
L. M. Lacee says
Thanks for that. I have found the show/hide word tool to be an invaluable tool for formatting my books. But even after all said an done I do go over my books about 1 million times…and am sure there are still some issues..
Jeff Cann says
Thank you, Straight-forward and simple to follow. I seem to be in good shape to proceed.
These tips seem great for novice writers like myself. I found these tips really useful and enlightening. Thank you Kristen!
I’m just wondering, why not simply download Kindle Create, pull in your word document, and format it right in Kindle’s own e-book formatting app? Would that not work to ensure the document is formatted to Kindle specs?
Nina Amir says
That wasn’t available when this post was written, Terri. But designers of ebooks can get you the best results.
Thanks for the post! Kinstant formatter redirects me to another site. Apparently it is not available any more.
Kimberly D Heimerl says
Newby here. I have been engulfed in getting this little book published. I could have written 3 more like it in the time it has taken me to get this far in publishing. I used your easy-to-follow steps 1-4 (thank you!), but I am stuck at step 5. I clicked on your kinstant link, and it took me to a finance company page, which has nothing to do with kinstant or formatting a book. I googled kinstant.com and found a slew of sites… none of which had a way to download the tool, not even kinstant.com! So I tried Scrivener. It installed but I could not save it. It kept saying the file name was wrong. I tried YouTube Scrivener tutorial. All tutorials talked about writing the book and such. Nothing about formatting. Can anyone tell me how to format my book? I mean usable information without a 50 minute introduction telling me what you are going to tell me. I just need step-by-step directions on how to get this book on the market. Please?
Nina Amir says
This post is rather old, and it’s possible–likely–Kinstant has gone out of business. However, lots of people format their books with Scrivener. You can learn how using this program: Learn Scrivener Fast Yes…the program has a cost, but it’s super good and includes info on formatting, from what I recall. Gwen Hernandez’ book, Scrivener for Dummies is also helpful, and she provides classes.
Phillip Booth Faulkner says
I have learned one thing about information on the internet when the word “easy” is used, just insert the words “hard as hell” then you will have it right! What you have said above is just “Greek” to me. I wish there were someone who understands people who do not understand and write information so they can understand. I do not know of anyone who can do this. Sure, you understand what you are writing, but I do not. “Don’t hit “Enter” after a paragraph. Then what do you do? Don’t hit “Enter” over and over again to get to a new chapter or a new page, then what do you do? Don’t justify your text. What does it mean to “justify”. And on and on and on. I will have to take my short story to someone who understands how to do all this or take on a huge study just to understand what it is you are talking about. I don’t know if you understand there are people out there who understand practically nothing.
Nina Amir says
I do understand that…but we are trying our best to offer information that helps the most people.
CHRISTOPHER RUTTAN says
I have a question about the size of the front cover for Kindle. I have seen the recommendation 2,560 x 1,600 pixels. Isn’t this big for a Kindle that has a 5″x3″ screen? Thank you.
Gary James says
How does your “how to” translate when creating an e-pub cross platforms, not just Kindle. I understand that Amazon is a distinct formatting dilemma. Do you format for Kindle and then “save as” for epubs with everyone else? What if you plan on using Amazon as a secondary distributor and Ingramspark or Draft2Digital or other for your primary? Two versions necessary?
This post was exactly what I needed to complete my ebook. Thank you for your help!!