How to Format Your Book in Kindle (and When NOT to…)

Here's how to format a book for Kindle using Word.An interesting conversation is going on at my favorite Facebook group of nonfiction scribblers. One of the members asked if it’s very difficult to format your own book in Word and upload it from Word to Kindle. The answers are “yes and no.” That makes sense, because the answer is “yes and no.”

First, let’s look at the “When NOT to” embark on a DIY ebook formatting expedition. You should hire a professional ebook formatter who knows HTML and CSS like a native language when your book contains any kind of graphics. ANY kind: that means tables, graphs, charts, maps, photographs, drawings…anything that is not plain narrative with one (count it, 1) level of subhead below the chapter heading level.

I’m not going to go into the  horrors here, but trust me: you do not want to try to get even one image or other graphic into a Kindle book from Word on your own.

But if what you have is a novel, or a piece of nonfiction that contains nothing but plain, unadorned narrative, you can get that up on Kindle as easily as the next guy. It’s really very simple.

Here’s how, assuming you’re working in Word…

Step 1: Set your program to save every five minutes. Word is squirrelly and fully capable of crashing at random (as you probably know by now…). Better to lose three or four minutes’ worth of work than ten minutes’ worth. In this process, loss of ten or fifteen minutes of work will be intensely frustrating, because it’s mind-numbing work and because you can get a fair amount done in that period and you will not feel happy about having to do it all over again.

The font does not matter, because Kindle readers can choose whatever font and size they wish and Amazon will arrogate your copy unto itself and use a standard font for the Kindle production. I have my Word set to default to Times New Roman 12 points, no space before or after paragraphs, because I dislike Word’s current default font and hate having air around my grafs. However, for your purposes, it doesn’t matter because your font formatting will go away in Kindle, so…use the plainest standard font formatting as your default.

Similarly, e-books do not have running headers and footers. Do not insert a running header with page numbers plus your name or the book title or the chapter title, because these will not appear in the Kindle version.

Step 2: Insert a table of contents field, if you know how. I personally like Joel Friedlander’s Word templates from Book Design Templates, because they’re extremely easy to use and they come with the TofC field built in. For best results, select one that switch-hits between print and e-book formatting.

Step 3: Format ALL content using Word’s “styles” function. Format the chapter headings (known as “level 1 heads”) as Heading 1 and any subheads under that (known as “level 2 heads”) as Heading 2.


Use Word’s “Styles” to format your MS for Amazon.

Word, which is extremely rigid, sets these things in blue type. Some of us find that annoying. You can either manually change the color to black, or you can reset the Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles with Format > Styles > [select the style to change] > Modify. Once in there, explore around: you’ll find commands to set the font color and size and the paragraph formatting.

Format the paragraphs as well as the heads and subheads using “Styles.” If you’re not using a template, use the style titled “Normal.” To format a paragraph, highlight it and go to Format > Style > Normal. You can highlight a whole series of paragraphs at once, or you can format one paragraph and use the formatting brush icon to spread the selected format around to other paragraphs.

Step 4. Format all italic, bold face, and small caps using “Styles.” Styles for this purpose come with a commercial template; if you’re using a plain ordinary Word document, you may have to create a new style. Format > Style > New. Be sure it’s set for the font and size you’ve chosen. Then, in Format > Style > New, click the down arrow in the “Format” box. In the pane that appears, under “Formatting” you’ll be able to choose whatever you like. If you want to create a style for italic, for example, simply click on the i icon for italic. Name the Style “Italic.” (Or bold face or small caps or whatever.)

What you can’t do:

Do not try to insert drop caps. Although it’s possible to do so, you need to know coding to make it work. Converting an ordinary Word file with drop caps will create a screw-up. If you want to decorate opening lines, set the first few words in all caps (not small caps!), and set the first line of a first paragraph under a heading or subheading flush left. This is ditzy, especially if your book is long, and it’s not necessary. Avoid if you don’t know what you’re doing or you have no design background at all.

Ditto images: they do not convert easily from a plain Word file to Kindle. They’re likely to come out in tiny sub-postage-stamp size and in weird places. If you have images or other graphics, hire a book formatter to do this job!

Don’t try to change fonts around. For example, don’t try to set normal paragraphs in, say, Times New Roman 12 points and block quotations in, say, Calibri 11 points. This can create a mish-mash. Set the entire document in the same typeface (what Word calls a “font”) and use only boldface and italic for variety.

Don’t lay out interior copy in standard print form — that is, with all first pages on recto pages. There is no recto and verso in an e-book.

Step 5. Update the table of contents. Right-click in the TofC field and in the pop-up menu, select Update Field > Update Entire Table.

If you are using a Macintosh you will need to update the table of contents on a PC!!!!!!!!! Endlessly annoying Amazon will not read a table of contents generated on a Mac or updated on a Mac. In that case, email the document to a friend with a PC and explain to the person how to to update the TofC, or else copy the file to a flash drive, traipse to a public library that has PCs, and update it on that machine.

Step 6. Proofread, proofread, proofread! Ideally, get someone else to proofread the document at least once, since you now are so accustomed to reading it that your mind subconsciously “corrects” errors as you trudge through the copy for the 147th time, and you will not see all of the typos.

Get the front matter right. If you do not know what a copyright page is supposed to look like, get a book from an established publishing house and copy the format carefully on your own copyright page. You probably will not have the Library of Congress data, but otherwise do not leave any of the copyright page elements out.

I will not go in to the question of whether you should get an ISBN or let Amazon assign its own inventory number to your book (that is not an ISBN; don’t let anybody tell you it is). All I can say is you’re better off to get an ISBN of your own, and yes, you do need a separate ISBN for each format in which you publish: .mobi, ePub, print, whatEVER.

Step 7. List your keywords and write a short, enticing description of your book. Save to disk, so as to be sure these notes do not disappear.

Step 8. Go to your author dashboard in Amazon and click on the box that says “Create New Title.” It’s at the top of the page next to “New Title Checklist. No Amazon page yet? Tsk. If you haven’t established an account yet, do so now. Here are some clues to that process.

Step 9. Fill in the blanks on the form. You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to select KDP Select, which is a program that supposedly gives you a little marketing boost and that allows you to price your book lower than $2.99. Its drawback is that Amazon embargoes your book for 90 days — you can’t sell it anywhere else, not even from your own website. Some people are not bothered by this; in any event, you can exit the program any time you wish.

Jump through all the hoops required on the first page, inserting the keywords and description you’ve thought through carefully and written out. You’ll upload your cover as a JPEG and then upload the content of your book as a .doc or .docx file. Where it asks if you want to enable digital rights management: Amazon suggests you do NOT choose this option because it annoys readers who would like to share your book with others. It also may complicate Amazon’s plan to use your work in its lending program. If you do not mind pirating — DRM does provide some protection against theft — select “do not enable.” If you care whether people steal your book, select “enable digital rights managment.”

Step 10. Preview your book and download a copy of the MOBI file. Amazon will suggest you use the online previewer. Do NOT do this. The online previewer gives you a very weak idea of how the book will look on a real Kindle. Download the computer-resident Kindle previewer that Amazon offers at this stage. It will take awhile — go have lunch and come back. Now download the .mobi file into your Kindle previewer. This will give you a rough idea of the book’s appearance on a reading device — it’s not perfect, but it’ll have to do. If you have an iPad, you can get the Kindle App and email the MOBI file to yourself as an attachment. Open the file on the iPad and it will come up in the Kindle app. This will give you a better idea of how the thing will look on a Kindle reader.

Get the MOBI file by downloading it into Amazon’s previewer on your computer, finding the file in your downloads, and saving to the desired folder in your records.

Step 11. Proofread, proofread, proofread! Do NOT imagine the file will go up without a hitch. It will not. Go over the entire document in the Kindle reader. Fix each glitch in your Word file.

Use Amazon’s spell check tool, which creates a list of what it thinks are misspelled words at the time you upload your file. It will choke on place names, unusual personal names, and foreign words…but it will catch typos. This is extremely useful. But you still must proofread the book from beginning to end before your final post.

When you’re satisfied with what you have, upload the final corrected file again. And preview and proofread it again. This process may take awhile. You probably will have to re-upload the file at least twice — possibly several times — to get it right. It can be time-consuming, so allow an hour or two. Once you’re  happy with it, click “Save and Continue” to move on to the next page to set your price and tell Amazon where you’re selling the book. Fill in the blanks there and click “Publish.”

Et voilà! You’re a “published” author. And now the real work begins: selling it…

You can see my own and our authors’ published works here at Plain & Simple Press and also at Camptown Races Press. Please be forewarned that Camptown Races publishes “Racy Books for Racy Readers” — they’re romantic erotica, not intended for minors or for adults with delicate sensibilities.

And remember: Every Writer Needs an Editor. 😉

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woo HOO! The finished product!