How to make your own Amazon Kindle ebook in just hours
ONE MINUTE SITE TOUR
OTHER KINDLE RESOURCES
Kindle Boards - Index
Table of contents
This page assumes you already have your book content completed, and you want to format it as an Amazon Kindle ebook, using the resources available at Kindle Direct Publishing.
How lengthy does your manuscript have to be to qualify as a book in general? Or, what are the usual publishing editor's or reader's expectations in size/length? I've seen various sources offer up these word total ranges of acceptability:
(Keep in mind when viewing the word counts below that 75,000 words make about 300 pages, 100,000 words, 400)
+ Under 10,000 is a short story
What sorts of books sell the best, and/or offer the best opportunity for income?
First off, if you're a wildly talented and/or passionate writer of a specific genre, that's probably the type of book you should strive to publish, no matter what. However, for the more opportunistic or generically motivated among us, non-fiction and how-to texts probably are the best bets in general.
You must have two covers: a larger cover for display in the Amazon catalog pages, and a smaller version to be seen inside the pages of your ebook.
Both covers should be 72 dots per inch in density. The larger cover should be between 500 and 1200 pixels in measure along its longest side, while the internal cover should be between 400 and 600 pixels in measure in regards to its longest side (the smaller values of 500 and 400 respectively may be minimum dimensions for those sides).
(Note that there's some contradiction between Amazon's own KDP guidelines, and the actual publishing interface, about these measurements. E.g., when uploading my first two covers, I got a message about Amazon 'preferring' covers to be at least 1280 pixels in length along their longest side)
UPDATE NOTE: I made my most recent covers in these sizes: the online store display cover, 1320 pixels on the longest side; the internal, 45% the size of the display version (or 594 pixels on the longest side). END NOTE.
Color covers should be created in 'RGB mode', in your editing software. The image format should be TIFF or JPEG.
Covers with light-colored or white backgrounds should possess a gray border around the edges.
Kindle ebooks examined in apps on PCs, Macs, iPads, and various smart phones can all display color images. HOWEVER....ebooks read in handheld Amazon Kindle ebook reader appliances will only display black and white images-- and only in a maximum of sixteen shades of gray. For this reason I was personally very conservative in my own internal imagery, for my earliest ebooks.
However, once I got a Kindle of my own, I was very pleasantly surprised by how well even complex pictures and photos appeared on its screen. Apparently 16 shades of gray offer up a sort of critical mass in regards to the presentation of visual imagery. So I'm much less concerned about the display of internal images now, than I was before. Or in other words, don't worry about restricting colors in your internal images: the Kindle can handle it!
And just to make things crystal clear here: ALL your images for your Kindle ebooks can be in full color. It's just that on Kindle ebook readers of the kinds being sold through the end of 2010 and early 2011, they'll be displayed in 16 shades of gray. Everywhere else, in Kindle apps running on devices with color screens, your pics will show up in their original colors.
I use Adobe Photoshop Elements for bitmap/paint/photo style imagery editing, and Inkscape for vector work. The Adobe software can frequently be found on sale for as little as around $50, while Inkscape has been free as long as I've been aware of the program. There may also be one or more free to use online sites similar to Photoshop Elements in capability-- but I suspect there'd be some practical drawbacks to using them intensively, compared to a local desktop app.
Note that while your main covers are limited to TIFF or JPEG formats, your internal illustrations can be GIF, BMP, JPEG, or PNG. However, any internal images larger than 64 k or 450x450 pixels will be resized for the Kindle (and so maybe end up looking different from what you expect; like any text in the image might turn out being so small as to be illegible). So I personally try to stay within the prescribed limits.
Your book's text and internal images must be formatted in basic HTML. CSS can be used too, but is mainly desirable for more advanced formatting than most authors will require.
Here's an empty HTML template such as I begin with:
Things get only a little more complicated than that. Namely, you separate your content into headings, sub-headings, and paragraphs, configuring the spacing and indenting of all. And you insert your imagery. In some books, you may also include a clickable table of contents.
Beyond all that, you'll want to include page breaks in strategic locations.
Most paragraphs begin with <p> and end with </p> (most HTML tags are used that way, with a beginning tag and an ending tag). But the first paragraph in a chapter or section (or underneath a heading or sub-heading) will usually need a starting tag like <p height="Xem"> instead, where 'X' is a number like 1 or 2. This special paragraph starting tag gives you some vertical space between the first line of the paragraph and the heading above it. Experiment with values from 1 through 3 there to get the space you need.
You can customize your paragraphs more, such as indentation-wise, but there's already a default for that set into the system, so most of us can ignore tweaking indentation.
Images need to be housed in a set of tags something like this:
<center><IMG SRC="image-title.jpg" alt="Brief text explanation of what the image depicts. This text is normally only read by machines, or by special reading software for the vision-impaired perhaps."><br><font size=3> <b>Another (optional), more detailed text explanation of the image can be placed here. This text will be plainly displayed to human readers of your ebook pages at all times.</b></font></center>
Yes, feel free to change the font size, or strip away all the extraneous text if you wish, to end up with something like this below, that does nothing more than show a centered image on the page:
Note that it won't look good if you end up with a heading at the bottom of one page rather than the top or middle. So for important headings or other dividing points in your book, you'll want to use page/section breaks just above the headings in your page. Page breaks look like this:
You'll also use these to separate your internal cover page, contents page, 'about the author' pages, etc., from the rest of the book. These things come in handy as chapter separators, too.
Every ebook author will need to use at least one special character in their text: the copyright symbol. Many of us will need to use lots more than one. But the more of these little buggers you use, the tougher it'll be to hunt them down when proofing your text, to make sure they display properly in the finished product. So you want to get these things right the first time.
Special characters I've already used successfully in my own books (and so proved they work in the Kindle app) include the copyright symbol © (which in your HTML code will look like "©" (the quotes are NOT part of the code)), è ("è"), and é ("é").
HTML Codes - Characters and symbols is one of many handy reference sources for these codes.
The first few lines are what your Table of contents will look like in HTML:
<a name="toc"><p height="2em"><b>Table of contents</b></a>
The next lines below show the matching HTML tags you need positioned somewhere later in your document, for your table of contents links to point to:
Keep in mind you can modify the contents tags technique to instead create things like asterisks and footnotes, if you like. Below is an example of using an asterisk to point to a later note:
"In this sample sentence I want to use an asterisk link to offer followup info to the reader regarding some 'special term'<a href="#sectionasterisk">*</a> I use."
I place the HTML destination code below at the end of the chapter (or book, as appropriate), so that a click on the asterisk by the reader will take them there:
"<p height="2em"><a name="sectionasterisk"></a>* 'special term' means only what I say it means, and nothing more."
Next is how to do a footnote notation. First you place your footnote number somewhere in your text:
"And that's when my horse began galloping backwards<sup><A HREF="#section1">1</A></sup>"
Then at the end of the chapter or book, you write the destination code for what you want the reader to see when they click on the footnote link:
Want more info? Amazon KDP Support : Formatting Guide is the official web reference for Kindle-specific formatting.
HTML Examples is a more general HTML reference. Keep in mind though that major chunks of general HTML code (like tables) either don't presently work for Kindle ebooks, or else may work in an unpredictable and unreliable fashion. And all this is probably even more true for CSS techniques. So be sure to use the Preview function Amazon offers, after uploading your book file.
Your web browser is where you'll do 90-95% of your previews and testing. I use Firefox, but most any modern mainstream browser should work fine.
There's plenty of HTML editing options out there. I use an ancient version of an app called HTML-Kit. But some people use the plainest text editor they can get for the job. An actual HTML editor tends to make the job somewhat easier though.
Unfortunately, your web browser will NOT be the final word on how well your ebook will work and look on a Kindle. For after you've done everything you can to make it look right in your browser, you'll next have to upload it to Amazon KDP, and preview it there. And maybe do that several times after various tweaks here and there, to get it looking just the way you want onscreen.
It's best that all your book's internal image files be in the same folder with your book's HTML file, so that you can easily select them all for zip compression into a single file for uploading. Note that I personally don't compress the folder itself into a single file for uploading, but rather the ebook's HTML file and various internal image files contained by that folder. And the resulting single file (not the folder) is what I upload to Amazon.
You'll basically upload your ebook to Amazon in two separate files: the main store display cover, and everything else.
By everything else, I mean a single compressed file containing your HTML file, internal cover image, and all other images used in the ebook.Only the 'everything else' file needs to be compressed. In zip format. There's both free and non-free utilities available to zip your files. I presently use 7-Zip File Manager.
(7-Zip File Manager and possibly other utilities of this kind may by default try to use a different form of compression than zip format. As Amazon KDP expects only the standard zip format, you may need to manually set your utility to that)
Note that after you upload your main cover, the thumbnail of it in your product details page may be a little distorted; that's not anything to worry about.
First off, Amazon's Preview function isn't always completely accurate in terms of what your ebook will look like in a Kindle app or reader. For instance, in Preview it may appear that your ebook has no margins to left and right, compelling you to waste time trying to create some with your formatting. Word to the wise: don't worry about it. Preview simply doesn't show the default margins. So most authors shouldn't have to do anything about them.
Another preview discrepancy can cause certain headings or other items you format to be centered on the page appear instead to be aligned with the leftmost margin-- when they're actually not. That is, you have them formatted correctly, but depending on where they are in relation to a page break at the time, they might look like they are NOT centered after all.
One case where this happens is with the headings situated at the destination points of table of contents links. Those headings might look perfectly centered when you reach them by scrolling through the ebook, but look left-aligned when you arrive there via a click in the table of contents. So in other words they'll look correct or not, depending on how the reader gets to them.
During previews, you'll likely come across at least a few page views showing something you wish to change about the formatting. But what's a convenient way of capturing these for editing purposes? Screen captures. On a Windows 7 PC I hold down the 'alt' key, and then press the 'prt scrn' key, which copies the present displayed image to my copy/paste buffer. Then I open a free imaging utility called Irfanview and paste the image there. I then save it to local disk. When editing my novel 'Necessary Ends', I saved several of these, by the quickie file names of 'ne1', 'ne2', 'ne3', etc. I could then just double-click these later to be seen in a Windows 7 Preview pane, and use them as guides to edit my HTML further.
There's a font size setting you can change in Preview: use it. Specifically, scan your entire book in at least font sizes 3 and 1 for formatting flaws. Sometimes a flaw only shows up in one font size, and not another.
Note that you can't check any live links in your ebook in Amazon Preview. Like your table of contents or any footnote links, for instance. No, to really do a final test on those, you'll have to get a copy of the published book downloaded to your own Kindle or Kindle app.
Once you're satisfied with your description in your word processor, select it, then copy it, then paste it into the simplest, most bare bones text processor available on your computer, like Notepad on PCs. Then save it that way. Next, select the text inside the Notepad file and copy it again, then paste THAT into Amazon's description field. All the hidden formatting marks should then be absent from the finished product.
Trademarks. These days it can often be difficult to avoid using trademarked names in many instances in your books, even if only by accident. Simply because corporate brands have become so deeply embedded in our daily lives and public consciousness. Ergo, many brands now are commonly used as verbs in daily conversation. This can be great for the businesses which own these trademarks in terms of public relations and recognition, but at the same time problematic, as too wide a usage could actually lead to them losing control or ownership of their trademarks. So businesses must sometimes take legal measures to restrict usage of their marks. Therefore, to head off any such legal measures being taken against your own works, you should provide a disclaimer about trademarks in the front of your ebook. For instance, you might try using the text below:
"Product names, brands, and other trademarks referred to within this book are the property of their respective trademark holders. Unless otherwise specified, no association between the author and any trademark holder is expressed or implied. Use of a term in this book should not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark, registered trademark, or service mark."
(and no: I'm not a lawyer; but quite a few folks and organizations seem to get by using wording similar to the above)
Filling out the KDP form can be intimidating for first-timers (though Amazon does do a pretty good job of explaining things on the page). So here's a cheatsheet for that too.
If it says it's optional, and you're unclear what to put into it anyway, just ignore it. More specifically, getting an ISBN number will accomplish little more than allowing everyone else to see your sales figures. And if you're self-publishing, then you don't have a conventional publisher to enter into the form anyway.
Your product description is at least as important as your cover in the Kindle store. Most of us will have to pore over this particular text for at least an hour or two, for best results. I write mine offline, then copy/paste it into Amazon's KDP form afterwards. If you're not sure how to write a description, check out descriptions for the books of others, which are hopefully of a similar nature, but also good sellers. In other words, check out what works for others like yourself, and then do your own version for your own book.
Amazon allows you a pretty hefty chunk of text for your product description: up to 4000 characters. Use as much of it as you can without giving away too much of your ebook's best bits, or wasting your potential customer's time. In other words, the description itself should be an entertaining and/or worthwhile read for anyone browsing your book's Amazon page.
You'll be given the opportunity to list keywords relating to your content, and to categorize your book's subject matter in Amazon's online catalog. These two items are very important, as they position your book in the Amazon store, and make it more easily accessible to people searching the database. You may only choose around a half dozen keywords, and five categories.
You will be asked if you wish to enable digital rights management (DRM). As in most cases enabling this will do nothing more than restrict how your paid customers can access and enjoy your ebook (and so annoy some of them a lot), I personally do NOT enable digital rights management. Whichever setting you choose for this is permanent though.
Royalties: Here you can choose 35% or 70%; although choosing 70% limits your available price range to $2.99 through $9.99 (otherwise you can choose anything from $0.99 through $200.00, I believe).
Price: If you're a well known celebrity, or otherwise enjoy a high profile online or in real life, you might be able to price your book just about however you like, such as at $19.95 or whatever, and still enjoy healthy sales. The same might be true if you merely possess the wealth to employ a professional promotion or marketing campaign on your book's behalf. But for everyone else among us who tend to be much more obscure, it'll likely be best to price them as low as you can stomach.
After you complete all the required info for your book, and click the publish button, it can take up to a week for it to go completely live in the Amazon online store. And some bits of your product info will go live before others. For instance, your product description may be missing in action for a few days, while everything else is already up. Give it time.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Time will pass unnaturally slowly for you between the time you click the Publish button and the time a complete version of your book page finally appears on Amazon (three or four days or longer is normal). But if you go back into Amazon KDP details editing just to confirm you made the correct settings, THE WHOLE PUBLISHING PROCESS WILL START AGAIN FROM SCRATCH, meaning you will have possibly doubled the time you'll have to wait for the book to actually go fully live in the Amazon store. Yikes! (I did that once, darn it!) So you must resist this temptation, and just double-check everything before you click the publish button the first time. END NOTE.
The ultimate test of your ebook formatting will be how your book displays in both a Kindle app on a PC, iPad, or smartphone, and in an actual Amazon Kindle ebook reader. Unfortunately, you tend to have to own those devices to do such an examination. And (unless I'm missing something) must purchase a copy of your finished book the same as a customer, as well. Luckily, most of us have either a PC or Mac to view the app on. And many of us have a smartphone, too.
Amazon allows you to update your ebook at any time after original publication. And by update, I mean you can change the cover, add another chapter or more illustrations, or change the product description, etc. Just about anything. However, it can take a day or two for the updates to show up in the Amazon store, and/or in the ebooks customers get at purchase (and there's complications involved for anyone who purchased the earlier version, and would like to update to the newer one for free; but more about that later).
The one bit about your book that you can NOT change in an update may be its DRM (Digital Rights Management). Once you initially set that, that's it.
I believe that while the updating of your ebook in Amazon's database is underway, the previous version of the book will still be available for sale and downloading from the Amazon site.
So what happens after an author updates their Kindle ebook? Does the author or buyers of the earlier version automatically get the updates? Do the new versions automatically replace the older ones in Kindles or Kindle apps? No and no. And there's no alerts or notifications about the existence of the update sent out to readers/buyers either. At present, it seems the only way a Kindle ebook reader/buyer might learn of a new version/update to a book being available is either through a visit to the author's own web site, or from seeing a notice about it from the author themselves, in an updated product description on the ebook's Amazon page (if you just happen to be browsing the page description of a book you already bought possibly weeks or months before).
Technically, previous buyers can download the update for free. But there's a big catch/caveat about the free update for previous buyers.
Namely, you can only get the free update by specifically requesting it from Amazon via email. Authors must email Amazon KDP Support for this, while customers must email customer support instead. And no, I'm not kidding. This is the state of Amazon Kindle ebook updates, in early December 2010.
Only after an Amazon technician has given permission for your account to get the update, can you then receive it via the actions listed below:
One, select the ebook in your Kindle or Kindle app home screen, then order your Kindle/app to "Remove from device". This should place the book in your archives (which means while you no longer have the title locally, Amazon is storing it for you on their servers). Next, click on your Archived Items in your Kindle/app. You should see there the ebook title you removed earlier. Double-click the ebook cover icon, and the update should download to your Kindle/app.
Again, this only works if Amazon KDP support has previously okayed it with a key press somewhere. If they didn't, then all you'll get for your trouble is another copy of the old version. Seriously. Why? It seems that Amazon is concerned that anyone replacing the old version with a new one might lose certain customization tweaks they did with the original version, like notes or bookmarks, and freak out over it.
Bottom line? Ebook authors should do their very damnedest to make their first ebook editions as absolutely perfect as possible, in order to avoid the present mess in regards to significant content updates. Changes to most any other product details about your ebooks may be much less problematic.
Well, that's it! Everything you need to know to convert an already completed manuscript and/or artwork into a Kindle ebook. Anything else, like the creation of the artwork or book text, or promotion and marketing beyond your ebook's Amazon page, are wholly separate subjects.
(but you can always email me about something important you think I forgot, or made an error on; my email address can be found here)
As of 10-26-11 I'd published nine Kindle ebooks (and updated one of them since original publication) to learn what I've posted here.
Six of those nine ebooks are Sirens, Necessary Ends, Deep in the Throat of Texas, Driving Needs, Nowhere to Go But Up, and Dark Horse: The Official Shadowfast Supercar Technical Reference (if you'd like to buy them, hint, hint). They're actually heavily autobiographical, regarding my own youth. I grew up in the 1970s, in a place considered by many to be the top outlaw county in America. Plus, with help from my dad, I built an honest-to-goodness supercar too. These books are about my adventures in that place and others, with that car.
I wish you the best of luck with your own efforts! -- JR
Copyright © 2010-2011 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.