How to make your own Amazon Kindle ebook in just hours
ONE MINUTE SITE TOUR
OTHER KINDLE OR WRITING RESOURCES
Aspiring Authors Beware: Kindle Platform Under Construction (Online Pitfalls and Obstructions Abound)
The creation process for Kindle ebooks has changed considerably over recent years-- and continues to do so today. So at any given moment, 60 to 90 percent of the information you find online about it will be outdated, and just plain wrong. Even Google's mighty search engine appears unable circa mid-2013 to reliably separate the wheat from the chaff on the subject.
I'd like to say that you can simply refer to Amazon's own official guidelines and online help for this instead, to save yourself a lot of trouble, but that's not necessarily true. For Amazon's Kindle ebook format remains in flux, with even Amazon itself frequently having trouble providing suitably accurate and up to date information about many of its features and requirements, for prospective authors.
And even where their information is accurate and up to date, it often isn't clearly stated, or easy to follow and implement (which is why many turn to other sources online, in the first place).
So if there's no date stamp on the information you're perusing, you may be wasting your time reading it. And even if you can find the information you need, it may no longer work next week. For Amazon continues to tweak virtually every aspect of the platform and its recommended procedures. It could be a long while before any sort of long term stability is achieved regarding the optimal creation process for Kindle ebooks.
Most of the problems stem from two things: the expansion of Kindle ebooks from dedicated black and white ebook reading devices to multipurpose color touch tablets and smart phones, and Amazon's efforts to provide a richer array of book creation options to authors on their platform.
Authors of Straightforward Novels Enjoy the Easiest Path to Publication
Neither the proliferation of new Kindle devices, or Amazon's platform enhancement ambitions, should much affect authors of plain old text novels, which rarely require anything unusual or exotic in their formatting. But unfortunately, they do. At least according to perhaps 98% or more of the material you'll read online about it. If you follow the advice of most sources online, you're apt to come to the conclusion that even your old fashioned text-only novel cannot be published as a fully functional Kindle ebook, compatible with all Kindle devices, without you first becoming at least a semi-expert in one or more of several different disciplines, ranging from Amazon's latest KF8 format specifications, to HTML, XML, CSS, and ePUB and mobi formats. Plus, learning how to expertly use not only your complex word processor, but other apps like Calibre, Sigil, and possibly more items such as various plug-ins, as well. And all this atop the already stiff requirements of writers regarding things like the proper usage of grammar and vocabulary, and the discipline and organizational and creative skills necessary to turn a bunch of nebulous ideas into an entertaining and possibly informative work of art.
Of course, those of us with the wherewithal can just turn over the duties of formatting our book to work on Kindles to paid professionals (and hope that the results match our desires). But that can be expensive enough to be prohibitive for many of the rest of us.
So I'm here to emphasize what the other 2% of online voices are saying, circa mid-2013: it's far easier and simpler to make your novel into a Kindle ebook yourself, than most sources today claim, or perhaps realize.
I'm speaking only about typical novels though, which don't require internal images, or exotically formatted text passages in their pages. Once you get into those things, you may well have to delve into the more complex areas of the fluctuating Kindle format.
The How-To Synopsis
I'll get into some important details below. But the gist is this: if you can create a Microsoft Word type file from your word processor (.DOC format), you can then upload this directly to Amazon KDP, and Amazon will do almost all the conversion work for you, automatically. If you've previously uploaded your cover art to KDP, Amazon will also take care of embedding a proper internal version in your ebook (so you don't need to deal with adding it within your manuscript).
And I'm talking uploading this .DOC file directly to KDP with no compression required, either. After it's converted, you can then preview it in Amazon's online Previewer, to see what it should look like on different devices.
The details below will show you how to use minimal effort to prep your file so that Amazon's conversion process will churn out a compatible Kindle ebook with minimal further tweaks required on your part.
There is one thing lacking from my method, however. And that is being able to set the point where your Kindle's 'go to beginning' menu option will take the reader upon selection. With my method, that point will tend to be whatever page of your ebook immediately follows the cover on newer Kindle devices (such as your title page, perhaps), and maybe the beginning of your first chapter on older Kindles and Kindle apps. But to me personally that doesn't seem like such a big deal. Especially compared to the astonishing amount of extra trouble you may have to go to in order to reliably set that point elsewhere, in any fashion whatsoever. Seriously. It can be like training to be a NASA administrator or something. Just to set the recommended starting point for reading your ebook.
The Nitty-Gritty Details
Your Book Cover
In past years you often had to prepare two separate covers: one large color cover for the Amazon store's presentation of your book, and a smaller version for inside your book. Now just the large store cover is required.
And speaking of large, Amazon wants it to be huge. Like 1563 pixels wide, by 2500 pixels high, at 72 pixels per inch (that's the size of the latest cover I personally submitted, per instructions). And full color of course, unless that somehow conflicts with the manner in which you want potential readers to perceive your work. In jpg format.
Amazon's cover size preferences have been steadily increasing the past couple years. So don't be surprised if they want still larger ones than this, come 2014 or 2015.
All right: that's it for the cover. Just forget about having to reference it in your manuscript anywhere. There's no need. Just upload it to KDP and forget about it.
Choosing a Word Processor
As for the centerpiece itself, your manuscript, maybe any word processor will do for its creation, so long as the program can spit out a Word 97/2000/XP/2003 version of the file when you're done (DOC format).
Of course, the safest and most heavily documented paths here would likely be through use of Microsoft Word itself, or one of its nearest open source clones, OpenOffice or LibreOffice (I use LibreOffice myself).
The reason I mention the quality of heavy documentation is that these programs can be quite complex to use for certain aspects of the ebook creation process. Which means you can use all the help you can get to troubleshoot certain problems, or to simply learn how to access their features in general. So those apps with the most related documentation easily available online tend to win the usability race. And to get all that documentation, you require lots of users. Microsoft Word is the world standard in word processors, and has been for maybe decades. One reason for this is wide adoption by business and government agencies. So it may well be the champion in terms of available documentation.
However, it's tough to beat free. So since Microsoft Word tends to cost money to use, any reasonably competent competitor to MS Word which also happens to be free to use, will tend to possess lots of users as well. Including the government and business varieties. And that's where apps like OpenOffice and LibreOffice come in (so they're no slouches in the documentation category either).
OpenOffice and LibreOffice actually have their roots in the same program: an earlier version of OpenOffice. The reason LibreOffice was created was that lots of people perceived a threat to the availability or integrity or continued open source development of OpenOffice itself, when a benevolent corporate parent of the program got bought out by another, less benevolent entity, and that new entity began making many unwelcome changes to many of the other open source apps which had also come along with the buy out (or at least that's my impression of events: please refer to the internet for a less subjective, and possibly more accurate, view).
I used the original OpenOffice, then switched to LibreOffice like many others, during the aforementioned hullabaloo. However, I think OpenOffice was eventually freed of the clutches of the less than benevolent corporate entity due to popular outcry, and so now we have two different free office suites to choose from here (but I'm sticking with LibreOffice for now).
Minimal Word Processor Settings Requirements
I'm going to describe document settings here from the perspective of a LibreOffice user (since that's what I use). However, most of what I say may be identically set (or nearly so) in Open Office too. The biggest differences may crop up for users of Microsoft Word. But even those folks will likely only encounter a few difficulties in applying my recommendations to Word (since both LibreOffice and OpenOffice are functional clones of Word: the primary differences tending to exist within the appearances and arrangements of menus and settings windows).
I'm also going to assume that your manuscript is complete, story-wise.
The front matter of your book (what precedes the table of contents) should at minimum include a Title page and Copyright page. But where desired, you may also extend that list to include pages for listing your other published works, or for a Dedication, Preface, or Introduction.
You'll want to apply page breaks between all these, so that each will begin on its own fresh page. In LibreOffice you do this by using your mouse pointer to place the cursor immediately ahead of the first character of your section heading or chapter title, then holding down the Control key, as you press the Return key.
In regards to paragraph formatting, select the portion of your document you wish to apply the rules to, then go to the Format menu, and choose Paragraph...
In the dialog box you see next, make sure you're in the section for Indents & Spacing (there's different tabs at the top of the box). Once you're in the proper tabbed section, you'll see an area titled Indent. In that area there'll be a settings box for First line. In that box, I personally use 0.30 inch, and leave the check box for “Automatic” UN-checked.
Yes, you can use different values for this setting. But using too little or too much will show up as a problem on different Kindle device or app screens.
For font, I use Times New Roman, but there's a few others you can choose from too, which won't upset the KDP conversion process. Most of my text is set to 12 points. Chapter Titles or headings I set to 14 points, or Heading 3, in Bold style. I apply italic style formatting as desired throughout the body of the text.
Your book may also contain Back Matter (items which come after the end of the story). Like what? A list of references, a Glossary, Notes, Appendices, etc., etc. All these things are usually optional on the author's part. One Back Matter item everyone might wish to use though could be an About the Author page.
The Table of Contents
Amazon wants your Table of Contents page to be near the front of the book, and just before the first chapter or section of your story.
To get a fully functional Table of Contents, type in your contents list (“Chapter 1: Blah Blah Blah, Chapter 2: Blah Blah Blah, and so on and so forth). To end up something like this:
Chapter 1: One Blah Blah Blah
Chapter 2: Two Blah Blah Blah
Chapter 3: Three Blah Blah Blah
Chapter 4: Four Blah Blah Blah
Chapter 5: Five Blah Blah Blah
About the Author
Once you have your contents list, go through your story to find the individual chapter headings at the start of each chapter, then click just to the left of the first character in that heading. For instance, just ahead of the “C” in “Chapter 1: Blah Blah Blah”. Then go to the Insert Menu, selecting Bookmark...
This will bring up a dialog box. Type in the name of your Bookmark, and click OK. In this case you might choose to type “One”, since it's a good identifier of that chapter.
After you've done this for every item in your contents list, you're ready to complete your table of contents, with the insertion of hyperlinks.
This time though, rather than merely clicking to place the cursor ahead of an item in your contents list, you'll click ahead of that item, then hold down your mouse button to drag it across the full phrase, so that you'll select the entire thing, as if you were about to cut or copy the text with the Edit menu.
For instance, you'd select the entire text of the line "Chapter 1: One Blah Blah Blah", to create that particular hyperlink (that way, the reader will be able to click anywhere within that phrase, to be sent to that spot in the text).
But instead of cutting or copying, you use the Insert menu again. This time to choose Hyperlink. In the resulting dialog box, you'll see a section titled “Target in document”, with a blank entry box to the right of the word “Target”. To the right of this blank entry box itself will be a button with a circle in it, with a dot in the circle's center. Click that button to get a list of all the bookmarks you created, and choose the one you want this contents item to send the reader to when they click upon it. Then click “Apply”, and “Close”. Repeat the process as necessary to make your entire table of contents functional.
DOC Format, Uploading, and Previewing
If you've done all the above, then you're ready to save your file in Microsoft Word DOC format, then upload that version to Amazon KDP. After you've done that, you can use Amazon's online Previewer to check how your ebook works on different devices (you should try to test them all thoroughly).
Amazon's online Previewer isn't necessarily the best test bed for some authors, though. So Amazon also offers a downloadable Previewer, which you can install on your local computer. That one will usually work lots faster than the online version, in regards to previewing ebooks.
Once you have that downloadable Previewer installed, you can also take advantage of another KDP perk: to download your converted ebook file from Amazon too, to check it in your downloaded Previewer. Checking your books this way can be lots faster than the alternative. Keep in mind though that it may often be best to avoid downloading the HTML version of your ebook for this test: download the other one, instead (Amazon offers both types).
In the Previewer, you can check the functionality/readability of your ebook in different Kindle devices and apps. Make sure all your table of contents links work. Also check the navigational items like go to cover, and go to table of contents. With a little luck, you may find very few if any things requiring further tweaks and subsequent uploadings on your part.
I believe somewhere Amazon itself says that the downloadable Previewer offers a more reliable display of your book's appearance and functionality on various Kindle devices, than the online Previewer does. So that's another good reason to use it.
Your Book Description
There's two ways to edit your Amazon store book description: in KDP, and in Author Central. Once you begin doing it through Author Central for a particular book though, you can't use KDP to edit its description any more (yikes!).
Most authors probably stick with KDP for this. But some prefer Author Central.
You can use a bit of basic HTML in KDP to edit your book description. In the beginning though, you might want to restrict yourself to only using tags like <i> and </i> to italicize words and phrases, though. Why? Because while KDP now accepts a significant bit of HTML formatting, it also still acts a lot like its old self, prior to the addition of HTML to its capabilities. Hence, getting too fancy with the HTML there could result in lots of extra tweaking being required afterwards. For example, I used italics tags and paragraph tags in my first HTML use there, only to find out KDP also paid attention to the blank lines between my description paragraphs, in addition to the paragraph tags. This left me with double line spacing in my description between paragraphs, which didn't look good at all in the Amazon store (and so I had to fix it). Note that in a typical HTML editor and browser, such blank lines are ignored.
So what's your next step? Well... none, actually. You're done! Good luck!
Other Items of Possible Interest
The different categories of story length
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. Because that's what you're naturally best suited for, and should have the easiest time motivating yourself to endure the massive effort required to write, publish, and market your book(s).
However, for the more opportunistic, genre ambivalent, and/or easily motivated among us, non-fiction and how-to texts probably are the best bets in general.
My own book roster
Between 2009 and 2014 I published ten Kindle ebooks (and updated one of them since original publication) to learn what I've posted here.
Six of those 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.
Three of the ebooks are A Shock to the System, Meeting of the Minds, and The Madness of Dreamers: the first three books of the science fiction series The Chance of a Realtime. Their covers and links can be seen below.
Copyright © 2010-2015 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.