Self publication – preparing your book for Amazon Kindle

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This blog is about raising awareness of some of the major issues any wannabe self-publisher has to face when preparing a book for publication with Kindle. It won’t supply all the answers – but anyone searching for those should be able to easily find possibilities online. πŸ™‚

So: you have finished your book. What should you be considering?

Copy editing

If you’ve already read my blog on preparing for print – you can skip ‘Copy Editing’ and go straight to ‘Design’.Β  If you haven’t, I’d really really recommend you pop over to read this section. This is probably the single most important work you can invest in your book. You could well have written the One Book Everyone is Waiting For, but if your copy editing is poor, few will bother to read it.

Interior Design

OK, you can throw out a lot of what we were having to think about when we considered a print version of a book. Kindle is a different animal. The only thing I do – and even this may be unnecessary – is make sure my text is justified. That’s it.

Typesetting is minimal. Widows & Orphans are under the control of the reader, by adjusting the font size. Consequently, they cannot be avoided. The same with rivers. You may want to ensure any tables or images are centered. There’s a great deal more about images, later, as they can be troublesome. Kindle can cope with tables of two or possibly three columns. If you don’t want to run the risk of one being chopped in half by Kindle’s formatting, then you’ll need to put in a page break before and after each table.

Fonts

There’s some things to keep at the front of your mind before even starting: Kindle chooses its own fonts. There’s little leeway. It is possible to embed designer fonts, but it’s fiddly at best and could annoy the readers, at worst. Kindle readers are used to Kindle offering a number of different fonts for them to pick and choose. If you really insist on trying, you’ll have to be fairly able in html. then you have a chance of converting your font to a woff/eot etc, and embed them in the body in the hope Kindle might use them. But it might not. sometimes it’s easier to pick another fight. Believe me, there will be enough of them.

Before You Start – assemble your tools

Before you even begin with Kindle, download the following:

  1. the latest Amazon Kindle publishing guidelines, as these change from year to year
  2. Kindle previewer

You could download KindleGen, but the latest version of Kindle Previewer has made that largely unnecessary. The only thing I found KindleGen useful for, this year, was to tell me what problems it encountered when converting my html.

Stage 1 – changing layouts in your Word document

If you prepared your document for print, then you will need to strip out the following:

  • headers and footers
  • mirror margins

All you need is a standard page layout of 1 cm each margin.

Stage 2 – Interior images

Do you have any? Then grit your teeth. This may be a bumpy ride.

Your images can be in colour for Kindle. However, you need to bear in mind that your average Kindle reader will put them into greyscale. You may need to consider if they look as good like that.

Kindle has requirements for images:

  1. they have to be at least 300ppi
  2. there are rules governing how images display, depending upon their dimensions.
  3. they have to fall within certain size parameters in terms of memory

The same rules apply for copyright as on print books. These can be read in more detail on my blog on preparing for print.

#1 is just plain crazy. There are discussions about it on the Amazon forum. It’s crazy because there is no improvement in what you see on a Kindle screen beyond around 170ppi. However, there seems to be an odd idea within Amazon of ‘future-proofing’ a Kindle document, in terms of permitting the readers of the future to print out from a Kindle. That would be a wickedly expensive way to produce a book. but there – we’re stuck with it. the advantage is that you can pop your 72ppi image into GIMP, boost it to 300ppi, and no one’s going to see any difference on the screen. And your book will pass the sausage machine Amazon process, as it will register 300ppi on images.

#2 is worth taking on board, because it affects how images display. The current parameters are these:

This doesn’t mean you can’t load larger images. Indeed. Amazon recommends that all high-quality images are given dimensions twice the above. What this chart tells you is how your image will be displayed onscreen. So, if your image is (say) 900 x 900, it will tend to be displayed at half page. If it’s 1300 x 900, it will also tend to be displayed at half page. In the end, the only way to be certain how your image displays in various readers (tablet, phone, kindle e-reader) is to run the html through the Previewer and check it out.

Oh, you noticed that scary word ‘html’? We’ll get on to that in more detail, later. For now, I need to deal with #3? The size requirement.

So, you’ve come to grips with the need for your image to be at least 300ppi and the way it will display onscreen. The next problem is the size (not the dimensions) of the image. It comes down to this: Kindle prefers your image to be 127kb in size or less. If it’s larger than that, Kindle will compress the picture. However, Kindle won’t throw out a larger image. Instead, it will fine you a handling (“delivery”) charge for every Mb, if you select their 70% scheme.

As image size is tied in this way to royalty schemes, it might be worth having a quick word about these. Basically, you can either pick 35% or 70% royalties. That’s the payment for your book sales. Amazon is likely to guide you towards 70% royalties, because an Amazon condition of using this is that Amazon permits anyone who buys your book to loan it out to their friends. That means their friends can download it free of charge. Now, this can be in your favour. If you’re unknown as an author, it’s probably better to sell books on this basis than not, as it will spread your reputation. It’s up to you. But if you choose 70%, check out the difference in net royalty between 35% and 70%, and remember potential lost sales vs more readers. It’s your choice.

It really is worth reading the Kindle Publishing Guide for all the detail about images. What’s in this blog is just my stripped out essentials. But before we leave this subject, we need to consider :

Image Formats

The only formats Kindle approves of are GIF or JPEG. All others are out for various reasons but that shouldn’t give anyone a problem because JPEG is good at compression. And that’s what you want. In fact, it’s much better than GIF. Of the same image, the GIF will be larger. So why bother with GIF at all? Amazon advises GIF for line drawings. However, in my experience, JPEG is just as good. GIMP is excellent at changing resizing, compressing and changing ppi. But remember that changing ppi upwards can create problems. My blog on preparing a print book has more info on that.

Stage 3 – The Book Cover

While we’re on the subject of images, let’s take a look at the book cover. If you haven’t designed it yourself, I expect Amazon will offer their service, although that’s restricted to their templates and stock images. Again, if you want a custom image, you can access part of the Amazon community site to obtain quotes from artists there, who will do that for a price. There’s more detail in my previous blog about costs, plus it’s handy to read the section in that blog about copyright, if you haven’t already done so. πŸ™‚

The dimensions Amazon demands are 1600 wide x 2560 high andΒ  the maximum file size is 5MB. 300ppi, of course. Once you’ve got this, it’s easy to upload onto the kindle publishing website.

Stage 4 – Converting the Book

This is the moment! Before you begin this, make sure you have:

  1. a title page
  2. a copyright declaration
  3. any dedication of credits you wish
  4. a table of contents (TOC)

and that you have created bookmarks called ‘start’ and ‘toc’ for the title and TOC. (See the Amazon Publishing Guidelines). I find Word’s TOC generator very good, but you must remember to adjust it to produce hyperlinks, not page numbers.

Now, Amazon has an odd requirement for Word documents – you have to save your book as ‘web page, filtered’. This creates an html file and tucks all the images into an associated folder called [your book name]_files. The next step is to zip these two files into a single zip file named [book name]. If you don’t have a zip program, try 7 Zip, which I use. It’s freeware.

So, if you know nothing at all about html, you can simply carry out these two steps. However, I do recommend putting your standard Word document through the Kindle Previewer first, to ensure everything looks OK in different formats. If you’re satisfied, then upload your zip file and you’re done. Time to treat yourself to a large drink!

However, what if your file doesn’t look right in the Previewer and you have no idea how to put it right? I can only offer two suggestions: either pay for Amazon’s services or tinker with the html document. If you know html, that’s the fastest and cheapest route to making sure your book looks exactly how you want it, onscreen.

If you decide to go down that route and this is your first time converting a Microsoft Word document to html, you’re in for a shock. You will find all the normal styles have become prefaced by Mso- (Microsoft Office). Ignore that. And try not to get hung up on the way tables are converted. Yes, it’s profoundly inelegant and wasteful coding. But if it gets the job done, that’s fine. If you really want to tinker with something, concentrate on whether or not your images, tables and any quotes, notes or other non-standard text settings, have converted to display as you want. Fortunately, with all your images now in a handy folder, all you need to do is change an image, not change the text. And that means you can place images in exactly the right place in the text. Remember not to get hooked up on the fonts, either. (See ‘font’s above.)

One thing I do strip out is duplicate lines of coding. For some reason, the conversion process likes to produce duplicates of some spans and of TOC bookmarks. Stripping these out becomes a matter of keeping a note of the ‘real’ TOC numbers and working through the text (use the ‘find’ function) to locate and destroy these imposters. πŸ™‚Β  Searching for duplicate spans is easier.

And that’s it. You made it! Of course, you still have to write a blurb (description to excite interest), choose two book classification codes, pick keywords, and select pricing and the all important level of royalties. I’ve mentioned the royalties complications above. Amazon will suggest an optimum price for your book, when you look at the pricing and royalty section of the publishing process. It will base these on the classification codes you pick. You may wish to charge much more for your labours, but people won’t pay very much more than the average. So you need to think about this.

I’ve altered my pricing policy three times, based on different criteria. When I only had three books in the Wyrdwolf series for sale, I was loath to reduce the price on book #1 as a loss leader, though that was (I now think) a more sensible course to take. With an established fan base and ten books in the series (about to be eleven) Economics tells me I could charge more for books later in the series, on the basis that fans will pay more. However, I choose not to do that. So – don’t price yourself out of the market and do think about starting with a low price deliberately. After all, you can always change it.

 

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