At a Glance: Ebook Formatting for Kindle Publishing

Kindle
Updated January 10, 2015

by Corina Koch MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

In a previous post, I provided you with a “cheat sheet” that will help you format an ebook for Lulu using Microsoft Word. This week’s cheat sheet is for formatting an ebook for Kindle Publishing, using Microsoft Word 2010.

Amazon has a few guides for formatting a Kindle ebook using Microsoft Word:

Building Your Book for Kindle
Building Your Book for Kindle for Mac
Simplified Formatting Guide
Formatting for Kindle
Kindle Publishing Guidelines

You may need to read beyond these guides in order to troubleshoot the quirks of the Kindle conversion software. I’ve found these resources to be helpful:

Formatting of Kindle Books, by Charles Spender
From Word to Kindle,by Aaron Shepard
Pictures for Kindle, by Aaron Shepard
HTML Fixes for Kindleby Aaron Shepard

Kindle Cheat Sheet

Software

  • You can upload one of several file formats to Kindle Publishing. In this post, I’ll focus on the Word-to-Kindle process, where you upload either a Microsoft Word .doc file or a .docx file. Tracy R. Atkins suggests reasons for why you might want to work with a .docx file instead a .doc file.
  • After you’ve formatted your Word file, Amazon recommends that you save it in Word as Web Page, Filtered (Windows) or Web page (Mac).

Document Clean-Up

  • Be sure that you’ve removed any typewriter formatting from your Word document before you begin to format it. Extra spaces between words and paragraphs, as well as “unintended” fonts lurking invisibly in the background, can make a mess of your ebook.
  • Remove any headers, footers, page numbers, comments, columns, text boxes and nonbreaking hyphens (these typically show up in files originally formatted for print). Accept all tracked changes.

Document Set-Up

  • Use Word Styles to style chapter headings. This will make it easier to generate a table of contents (TOC) automatically in Word later on.
  • Tip: to see if you’ve used Word Styles to style your headings, open your Word document and then open the Navigation Pane or Document Map if you’re on a Mac. Click on the Outline tab on the left. If you’ve styled your headings using Word styles, the headings will be listed in the Navigation Pane. You can click on these headings to navigate your document.
Navigation pane in Word 2010

Headings

  • Set your book title in the “Title” style in Word Styles.
  • Set chapter headings as Heading 1s and subheadings as Heading 2s, and so forth.
  • Setting your headings in this manner will ensure that readers will be able to access your TOC from the Go To menu.

Table of Contents

  • Generate an internally hyperlinked TOC by using Word 2010’s automatic TOC feature (References tab>Table of Contents). Mac users will have to generate a TOC manually.
  • Place your TOC at the front of front of your ebook, so it shows up in the Look-Inside feature on your Amazon book page.
  • Use Word’s bookmark feature to bookmark your TOC so that it shows up as a “guide item” on an e-reader’s Go To menu.

Fonts

  • Use a “safe font,” like Times New Roman, that translates well on a variety of Kindle readers and apps. Remember, the reader has the option to change the font, anyway.
  • For font sizes, stay within the 10-point to 18-point range. A 12-point font works well for running text.
  • Make sure your font is set to “Automatic” in Word. This will prevent your fonts from showing up in an unwanted colour.
  • Chris Robley suggests to avoid using special characters that don’t appear on your keyboard (yet another reason why Times New Roman is a good font choice: it contains lots of “legal” special characters. Access them in Word by going to Insert > Symbol).
  • You can apply boldface and italics using the buttons on Word’s ribbon.

Paragraphs

  • Set paragraph styles based on Normal in Word Styles. According to Aaron Shepard, in his book From Word to Kindle, the Kindle converter hijacks Word’s Normal paragraph style, but will leave any style based on Normal alone. Tip: renaming Normal will “trick” the Kindle converter into leaving your Normal style alone.
  • Avoid using too many hard returns to create spaces after paragraphs: they can create blank pages in smaller e-readers. It’s better to set a 10-point space following a paragraph by modifying your paragraph style (Word Styles>Normal>Modify).
  • Style your paragraphs as justified, as the Kindle converter will change them to justified by default, anyway. If you prefer left-justified text, you can tweak your paragraph settings in the HTML code (see Aaron Shepard’s book From Word to Kindle).
  • First-line indents are the paragraph style by default. If you want to use block style, you’ll have to trick the Kindle converter by setting an imperceptible first-line indent or by tweaking the HTML (Aaron Shepard’s book HTML Fixes for Kindle will tell you how).
  • Avoid hanging indents. Older Kindles don’t handle them well.

Page Breaks

  • Insert a page break right after the last sentence of the chapter by going to Insert>Page Break in Word. This will prevent your chapters from running together.
  • Insert a page break after the title page.

Lists

  • Don’t style bulleted and numbered lists from the buttons on Word’s ribbon.
  • Style bulleted lists using Word’s paragraph styles (see Formatting of Kindle Books, by Charles Spender) or insert a bullet manually using Insert>Symbol, and select the bullet symbol.
  • Style numbered lists using Word’s paragraph styles, or insert numbers manually.
  • Consider using Jutoh to format your book and create your .mobi file, as it tends to handle bullets and numbered lists rather well.

Hyperlinks

  • To create an off-book hyperlink, go to Insert > Hyperlink > Address and type in the URL. Don’t link to other online bookstores.
  • For within-book hyperlinks, go to Insert > Hyperlink > Place in this document.

Images

  • Save images as a JPG or GIF, with a resolution of 96 ppi (Windows) or 72 ppi (Mac).
  • According to Aaron Shepard in Pictures on Kindle, JPGs are the best format for pictures, and GIFs are best for line drawings and tables. PNGs work for line drawings, too, though they tend to be a rather large file size.
  • Insert images inline and centre them (In Word 2010: Insert>Picture).
  • Place an image in its own “paragraph.”
  • Set larger images on a page by themselves. This may require you to insert a page break before and after the image.
  • Images should be no larger than 500 x 600 pixels and no smaller than 300 x 400 pixels.
  • Make sure images are in RGB (red, blue, green) format.
  • Recommended cover image size: 600 x 800 pixels.

Diagrams and Tables

  • Save diagrams, line drawings and tables as images in GIF or PNG format, and insert them inline.
  • Diagrams and tables should contain a font size of no less than 6 pixels for the letter “a.”

“Footnotes”

  • Use Word’s bookmark feature to link “footnotes” to “footnote” markers in the running text. Go to Insert > Hyperlink > Place in this document.

Other

Most distributors have strict rules about advertising in your ebook (don’t do it), and Amazon is no exception. Remember to fill out your book’s metadata so readers can find it on the Amazon website.

Each distributor’s conversion software has its quirks. Their formatting guides are designed to help you to prepare a Word document that works with their conversion software. If your file doesn’t convert the first time, don’t give up! Go back to the formatting guides to see if you missed anything. It often takes a few tries to get it right.

For additional help with Kindle ebooks, check out the KDP support forum.

Image by Petra B. Fritz

9 thoughts on “At a Glance: Ebook Formatting for Kindle Publishing

  1. I have been using Calibre to convert my SIGIL built EPUB files into the MOBI format. My EPUB files look gorgeous in Calibre. Times New Roman in the text and Verdanna Bold for chapter headings. The MOBI files, not so much. My Verdanna fonts corrupt to Times New Roman. The chapter headings hold their color(red) but they often lose size. What should I do? Should I swallow my pride and switch from Verdanna to Arial? Also, what do you mean by setting the font to ‘Automatic’ in Word?

  2. Hi Alan.

    Did you upload your EPUB (created in Sigil) directly to Amazon? Or did you convert it to Mobi using Calibre first?

    I haven’t used Calibre to convert EPUBs to mobis — at least not for ebook formatting purposes (just for pleasure reading). I’ve steered clear of Calibre for ebook formatting because I’ve read that the resulting files no longer play nice with the Kindle converter.

    If you’re taking the Word-to-Kindle approach to formatting an ebook, as I’ve described in the post above, the Kindle converter may hijack some of your formatting decisions (like font choices). Often, these won’t cause distractions for the reader. And you can learn to tweak the HTML to address some of things the Kindle converter has a tendency to do.

    By “Automatic” I mean, set your font to the Automatic setting in Word (don’t apply a font colour). Again, this suggestion relates specifically to those who are uploading a Word file to the Kindle converter. If you’re uploading another file format, this advice may not apply.

    Hope this helps!

  3. What do you do if you’ve already written your book in Word but didn’t make Chapter titles? I’m not sure how to make them happen in the navigation pane now, and is it even necessary?
    Thanks,
    Jacquie Biggar

    1. It’s not too late, Jacquie! If your chapter titles show up in the Navigation pane, it means you’ve set up your chapter title styles properly in Word. The Amazon conversion software will need properly styled chapter headings so that readers can navigate your book from the “Go To” menu on an e-reader or in an e-reading app. This link will give you more information on how to set up styles in Word: http://bit.ly/1h1Sc7M.

      I’ve also found the MS Word tutorials at Lynda.com to be helpful, too. Best of luck!

    1. I like Jutoh. It plays well with Microsoft Word (most editors use Word, so if you’re getting you book edited your book will be in Word at some point). You just need to learn to clean up and style your manuscript in Word and then you can export it to Jutoh. I’ve written about Jutoh on this blog. You’ll find it by typing Jutoh into the search box at the top of this blog. Best of luck!

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