Note: This article was first written in March, 2012.
I just went through the process of self-publishing my new eBook (How I Sold My Business: A Personal Diary) — which is now available as a paperback — on the Amazon Kindle store, and after trying a number of different approaches to get my ebook to look the way I wanted it to look, I thought I'd share what I learned here. Since I'm a Mac user, my story will reflect what I learned on the Mac, but because of where I ended up, it will be helpful for Windows users as well.
The long story is that I originally created my ebook in the industry-standard EPUB format, but this format didn't work very well with Amazon. Being a computer programmer, I learned a lot about the EPUB format, tweaking my book as much as I could, but I could never get it to display well with the Kindle previewer tools that Amazon offers.
I wanted to use the EPUB format for at least two reasons. First, this format is accepted by Lulu, Barnes & Noble, and Apple's iBookstore. Second, I noticed when using the Kindle preview apps that I could use a table of contents, without having to put a table of contents at the beginning of the book. (More on this shortly.)
Settled on the Microsoft Word "doc" format
After fighting with the EPUB approach on the Kindle for more than eight hours, I finally gave up and started uploading my ebook to Amazon in the Microsoft Word "doc" format. For a Mac user, this means using the Pages application from Apple (or OpenOffice), then exporting your book in the doc format. In Pages this is pretty easy, you just click the Share menu item, then Export, then select the Word doc format.
When I uploaded my ebook to the Amazon KDP Select website in the doc format, I also started experimenting more with their two Kindle previewer applications. In short, at the time of this writing, their "Simple" previewer works much better than their "Advanced" previewer. I don't know why, but the advanced previewer doesn't show your book the way it actually looks on a real Kindle, which is a huge drawback.
Book cover image
When you use the doc format, you'll want to put a copy of your book cover image as Page 1 at the beginning of your book. This isn't a big deal, just get a large version of your book cover image, and paste it into Page 1 of your ebook. The only thing you really need to know here is that the image should be placed "inline".
Page breaks define chapters
Another important thing to know is that when you use the doc format, you should manually place a page break at the beginning of each chapter. The Amazon software is smart enough to see these page breaks, and uses them to identify each chapter. To be clear, they don't create a table of contents for you, but they do start each chapter on a new page.
Table of contents
Even though I published my ebook in a diary format, I didn't want to publish the book with a Table of Contents. If I did, I would have ended up with about 150 chapters in the table, and that's just something I didn't want to do.
That being said, I did experiment with this, and it's something Amazon encourages you to do. I can confirm that it worked, but again, for my book it just didn't make sense.
Tagging your cover, table of contents, and beginning of book
In one of their help pages, Amazon states that if you add bookmarks to these elements:
- Cover ('cover')
- Table of contents ('TOC')
- Beginning of the book ('Start')
these elements will show up as navigation items in the Kindle, and that will make your ebook easier to navigate. I tried each of these, and I can confirm that they all worked. (See "Guide Items" on that help page for more information.)
I can write more about my experience over time, and I'm glad to respond to any questions/comments on this blog post, but my current "lessons learned" for Amazon Kindle ebook self-publishing are:
- Upload your ebook in the Microsoft Word "doc" format.
- Use a copy of your book cover image as Page 1 of your ebook.
- Use "bookmarks" to tag your cover page, table of contents, and beginning of book.
- At the time of this writing (March, 2012), make sure you look at your book in the Amazon Kindle simple previewer. If you really care about what your book looks like, you'll want to make sure the formatting looks correct. (If you own a physical Kindle device you may also be able to view your ebook on it, but I don't own one, I just use the Kindle app, so I couldn't try this.)
- I didn't mention it above, but if you use features like bullet items, numbered lists, and blockquotes, make sure you check all of those in the previewer. Once I switched to the doc format, they caused the most problems for me.
- Also make sure that you use fonts consistently within the book. If you switch font sizes from 12 points to 14, 16, 18, etc., these will be reflected in the Kindle reader.
- The Apple Pages application has a proofreader function, and I encourage you to use it (Edit | Proofreading), as well as their spell-checker. It took a while to work through the proofreader, and while many of its suggestions weren't useful, it did help to point out some of my weaknesses as a writer. It also caught a few words that the spell-checker didn't catch.
My Kindle ebook
I'll finish this article with a shameless plug for my own Kindle ebook. I worked very hard on it, I think it's unique, and for just $9.99, I also think it's a pretty great deal: