Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Kindle 8 – Formatting your Word file

If you followed last week’s steps, you’ll now have a Word document containing all the text for your book with most of the old formatting removed. Hopefully by now you’ll also have done some market research, so you’ll have an idea of what the first 10% of a Kindle book should look like. You may have come across a few samples that didn’t look very good, so you’ll know what you don’t want. You might even have a few ideas of your own at this stage – great! So how do you get there from here?

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The important thing to remember is that you, as an e-publisher, are not in control of how your e-book looks in the same way you would be in control of a paper book. You can force some things (see below), but your reader controls the font, text size and number of words on their screen. What you are aiming for is to present your work in a format the Kindle can recognize and display in a sensible fashion, no matter which option(s) your reader might select on the day.

This is actually good news, because print publishers put a lot of time and thought into the design of a paper book, but with e-books you don’t have to do all this. In fact, problems will most likely occur if you inherit a beautifully designed book and try to force it into a Kindle. Remember: when in doubt, simplest is best.

The good news is that Kindle will keep any bold, italic, or underlining you already have in your manuscript. It’s also fine with the copyright symbol ©. If you have any other weird symbols, I suggest you leave them in for now and try them – if they don’t work when you get around to testing your e-book, you can always take them out later before putting it "live". Even if you miss something in testing and spot it later on, you can change it easily enough. There is no expensive print run involved with an e-book, so you don't have to get it right first time.

Relax! Repeat after the unicorn: formatting is easy. Good, now you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and start adding some Kindle-friendly formatting to your words.

For paragraph formatting, you'll need to set up some styles. How many, and what you put in them, is up to you but I'd recommend keeping these to a minimum. In Spellfall I used four, though I could have got away with three:

NORMAL – as explained in last week’s post, this should be as simple as possible, and since you have already applied it to your whole file it will become your default style. Although Kindle does not recommend you use any text alignment or indentation, you can actually get away with some of this if you prefer (like me) to stay sane while working on your Word file. My “Normal” style has: Times New Roman, 12pt, flush left, line spacing single, first line indent 0.75cm. This all translates well enough. If you don’t specify a first line indent, Kindle will give your book a default indent, which adjusts nicely with text size. It will ignore any fonts you specify and use its own.

CENTRED – You’ll probably also want some way of positioning your headings and other text, such as the contents list, in the centre of the Kindle screen. To do this for Spellfall, I set up a style called “Centred”, which I based on “Normal” but with the alignment set to centre. (Word 2000: Format Style, New, base “Normal”) Go through your file and apply this style to anything you want positioned in the middle of the page.

HEADING (the one I could have done without) – I based this on "Centred" with text size set to 14pt and using bold. I applied this to all my chapter headings. If you haven't got too many headings, you could do this by hand rather than using a separate style.

SPACED – Here’s how you get those blank “lines” I mentioned last week. I based this style on “Normal” with a trailing space set at 10pt. (Word 2000:Format Style New, base “Normal”, paragraph spacing after: 10pt). Note that this trick means your space will look smaller if the reader increases the text size on their Kindle, so you may need to experiment a bit at testing stage to get it looking right in all views. I used “Spaced” on my copyright page and to separate my reviews.
Muse tip: If you want to keep lines together using this style, then use a line break rather than a paragraph break (SHIFT ENTER instead of ENTER) - this shows up in your file as a little bent arrow at the end of the line.

I then went through my file by hand, forcing the first line of each section and chapter to 0cm (no indent), because I can’t quite shake off paper book formats. But you don’t have to do this. If you don’t, Kindle will give you another default indent for the first line of a section.

This is the only text formatting I used in "Spellfall". If you want anything else, you’ll need to experiment. Other things are certainly possible on Kindle – I am only telling you what worked for me, and might be a good place to start if you are a beginner... which I am assuming you are, otherwise you'd be busy Kindling your own books right now instead of reading what the unicorn has to say about it! And the unicorn says walk before you can run. The more formatting you put in at this stage the more chance there is of things going wrong later.

So far I’ve been ignoring pictures, but at this stage you may want to add a few, or you might have some in your file already. Don't worry - the Kindle won’t crash if it sees one. Each image should be saved as a .jpg, and you’ll need to INSERT it into your file (Word 2000: Insert picture) not copy and paste.

You'll also need to check that it is fixed in line with your text (right click on the picture and check its properties) rather than floating about your file. Muse Tip: To test this, try dragging the image with your mouse. If it stays where it is, that's fine. If not, then go to properties and fix it – because if it floats in your file, you can be pretty sure it’ll float on Kindle!

The general advice from the forums is to keep the width of your images to 600 pixels or less. (Kindle has a zoom feature which kicks in for most images, so the reader can view them at full screen size.) A size of 600 x 800 pixels will nicely fill the Kindle screen on its portrait view. It’s probably best to centre any images, but that’s up to you – use your “Centred” style if you want to do this.

I will be discussing cover images in a separate post, but if you have got one already then you can resize this to 600 x 800 pixels and insert it at the beginning of your file, followed by a page break. Covers much smaller than this will not work, since resizing a small image will only make it blurry. (Muse note: if you want to use your old print edition cover, you will need to secure permission from your publisher.)

Hopefully you will now be a bit happier with the look of your Word file. If there’s anything else you want to do to it at this stage, go right ahead and experiment. Just be aware that the Muse will not guarantee results for all those little extras you felt inspired to put in along the way. I'd advise making some notes of what you did in case something doesn't work in testing and you have to return to this stage. Then save your work in a separate file, in case you want to start over.

By now you should have a Word file complete with images and (hopefully) kindle-friendly formatting. But it's not ready for Kindle just yet. So next time, we’ll add some hyperlinks to turn your good looking e-book into a working e-book.

Next week, the unicorn is taking a short break from Kindle to bring you a guest post from fantasy author Katherine Langrish’s muse, the enigmatic Nis… who will be dropping by as part of her blog tour to tell you all about her PAPER book “West of the Moon” (and if you don't know what a Nis is yet, then you know where to come next week!)


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