Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Kindle 11 – Testing, testing, testing!

If you've been following my Kindle posts so far, you’ve done most of the work. Now for the exciting part. This is where your e-book publishing venture either goes smoothly or horribly wrong, depending how careful you’ve been throughout the formatting stages and which version of Word you are using.

The good news is that it’s not vital to get things right first time with e-publishing, since even if you accidentally publish your e-book with errors in it (you won’t be the first!), you can easily unpublish it within a few days and either fix it up or start over. You haven’t gone to the expense of print run, so you don’t lose anything financially. But it’s always nice to get things right first time, so some kind of testing is advisable.

At this point you’ll need access to a Kindle. If you don’t have one, then you’ll have to cross your fingers and skip this stage. Come back next week to find out how to upload your file to amazon, where there will be an opportunity for some limited online testing before going live.

If you do have a Kindle, then you’ll probably already know about the personal document service, which allows you to send a personal file to your Kindle email address for conversion into e-book format. This is the route I used to test “Spellfall”, and the conversion process is the same as for the upload to amazon’s site, so it’s a fairly reliable way of testing your e-book before publication.
Muse tip: If your Kindle has 3G connectivity, then make sure you use your free kindle address (yourname @ free.kindle.com rather than yourname @ kindle.com), or you will be charged a small fee for each download. Once won’t break the bank, but if you have to go through this process several times the charges can mount up!

You have a choice at this point. You can send in your Word file as it stands, and this will be translated by amazon into an e-book. Or you can convert your Word file into HTML first and send that in for conversion instead. I’ve tried both routes, and from personal experience the HTML route is the best way of getting a clean conversion, though this may depend which version of Word you are using. (I use Word 2000, which generates messy code! If you use Word 2003, the Word file might work well enough and save you an extra step.)

1. Converting from Word: Simply email your Word file as an attachment to your free kindle address, yourname @ free.kindle.com

2. Converting from HTML: First save your Word file as FILTERED HTML. (Muse tip: Word 2000 does not have a filter, so you can use File, Save as, Type = Web Page, or better still go to the Microsoft site and download a free filter patch.) Then zip your .htm file with the images file, and put this .zip file into another zipped file. This is called “double zipping” and the conversion software needs to receive it in this way. If you don’t have any images in your e-book, you can get away with simply emailing the .htm file.

Whichever method you use, amazon will return the e-book version to you within minutes (this will be an .azw file). You can either pick up this file on your computer and transfer it to your Kindle via. its USB cable, or connect your Kindle to a wireless network and download the e-book version direct. On your Kindle, this will look like any other e-book you have downloaded, except it’ll show your email address instead of the author’s name. Now you can test it works on your actual device. If you’re not very familiar with your Kindle, take a look at this post before continuing.

If you’ve ever written computer software like my author, you’ll probably be drawing up a table at this stage of every possible combination to make sure you test all eventualities. (Muse: my author's a nerd!) This is a good idea if you have the patience. I suggest you at least read your ebook with the screen upright and sideways, try all the sizes of text, and all options for line length and font, etc. Use the Kindle’s GO TO menu on your book to check it takes you where you expect. Test your Table of Contents to make sure nothing's broken. Play around with it, until you’re sure the book will look good however your reader decides to read it.

The chances are as you do this you’ll find some things that don’t look very good with some Kindle combinations. You might decide you can live with them if, say, it only looks peculiar using the largest text size with the Kindle turned upsidedown. But if strange and unexpected formatting distracts from your story, then you probably need to fix it. Make a note of anything that doesn’t look right, then return to step 8 Formatting for Kindle and work out what went wrong. Then test it again.

Now you can be confident your e-book will look great on an actual Kindle when you publish it. But will it look so good on an i-phone? Or a Blackberry? Or an Android? Or a Mac? Amazon have free Kindle apps for all these things, so before you publish you really should test it works on them, too.

Assuming you don't have a drawer full of these devices, you'll need to download the Kindle Previewer software from www.amazon.com/kindlepublishing (you'll find it after the Kindlegen software download, which you don't need if you're using this route to Kindle). This is basically a program that imitates all the different apps, and is quite straightforward to use. It’s also reliable, so if it tells you something is wrong I suggest you go back to step 8 and repeat until things are fixed. You might feel as if you are going in circles at this stage! I spent about a week doing this for "Spellfall", so do not be surprised if this testing process takes you some time.

When you’ve tested your e-book in all possible ways on all devices currently known to amazon, and it works on all of them and looks good enough not to distract from the story, then you’re ready to publish. Next week, in the final post of this Kindle for Beginners series, I’ll take you through the publishing process with amazon's direct publishing platform and tell you where to go for more help, because by then you won't be a beginner any more and will be ready to tackle more advanced aspects of e-publishing, which my unicorn has not yet mastered. Well, he is only a muse...

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