Steps to format your WORD document for Kindle

© Anankkml | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Anankkml | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

When it comes to publishing on Kindle, I personally prefer to make a mobi to do the job. Mobi, being the Kindle’s format, allows me to do a bit more than if I’m formatting for Smashwords alone. And it helps prevent conversion disasters.

However, if you’re not someone who knows HTML, CSS, and doesn’t want to then you can still publish to Kindle by preparing your Word document. I’m going to list some steps here that should help. I must warn you: this is only written for people who are familiar with Word or can catch on quickly. And it doesn’t cover endnotes or anything like that. This is only for a basic book.

Step 1. Familiarize yourself with Styles work in your Word program. This is not an essential step, but it’s a very important one that will allow you to do pretty things in your book like control indentations on quotations, font sizes, and sometimes even color. You see, Mobi (and epub) are built on webpage technology and they use CSS. Well that’s what your styles essentially are: a CSS sheet inside your document that tells Word how to do the layout. Control these and you have the keys to your ebook city.

Also make sure your book is 100% ready before you begin. All spelling should be corrected, front matter such as name, title, and copyright page should be where they belong. Your cover should be finished. Little things like that.

Step 2. Prep work. You have to clean up your document. There are a number of ways to do it. There’s the “nuclear method” of copy and pasting your book to a simple notepad text, copying that, and pasting it into an empty Word document. Or you can simply highlight everything in your document and tell everything to be “normal” using the styles. One method I occasionally use is to open my styles editor and delete any unwanted style I see in the document list. It all depends on how much cleaning you want to do.

Step 3. Remove the following things from  your document: tabs, headers, footers, page numbers, fixed spaces, and tables. Use the search and replace function to change all of your ” (quotations) to ” (quotations). Also make sure you don’t have extra spaces between words or before a paragraph end. Make sure you don’t have extra spaces before a paragraph’s beginning. While you’re at it, make sure all of your italics and bold places are intact.

This is also a good place to see how your layout works. You can change your page size to 3.5 inches wide, 4 inches high, with 0.25 margins to emulate the size of the Kindle. This will give you an idea of how your book will look on older Kindle models. Also, in your “normal” paragraph page style set your “tab” set to .3 or so. (Right click the style, select modify style, then hit the format button, select paragraph, and edit.) You can also change paragraph indentations and a lot of important things doing this. Experiment – just be aware that putting numbers that are too high may make your book ugly.) As a matter of fact while your editing your styles and paragraph settings you want to go under paragraph, then the line and page breaks tab. Only have widow/orphan control selected. Those other options will only be trouble for you if you add them in.

Step 4. Go through your book, make it pretty how you like it using styles or just by editing your paragraph settings. Again, I recommend styles because other edits may not take. If you want your book to “page break” before something like a new chapter, you can do that in one of two ways. You can hit ctrl and enter together to create a page break, or you can put your chapter headings (chapter 1) into a heading 1 style which is edited under paragraph/line and page breaks to “page break before”.

  • Keep in mind: the largest recommended size for ebooks on any given font is 14. Don’t go too small or the book won’t be readable for many people. It may even chase them away.
  • If you’re putting in images, I recommend you check out my tutorial on the matter here on this website. I believe I have a link to it in the resources area.
  • Keep your normal paragraphs left aligned. And bear in mind Kindles automatically indent the first line of any paragraph slightly, so if you’re wanting that perfect block look you’re not likely to get it.

Step 5. Okay your book is pretty. But you’re not done! Now, if you want one in your book, you build your table of contents. You can use the auto function, which is found under references, table of contents in Word 2003. (I can’t vouch for that method.) Or you can do it by hand. If you do it by hand, you need to know how to insert bookmarks and use Word’s hyperlink function. Go to where you want your toc to be. You can type “contents” here if you want. Put your cursor before the “c” in contents and insert a bookmark labeled:  toc. (With Smashwords you type “ref_toc”. This is a Smashwords reference telling their system that this page is the table of contents. “Toc” also works for Kindle, so that their system can also find it.)

Now type your table of contents list: chapter 1, chapter 2, etc. Now you’re going to put a bookmark just like you did for contents at the start of every chapter or everywhere you want referenced in your table of contents. Once you have that, you will go back to your table of contents and link every line in the list to it’s proper spot. If you’re feeling really fancy you can add a “go back” link at the end of every chapter that will point to “ref_toc” so that your reader can go back to the table of contents at any point in time.

Test your table of contents. If it works properly, you now have to go into the insert bookmark dialogue and delete “hidden bookmarks” as these were created with the testing and can cause issues.

Okay, now go to where your book starts, which is not necessarily page one of chapter 1. You may want the reader to start on a prologue or a Forward. This is up to you. Put your cursor at the first letter of that page and insert a bookmark entitled “start”. This tells Kindle’s system where the book’s beginning is.

Step 6: Okay, NOW you are ready to upload! Just remember: DON’T embed your cover image into your Word file unless you really want it in there twice. Amazon’s system will automatically embed your cover for you, and it asks for it separately.

Happy publishing!


I’m for the right to bear arms, but bulleted lists are right out.

Bulleted lists, enigma of the eBook world. To use or not to use? Therein is the problem, and as often as I’ve researched the matter I’ve never found anyone who had a straight answer. I’ve found tutorials on how to do them, I’ve found naysayers who say to never use them, and I’ve found people who love them.

Well, after a lot of experimentation and research I have decided to become one of the naysayers. And I’m going to give you a straight answer as to why – isn’t that nice of me?

First, let’s look at bulleted lists. There are two kinds.

  • The kind that have a nifty little black “bullet” before each entry.
  • The kind that has a number or letter before each entry
  • As demonstrated in this list, or that other list. Depending.
  1. The kind that have a nifty little black “bullet” before each entry.
  2. The kind that has a number or letter before each entry
  3. As demonstrated in this list, or that other list. Depending.

These can be very handy little things, especially in  nonfiction books. They tidy things up. Hooray! However, there’s a dark side to these lists. Take a look at the following image.

See all those words that start with N-? The ones that read “No”. See the line that reads “Support for numbered and bulleted lists”? See the two No’s after it in the nice, neat little table? That is why you don’t use bulleted lists.

Now you’re asking me, “What happens if I use them anyway?” Well, for the KindleFire, Nook Color, BeBook, and various other systems you get bullets – providing you did them properly. That’s wonderful if you’re okay with shaving your audience down by how many thousands of people out there who own older or alternative ereaders and either cannot afford to get a newer version or simply do not want to. Those people don’t get to see the little black bullet. They get a strange square or a confusing question mark. Their list numbers slide off the left edge of their screen, and their document is a big mess.

So what do you do about that?

One answer split into two different solutions: You do them manually.

  • For the little black bullet, replace it with an asterick (*) or another standard symbol. Don’t use alternative symbols if you can: they also run the likelihood of becoming confused and turning into question marks.
  • For your numbered list, put the number at the start of the entry by hand as part of the sentence. In other words, don’t let Word (or whatever you’re using) automate it.
  • For the same of having a third item on this bulleted list, let me just reiterate that <ul> and <ol> are wonderful codes to use but should be avoided in eBooks.

You can make the lists a bit more “bulleted like” by changing your style in the CSS or by word to make the lines different. Instead of indenting the list by only .3″ as you would your paragraph, indent them by .6″ – name the style “Bullet” (which also happens to be the name of my dog). It’s that simple.

So there’s the straight answer. Don’t use bulleted lists – make pseudo bulleted lists. If you do them right, they look just as good without the problems you’d get the other way around.

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Book pages vs. Ereaders screens.

Here are some quick tips you should think about while creating your ebook – or even if you’re having someone else do the work for you. Especially in Smashwords.

In e-books, there is no page.

E-readers are not static; they don’t read like paper with the words in fixed positions unless you’re dealing with what’s known as a “fixed layout” epub – or your pages are all full sized images (such as in a comic book). And even if you are dealing with one of those, the older readers still can’t do it. It cuts your audience size if you don’t consider that while putting your ebook together. Ereaders are personalized pieces of equipment, giving the reader the option to change font size, color, and sometimes even page size. Your book is going to look different to everyone.

Tables do not convert in most ereader formats, and the same goes for the majority of other “special” formatting. Smashwords does not support these things in their platform. Please make sure your book is formatted to accommodate for that. Otherwise we may have to convert your tables into images at a cost of $1.00 per image.

Page breaks: is this pretty style okay for eBooks? Some people say yes. Some people say no. I use them in my formatting, BUT! Having them come through to the reader cannot be guaranteed.  As per the Smashwords Style Guide itself: If I insert page breaks into your document to have a section such as a chapter start on its own page, “the PDF and RTF versions will honor them, but these commands will be lost in most other formats, which strip page breaks and section breaks.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Them’s the breaks.

Your book will also lose special fonts and ability to keep fonts at a fixed size. Make sure you have adapted any special formatting like that into something you’re going to be happy with that will translate well. Try to use typical fonts like Times New Roman as 10 or 12 pt size. Don’t go over 14 pt size: this can and most usually will look terrible on the tiny ereader screen, and Smashwords might reject it.

Smashwords has a file size limit of 5MB. For graphic novels, this can be a problem if your book is too large, so be aware of your book’s content before you ask us to format it for you! The good news is epub and mobi compress to smaller sizes, making it easier to work with Pubit and Kindle.

Graphic Novels and those with illustrations: I do realize there are a lot of people over the internet who have said Smashwords can not do heavy graphics. Well, yes they can. It’s just that there are limitations that keep you from making the book too thick or “heavy” as it were. You’re also limited in format. But I’ve been doing comics with Smashwords since I first found them years ago. Back then the books looked terrible. Then again my formatting skills were terrible. (Which is the true problem with many “ugly” Smashwords books: the level of skill.) These days? I’ve caught on and work constantly to improve the look of the Smashwords comic. Why? Because comickers deserve this service, too. By Odin, or Pan… or… something.

(When sending your file, you have the option of sending your graphics separately for us to put into the document or putting them into the document ahead of time. Be advised that embedding the images yourself does not guarantee we will not have to “process” them. Your best bet is simply to read my article on how to prepare the picture and have them properly ready to go.)

For graphic novels and anything that has lettering over the image, make sure it will be readable at approximately 3 inches wide. If you need us to letter the pages for you, inquire and make a reasonable offer in regards to financial compensation.

Do not insert images that are smaller than 100 pixels wide. Images that are too small can get your document rejected for premium distribution. For full-size images, we recommend a standard size of 7 x 5 (approximately) at 72 dpi resolution.

Don’t insert images large then 5 inches wide or 7 inches tall. This will also create problems.

Testing your file

So you have your file and you want to take a look; make sure it’s to your liking.

Each ereader model has a different program inside that allows them to read in the first place, which is why some only read epub format and others only read mobi. Or pdf. Or doc. Etc.  This means they’re each going to interpret that information differently.  If I give you a file that’s meant for the Nook, testing your file in a different program may give you undesirable results.

To help avoid such misunderstandings, I am composing a list below of the different reader types and the files they read best. Most of these will be ereader programs for the desktop and smart phone, but I will add as I get confirmed information. Keep in mind that I am testing standard page size files that are meant for Smashwords only: obviously if I coded strictly for Kobo for example I’d have different results.

Adobe Digital Editions – can read epub but expands the page to maximum screen size, which can affect images negatively. Reads pdf neatly and appropriately.

BEBook – reads prose epubs well, slides images off screen to the right when they are centered; reads mobi like a charm, including images; PDF files look great; reads RTF okay but loses any images.

Kindle for Droid – reads mobi appropriately

Kobo for Droid – reads imported books but stretches images a little out of proportion despite coding to control size

Nook for Droid – reads epub appropriately

Nook Touch – reads epub appropriately but likes to die 3 months after your brother buys you one for your birthday. 😦