Friday, May 9, 2014

Formatting for Kindle: Advanced Tips

My books on Smashwords I always think look pretty good, but when I download one from Amazon they look like crap.  I kept wondering why Amazon's program couldn't figure out how to center chapter headings or put the chapters in the Go To section.  Now I know...and knowing is half the battle.  I could probably charge some idiot publisher thousands of dollars for this knowledge, which is about the only reason I can see they charge so much for ebooks--other than people are dumb and buy them for $9.99 or more.

Anyway, here's the first thing:  Headers.

Basically if you want Amazon to read your chapter titles as centered instead of left justified, ie:

Chapter 1 
Chapter 1

Then you need to use the Heading style.  It's pretty easy to find in Word 2007 or later:  it's a big box on the right side of the home menu.  Like this:

Ideally it'll already be set up to center and perhaps underline any words if that's what you want.  If it's not then it's slightly trickier as you have to right click on where it says Header 1, go to Modify, and then change it to however you want.

Then you go through and change all your chapter headings to the Heading 1 style.

On top of that you can add more styles like Heading 2 or Heading 3.  Say for instance your book has 4 parts and so you make Part 1, 2, 3, and 4 as Heading 1 and then the Chapters you make Heading 2.  Or if you're doing a book of short stories and those stories have chapters then you can have each story title as Heading 1 and the chapters as Heading 2.

Pro Tip:  Newer versions of Word have this stupid feature where it won't show Headings 3-9 until it thinks you need them.  So if you want Heading 3 to show up, you have to have something in Heading 2 format first.  And if you want a Heading 4 you need something in Heading 3 format...and so on.

Now why would you do that?  For part 2 of this operation:  Table of Contents.

In old paper books the table of contents is at the front and indicates what page numbers chapters or stories or whatever are on.  That doesn't really come into play a lot in ebooks where you don't have page numbers, but the Table of Contents is important with ebooks if you want it so when people push "Go To" they can see the chapters.  (This comes in handy when the Kindle starts freaking out and skips pages or I accidentally make it go back to the beginning or end or something.)

Making a Table of Contents is pretty easy.  First you go to "Reference" on the menu and then on the far left is the Table of Contents icon.  Like this:

You can just use one of Word's default styles, but you're better off scrolling down to "Insert Table of Contents" where it will bring up a screen of options.  There's a check box on the left side for "Show page numbers" which you should turn off because duh you don't have pages.  Like this:

All you have to do now is load your file on KDP and you're done.  Now some people say to save it as HTML first but I tried mine as Word DOC files and they didn't have any problems, so I don't think you need to bother with that.  Then you can look your book up on a Kindle and it will look pretty much like the pros!

Omnibus formatting:  For my omnibuses I use 3 Heading styles.  I make them all the same:  TNR font, 12-point, single-spaced, centered, underlined.  You can format them how you like.  Anyway, the reason I use three is because when I make the Table of Contents I want three different levels so I divide as follows:

  • Heading 1:  Book Title.  When you have 4-5 books in the file it's good to have something to separate them so people can skip to which book they want to read.
  • Heading 2:  Parts.  If the book has a Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, etc I use this Heading style for that. 
  • Heading 3:  Chapters.  Also Prologues and Epilogues.  Pretty self-explanatory.

On my Kindle if you go to the Go To button the way it looks is each book title will be displayed with a little arrow next to it.  Touch the arrow and it'll expand to show the Parts (if applicable) again each with a little arrow.  Touch that arrow and it shows the chapters.  Pretty sweet for navigating around.

See how easy that was?  Again this is stuff that publishers probably pay someone thousands of dollars for and now you know how to do it on your own for free.  Sweet.

Now I just have to reformat 40 fucking books...OK, more like 30 now after doing the Children of Eternity and Scarlet Knight ones.  Still, it's a lot!


  1. Styles are a must to make ebooks look decent.

    I actually make my ToC the hard way by bookmarking each chapter heading and creating hyperlinks. It's a pain in the but, but it seems to work well for both Smashwords and Amazon.

    Thanks for the tips on the omnibus!

  2. Oh this is great. I'm going to work more on my book this weekend. I love these tips because they are so timely to my project.

  3. Good tips indeed. I had no idea it was that complicated



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