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Understand Amazon Kindle Formatting In 3 Minutes
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When I asked aspiring authors regarding their challenges in getting their Kindle books published on Amazon.
This was one of the responses I received.
“The formatting. Oh the drama. There is the overwhelm point. Formatting for Nook, formatting for Kindle, formatting PDF, formatting for Library markets?”
I totally get it.
Of course, you’ll find detailed documentation on Amazon KDP site for almost everything you need to know about formatting.
But if you have ever struggled to understand the manual before, put that aside now because I’ll be giving you a crash course on that today.
Like how it’s important to understand the basic design principles for a good cover before you hire any designer, it also makes sense to understand the basic of how Amazon Kindle Format work too, even that you’re intending to get someone to do the job for you.
What type of format do I need?
Amazon KDP accepts multiple formats:
- Word (DOC or DOCX)
- HTML (ZIP, HTM, or HTML)
- MOBI (MOBI)
- ePub (EPUB)
- Rich Text Format (RTF)
- Plain Text (TXT)
- *Adobe PDF (PDF)
- Kindle Package Format (KPF)
As long as you’re preparing your manuscript in any of the format above, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) will convert your final draft fine. However, for best results, Amazon recommends building and submitting your final draft in Word or HTML format.
What type of format should I choose?
Publishing Text-centric Kindle Books
If your books are text-centric and have no or little amount of images, build your books in Word format. It’s easy to do and you will have your ebooks converted fine. If your desired layout fails to be converted well in the ebook format despite having formatted everything correctly in the Word files, save and export the files in HTML format, then modify your HTML files. More often than not, you’ll be able to fix the errors by editing the HTML files directly.
Therefore, if your books are heavy with images and complex formatting, build your books in HTML format. It’s not easy to get a hang on editing HTML code but once you do, you’ll have control over many things to generate a desired ebook. Remember to compress all your files into one ZIP file before submitting to Amazon.
If you’re intending to send uncorrected proofs to your beta-readers before the books are available on Amazon, then build your books in MOBI format. It’s handy to distribute everything formatted nicely in just one ebook format. Note that only the .mobi files are supported by Amazon now. Another .prc files generated by MobiPocket Creator are no longer in use.
You can also build your books in EPUB than MOBI format. As far as I know, EPUB doesn’t get converted as well as MOBI by KDP, so make sure you double check your books using Kindle Previewer before publishing. Since MOBI is Amazon’s Proprietary eBook Format and supported only by Amazon, you will need EPUB if you’re also self-publishing on others ebook stores such as Apple iBookstore. Otherwise, stick to MOBI is great enough.
*Though Amazon has claimed to accept final drafts in PDF, I don’t recommend you to do so. I’ll explain why in the next section.
The books I want to create are images/ photos/ pictures/ graphic heavy, does it make any difference to formatting?
Sometimes authors who are clueless in handling the images in their books approach me-they heard about the nightmares pioneer authors fought through and Kindle format for being sucks in converting the images. If you’re one of those who have this concern, then pay attention to the content below.
First, let’s understand the definition of having heavy images.
How exactly heavy is that?
I don’t have a good definition for that. But to me having 50 to 70 graphic elements is still considered manageable. Too many images you’ll have a hard time editing and compressing the files, and risking your final draft too big in size.
Remember, the more graphic elements you’ve, the larger sizes they contribute to your final draft, and the higher digital delivery cost Amazon will charge you.
Amazon accepts total manuscript files up to 650MB and the largest single image file it can accept is 5MB. So if you have 100 graphic elements and each is 5MB, your total file size is already 500MB contributed by graphic alone. Therefore, judge it yourself carefully to avoid including too many unnecessary graphic elements.
Next, ask yourself if the images will be the main focus. Also, consider what type of reading experience you want to deliver to your readers.
If your books are text-centric and images are only for the supportive purpose, follow the tips above and you’ll do well.
If not, continue to read on.
Publishing Illustration-centric Kindle Books
To understand how to better publish illustration-centric books on KDP, you’ll first need to grasp the concept of re-flowable layout vs fixed layout.
Ebooks with re-flowable layout scale on all types of devices. The page is not finite so readers are in control with its font size, font type, page margins and page breaks. This format is commonly used in text-centric ebooks.
- Easy to produce.
- Cheap to produce as the entire book may follow just one re-flowable layout.
- Readers have more control over the book presentation.
- Doesn’t allow full-bleed images.
- Doesn’t support multiple text columns within a page.
- Doesn’t support text be placed over or wrapped around the images.
On the other hand, ebooks with fixed layout are the opposite. The page is preserved to its individual page’s layout so readers are not in control of elements that I mentioned above. This format is commonly used in children ebooks (illustration-centric), comic ebooks, online magazines.
- Allow images to spread across the entire page i.e. full-bleed.
- Support multiple text columns within a page.
- Authors have more control over the book presentation.
- More difficult and take longer time to produce.
- More expensive to produce as one page may be coded differently from another page.
- Less flexible as it doesn’t scale easily on all types of devices unless you code individually to each reading device.
- Larger file size.
Continuing from what we’ve discussed previously, if what you’ve are illustration-centric books, at the same time stunning images and layout are the emphasis, which is what most children book or comics try to do, then produce your book in fixed layout.
Regardless which, both layouts have the purpose to enhance readers’ experience in reading your books. Therefore, understanding what you want to deliver to your readers will help with choosing the appropriate layout for your books.
Note that there is no way to mix these two layouts in one book with today’s technology.
There is an exception in uploading your book in PDF, which is in this case. Amazon KDP has now offered a conversion tool known as Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, where you’re able to create your children’s books by uploading PDF or images (JPEG, TIFF, PNG or PPM) directly.
Say, you already have a children book in print. What you can do is scan the pages into images or combine all in one PDF and submit to this tool. Or, you’re currently selling your own digital copy on Gumroad or own website and you want to expand the market further by converting it into Kindle ebook, you’ll be able to take advantage of this tool as well.
Another common type of illustration-centric books is none other than comics, which Amazon has launched another tool called Kindle Comic Creator to help authors produce or reproduce their comics, manga, graphic novels in Kindle format.
By now we should have a common understanding of what formatting is. But you might want a little more clarification. How does your book really look like in a Kindle-friendly format?
Instead of explaining in detailed text, it’s better to see with your own eyes. Check out and download Amazon KF8 sample here. This is the layout you can expect if you format your book properly.
Once you’ve unzip the file on your computer, you can view it in several ways:
Option 1: Add the ebook to your Kindle device and view it on the screen. (Best!) Find out from here of how to do that by sending it to your Kindle Email or uploading directly to your device.
Option 2: Install Kindle Previewer on your computer and open the ebook with this app. (Recommended if you don’t own a Kindle device.)
What do you need to know about Kindle format?
Regardless of what format you use to build your manuscript, either Word or HTML, remember KDP has its limitations and doesn’t support everything. Part of the formatting process including optimising, reducing and sometimes eliminating the special formatting that cannot be converted properly.
Most Kindle authors aren’t writing a superbook that requires advanced formatting, so I’ve prepared a simplified version to help you understand what can and cannot be done in Kindle format.
And I’ll only be touching on Kindle re-flowable layout since it’s been widely used by many authors.
Default MS Word layout such as headings, subheading, bullet points, numbering, hyperlink, bold, italic, image etc. You don’t have to worry too much over the fonts, font sizes and margins used, since the readers freely control them.
Supported in *Kindle K8 Format Only
(Try to avoid the following if possible until K8 is widely supported by all Kindle devices.)
- Tables. One way to improvise is presenting your content in the most appropriate make-sense form without making tables.
- Drop cap.
- Footnote. One way to improvise is citing with numbers and hyperlinking them to an index or resource page individually.
- Special characters. Even K8 has its limitations here.
- Page number. (Not necessary)
- Multiple text columns.
- Text placed on or wrapped around the images.
- XML and frame inside HTML
What is Kindle K8 Format?
K8 is a newer and enhanced generation file format by Amazon and currently supported by Kindle Fire only and will be rolled out in the traditional Kindle e-link readers in the future. In short, it allows more formatting capabilities than before to make your ebooks better.
As you’ve read the previous section about re-flowable format, you’ll likely be able to appreciate what can and cannot be supported in Kindle format. An easier way to think about this is that every formatting capability that required the page to be fixed is best to be avoided.
A rule of thumb is this, keep your layout as simple and have them ready in MS Word or text file with the basic layout possible.