2011-06-28

Publishing a Word Doc for Amazon, then Smashwords

The previous entries in this series of posts break down a lengthy but reasonably straightforward process for formatting a Word document for conversion to an e-book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or through Smashwords. If you’ve glanced at both installments, you’ll note that there’s a fair bit of redundancy, as many of the steps are similar.

Smashwords will publish to the Kindle store as part of its premium distribution. However, if you’re like me, you might want to disable distribution on the Smashwords Amazon channel so that you can go to the Kindle store directly, fine-tuning your product description in ways that Smashwords doesn't allow, and taking advantage of Amazon’s most excellent sales reporting. (In particular, if you have an Amazon author page, you can actually do real style formatting on your description and promotional text.) As such, if you’re creating your ebook for both Amazon’s Kindle Store and Smashwords, use the following guidelines to mix-and-match the previous guidelines.

Same caveat applies; i don’t know anything, etc., etc.

The Formatting Preamble

Pay attention to the advice in the “Getting Started” section of either set of guidelines, re: things not to do in your Word file.

Start with the Amazon File

Make a copy of your book file and run through the initial checklist using the Amazon conversion guidelines:

  • Create Your Kindle-Conversion Word Document
  • Lose Any Template Attachments
  • Check For Hidden Text
  • Make Everything “Automatic” Color
  • Set Up Your Document in Sections
  • Italic and Bold Are Fine
  • All Caps Needs Manual Conversion


Set Up Your Table of Contents

The formatting requirements for Amazon and for Smashwords are slightly different, so you can’t easily create a single document to use for both conversions. (Even if you use the Normal style in your Kindle file, the Kindle’s odd handling of line breaks will create different spacing.) However, the process of setting up your book’s table of contents and the bookmarks you need to link to it is pretty much the same for both versions of your document — and are typically the most time-intensive part of the conversion process. As such, skip down in the Kindle guidelines and run through the table of contents steps before you fine-tune your text formatting:

  • Setting Up the Table of Contents
  • Set Up Bookmarks in Your Document
  • Use Bookmarks to Create a Clickable Table of Contents


Divide and Conquer

Once your table of contents is created and has been tested in your Kindle conversion document, make a copy of that document for your Smashwords conversion.

For the Kindle

Go back and continue on with your Kindle-conversion-specific text formatting:

  • Blank Paragraphs Need To Be Soft Returns
  • Set Up Styles
  • Set Up Chapter Heads

If you didn’t have your header or chapter styles properly set up when you built the table of contents, you can tweak those styles now.

Your table of contents was set up for the Kindle, so it’s done. Move past those instructions to:

  • Cover Art

Then continue through to the end.

For Smashwords

The document you copied is ready to have its styles stripped down to nothing in the way Smashwords likes. From the Smashwords guidelines, don’t forget the:

  • Copyright Page

Then continue on with:

  • Embrace the Normal
  • Set Up Manual Text Formatting
  • Set Up Chapter Heads

When you set up your chapter heads, remember that you’ve already placed your bookmarks for your table of contents. To insert the extra spaces you want before your Smashwords chapter headers, click on the second blank line (or in front of the chapter number or title) to insert new blank lines.


If you click on the top blank line before your chapter header and insert blank lines from there, you might inadvertently push the invisible bookmark down.

Skip the steps for creating your table of contents, which you’ve already done, then pick up again at:

  • Whither PDF?

Then continue through to the end.

2011-06-25

Publishing a Word Doc for Smashwords

This is a follow-up to the previous post, which covered formatting a book for Amazon’s Kindle Store. It comes with exactly the same caveat, because nothing has changed in the previous week:

I actually don’t know anything.

This article covers one specific topic — creating a good-looking epub or mobi ebook for Smashwords directly from a Microsoft Word document. I’m not an expert in e-book formats and coding. I’m not teh hardcorez with XHTML or the specific container-based formatting that all e-books comprise. As a one-time technical guy, i have a passing familiarity with all this crap, but i don’t have the time or the inclination to become an expert. However, experts exist, and if you want the advantage of expert advice, that’s where you should be looking. In particular, if the book you’re trying to format is something other than a straight-up chapter-by-chapter text work with no-to-minimal inline graphics, you probably want to avail yourself of a professional e-book formatting service.

Everything in this tutorial is based on my own experience and a certain amount of trial and error. If your own experience or information from another source contradicts or further illuminates what’s discussed here, just drop me a line.

Actually, another caveat — This process uses the venerable Word 2004 for the Mac (the last workable version of that application). However, following along in newer versions of Word and/or in Windows shouldn’t be overly difficult. (If anyone wants to rework this tutorial to incorporate updates/changes for other versions of Word, likewise drop me a line.)

And a third caveat — As mentioned above, these guidelines are specifically for producing mobi and epub files, the two most popular e-book formats. Two other e-book formats that Smashwords will produce are for Sony Reader and Palm, neither of which i have the ability to test. If anyone uses these guidelines and notes their success or failure at producing a good-looking Sony or Palm e-book, drop me yet another line.

Having said all that…

Smashwords creates ebooks in a variety of formats, including the industry-standard epub, the Mobipocket format made effectively dominant by its use by Amazon, and the venerable PDF. The flexibility to create numerous ebooks from a single file is a tremendous boon to anyone wishing to see their work in as many electronic hands as possible. However, it comes at the cost of conversion software (cheerfully dubbed Meatgrinder by the Smashwords folks) that needs things plain and simple.

Making things more complicated is the fact that although epub, mobi, and most other ebook formats have the same basic setup — they flow text in a reworkable, reshapable format in sections (which will translate to chapters for most books), PDFs are a fixed-page format that more closely resembles an actual book. Trying to come up with a single Word document that can make beautiful e-books in all formats is thus a challenge. And on top of that, the otherwise excellent Smashwords Style Guide actually has some advice that i personally find unforgivable (including using a combination of blank lines and asterisks to mark your chapter breaks because you supposedly can’t count on being able to summon up an e-book page break when you need one).

This tutorial is not meant to replace the Smashwords Style Guide, which you must read. (Like, right now. I’ll wait for you.) It merely focuses and shortcuts a couple of things, while also making a few recommendations that aren’t in the style guide (and, in one case, a recommendation actually forbidden by the style guide), but which in my experience produce good-looking ebooks.

The following steps are involved but not overly complicated. Barring unforeseen complications, they should help you produce a good-looking ebook with a minimal amount of fuss and bother.

Getting Started

Your Word file should be formatted in the traditionally straightforward manner that I hope most people employ for their long-form prose writing — a minimal number of well-named paragraph styles, and chapters divided into sections.

Avoid drop caps. They don’t work in e-books. In each paragraph with a drop cap, remove it with Format > Drop Cap, and select None. To give your chapter starts a little bit of non-drop cap pizzazz, considering making the first few words of the first line all caps (but see the note below).

Don’t use tabs to indent your paragraphs. I’ll repeat that, because it’s important — don’t use tabs to indent your paragraphs. If you normally do so, you’ll want to search for and delete all tab characters, then reformat your body copy style with a first-line indent.

Avoid anchored pictures and text boxes, as these will get lost in the e-book conversion process. An ebook in any format is very much like a traditional HTML web page — pictures must be run inline with the text, so that if you make the text bigger or smaller, the picture moves with the text it’s a part of.

Avoid Word’s table of contents feature (or if you use it for your main document, be prepared to replace it with a manual TOC for your Smashwords document).

Create Your Smashwords-Conversion Word Document

Make a copy of your book, appending the file name with “Smashwords Version” or some such. If your book has drop caps or non-inline images that you absolutely can’t live without in the “real version”, convert them now for this version.

Your images should be imported with Insert > Picture > From File. Don’t place pictures in your Word doc using cut and paste from another application. Select the Link to File option in the dialog box before you insert your picture.

Copyright Page

In the course of converting your document to a Smashwords conversion document, don’t forget Smashwords’ specific requirements for the copyright page. See the Smashwords Style Guide.

Lose Any Template Attachments

Check to see what template your document is based on through Tools > Templates and Add-Ins. Make sure that “Automatically update document styles” is off. You’ll likely be changing the size of your styled text momentarily, and you don’t want it changing back the next time you open the document.

Check For Hidden Text

If you have hidden text in your document, the Smashwords converter will cheerfully un-hide it and run it in your e-book. (This is particularly annoying if you’ve hidden embarrassing notes to yourself. Not that i’d know anything about that.) Use Show All to reveal formatting characters, then use Find to search for hidden text (pull up the Format > Font dialog from within the Find and Replace window) and eliminate it.

Set Up Your Document in Sections

Hopefully you do this already and you’re only checking to confirm that the sections are set up properly. Use the “new page” option to separate your sections and start each one on its own page. This will create proper page breaks before each chapter in both epub and mobi format, no other formatting or special styles needed. (This directly contradicts the Smashwords Style Guide, which talks about section breaks creating unnecessary blank space in an ebook, and the need to use a Heading style. The former might refer to continuous section breaks, but i work only with new-page section breaks. The latter does work, as i’ve tested it, but the conversion likewise works fine without it.)

This is what the beginning of A Prayer for Dead Kings looks like, as an example.


Italic and Bold Are Fine

The conversion process recognizes and translates regular italic and bold text no problem. One thing to note is that Meatgrinder formatting puts the larger chapter headers in bold even if you don’t style them that way.

All Caps Needs Manual Conversion

Word’s All Caps style, on the other hand, is lost during the conversion process. As a result, any text in All Caps style needs to be either retyped with Caps Lock on, or hard-restyled through Format > Change Case.

Embrace the Normal

I avoid Word’s “Normal” style like the plague, and so should you. Except that the Smashwords Meatgrinder specifically and exclusively likes to work only with the Normal style. Oh, irony.

I’ve done some tests with simple styles under other names (Body, Chapter Title, et al), and the results have been both frightening and inconsistent (the same-style font showing up in an ebook at different sizes in different places). For better or worse, or until the Meatgrinder gets its stuff together, you want to stick with Normal in your Smashwords document.

I’ve played around a bit with trying to find the easiest way to use Normal in a way that makes Smashwords happy, and the following process seems to work best.

  1. Set up the Normal style in your document as Times or Times New Roman, 10 point, with a first-line indent of 0.3 inches. Though you don’t set the font size for an e-book (because the reader gets to change the font size to suit himself or herself), selecting 10 point to start establishes the baseline size that the Smashwords conversion will use. (Note that this sort-of tutorial isn’t a short course on how to use Word styles. If you’re not comfortable with doing so, you should consider looking for a good online reference and spending some time with that before creating your e-book.)
  2. Select All to highlight the entire document.
  3. Select “Normal” from the style menu or Format > Style and apply. This should turn all of your text into 10 point Times/New Roman
  4. With all the text still selected, manually make the font Times or Times New Roman (whatever you selected for the Normal style) and 10 point. This step is technically redundant because you’ve already restyled the text. However, it cleans up text that might have been previously manually resized, which often keeps its resizing even after a new style is applied.

Set Up Manual Text Formatting

Once your document is entirely Normalized, you want to go back and manually recreate whatever styles you’ve lost (typically first lines, chapter headers, titles, and so on). Because most of this text is at your chapter starts, you’ll likely just need to move from section to section and repeat a short process of manual formatting.

(If you have interior heads or text that’s larger for effect sprinkled throughout the book, you’ll need to spend more time working through the document to find it. In that case, it’s often easier when you first make your copy of the document to search for larger text and make it a particular color or highlight to make it easier to find after it’s been turned to 10 point Times.)

For text where you want no indent (including any text that’s going to be centered), highlight the text, then Format > Paragraph and look for the Special drop-down. Change it from “First Line” to “None”. (You can also adjust the first-line indent on the ruler.)

For text that you want centered, highlight the text and select the centered format from the Formatting toolbar or Format > Paragraph. (Make sure centered text has no first-line indent, or it will look off-center.)

For chapter titles and other heads, select the text, center it (as above), then change the size from the Formatting toolbar, with Format > Font, or with the appropriate keyboard shortcut. For sizing heads, i use the following guidelines:

  • Chapter Number — 12 point.
  • Chapter Name — 14 point.
  • Title — 18 point.

However, as with body text and the Normal style, this won’t be the actual size in your e-book — just a guideline for the conversion process.

Set Up Chapter Heads

Each chapter head will consist of one or two lines (depending on whether your chapters are named or simply numbered). However, you want to add another three to four blank lines above the chapter head, both to push the head down a bit and to provide a place to anchor your chapter bookmark (see below).

Using Show All, it should look like this.


Setting Up the Table of Contents

Word’s automatic table of contents generator is a tool of the devil. (It’s true; you can see comments from Beelzebub in the original Word source code.) I have read that it can be used to generate a table of contents that a Smashwords conversion will love, but setting up your contents page manually takes about five minutes and is almost certain to give you less grief in the long term.

Make a new section at the very top of your document. The table of contents must run before your title page, or the Meatgrinder’s Kindle conversion might get cranky.

Type out your table of contents manually. You can copy-paste-and-restyle your chapter names, but don’t use Word’s Insert > Index and Tables command to create the table of contents. Just don’t.

Even if you spell out your chapter numbers in the chapter head (“Chapter One”), use numerals in the table of contents (“Chapter 1”) — they’re easier to read and mentally organize.

There are any number of ways to set up a table of contents, but centered text under some sort of header (either the title of the book or “Contents”) usually looks best.


I like to add the fiddly bits (copyright, title page, et al) to the table of contents in an e-book even though one would normally never do so in a real book. This is because e-books are much harder to “flip through”, and it’s easy for a reader to miss your dedication and front material if they go the table of contents and simply select “Chapter 1”.

Set Up Bookmarks in Your Document

A bookmark in Word is like an anchor on a web page — it’s a place that a link will eventually point to. To set up a bookmark in your document, place the cursor where you want the bookmark to point to (which is to say, the start of a chapter). However — you want to place your bookmark not at the beginning of the chapter number or chapter name line, but in the very first blank line above the chapter number and chapter name.


If the bookmark actually points to the chapter text, going to the chapter using your e-book reader’s TOC function can mess with the formatting of the chapter header text. (This is owing to a difference in the internal placement of the bookmark tag between Word and the e-book XHTML, but you don’t need to worry about that as long as the bookmark points to the blank line.)

Once the cursor is placed, go to Insert > Bookmark.


The very first time you open the Bookmark dialogue box, make sure that the “Hidden bookmarks” option is checked. This is because Word loves to throw in secret bookmarks (like the one above) that will play havoc with your conversion. Select and delete all hidden bookmarks.

Type in the name of your bookmark in the field at the top of the dialogue box. Word allows no spaces or punctuation in the bookmark name, so go with simple names like “Chapter01”, “Chapter02”, and so on. (Having the leading zero makes the chapter names alphabetize properly if you have more than nine chapters.)

Click on “Add” to add your bookmark.

You can test your bookmarks at any time by going Insert > Bookmark, selecting the bookmark from the list, and clicking “Go To”. When you do, Word should place the cursor exactly where you placed the bookmark. If not, delete the bookmark and try again.

Add bookmarks for all the places in your book that you’ve listed in the table of contents. However, don’t make a bookmark for the table of contents itself (see below). When you’re done bookmarking all the places in the text that appear in your table of contents, you want to add two special bookmarks that the Kindle version of your ebook will make use of.

Place the cursor at the top of your table of contents and create a new bookmark named “toc” (lower case). This is the bookmark the Kindle uses when you select “Table of Contents” from the navigation controls.

Place the cursor at the top of your title page and create a new bookmark named “start” (lower case). (Don’t worry if you’ve already placed a bookmark for your title page. They’ll play nicely with each other.) This is the bookmark the Kindle uses when you select “Beginning” from the navigation controls. (You can place this “start” bookmark wherever you think the start of the book is. Some people like to make this Chapter One, but i like to make sure the reader gets to see the title page, the dedication, and the epigraph.)

Use Bookmarks to Create a Clickable Table of Contents

Now you want to link each of the entries in your table of contents to the bookmarks you previously set up.

For each entry in the table of contents, highlight the text, then Insert > Hyperlink. In the Edit Hyperlink dialogue, select “Locate” next to the Anchor field.

In the second box that pops up, click on the Bookmarks triangle to reveal the list of bookmarks in the document, select the bookmark you want to link to, then click OK.


You can test your hyperlinks by clicking on them. When you do, Word should place the cursor exactly where you placed the bookmark you selected for the hyperlink. If it doesn’t, check the bookmark manually with Insert > Bookmark and selecting “Go To”. If the bookmark is wrong, delete it and try again (see above). If the bookmark is correct, select the hyperlinked text and make sure you haven’t accidentally linked the text to the wrong bookmark.

(The same process of bookmarks and hyperlinks lets you set up links from anywhere in your document to anywhere else. For example, you could create footnotes and cross-references.)

Whither PDF?

As mentioned above, a PDF differs from other e-book files because it locks down things like text flow and type size even as epub and mobi ignore those things. Smashwords offers the option of creating a PDF version of your book along with its other e-book formats, and it can be a good idea to do so. Virtually every computer in the world can handle PDF files, even as trying to read certain e-book formats on computer can still be a total pain in the ass. (As of this writing, the Kindle App for Mac does a great job with mobi files, but there is not a single Mac e-reader that can handle epub without sucking badly.)

The importance of this step depends on how important it is for the PDF version of your e-book to look good. If you don’t want to produce a PDF, or if you don’t care that it looks like crap, your e-book formatting is done and you can skip this section.

When you convert your Word file to epub and mobi format, it ignores everything about your file except the text and the section breaks. An epub or mobi file has no page size — the text simply flows in accordance to how large or small the user makes that text. A Smashwords PDF, on the other hand, is created using the page size, the margins, and the other physical attributes of your Word file. As a result, your page setup has implications for how the PDF looks and how readable it is.

If you do your writing in a default letter-sized document (you shouldn’t, but that’s a subject for another post), that’s how your PDF will look — and to my mind, a letter-sized PDF e-book looks unprofessional. What you want is a PDF that will resemble an actual printed book in size and appearance. To this end, go to File > Page Setup to set up a custom page size mimicking the appearance of a paperback book. The page sizes available to your version of Word often depend on your printer installation, but shoot for something close to 5 inches by 7 inches. In a worst-case scenario, you might need to set up a custom page size. If you’re not sure how to do that, you should think about working through a good Word tutorial before attempting to create your e-book.

With your custom page size established for your document, set your margins with Format > Document.


These settings will give good results, but feel free to tweak them, especially if your headers or footers are more than one line. In the Layout tab, don’t set different odd and even pages unless you really want to (the left-right format of a print book doesn’t translate to a page-by-page PDF). Make sure you set the Apply To drop-down as “Whole Document” so you don’t have different margins in different sections. If you’re not comfortable setting margins and working with headers and footers, considering finding a good Word tutorial before creating your e-book.

With these settings in place, view your document in page layout view (if you aren’t already). The layout you’ve set up should combine with the font size settings you’ve already established to look something like this.


Set up your headers and footers as you like. Most PDF readers keep track of what page you’re on when you’re reading, but adding page numbers is important in case your readers want to print the PDF. Scan through your whole document to make sure you don’t have headers and footers on pages where you don’t want them (for example, the table of contents and the title page). Again, if messing with headers and footers isn’t something you’re comfortable doing, you should think about spending some time with a good Word tutorial first.

Once you’ve scanned through your entire document to make sure everything looks the way you want it, you’re done.

Cover Art

You don’t need to place cover art in your Word document. The Smashwords conversion process uses the cover art you upload to create the cover for the epub and mobi versions of your e-books. However, for reasons unknown, it doesn’t do so for the PDF version of your e-book. If you do add a separate section at the front of the book for your cover, the PDF will have it. However, your mobi and epub e-books will then have the default cover, plus a duplicate cover on the book’s second page.

Upload and Test

With your document properly formatted, you’re ready to upload it through your Smashwords dashboard. Smashwords is usually pretty good about converting your book in short order. If your conversion generates any Meatgrinder errors, consult the Smashwords Style Guide to sort things out. (I’m told that two of the most common conversion errors are running more than four consecutive blank lines in your e-book text, and not following the required formatting for the Smashwords copyright page.)

If your book converts without errors, go to the book’s page to look at the online versions and download the e-book formats you’ve chosen to create. This is a most important last step, so plan on going through your book very carefully, page by page, edition by edition, to check that your formatting looks the way you want it to. Any weirdness, any bad breaks, extra space, text indented when it shouldn’t be, et al, go back to the Word doc, tweak the text, upload, and check again.

One thing worth noting before it drives you mad — Apple’s iBooks for the iPad has an interesting “feature” that forces centered text to run flush left if you turn on Justification in iBooks’ preferences. If you can’t figure out why your carefully centered text isn’t centered in the epub version of your book when you test it in iBooks (especially if it’s centered in another format or on another e-reader), check the setting and embrace iBooks’ limitations until Apple gets it fixed.

And You’re Done

If you’re satisfied that the book looks good, follow the instructions to submit it for Smashwords premium distribution, and you’re good to go. At least until a minute after you submit the book, at which point, you’ll remember that really excellent change you wanted to make. Welcome to the wonderful world of publishing.

2011-06-20

Publishing a Word Doc for Amazon’s Kindle Store

Updated May 2012

A caveat and a precursor for anyone looking to this page for advice on formatting a book for Amazon’s Kindle Store:

I actually don’t know anything.

This article covers one specific topic — creating a good-looking ebook for the Kindle Store directly from a Microsoft Word document. I’m not an expert in e-book formats and coding. I’m not teh hardcorez with XHTML or the specific container-based formatting that all e-books comprise. As a one-time technical guy, i have a passing familiarity with all this crap, but i don’t have the time or the inclination to become an expert. However, experts exist, and if you want the advantage of expert advice, that’s where you should be looking. In particular, if the book you’re trying to format is something other than a straight-up chapter-by-chapter text work with no-to-minimal inline graphics, you probably want to avail yourself of a professional e-book formatting service.

Everything in this tutorial is based on my own experience and a certain amount of trial and error. If your own experience or information from another source contradicts or further illuminates what’s discussed here, just drop me a line.

Actually, another caveat — This process uses the venerable Word 2004 for the Mac (the last workable version of that application). However, following along in newer versions of Word and/or in Windows shouldn’t be overly difficult. (If anyone wants to rework this tutorial to incorporate updates/changes for other versions of Word, likewise drop me a line.)

Having said all that…

Amazon’s Kindle Store uses a customized version of the Mobipocket ebook format, but for our purposes, all ebook formats have the same basic setup — they flow text in a reworkable, reshapable format in sections (which will translate to chapters for most books). Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing website is a dream to use, allowing you to easily upload and test your book in a virtual Kindle browser. However, Amazon’s documentation (at least as of the writing of this documentation) leaves a lot to be desired.

In at least two places, the Amazon documentation and the support boards stress that the best file format for uploading to the Kindle Store is HTML, and that if you’re using Word, you should convert your Word file to HTML first. Other references talk about getting best results by using the Mobipocket Creator software. In both instances, i say don’t bother — not because doing so will cause you problems, but because it’s possible to get a great-looking ebook straight from your Word file, and (in my opinion) generally easier in the long run.

(One of the things to consider is that unless you’re the best writer on earth employing the best editor and the best proofreader, your book is going to have errors in it. Typos, bad breaks, weird indents, whatever. The way i’m set up, I keep three versions of my books, all as Word files — the “master book” (which will also generate the PDF file for the print version), an Amazon version, and a Smashwords version. The only differences between these versions are in the formatting, which in the case of the ebook versions is specific to getting the best-looking e-book out of the conversion process. If i note an error or have it pointed out to me, i open up all three files and i correct it fairly easily. Even in the event of large-scale changes requiring a search-and-manual replace, i can simply repeat the process three times. However, if i’m dealing with a Word file for the original document, plus an HTML or mobi file for the Amazon version, tracking changes and errors becomes slightly more complicated. I like things in my life to be slightly less complicated, but your mileage may vary.)

The following steps are involved but not overly complicated. Barring unforeseen complications, they should help you produce a good-looking ebook with a minimal amount of fuss and bother.

Getting Started

Your Word file should be formatted in the traditionally straightforward manner that I hope most people employ for their long-form prose writing — a minimal number of well-named paragraph styles, and chapters divided into sections. 

Avoid drop caps. They don’t work in e-books. In each paragraph with a drop cap, remove it with Format > Drop Cap, and select None. To give your chapter starts a little bit of non-drop cap pizzazz, considering making the first few words of the first line all caps (but see the note below).

Don’t use tabs to indent your paragraphs. I’ll repeat that, because it’s important — don’t use tabs to indent your paragraphs. If you normally do so, you’ll want to search for and delete all tab characters, then reformat your body copy style with a first-line indent.

Avoid anchored pictures and text boxes, as these will get lost in the e-book conversion process. An ebook in any format is very much like a traditional HTML web page — pictures must be run inline with the text, so that if you make the text bigger or smaller, the picture moves with the text it’s a part of. 

Avoid Word’s table of contents feature (or if you use it for your main document, be prepared to replace it with a manual TOC for your Kindle document).

Create Your Kindle-Conversion Word Document

Make a copy of your book, appending the file name with “Amazon Version” or some such. If your book has drop caps or non-inline images that you absolutely can’t live without in the “real version”, convert them now for this version.

Your images should be imported with Insert > Picture > From File. Don’t place pictures in your Word doc using cut and paste from another application. Select the Link to File option in the dialog box before you insert your picture.

Lose Any Template Attachments

Check to see what template your document is based on through Tools > Templates and Add-Ins. Make sure that “Automatically update document styles” is off. You’ll likely be changing the size of your styled text momentarily, and you don’t want it changing back the next time you open the document.

Check For Hidden Text

If you have hidden text in your document, the Kindle converter will cheerfully un-hide it and run it in your e-book. (This is particularly annoying if you’ve hidden embarrassing notes to yourself. Not that i’d know anything about that.) Use Show All to reveal formatting characters, then use Find to search for hidden text (pull up the Format > Font dialog from within the Find and Replace window) and eliminate it.

Make Everything “Automatic” Color

Select All to highlight your entire document, then Format > Font. Word has two different font colors that both look black — black, and automatic.



I don’t know if it makes any difference on the Kindle reader, but with the Kindle app for computer, iPad, et al, i’ve seen instances of text remaining black if you choose the sepia color option (instead of changing from black to dark brown as it should). Though i don’t know if auto vs. black is responsible, it seems likely.

Set Up Your Document in Sections

Hopefully you do this already and you’re only checking to confirm that the sections are set up properly. Use the “new page” option to separate your sections and start each one on its own page. This will create proper page breaks before each chapter in your Kindle, no other formatting or special styles needed.

This is what the beginning of Clearwater Dawn looks like, as an example.


Italic and Bold Are Fine

The conversion process recognizes and translates regular italic and bold text no problem. One thing to note is that the Kindle formatting puts the larger chapter headers in bold even if you don’t style them that way.

All Caps and Small Caps Needs Manual Conversion

Word’s All Caps and Small caps styles, on the other hand, are lost during the conversion process. As a result, any text in either style needs to be either retyped with Caps Lock on, or hard-restyled through Format > Change Case.

Blank Paragraphs Need To Be Soft Returns

The Kindle seems to love to put extra space in the document when it encounters a blank line in a Word document, as such:


Search for all such blank lines in your document (enter ^p^p in the Find box). Delete the blank line and replace it with a soft return (SHIFT-RETURN). If you use Show All to reveal formatting, this is the before:


And after:


It’s most important to replace blank paragraphs this way where you want only a single line between paragraphs. If you want a larger amount of space between sections of text or around your chapter heads, just leave the hard returns.

Set Up Styles

I avoid Word’s “Normal” style like the plague, and so should you. With a number of e-books whose formatting i’ve consulted on, the ones that used the Normal style for body copy and based their other styles off Normal all had formatting problems that were only fixed by redoing Normal, then manually reformatting the entire text. (Note that this sort-of tutorial isn’t a short course on how to use Word styles. If you’re not comfortable with doing so, you should consider looking for a good online reference and spending some time with that before creating your e-book.)

The styles I use for my books are usually always something like:
  • Body — For the main text. Set this with a first-line indent. Don’t use tabs to indent your paragraphs (for a third time). Use left justification, not full justification. The Kindle allows the reader to turn full justification on and off, but that option is lost if you justify your text.
  • Body No Indent — Based on Body. For the first line of each chapter, or anywhere else you want to run body text with no indent.
  • Body Centered — Based on Body. For centered small text. This has the first-line indent removed so that the text isn’t pushed over.
  • Chapter Number — The first (smaller) chapter header.
  • Chapter Name — The second (larger) chapter header.
  • Title — The book title.

Because the Kindle can resize its type as the reader chooses, the font and size of the text in your book are effectively meaningless — except that when you convert your Word file, your font sizes are used as a baseline for the default size of the font in the e-book. I use the following sizes for good results, but feel free to experiment to see what works.
  • Body — 12 point; first line indent 0.3 inches.
  • Chapter Number — 14 point.
  • Chapter Name — 18 point.
  • Title — 18 point.

(If you want to make the job of conversion that much easier, simply use these sizes in your actual working document.)

Set Up Chapter Heads

Each chapter head will consist of one or two lines (depending on whether your chapters are named or simply numbered). However, you want to add another one or two blank lines above the chapter head, both to push the head down a bit and to provide a place to anchor your chapter bookmark (see below).

Using Show All, it should look like this:


Setting Up the Table of Contents

Word’s automatic table of contents generator is a tool of the devil. (It’s true; you can see comments from Beelzebub in the original Word source code.) I have read that it can be used to generate a table of contents that a Kindle conversion will love, but setting up your contents page manually takes about five minutes and is almost certain to give you less grief in the long term.

Make a new section at the very top of your document. The table of contents must run before your title page, or apparently the Kindle converter gets cranky.

Type out your table of contents manually. You can copy-paste-and-restyle your chapter names, but don’t use Word’s Insert > Index and Tables command to create the table of contents. Just don’t.

Even if you spell out your chapter numbers in the chapter head (“Chapter One”), use numerals in the table of contents (“Chapter 1”) — they’re easier to read and mentally organize.

There are any number of ways to set up a table of contents, but centered text under some sort of header (either the title of the book or “Contents”) usually looks best.


I like to add the fiddly bits (copyright, title page, et al) to the table of contents in an e-book even though one would normally never do so in a real book. This is because e-books are much harder to “flip through”, and it’s easy for a reader to miss your dedication and front material if they go the table of contents and simply select “Chapter 1”.

Set Up Bookmarks in Your Document

A bookmark in Word is like an anchor on a web page — it’s a place that a link will eventually point to. To set up a bookmark in your document, place the cursor where you want the bookmark to point to (which is to say, the start of a chapter). However — you want to place your bookmark not at the beginning of the chapter number or chapter name line, but in the very first blank line above the chapter number and chapter name.


If the bookmark actually points to the chapter text, going to the chapter using the Kindle TOC can mess with the formatting of the chapter header text. (This is owing to a difference in the internal placement of the bookmark tag between Word and the e-book XHTML, but you don’t need to worry about that as long as the bookmark points to the blank line.)

Once the cursor is placed, go to Insert > Bookmark.


The very first time you open the Bookmark dialogue box, make sure that the “Hidden bookmarks” option is checked. This is because Word loves to throw in secret bookmarks (like the one above) that will play havoc with your conversion. Select and delete all hidden bookmarks.

Type in the name of your bookmark in the field at the top of the dialogue box. Word allows no spaces or punctuation in the bookmark name, so go with simple names like “Chapter01”, “Chapter02”, and so on. (Having the leading zero makes the chapter names alphabetize properly if you have more than nine chapters.)

Click on “Add” to add your bookmark.

You can test your bookmarks at any time by going Insert > Bookmark, selecting the bookmark from the list, and clicking “Go To”. When you do, Word should place the cursor exactly where you placed the bookmark. If not, delete the bookmark and try again.

Add bookmarks for all the places in your book that you’ve listed in the table of contents. However, don’t make a bookmark for the table of contents itself (see below). When you’re done bookmarking all the places in the text that appear in your table of contents, you want to add two special bookmarks that the Kindle will make use of.

Place the cursor at the top of your table of contents and create a new bookmark named “toc” (lower case). This is the bookmark the Kindle uses when you select “Table of Contents” from the navigation controls.

Place the cursor at the top of your title page and create a new bookmark named “start” (lower case). (Don’t worry if you’ve already placed a bookmark for your title page. They’ll play nicely with each other.) This is the bookmark the Kindle uses when you select “Beginning” from the navigation controls. (You can place this “start” bookmark wherever you think the start of the book is. Some people like to make this Chapter One, but i like to make sure the reader gets to see the title page, the dedication, and the epigraph.)

Use Bookmarks to Create a Clickable Table of Contents

Now you want to link each of the entries in your table of contents to the bookmarks you previously set up.

For each entry in the table of contents, highlight the text, then Insert > Hyperlink. In the Edit Hyperlink dialogue, select “Locate” next to the Anchor field.

In the second box that pops up, click on the Bookmarks triangle to reveal the list of bookmarks in the document, select the bookmark you want to link to, then click OK.


You can test your hyperlinks by clicking on them. When you do, Word should place the cursor exactly where you placed the bookmark you selected for the hyperlink. If it doesn’t, check the bookmark manually with Insert > Bookmark and selecting “Go To”. If the bookmark is wrong, delete it and try again (see above). If the bookmark is correct, select the hyperlinked text and make sure you haven’t accidentally linked the text to the wrong bookmark. 

(The same process of bookmarks and hyperlinks lets you set up links from anywhere in your document to anywhere else. For example, you could create footnotes and cross-references.)

Cover Art

You don’t need to place cover art in your Word document. When your Word file is ready to upload to the KPD site, you’ll upload your cover art file at the same time. The KPD conversion software uses this cover art file to create the ebook’s cover as well as the thumbnail on the book’s Amazon page.

Upload and Test

With your document properly formatted, you’re ready to upload it at kdp.amazon.com. When you do, you’ll see an option to preview the book at the bottom of the page. This is a most important last step, so plan on going through the book very carefully, page by page, to check that your formatting looks the way you want it to. Any weirdness, any bad breaks, extra space, text indented when it shouldn’t be, et al, go back to the Word doc, tweak the text, and upload again.

It’s true that you can simply accept the upload, then download the published book to check it. However, it takes 24 hours or more for an updated version of your book to percolate its way through Amazon. If your first look at the book reveals a glaring error on the title page, that can be a long, long time to have that error live.

Within the Kindle preview, you can look at the formatting of your table of contents, but you can’t actually test the links.

And You’re Done

If you’re satisfied that the book looks good in the Kindle preview, click “Save and Continue”, run through the Rights and Pricing rigamarole on the next page, and you’re good to go. At least until a minute after you send the book, at which point, you’ll remember that really excellent change you wanted to make. Welcome to the wonderful world of publishing.

2011-06-18

Format Follows Function

So Clearwater Dawn went live on Amazon and Smashwords in May (huzzah!), and i’m mostly overwhelmed not by any great sense of accomplishment (though i’m sure that’ll hit me eventually) but by how completely insane the process of formatting a book for Amazon and Smashwords was. Not that it’s complicated, because it’s actually extraordinarily simple in retrospect. It’s just that the complete lack of authoritative documentation and the plain-out wrong advice present in what documentation exists makes for a lot of trial and error, a lot of doing things you don’t need to do, and a lot of avoiding things for no reason when they can actually make the job a lot easier.

As a means of assuaging my pain, i’m going to set up step-by-step guides to formatting a Word document in order to provide the most straightforward conversion to both platforms. (These will hopefully be updated from time to time.)

2011-06-12

The Language of Story

Part 3 of “The Language of Story”

So what’s this “course” about?

As the name of the overall series and this post would suggest, it’s about the language of story.

And what does that mean, exactly?

What it means is that when we talk about the art and craft of dramatic writing, we’re actually talking about a hybrid process that consists of two entirely separate — and in many ways, creatively contradictory — arts. On the one side is the art of words. On the other side is the art of story. The point at which those two arts mesh is where dramatic writing lives — or dies.

The baser and more instinctive of those separate arts is the art of words. Words are a thing we know because we spend all our lives with words. We learn the art of words by the addiction to reading and story that first led us shambling and hunched toward the urge to write in the first place. Words are easy, though saying so might seem counter-intuitive (or just plain idiotically wrong) to anyone who’s ever struggled to get words down on the page. However, most people (myself included) who have experienced that struggle don’t automatically understand that when we have trouble getting the words down, it’s not because of a problem with the words. It’s because we’re not properly in touch with the story we want those words to tell.

The ease of words can be demonstrated by any of the countless workshops and approaches to writing that embrace the concept of free writing. Free writing is the notion that a really good way to unblock your creative flow, to get yourself charged up in advance of doing your real work, is to just write. Write anything, write everything, write the first things that come into your head without worrying about their quality or even whether they make sense.

But as important and useful as free writing is an exercise, there’s an important truth tied up in it that most people gloss over.

Words are easy as long as you don’t have to worry about what you want the words to do.

Worrying about what you want the words to do is the art of story. Making the words do what you want them to do is what happens when you understand the language of story, and that’s what this course is about.

That’s a lot of explanation that doesn’t actually say very much, however. So as I’ll do from time to time during this series, let me throw out a little bit of a writing exercise in an attempt to further explain and illuminate. (The exercises that I set out should all be relatively short, and are the best way to assess from your own writerly perspective the rules and paradigms we’ll be talking about.)

Exercise — Free Scene Writing

Here’s a quick three-part exercise. Do all three parts in order, and don’t read the instructions for the subsequent parts until you’ve done the parts before. Part 3 of the exercise requires two or more people, so try it with your writer’s group or with a friend with whom you workshop your writing. (It works great by email as well.)

(Aside: If you’re not part of a writer’s group or don’t have trusted writers with whom you workshop your writing, in person or otherwise, you should. Writing in isolation is a dangerous game, because we all have a hard time judging our own work objectively. As such, workshopping other people’s writing helps to hone and sharpen our own writing process in a way that self-analyzing never will. The workshop is the basis and foundation of the art and practice of writing, and it needs to be a part of your writer’s life.)

Part 1: Write down bare character-sketch notes for two characters. Any format you like, as creative as you can make it, 5 minutes max. Don’t use characters from an existing story of your own or from another work. Make it fresh. Sketch out who the characters are, then define a situation that brings them together.

When you’re done, take those rough notes and use them to write a short scene. Nothing daunting — a half page, a page, two pages. Start with the situation, bring in the characters, and see what happens. Write for 10 minutes maximum.

When you’re done, assess how difficult you thought the writing was. How hard was it to come up with the words that make up your scene and get them down on the page?

Part 2: Think about the last books you read and enjoyed. Think about the last films you watched and liked. Think about the characters and situations in one of those stories, then write a short scene — up to a couple of pages — featuring those characters and situations. Write for 10 minutes maximum. Don’t rewrite a scene from the story — write a scene that doesn’t already occur in the story. Use what happens in the story as a starting point, but then write a quick snippet of a situation that’s wholly your own.

(Very often, when we’re reading books or watching films, we become aware of potential scenes that don’t actually play out in the story. A conversation that two characters seem like they really want to have but never do; a confrontation or quiet moment that would have made a good bridge between two existing scenes; et al. Feel free to use one of these “missing scenes” as your starting point if it makes it easier.)

Again, how difficult was that? How hard was it to come up with those words and get them down on the page?

Part 3: Repeat the initial process from Part 1. In no more than 5 minutes, come up with two quick character profiles and a situation.

When you’re done, everyone working on the exercise passes their profile to someone else. If you’re working with only one other person, just trade. In a workshop group, pass to the right around the table. If you’re in an email group, pass things along alphabetically, with the last person in the list passing to the first.

With someone else’s character notes in hand, repeat the second half of the process from Part 1. Write for 10 minutes maximum to create a scene, using the initial character sketches and situation as your starting point.

When you’re done, assess how difficult writing that scene was. How hard was it to come up with those words and get them down on the page?


If you’re like most writers, the ability to put words down on the page comes naturally. It comes instinctively, it comes easily. Where we get screwed up is in trying to figure out which specific words to put down on the page. We get screwed up trying to balance the language of words and the language of story.

Your reaction to the preceding exercises will vary. However, if you’re like most writers, you probably found Part 1 of the exercise fairly easy. There’s nothing in the process that’s meant to be particularly challenging, assuming that like most writers you have a surplus of imagination and a good ability with words. In Part 1, you write easily because you have no reason to care about what you’re writing. It’s an exercise. It’s throwaway. You have nothing invested in these characters, so it’s easy to make them do things without worrying about whether they’re doing the right thing or not.

(Not caring about your work is actually a most effective way of making the writing come easier. Unfortunately, it also guarantees that your writing will be shit, and learning how to write shit is someone else’s workshop.)

If you’re like most writers, you probably found Part 2 of the exercise even easier than Part 1. You might assume that the ease of the second exercise comes from using prefab characters that you already know from having seen their story before. However, you’d be wrong. What makes the second exercise easier isn’t your familiarity with the characters — it’s the fact that words are easy as long as you don’t have to worry about what you want the words to do. Writing a fake scene from a real book or film, you have absolutely no worries about what you want the words to do, and so nothing gets in between you and the words.

In Part 2, you write more easily because you know that what comes after your scene is already set. These characters have already finished their story. You’ve already watched or read it. You know what happened. As such, the little snippet you write can do whatever it likes. You have complete freedom because you’re stepping into the middle of something that already has its beginning and end set up. (You might recall the mention of beginning, middle, and end from the previous post about Aristotle. We’re going to come back to this idea. A lot.)

If you’re like most writers, you probably found Part 3 of the exercise even easier than Parts 1 and 2. And though we haven’t been talking about the quality of your writing in the exercise (because that’s not what the exercise is about), most writers are also happier with their writing in Part 3. And there’s a weird kind of disconnect there that you might have trouble wrapping your head around. Because we might expect that working with characters we don’t know — characters we’ve never even seen before — would be the most difficult of these three tasks. Writing our own characters is hard enough. How much harder should it be to write other peoples’ characters?

In Part 3, you’re given carte blanche to write whatever you want within the constraints imposed on you by someone else’s starting ideas. You have the story (for the purpose of the exercise, one small fragment of the story) set out for you, inviolable and self contained. Telling you what to do. And the reality is and has always been — words are easy as long as you don’t have to worry about what you want the words to do.

The point of these exercises is to put you very temporarily into a place where you don’t need to worry about what you want the words to do. By doing so, you force a separation between the two distinct arts that twist within you as they twist within all writers — the art of words; the art of story. These exercises put you into a place where your only focus is the language of words, to prove to you that the words are easy.

The first part of the Free Scene Writing exercise was fairly artificial, with good intent. However, if you’re like most writers, you might have recognized the basic gist of this assignment as the way most writers (especially beginning writers, including this writer once upon a time) start out. A handful of ideas, a rough starting point, and off we go, throwing words down like mad and desperately hoping that the rest of the story will somehow fall into place.

Except most of the time, it doesn’t. And almost without exception, every failed novel, every half-assed screenplay that’s ever been written has started this same way. Because the biggest hurdle that most writers face is that words are easy. And the ease with which we handle words makes it impossibly frustrating when we find ourselves unable to put the words down because we don’t know what the words are meant to say. Because words are easy, we immerse ourselves so deeply in the language of words that we forget how to speak the language of story.

Most writers have had the experience of sitting down with a rough idea and simply writing it. “Chapter One” or “Fade In”, and then we just jump in. If you’re like most writers (certainly, if you’re like me), you start off well — just as you probably did in Part 1 of the exercise. The words flow, the characters come to life, the description sizzles with visual pinache — and then at some point, everything stops. Maybe page 10. Maybe page 100. But you get to a place when you simply don’t know what’s supposed to happen next, and the more you force it — the more you try to work around what you’ve already written, the more you go back to rewrite what you’ve already written, the more free-writing exercises you engage in to try to figure out why you’re suddenly blocked — the worse it gets.

Because what we don’t instinctively realize — what it took me many years and many failed writing projects to realize — is that at the point when the words stop flowing, it isn’t because of any problem with the words themselves. The language of words is fine. Words are easy.

The problem is that our ease with words can get in the way of our understanding of the language of our story.

The ultimate goal of this ongoing series of posts is to teach you the language of story, so that by learning to master that language, you will always be in a place where the words come easy. You’ll always be able to work with the ease that comes with writing a single scene, because you’ll know with absolute confidence that the words are telling the story you want to tell.

NEXT: The Tyranny of Structure

2011-06-05

School’s In

Part 2 of “The Language of Story”

One of the great disadvantages of working a fair amount as an editor and story editor is that you spend more time shaping other people’s creativity than you do publicly flogging your own. As such, editors and story editors often have to resort to vicariously dropping the names of people they work with in the hope of making their behind-the-scenes toil seem justified. So here’s something:

The magic of being taught by Scott is that he won’t merely hand you a Hollywood formula; instead he instils within his students an innate sense of story that you can make your own and adapt to each project. By the time he is done, you will actually believe that you were born with this incredible gift for story structure. I guarantee that after a course with Scott, you will never feel the need to pick up another book on writing. What I learned from Scott was invaluable, and if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn the craft of writing from him do yourself a favour and don’t pass it up! The world wants to hear your story and Scott can help make that happen.

— Terri Tatchell, Co-Writer, District 9

That got your attention? Just a little, maybe?

If you dig deep enough — if you strip away the subtle differences of tone, voice, and texture — I believe that all dramatic art obeys a surprisingly small number of fundamental laws. Understanding these foundational truths of fiction and drama can help open you up as a writer. They can help you learn to speak the language of story, by coming to terms with how story works at the most fundamental, basic level.

My rules for writing have been the foundation of my teaching in the past, and they continue to be something I harp on when I’m working as a story editor and script consultant. I learned these rules as a screenwriter. However, their versatility and neutrality mean that they aren’t strictly and specifically limited to screenwriting, even though the narrow focus of that form makes them ideally suited to it. These rules and paradigms are things that I’m going to attempt to convince you are the underlying structure of pretty much any fictive form, and so can applied to any type of writing (including novels, as I’ve done).

I still do a lot of story editing and script consulting, but I don’t teach or lead workshops much anymore. This is owing partly to being really freaking busy much of the time, and partly to living in a small, idyllic corner of the Canadian countryside that’s just a little too far from anywhere that a reasonable number of people interested in workshopping would tend to congregate. However, I always enjoyed teaching. I never saw it as a chore or a paying-the-bills disgruntled obligation while I waited for the real opportunities to roll in. As such, I miss teaching a lot, and I get a lot of former students telling me I should get off my ass and get back at it someday. So I was struck by a thought recently, which was this:

Why don’t I spend some time collating and translating the stuff I like to talk about in workshops into something I can post here — both as a means of giving something back to the larger community of writers, of which I remain a proud member; and as a means of forcing myself to think about what I do, and why.

Because the thing that really struck me during a teaching stint at Vancouver Film School in 2000–2001 was that being a teacher (or at least attempting to be a conscientious teacher) means challenging yourself on a daily basis. As writers, we all have things we do. We read other people’s books. We watch films. We embrace formal criticism and theory. We seek out advice and absorb it. We try new techniques, we look at our work with a critical eye in order to make it better. But for the most part, the specific arsenal of creative tools that we bring to bear on our own work is a gestalt thing — something that’s been honed and shaped over long years at a level beyond description. We don’t consciously think about what we do. We simply do it, because that’s the way it’s done.

Standing up in front of a class full of students, you don’t have the luxury of simply saying “That’s the way it’s done”. Or, okay, you have that luxury if you don’t mind looking like a bit of douche. But assuming that’s not your goal, trying to teach what you know requires you to actively think about what you know. You need to not only understand what works — you need to figure out why it works, and why it works so much better than everything else that you’re willing to tell people to try it for themselves.

The cool thing about what I teach is that it doesn’t replace anything else you’ve ever been taught, sought out, or picked up on your own. I have a small number of rules for writing that are deceptively simple in the discussion and extraordinarily powerful in the execution, and as such, they subsume all the other rules in all the other books. However, they do so in a way that’s not only easier to understand than many of the other books, they do so in a way that’s easier to use. A way that’s completely intuitive and ultimately powerful. A way that puts you in complete command of shaping the story you want to write.

This series of posts makes no conjectures about who you are or the kind of writing you want to do. The rules and paradigms talked about here work for any form of dramatic writing, any genre, any story. However, your ability to get something out of this series depends entirely on my assumption that you already know how to work with words. This isn’t some kind of “To be the writer, you must be the writer” Zen koan quackery. It’s just a statement of the idea that writing words is fairly easy; it’s writing story that’s hard. (This is the crux of the series as a whole, and we’ll come back to it a lot. The next post presents a bit of an overview of what this idea means.) If you’ve never attempted dramatic writing in your life, this is not the place to start. Start by writing. Start by reading. Start with authors like Natalie Goldman or Robert McKee. (The Film section of the Insane Angel website has links to some reference material, but these two books in particular are useful for writers of all stripes, not just screenwriters.) Read. Do a writing workshop. Read. Join a writer’s group. Read some more. Learn to work with words, even if the only option open to you is one of those typical and annoying college or university “Just write what you feel and sooner or later you’ll figure out what you’re doing, because that’s the only way anyone learns” creative writing workshops. And after that, when you have the words down, come back here to find out how wrong that approach is.

I believe with all my heart that the rules and paradigms that I’m going to break out in this series of posts work better than anything else. Thanks in advance for giving me a chance to prove it to you.

NEXT: The Language of Story