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.