Thursday, May 16, 2013

Idiot's Guide to eBooks – pt. 1 Kindle Direct

I am The Idiot, bumbling through self-publishing, sharing what I learn along the way.

Here is a fun fact: on its website Amazon lists all kinds of file formats for upload, but not mobi. However, you can upload mobi without a problem. I'm starting to learn how useless and often incorrect official instruction are. Recently I learned that my self-published books had font issues on Kindle Paperwhite. Okay, it's my fault for not checking them thoroughly enough, but I made then the Amazon-recommended way, using MS word to create html. Big mistake. I also learned that others, using a different process, had different font issues on different devices. On the Amazon forum there's a thread dedicated to frustrated readers complaining about misbehaving fonts.

After a couple of days of hair pulling and mobi file deconstructions later I got to the heart of the matter. A mobi file is a lot like a zip file, containing multiple files, one or more of which is a CSS file. In case of the books that had problems the CSS file contained a piece of code defining fonts. Evidently, the Kindle devices choke on it.

I did some testing and found out the trouble causing code is absent from mobi files made with Scrivener. Scrivener is a great writing tool to begin with and cheap to boot ($45.-). Available for Mac and PC both.

This guide is about making mobi files for Kindle Direct, using Scrivener.


First of all, you'll need Scrivener. (Duh!) If you already have it, update to the latest version.

Secondly, you'll need KendleGen. Download the latest version here.

And thirdly, download and install Kindle Previewer.

I write in Scrivener but export it out as a Word document, before sending it to my editor. When it's only a short story I make the necessary changes in the Scrivener file, but that would be impractical with novels that often go though several rounds of edits. For this reason I will start with the assumption that you have a Word file to start with.

Preparing your book

1.     Open the Word doc, turn off Tracking, clean up the file, make sure there are no highlights, comments, etc. Delete title, dedication, all front matter you may have. Resave under new name.

2.     Open Scrivener, Menu: File-> New Project. Select Fiction and Novel. Do NOT select Short Story even if your story is one. Name it.

3.     There will be some stuff on the left side, under "Binder" that you'd be using when writing but don't need for this:

You'll need the Front Matter.

4.     Select "Manuscript" on the left. Menu: File->Import->Files. Import your Word doc.

5.     Delete chapter heading (as in "Chapter One"). Scroll down in the text to then next chapter. Put your curser in front of the chapter heading. Menu: Document->Split->At selection. This will break up the document and you'll see your new chapter appear on the left sidebar. Delete the chapter heading again, scroll down to find the next chapter and do the same thing again. Keep doing this till you run out of chapters.

6.     Right-click on a chapter in the sidebar. A window will open. Scroll down and select Group. It'll create a folder for each chapter. Name the folders appropriately.

7.     Select the Research folder in the sidebar and import the book cover the same way you imported the doc file. Alternately, you can simply drag and drop the file. (You could also import the image into the Front Matter folder or one of its sub-folders.) Use a large, high quality jpg image. (I always use covers that are 1800x2700 pixels in size.)

(There's a sample cover art file in the E-Book folder. You can get rid of it.)

8.     Now you have a decision to make. How much front matter do you want in your ebook? I prefer to have a little more info, so I chose "Paperback Novel" and beef up the content.

9.     I like to put extra eye candy there, but it's optional. To add graphic, import it first. Next have the desired page selected and drag the graphic from the side bar into the page.

10.     I also add a blurb—some readers appreciate it. I usually drop copyright notice, etc. on this page. I have the dedication on a separate page, however.

11.     If you want, you can add a few extras at the back of the book, like biography, blurb(s)/excerpt(s) of your other book(s). Select Manuscript. Right-click and select Add->New Folder. Name it something fitting, like Biography. Select this new folder and click on the add icon on top (plus sign in a green circle). It'll create a page within the folder. Type or copy/paste the desired content into it.

Compiling your book

Now you're ready to make a mobi file. Click on the Compile Icon. A window will appear with a list of settings.

1.     Contents. At the bottom choose Compile For: Kindle eBook (.mobi). The "Add front matter" radio button will probably be already checked. Select the one that you chose to use earlier. Click the "Pg Break Before" radio buttons where you think you want page breaks. Unlike in print you don't have to have page break before every new chapter, especially since the next set of settings will set up all the necessary breaks.

2.     Separators you can leave as is. (The Text separator would play a role if your chapters were broken down to individual scenes.)

3.     Cover. Click and scroll to your cover.

4.     Formatting.

Change it like this:

5.     Leaving the Title selected would be necessary if I wanted my chapters have subtitles. (In which case I'd name the folders the subtitle.) If you have centered text anywhere in your document, click on Options.  Under Tex Formatting Override Options select Preserve alignment & Centered text only.

6.     Title Adjustments. Next to "Do not add title prefix or suffix to documents" click on "Choose" and select all the folders one by one.

If you don't do this, you'll end up with double chapter headers. (It comes handy if you're doing something fancy, like multiple stories within the same book, where the chapter numbering restarts from one with each story.)

7.     Layout. You can ignore this too, unless you do NOT want html table of contents.

8.     Transformations. Deselect all, but "Straighten smart quotes."

9.     Meta-Data is the next selection you need to pay attention to. Fill out the title, author at the minimum. (I believe Kindle devices pull the author and title info from here to display on top of the screen.)

10.     You can ignore the next few settings.

11.     KindleGen. If you haven't set this up already, click on the "Change" button and select the location of the KindleGen file. (You won't have to do it again with the next project.)

12.     Click Compile. Name your book and select a location for it.

You're almost there, just need to test your file. Open Kindle Previewer. (Sometimes it's slow to open.) Click on "Open Book" and select your mobi file. The book will open on the first page of the story, like it would on the Kindle devices and apps. To go to the very beginning you need to hit the cover icon on top. Check your book back and forth, and for all devices. Make sure that the font sizes are adjustable, and that on Kindle Paperwhite the font face can be changed.

If everything is fine, you're done. Your file is ready for upload.


  1. Brilliant! I did (almost) all of this for my own MOBI version and things came out quite well, I think. I am definitely looking forward to your next "guides" after today's FB discussion. Thank you again, Lou!

    1. No problem. It seems so tedious at first but in time you get into the swing of it and it's not so bad.

  2. Wow, there's loads of stuff here to refine my mobi creation process. Thanks, Lou!

  3. I'm definitely gonna bookmark this. Thanks, Lou.