Publishing Your Book to Kindle: How to create a professional looking ebook file

When it was time for me to create a Kindle version of my latest novel, I read a lot of posts about converting from WORD to .mobi format. Things are always changing. How do you do it now?

Most of the help docs were very general. Okay, so I use Calibre to convert it. Great! But how do I get the chapter titles to look right? How do I fix the Table of Contents? How do I add links for special pages like the dedication page to the TOC, but not have the text for the TOC entry show up on the actual page? I had lots of questions, and it took a lot of hunting around and trial-and-error to figure it all out.

Here’s what I did, step-by-step.

You can see the finished product here. The Kindle version is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, at least for now, and it's only $2.99 if you buy it, so it won’t break the bank if you want to see how it came out. (And you might like the story. So go ahead. Help out a kindred indie-author and risk the $2.99! I hope you will post a nice review if you enjoy it.)

Tools: WORD doc (my manuscript was written in WORD), Calibre (conversion software application for making a .mobi file), MacBook Pro (or whatever machine you have). There are other tools, but this article is about WORD and Calibre in particular. I'm also assuming you have the cover art done. That's a topic for another post.

Step 1: Get the final content into the WORD doc.

Add the front matter and end matter.

You need a title page, a copyright page, and so on. What do you put in? How do you format it?

I started by looking at a stack of trade paperbacks to see what other publishers were doing, what features I thought seemed important, and what formats looked the best. There’s a lot of variation. Being something of a minimalist, I chose to keep it simple: Include the basic things people expect to see and one or two things I especially wanted to include.

I didn’t include a lengthy copyright notice or an author bio, for example. I opted for the simplest copyright statement, which to me looks cleaner and nicer than an elaborate statement about rights and requesting permission to reprint, and so on. And I figure people can look me up if they want to read about me. Keep it simple and get the reader right into the story as quickly as possible.

For front matter, at the top of the WORD file, I added:

  • Title page content: book title, subtitle (the series name and volume), author name. Centered text, the title set to style Title, the rest in normal text set to a larger font size than the regular text.
  • Copyright page content: publisher logo, publisher name and city/state, book title, series subtitle, copyright, edition name, ISBN, cover design credit. All centered, with blank lines between to space it the way I wanted it.
  • Dedication page content: just the dedication and nothing else, centered on two lines

For end matter, after end of the last chapter, I added:

  • Logo, as a separator: just the logo on a blank page. I didn't want the story to run into the acknowledgements page.
  • Acknowledgements page content: short thank-you messages to my editor and artist. Full justification.
  • Next-in-series page content, with website links: the title of the next book in the series, and website links to read more or sign up for a notification when the next book is out. All centered.

Step 2: Clean up.

Some things need to be formatted in the WORD doc before you convert it. The cleaner you get the orignial, the more successful the conversion will be. For my book, I did this:

Remove blank lines between chapters, either before or after the chapter title. They aren’t needed, since the chapter titles are going to create the break between one chapter and the next, when it's converted for Kindle — and a blank line might cause things like an extraneous blank page at the end of the chapter.

Style the book title and chapter titles.

Here's what's going on: When you convert the WORD version to .mobi using the Calibre application, Calibre finds the chapter titles by looking for things formatted as headers. When it finds them, it also does nice things like starting each chapter on its own page, and creating the Table of Contents (TOC). But for it to work properly, you have to have the chapter titles and other elements formatted consistently. You do this by setting the Style for each chapter title (and for special pages like the title page and dedication, if you want them to be included in the TOC).

Here's how to do it:

  • Go to View >> Styles to open the style selections window *
  • Select the book title text, and set it to Title in the style selector
  • Select each chapter title and set it to Heading 2 **

* One of the frustrations with software how-to articles is that software is always changing. Nine out of ten articles tell you the wrong place to find tools. As of right now, in WORD for OSX, the style selector is at View >> Styles — but in your version it might be somewhere else. You might have to search for “style selector” or something like that. The Style selector shows you a list of styles to choose, such as Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.

** You could probably use Heading 1 for chapter titles. I thought I might want to use Heading 1 for the book subtitle, but didn’t in the end, so chapter titles were Heading 2 in my case. I didn’t bother changing them all to Heading 1. The important thing is for them all to be the same.

Important: Remove any blank lines that are within the Title, Heading 1, or Heading 2 styled text.

Example: Suppose after a chapter title there is a blank line to separate the title from the chapter text. If that blank line is set to Style Header 2 (or Header 1, or whatever you are using), you will have a blank menu item in your Table of Contents.

So if you want to insert space anywhere around something that appears in your TOC, make sure those blank lines are styled as “normal” text.

Update the appearance of Heading 2 (and/or Heading 1, or Titlewhichever you are using)

I wanted my chapter titles to be centered and not colored blue as they were by default, for example. To fix this, you need to update the styles associated with Heading 2 (or Heading 1, or whatever you are using), like this:

  • Go to View >> Styles to see the styles selections, if you didn’t already do this.
  • Find the one you want to change. Hover over it, and you will see a black drop-down arrow. Hover over that, and select “Modify style” from the drop-down menu.
  • You can now change the color, the font (I used Times New Roman for everything), the size, etc., and set it to centered if you want.

Note: For my project, I found that I needed to decrease the font size for the chapter titles. Initially they came out enormous in Kindle, so I set my chapter title style (heading 2) to a smaller font size. It made them look too small in WORD, but they looked right in the converted Kindle version. I had to try a few times and view on Kindle to get it the way I wanted it. But when you edit the styles for, say, Heading 2, it automatically updates all instances. You don’t have to do this for each chapter title individually.

Set certain things to show up in the Table of Contents but NOT in the page.

I wanted a couple of things in the TOC, such as “Title Page” and “Dedication.” But I didn’t want the title page to be titled, “Title Page” or the dedication page to be titled “Dedication,” since that would look silly. For these, I added Heading 2 text on the page as if I were adding chapter titles, then set them to “hidden”:

  • Type the title, such as “Title Page,” as you want it to appear in the TOC, and use the Style selector to set it to Heading 2 (or whatever you are using).
  • Select the text again, and go to Format >> Font >> then check “Hidden.”

Note: If you mess it up (say, you type “Tittle Page” or something, or you accidentally set a blank line below the hidden text to Heading 2, creating a blank TOC item), you can go to Word >> Preferences >> View >> Hidden Text — to un-hide them. But then you need to hide them all again once you fix it. Maybe there is an easier way to fix them, but this will work in a pinch.

Make sure the font is uniform.

I set my book to Times New Roman (TNR), on the assumption that it was a common font, and probably most people are going to have their own font set in their reader, anyway. Mainly I wanted to make sure the book was consistent, not jumping around from one font to another accidentally. So I selected the entire text and set it to TNR. I didn’t sent the font size at this point, since that would mess up chapter titles, subtitles, etc.

Note: If you think you have random changes in font size in your book, you might want to set the entire text to some specific font size. But then you will have to re-do any custom sizes that you wanted, such as making the dedication text larger. Be careful not to set the entire book to, say, not-italic, or you could remove all italics formatting accidentally. Save first / make the change / test.

At this point, here’s what I have:

  • All the text is set to TNR font.
  • The title is set to the style Title.
  • The chapter titles and hidden titles for the TOC are set to style Header 2.
  • Header 2 is set to black/centered/the size I want.
  • There are no extraneous blank lines before or after chapter titles.

Step 3: Convert to Kindle version

This is the easiest part. Calibre has most of this pre-set for you. There are tons of things you can change if you want, but there are only a few essential things. Here's how I do it:

  • Open the Calibre application.
  • Drag your WORD file into Calibre.
  • Once it finishes pulling the file in, right-click it in Calibre, and select Convert books >> convert individually.
  • Change a few settings and enter the basic data about the book:
    • Output format (upper right):set it to MOBI.
    • Type in the title, author, and publisher/series if applicable.
    • Change cover image: Select your cover art image. (This is something for a separate post. You need the right size/format for cover art.)
    • Page Setup: change the Output Profile to “Kindle.”
    • Structure Detection: This is where you tell Calibre what you used for your chapter title and special page title styles.
      • Go to Insert page breaks before (XPath Expression)
      •  Click the wand tool.
      •  Under “Match HTML tags with tag name,” select H2 (if you used Heading 2, or H1 if you used Heading 1)
  • Then click “Ok” to convert it.

Calibre then creates the .mobi file. The new file, along with the WORD file you dragged to Calibre, are in a folder. You don’t have to hunt for the folder. Calibre has a handy “Click to open” link that will open the folder for you. Inside you’ll find your shiny new .mobi version.

Step 4: Test

If you don't have a Kindle reader, I'd suggest buying or borrowing one. There are software Kindle emulator applications you can use to test your file and make sure it looks okay, but I recommend testing on a real device at some point.

You can get the new .mobi file onto your device by emailing the file as an attachment to the email address of the Kindle device. Whoever owns the Kindle first has to log in to his/her Kindle account and add your email address as a sender. At the same time, the person can find the email address of the device, if you don't know it already.

Be sure to check the Table of Contents (at the end, or use Kindle's navigation menu), and check all of the front matter and end matter.

That's it! I'm sure I missed some tricks and stumbling blocks. Questions? Know a better way to do it? Post a comment and tell me your method.

Calibre conversion screen