Create Your Own Kindle EBook, Step by Step, With Pictures

Important Note: As of November 2012 Amazon appears to be rejecting some ebooks created using Calibre. More on this subject can be found here.

Today I am starting a series on how to publish your own ebook. I have had a fair amount of interest in my posts on this subject  over the past few months and I wanted to give some substance to my claim that self-publishing an ebook is not much harder than pushing Save on your word-processor.

Important Note 2 : If you own a Mac and a copy of Scrivener you may want to consider reading this post instead. It talks about an even easier way to format not only ebooks but print books.

Honestly, this is really true, with the proviso that you are producing a novel or a short story and that you do things correctly right from the start. I won’t talk about picture books or books with footnotes, citations and references because I have no experience of such things. I have, however, as of this date, published six of my own novels and a few of my own short stories and I have found the process absurdly simple.

I recommend reading Mark Coker’s excellent Smashwords Style Guide (available free here) if you want to have a full overview of the technical whys and wherefors of what’s going on but such an understanding is not really essential if you follow the procedures I outline here. This guide is as stripped down as I can make it, with pictures showing you which buttons to push! If you just follow the steps outlined you should end up with a perfectly serviceable ebook.

Today I am going to concentrate on the Kindle. I am not going to talk about any of the other options such as iBooks or B&N’s Pubbit because I don’t have accounts with them. Smashwords can get you on to all of these publishers and more such as Kobo, should you desire such things. I’ll talk about Smashwords in a future article. For the moment, let’s just concentrate on getting your work up on Amazon’s Kindle which is right now far and away the biggest game in town.

You’re eventually going to need an account with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Just follow the link and then follow the instructions. You don’t need to worry about this too much now though. This time around I am just going to walk you through the process of creating the ebook file you will upload to Amazon.

You are also going to need a few more things, most of which are free or which as a writer contemplating publishing a novel or short story you really should already have. You will need a copy of Calibre ( a free open source ebook library and ebook creation program), a word-processor and a novel or short story. Calibre works on Windows, OSX and Linux so the methods I am about to outline will work for most anybody with access to a computer.

Got them? Good. Let’s get started.

Most ebooks use a simplified form of HTML, the same markup language used to make web-pages. They don’t really use or need complex formatting any more than a simple web page does. When writing a book you just need to keep your text as clean as possible, which means using a minimum of styles.

For a novel, all you really need is a Header style and the Normal style. If your book is only divided by chapters, you should use the Header One style for your Chapter headers. If your book is broken up in a more complex fashion such as into parts, chapters and possibly even sub-chapters, you should use your headers hierarchically. Parts should be Header One, Chapters should be Header Two, sub-chapters Header Three. The reasons for this will become obvious later. I will assume for a novel you will only use chapters. For a short story, the only header you might have will be the title itself.

You can use italics and bold in your text as much as you like but you should restrain yourself from using anything else. Don’t mark out your paragraphs with tabs and don’t use multiple paragraph marks for anything. Don’t create paragraph indents with multiple spaces, use a Paragraph Style with a first line indent instead. You can set this in your word-processor using the Styles Menu. Use Reveal Formatting to see exactly how things look.

Another Markup For Blog

As you are writing, follow these simple rules. Separate out your scenes with a single line between paragraphs. Mark your chapter headings with the header style. If you have already written your book, I would recommend simply selecting all the text and removing any styles from the text that are in place (unless your book is already in this format, of course). Switch on Reveal Formatting and go through your text removing any paragraph indents created with tabs or spaces, if there are any. Once that is done, give all the selected text the normal style. Now go through your text using Find. Search out your chapter headings and make sure they are all in your chosen Header style. In this example you can see that I have centred and bolded the Header Style.

Don’t forget to put your copyright information at the start of your manuscript. A simple declaration of title, author’s name and the release date is enough here.

Done that? Good. Go to the Save As menu and save the text as HTML. You’re ready to move on to the next stage. (One small tip here, I usually load my Word files into Libre Office or OpenOffice before I save them as HTML. Libre/OpenOffice produces much cleaner HTML code than Word. You can save directly from Word if you like though. Of course, if your chosen word processor is OpenOffice you don’t have to think too hard about this.)

You need to start Calibre and add your HTML text to your collection. You do this by hitting the Add Books Button. (From here on out all the pictures will be from the OSX version of Calibre, but it looks pretty much exactly the same in Windows. I have used the Windows version for creating all my ebooks. It’s just easier to take annotated screenshots on the Mac.)

Calibre 1

Add your books HTML file to Calibre. After you’ve done that, you should see something like this. The HTML file for your book will be added to the central library list.

Calibre 2

If you look in the bottom right hand corner, you will see that the format is ZIP. Don’t worry about this. You will be changing it soon. Hit the Convert books button. (It’s the third one from the left, just in case your eyesight is as bad as mine!) You’ll see something that looks like this.

Calibre 3

On the top left of your screen you will see a drop down menu that says Input format ZIP. This is correct. Leave it like that. On the top right it should say Output format MOBI. If it does not set the output format to MOBI on the drop down menu. This is the format Amazon uses for it’s ebooks currently. Beneath the output format you’ll see a bunch of boxes for metadata such as Title, Author(s), Publisher etc. Set these to whatever is appropriate here. When you upload the book to Amazon it won’t have a huge effect since you will set this data on Amazon’s site for reference there. The metadata you put in here will still be in the file though and will remain if someone converts your book to a different format if you choose to sell it without DRM (which I think you should, but that’s an article for another day :)).

Next you will need to add your cover. There are two points I need to make here. I have deliberately skipped the process of cover creation because that is really a separate post in itself. (Also I must confess that my highly talented wife does this for me.) You can create your own covers in a number of ways using Photoshop, the Gimp, many different image editing programs, even Powerpoint. You can also pay a professional to do your cover for you. The important thing is that you get an image you like and that it is 600 by 800 pixels. Obviously it should have your author name and book title and an image that tells your reader something about the contents of your book on it.)

The second point I need to mention is that the box you will need to push to add this image is actually hidden in the picture above and , if you have a screen setup like mine, you will need to scroll down to reveal it. If you are anything like me and I don’t mention this, you may end up spending hours looking for the box and cursing me because it’s not there. This is what it should look like when you scroll down the screen a bit.

Calibre 4

Click on the Change Cover Image Box and load your cover file. Once you’ve done that you should see something like this (with your own image, of course.) The image appearing will tell you that Calibre has acquired your cover.

Calibre 5

Ok-that’s cover and metadata set, let’s move on. Click on the Look And Feel Tab and set the button to remove spacing between paragraphs. If you don’t do this your paragraphs will end up indented as as well as having an line between them which is overkill. Usually for fiction, the convention is to have indented paragraphs. For non-fiction, it’s non-indented paragraphs with a line between them. You should choose one or the other.

Calibre 6

You can ignore the heuristic processing tab and move straight on to Page Setup. Set input profile to Default Input Profile. Set output profile to Kindle.

Calibre 7

Now we come to structure detection. This is where the correct use of headers is important. Assuming you have used the proper levels of heading Calibre will detect the structure automatically and you can leave these settings as is. You can ignore the stuff in the box about Xpath expressions. This is just Calibre telling itself what to look for. You don’t need to do anything with them.

Calibre 8

The same applies to the Table of Contents tab.

Calibre 9

If for any reason you need to adjust these things manually, you can click on the Magic Wand button and a sub-panel will appear.

Calibre 10

If you need to make manual adjustments to the setup of your menu you can use the drop down to make sure that the HTML tags in your documents produce the correct levels of heading in your table of contents i.e Header One will produce a top level Table of Content link, Header Two will produce the next level and so on. If you’ve done your initial document setup properly, you should never need to do this. Calibre will do it automatically. I am just mentioning it here for the sake of completeness.

Calibre 11

That’s it! You can ignore the rest of the Tabs and hit the OK button here!

Calibre 12

Once you hit the OK button, you’ll need to wait a short time while Calibre processes your ebook. You’ll see a little text box in the bottom right hand corner that says Jobs:1. A wheel icon will turn until the job is complete once it is done you should see this.

Calibre 13

And that’s it. You’ve created your Kindle ebook. If you click on where it says MOBI next to Formats: you will get a preview of your ebook in Mobi Format that looks something like this.

Calibre 14

Better yet if you click Path: Click to Open, you will get access to the actual MOBI file of your ebook. You can preview this on Kindle Previewer or transfer it to your Kindle or the Kindle app on your smartphone or computer to see what it looks like. This is the actual file you will upload to Amazon. We’ll deal with that next time.

Calibre 15

Calibre 16

I realise all of these steps seem a little complex, the first time you do them but trust me, they soon become second nature. After a few attempts, you will be able to run through this whole procedure in a couple of minutes. I do. This method also has the great advantage of letting you create EPUB files simply by changing the output format during the initial step with Calibre.

Important Note: As of November 2012 Amazon appears to be rejecting some ebooks created using Calibre. More on this subject can be found here.

Comments

  1. Michael Mooney says:

    The world lost a great technical writer when you chose fiction. Good. I don’t need the competition.

  2. Cory Rathbun says:

    Hey, thanks for this! I have a friend who’s currently trimming his 123k word sci-fi novel to try and find an agent and publisher arrangement.. going to direct him here in case he decides to go another way!

    Appreciated. :)

    • Thanks Cory!

    • Hey, Cory:

      perhaps your friend should put up the book anyway at the various e-retail sites. Then he’d have some sales numbers to show a publisher, maybe reviews etc if they want it, and he’d generate some income from the work. One of the good things about indie pub is you can always take the book down.

      Alos, he =might want to split the book into two for the purposes of indie pub and generate 2x the income.

      Food for thought, nes pa?

  3. I can hear the publishers and book formatting merchants screaming, drawing your face on a flag and burning it in the street already! ;-) great article and great Sky Pirates cover!

    • Thanks Sean. It’s just that I’ve had a lot of interest in and questions about this subject and I thought I would put what little I know out there :).

  4. Bill,
    Thanks man! You are totally my hero for posting this.

  5. Thank you so much Bill. This is great!
    Having acquired a version of Scrivener lately, I wondered what you would think about the “Export…” function of it – since you seem to use Scrivener yourself quite a lot.
    Is there perhaps a reason, that you show the conversion with calibre, other than it being open source?

    • Hey Tim, Thanks! Scrivener does indeed have an excellent export function, which I have even used. The reason I do things this way is that my work goes to editors who don’t use Scrivener. They use Microsoft Word. This leaves me with two choices, the first of which is to import the document back into Scrivener once I have approved the changes. This is actually pretty easy on the Mac version but less so on the Windows version at the moment. (On the Mac, you can divide the document up on import at the Chapter headings, this function is not available on the Windows version.)

      The alternative is to do what I do here and just load the edited document into Calibre. In this series of posts I am trying to present the cheapest and easiest way to get books out there for the largest number of people. Since not everybody owns Scrivener or wants to use it, I think Calibre is the best alternative. I very strongly suspect that within the next couple of years all word processors will have an export to epub function which will make all of this largely irrelevant but at the moment this is how it is :).

  6. Fantastic job, Bill! Clear and easy to follow. I’ll use this for my next novel and I’ll spread the link around. Thanks, and can’t wait to see the next in the series.

  7. Awesome guide, William. I had no idea how to use calibre to its maximum potential. Thanks.

  8. William, u made the steps so simple. Thank you very much

    Jason

  9. Nadin Ghazy says:

    Thank u

  10. Hi William,

    I only read 50% of your article so far but it looks like an awesome piece of help! I will follow your instruction later step by step and will release my first kindle ebook;)!

    Thanks a lot!!!!

  11. Hay Sir,
    This is just … absolute … well, you are my dream come true. For three years I have been trying to get someone to publish my stories. Now, I am over the moon! I will follow your instructions through once I have re-read the whole article.
    Problem is, my stories are 2 to 3 pages long. (A4 Verdana font size 8 on Microsoft Word). I have about 400 such stories. Maximum length I have ever written is 9 pages. I notice that there is a minimum pricing and I want to know, how many stories or pages should I be aiming for per book [I know you cannot dictate precisely but what would be reasonable?] for around a Fiver a book?
    Once again, Many Thanks for your wise thinking and publishing this article.
    May you continue to prosper.

  12. Tiffany says:

    As many have already said, thanks!!! I was going by trial and error through Calibre, trying to make it format properly. Had no idea it was so picky about formatting!!

  13. vasanth says:

    very good useful

  14. Many thanks for this article, it is more than helpful.

    I have used a copy of my book to start the process with Calibre, however, have you any comments on how to apply the table of contents?

    • There is a tab called Table of Contents with the controls there. If you have set your document up properly– with styled level one headers, Calibre can automatically detect and create a table of contents. Hope this helps :).

      • Many thanks for your reply, there is one more question I would like to ask.

        I have two images I want to set side by side prior to the TOC.

        For example: a page showing the title, turn over with two image pages side by side, followed by copyright, followed by TOC.

        How can I ensure that Kindle puts these images where I want them?

        Thank you

        • I am not sure you can, Ray. I actually don’t know if you can get that level of control over positioning an image within an ebook i.e. putting them side by side. Most ebook formats are just really basic HTML. The only way I can think of doing what you are asking is making the two images into a single image in the configuration you want.

  15. Ray Edwards says:

    William, thanks for your reply.

    My book and TOC (in style headings 1) has been done with word then converted to HTML.

    Every thing works except the TOC it does not automatically convert. It certainly doesn’t come out as shown when Kindle is created.

    When I look at my TOC in my created book it is very random.

    I have tried Calibre forum but no one seems to come back.

    I am now at a loss.

    • Hey Ray– I am at a loss as well. I used to export my file from Word to OpenOffice and then save it as HTML because OpenOffice’s code is cleaner, but I don’t know if that will help in this case. There are several alternative methods of creating an ebook. These days I use Scrivener (which has a free trial for 30 days). I have used Jutoh too which works very well. An alternative you could consider is signing up for an account with Draft2Digital. Their conversion process is excellent direct from Word and they do not (currently) mind you downloading your file from their site.

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