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I hope you were all inspired by the exciting new Kindle family and what it means for ebook consumption. If you're ready to take the plunge, this article will help. This is a guest post from the lovely Simon Cheshire who is now helping writers with ebook file conversions. I am hugely grateful for this because I have a very low patience threshold, and patience is critical for ebook formatting!
I've been producing Kindle-ready ebooks for a while now. Through a process of trial and error (sometimes it's been a trial, and it's easy to make lots of errors) I've realized that the whole experience needn't leave you tearing your hair out in frustration, provided you keep a few basic dos and don'ts in mind.
1. Your code can never be too clean
Although you CAN upload Word documents to Amazon for auto-conversion into Kindle format, I'd say don't. Unless you're prepared to keep re-uploading it until all the weird layout glitches are ironed out. The Kindle uses a version of HTML, and if you want your ebook to look good you should start with an HTML file, with the text derived from a format-stripped, plain TXT source. Everything, from paragraph marks and italics to chapter headings and em dashes, should be individually coded. Yes, that means a LOT of work, but clean, clear HTML code is at the heart of the ebook ecosystem.
2. Choose your keywords carefully
Until recently, Amazon allowed uploaders to add as many keyword tags to their Kindle titles as they liked (i.e. words which will help the book show up in searches), but not any more. You're currently allowed just seven, so choose them with great care. Don't just put down vampire or Harry Potter assuming it'll put your book at the top of most reader's searches. It won't.
3. Ebooks are not printed books
An ebook is a fundamentally different thing to a printed book. A printed book has a layout, a physical look, that cannot be replicated electronically (unless you're dealing with PDF files, and they're a whole other ball game…!) When you come to prepare your book for the Kindle, bear in mind that things like graphics, boxes, tables and lists look great in print, but can look a horrible mess in an ebook. Ebook text is not fixed. It flows according to the reader's preferences, not the writer's. Minimise anything that will impede that flow.
4. Don't underestimate the value of your work
There's great debate all over the ebook world about pricing. All to often, the advice is: make it as near to free as possible. While this does entice some readers, it also badly devalues the long hours of work you've put into your book. You wouldn't get Gordon Ramsey flogging dinners for the same price as a Big Mac, would you? Or Apple doing iPhones for the same as an entry-level pay-as-you-go? All Kindle titles can be sampled before they're bought. If the book is good, readers will pay a fair price for it. I'd say a fair price is a few dollars less than the print equivalent.
5. Plan ahead
When you come to write your NEXT masterpiece, think ahead. If you're only going to publish in electronic format, don't write it in something like Word at all, just use a simple text editor. It makes for far less work later on. Or even, if you're confident with HTML, code as you go! Insert your bold tags and your line break tags in with the story if you like, rather than putting things in bold, or whatever.
Simon Cheshire is the author of 16 books and you can find his books on Amazon. He has converted all his books himself so he knows the importance of formatting for Kindle sales. He is now doing ebook conversion with The Creative Penn clients, as well as cover design and typesetting. You can also listen/ watch an interview with him here about writing children’s books.
Once you have a converted file, you can learn everything else you need to know about ebook publishing in my mini-course. Click here to learn more about it.
Top image: Flickr CC GoXunuReviews