This morning I'm having coffee with Steven Lewis, author of How to Format Perfect Kindle Books. If you've been looking for a comprehensive guide to help you format your ebook for Amazon, this is it.
I met Steven through Taleist, his blog for self-publishers. I'm a reader-fan of his blog where he advises authors about formatting and marketing their books.
Today's blog post is must-reading for all self-publishing authors. Steven has concisely and accurately explained what the new devises and format changes mean. Tell your friends and pass along this information.
(Note: I changed Steven's Aussie spellings to the American versions.)
What Amazon’s New Format & Devices Mean for Self-Publishers
by Steven Lewis
The Kindle world just got better and more complicated at the same time. It's more complicated because Amazon's just announced a new format for its ebooks and it's launched new Kindles as well as a Kindle tablet. It's got better because of those same things. Here's what self-publishing authors need to know.
The New Kindles
The Kindle Fire is Amazon's tablet, an iPad competitor, designed to give its owners a cheap device ($199) on which to buy lots of content from Amazon -- TV shows, movies, music and, yes, books. It's like your cable company selling you a TV at a fraction of the usual price in return for your accepting that it will not be easy to watch anyone else's channels on it. It ships this month.
Also shipping this month are the new Touchscreen Kindles; as well as an entry-level model that doesn't have a touchscreen (only $79).
New models and low prices guarantee Amazon goodies galore under Christmas trees this year and those new Kindle owners are going to need books!
Kindle Format 8
Amazon ebooks are really just webpages. You might have uploaded your ebook to Amazon as a Word document or a PDF but what happened behind the scenes was that it was converted into HTML, which is the simple computer language behind most webpages. This is also what Smashwords does with its "Meatgrinder" when turning your Word document into ebook formats.
Amazon has a special version of HTML called MOBI, which it's replacing "soon" with Kindle Format 8 (KF8).
Kindle Format 8 is based on the most recent updates to HTML, which will affect most profoundly authors whose layouts rely heavily on images, e.g. recipe books, children's books, comics, etc.
The changes do have something for every self-publisher, however. You will, for instance, be able to include a font with your book so you're no longer limited to the one and only font that's included with the Kindle now. You'll also have more control over the layout of your book, e.g. spacing, margins, sidebars, and more options in terms of color.
Intersection Between New Kindles & New Format
Older Kindles will never be able to display the new KF8 features. You might, for instance, include a font with your book but on older devices your book will display in the standard Kindle font.
Older Kindle includes every one of the tens of millions of devices shipped before the new ones are released this month so you don't want to ignore them when creating your book.
Gap Between Formatting & Converting Your Book
There has always been a big difference between using software to "convert" your manuscript to an HTML ebook and "formatting it" (going through the book by hand to make sure the HTML is correct). The range of capabilities in the extended Kindle family means that gap is wider.
If you don't want to use the new features included in KF8, you're in the same position as you always have been. Just as before you take a risk relying on automated conversion but it's the same risk self-publishers have been taking since the Kindle was launched.
If you do want to use the new features, there's no chance you'll be able to achieve that with automated conversion. You will have to format your book around those features rather than hoping to convert the book directly from Word or a PDF.
Where publishers do use new KF8 features, Amazon is going to do some magic behind the scenes to make sure your book is still readable on older Kindles, i.e. Amazon will have to find another way to display on older Kindles those parts of the book that use KF8 features.
Same problem, Same Solution
You can't format Kindle books two ways -- one (MOBI) for the older devices and one (KF8) for the new ones. Instead self-publishers have the same two choices they had before:
1. Format their books themselves into Amazon's format (used to be MOBI, now KF8) before uploading them to Amazon's KDP. This gives you total control over how your book looks because Amazon isn't doing anything to it after you've uploaded it.
2. Upload their books to the KDP in another format (Word, PDF or EPUB) and have Amazon's software convert the book to KF8 (used to be MOBI). The way your book looks in the end is somewhat out of your control because Amazon's software has the final say.
If you're using features that are specific to KF8, e.g. embedded fonts, you probably have only the first choice.
What you see is what you get. I've written a book about how to format your manuscript for the Kindle, and I also format books for authors, so of course I'm going to tell you not to rely on automated conversion whether you want advanced features or not.
You don't have to take my word for it about conversion vs. formatting, however. When it officially launches KF8 "soon," Amazon is going to be updating its Kindle Previewer software to give you a way to see how your book will look on each version of the Kindle. (Remember, someone who reviews your book on Amazon and says it had lousy formatting isn't going to care that it looks great on someone else's version of the Kindle.)
What Should You Do
My advice is:
1. Try conversion and see how it works for your book, if you don't mind not having total control over how it looks. Just be sure to preview it for all Kindles before you publish it.
2. If there are problems, you probably need to learn some HTML (it isn't hard, I promise) or pay someone to do it for you. Problems are hard to fix using your conversion software because it did the best job it could do in the first place.
3. Be excited! The new format gives you even more ways to create great-looking ebooks; and the excitement about the new Kindle models means there will be millions more potential readers for you by the end of the year. Those people need your book to buy!
The generosity of authors in sharing their expertise always amazes me. I hope you will thank Steven, and the other authors who guest star on SlingWords, by purchasing a book.
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