The e-Publishing Diaries: Formatting Kindle eBooks, Part 1

August 7 (P Minus 25): Thank you to everyone who has responded to the blog tour request! I’m putting the details together and will get back to you within a couple of days. 

When many people think of e-publishing, the first thing that comes to mind are ebooks for Amazon’s Kindle, which is why I want to spend at least a couple of posts in this series on that format specifically. When I first considered the possibility of e-publishing, I assumed that offering Oscar as a Kindle ebook was all I would want or need to do.

I soon learned it’s not quite that simple (see also author Elizabeth Spann Craig’s thoughts on the ebook challenge). Different companies and e-readers (for example, Amazon’s Kindle and B&N’s Nook) require different kinds of file formats (mobi and epub, respectively). Wikipedia has a good breakdown of the different formats, with tables at the bottom of the article that offer quick visual comparisons of features.

Guest writer Guido Henkel on The Creative Penn explains why he takes the time and effort to customize his works for each of the different formats, rather than limiting himself only to mobi and/or epub, or using a company such as Smashwords to do the formatting and distribution for him (click on any Smashwords title to see a listing at the bottom of the screen of available ebook reading formats):

“To me it is important to give my readers the choice to read in whatever format works best for them. I would never want a single reader to abort a purchase because he or she realizes that the book is not available for their format of choice. Even if I make only a single sale in the Palm format, I feel it was worth the effort, if only to show that I care.” Read More

So while this post is about Kindle (mobi) formatting, I want to be sure to be clear that mobi is far from the only game in town, especially with Nook’s color capability and the iPad’s interactive potential. Since Kindle ebooks are perhaps the best known, however, let’s begin.

First, if you have never done any ebook formatting, and especially if you aren’t that familiar with html, I recommend using MobiPocket Creator (free to download), which allows you to “build” a mobi file using a fairly intuitive drag and drop system.

The bulk of the work comes in creating “clean” html files to upload to Mobipocket Creator. Give yourself a few days or weeks to learn. CJ’s Easy as Pie Kindle Tutorials are an excellent free resource to take you through the steps, or, if you don’t mind spending a few dollars, get a copy of Joshua Tallent’s Kindle Formatting: The Complete Guide to Formatting Books for the Amazon Kindle.

Here’s the most important part: Practice on one or more projects at a leisurely, stress-free pace before you format your “masterpiece.” Once you create an ebook using Mobipocket Creator, you can read it on your own Kindle (or a Kindle reading app) just as you can any purchased book. The possibilities are endless! Make an ebook of family recipes for holiday gifts. Make an ebook of your child’s stories. Or make your own edition of a favorite, public domain classic from Project Gutenberg (download the html version). While Mobipocket Creator does give the option of officially publishing through their services, you can skip that step and keep the ebook just for yourself.

I’ve found the process to be a bit slow and putzy (there is a lot of uploading, testing, revising, uploading again) but not all that difficult—enjoyable, even. I’ve done two previous projects before tackling Oscar’s Gift, which takes a lot of the pressure off and gives me a realistic sense of how long the process will take.