It’s been about two months since I started the drafting process for my “secret” non-fiction project. After the first week I gave my preliminary “10 formatting tips for the Kindle“. After fighting with Word and my Kindle Touch for the last couple of months, I thought I’d expand on the original list in the spirit of saving others some of the troubles I’ve had:
1) Check every special character you use in the body of the text – The equation editor converts the equation to an image when saved as a filtered web-page (preliminary format for the Kindle), but anything in the body of the text needs to be supported in the Kindle’s limited fonts. One character in particular, the “→” arrow simple in word comes out as “à” on my touch, resulting in a lot of back editing.
2) Use the equation editor, images, or carriage returns for long continuous sequences of letters – Some sections in my book require examples of some of the output strings of the programs being used like this one:
String = “FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FC-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FC-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FC-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FB+FA-FA-FA-FB+FA-F”
Even though there are no spaces in this line, the Kindle formats this by breaking in the middle of lines, leaving hanging characters and random justified lines. Since realistically the sequence is mainly in there to illustrate the point of how long the string gets after only a few iterations, an image may be the best way to go.
3) Re-sizing an image in Word reduces the file size – Word uses image compression when saved in the Kindle preliminary format, but this compression works even better if you resize the original image. I had an image that was 160KB (too big for the 127 KB limitation). I sized it to 80% of the original size (barely noticeable in this case), and the image file size reduced to 59KB!
4) When formatting source code, long function calls should be a single line – A convention of many C++ programmers is to use a carriage return between some variables for a function with a lot of variables in the call. The function call thus appears on multiple lines, with the second and third lines indented. Unless this return is in the correct spot for all potential font sizes, this does not wrap correctly on the Kindle. A single line (though long in code) wraps around much better.
5) Don’t bunch equations together – The equation editor can be a real savior for complicated formulas. However, if you are copying and pasting a number of similar formulas make sure they have the appropriate amount of space between them. This can be accomplished by going into each equation, and hitting return. There shouldn’t be a line of text between them, so you can delete that if there is one, but there should be a 10 pixel or so gap. If they are bunched together too closely and they are centered on the page, the first one we’ll be centered on the kindle, and the rest will be bunched to the left.
6) Toggle to formatting view to fix unseen paragraph characters and other formatting errors – You can access this in Word by clicking on the “¶” character on the main tab. This view can be a little distracting to type in, so I’d suggest doing this after you’ve finished a section. You particularly want to eliminate paragraph characters before or after a page break, as these may cause a blank page on the Kindle.
7) Like a webpage, test all links – If your eBook has any hyper-linking between section, be sure this works on your Kindle. At the very least this will be the contents page, but there may be links in the body of the text as well.
8) Test in all font sizes, especially the default – What you’re looking for here are the positions of page breaks, flow of images and the text that refers to them and anything else that looks bad. But frankly, the more formatting like equations, images and code in a book, the better it is to look at it in a smaller font size. If this is the case with your book, make a few friendly setting suggestions in your introduction. That way people aren’t as surprised or frustrated. When you’re trying to create a book that works as well on a 6″ screen as on a 10″ (or God forbid a smart phone) some things won’t be perfect. Well placed page breaks can solve some of these problems.
9) Laugh when Word gives up on checking your grammar and spelling – I use a lot of source code in this book, and Word does not know how to parse C++ correctly (go figure). At some point there are so many mistakes that Word can’t handle them any more and turns off the auto checks for spelling and grammar (I think they apologized for my inconvenience). If you ever see this warning in a fiction book, however, it might be time for some revision 🙂
10) Back it up, back it up, back it up – Maybe this goes without saying after my tech tips for the cloud, but especially with something you’ve spent a lot of time not only writing, but formatting, backups are crucial. I recommend one on your Kindle, one or two on flash drives, and one on your drafting computer. Don’t put your book on the cloud until you’re ready to sell it!
At the end of the day this process is more fun than frustrating. Good formatting can make your work more professional, and gives you a real sense of putting something together that others will want to see. Any other tips from your experience?