Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Making Kindle eBooks

This post is meant specifically for my friends who are currently, or will soon be, using a Kindle (you know who you are).

Here's what I've learned after months of trying to figure out the best way to make eBooks for the Kindle (may this save you precious time to be used for the glory of Christ):

The Kindle can handle PDFs, MOBIs and AZWs. It probably supports other file types, but these are the three formats that eBook makers need to know about.

The Ideal eBook Format

The ideal eBook format allows me to make an eBook with minimal effort, while being able to use all of the Kindle's tools: table of contents, dictionary, highlighting, note-taking, bookmarking, adjusting text size and text-to-speech. The table of contents lists and links to the various sections of a book, letting you jump from one to another. The dictionary function automatically defines any word that you select. "Highlighting," note-taking and bookmarking allow you to really interact with the eBook, and are very handy for more contemplative and studious reading. Finally, being able to change text size and switch between text and speech is just... convenient.

So how do PDFs, MOBIs and AZWs each measure up to my two criteria for the ideal eBook format?


Effort: some
Compatibility: bad

The good thing about PDFs is that they are easy to create, provided you have a word processor (MS Word, Open Office, etc.) that will work together with Adobe Reader. Also, once I worked out a template for all my eBooks (roughly 3.5 x 4.7in with margins of .5in all around) it was relatively simple to create a nice-looking eBook.

PDFs were my initial choice for making Kindle eBooks because they looked great. I would make a nice cover page--often with an image of the author--and adjust the look and feel of the book on MS Word before "printing" the file as a PDF.

Recently, however, I've moved away from PDFs for two simple reasons: first, it was too tempting to waste time fiddling around with minor details like margin and spacing; second and more importantly, I ended up with nice-looking eBooks that were incompatible with most of the Kindle's tools.


Effort: lots
Compatibility: potentially excellent

I experimented with MOBI files for a while, reading up on MobiPocket Reader and trying out the Calibre program. I soon gave up because it seemed like too much trouble for too little results. At the risk of sounding like the antithesis of tech-savvy, I just couldn't figure out how to use Calibre to create a cover page and table of contents.

After several hours of experimenting without success, I finally decided that it wasn't worth the effort. But if you're able to figure out how to use Calibre (which, by the way, has a very good eBook management system, as well) to its full potential, then MOBIs may just be the ideal format for Kindle eBooks.


Effort: little
Compatibility: very good

AZWs are now my format of choice because they take the least amount of time to make. Here's my process:
  1. I paste all the content of my eBook onto MS Word (Open Office is fine, too), separating sections (cover page, chapter, etc.) by inserting a "page break" in between one section and another. Doing this ensures that when the file is converted to the AZW format, each section starts out on a new "page."
  2. I save the file in .htm (webpage) format, because I've found this is the best format for the next step...
  3. I send the file to Amazon for free conversion to the AZW format by sending a blank email to "<my username>" with the htm. file attached.
  4. In about five minutes or less, Amazon sends me the AZW file, which I download and copy to my Kindle.
It's a simple, quick process, and although Amazon won't process files with images or a functional table of contents, their AZWs will at least retain basic features such as headings and indentations. They also allow me to use the dictionary function, highlight, take notes, create bookmarks, adjust text size and use the text-to-speech function.

Well, that's as far as I've gotten. It may not seem like it, but its taken me more hours than I care to count to learn what I've learned. Friends, I hope this article will help you to not waste precious time. :)

Related Articles:

  1. How eReaders can benefit Christians 
  2. How I use my Kindle 
  3. Making Kindle eBooks 
  4. Making notes with the Kindle 
  5. Creating a table of contents for AZW files (original) (updated)

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