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Books, eBooks

Creating a Kindle Book with Mobipocket

03.15.11 | 7 Comments

Over the past year I’ve created a few Kindle books for my friends Victor Gischler and Steven Torres, and along the way I’ve learned a few things about the process, mostly through trial and error. Here, then, is the condensed version of the wisdom I have learned along the way:

  1. Download Mobipocket Creator. Mobipocket was purchased by Amazon a few years ago, and it’s the native format for Kindle books. It’s not the best eBook creator – my favorite is Sigil – but all of the others use the EPUB format, and there are various problems converting to Kindle.
  2. If you don’t have a Kindle, download the Kindle Previewer. This little program will save your butt many, many times. If you haven’t checked your book on either the Previewer or the Kindle itself, don’t publish it!
  3. Create your cover art. You don’t have to be a brilliant artist to do this. The limit of my art “skills” is taking a stock image and slapping on some text. Here are a few tips:

    — There are many sources of stock images on the web. My own favorite is Shutterstock. Deviant Art is a good source of artwork in addition to photographs. You can also find an image you like in Flickr and contact the artist to purchase the appropriate rights.

    — The final size of your cover art should be 800 pixels high by 600 pixels wide. Having said this, I urge you to actually work with the largest size image available. Just make sure it has a 4:3 ration of height to width. For example, the cover for Killing Ways 2: Urban Stories began life at a resolution of 5461 by 4096, which is within a fraction of 4:3.

    — The image editing program called Paint is included with every copy of Windows, and does a decent job, but if you don’t have anything better you may want to download GIMP, the Gnu Image Manipulation Program. It’s free, and quite powerful. GIMP has one particular function that Paint doesn’t – you can create layers for each of your design elements – for example, the title text, the author’s byline, and the base image itself. This makes it very easy to change something if you don’t like it.

    — On the Kindle, images tend to look darker than they do on your PC screen, even in the Kindle previewer. For dark images, you will want to increase the brightness.

  4. Convert your document to HTML file(s). I prefer to create one file per chapter (or story), as it makes editing them easier. I’m not going to go into all of the details of editing HTML but here are the basics:

    — Do NOT just export from Microsoft Word to HTML. When you do this Word basically opens the file, pukes in it, and walks away trying to look nonchalant.

    Instead, create a new empty text file. If the sections will have names that naturally indicate their sequence (“Chapter One”), rename the file to “Chapter One.html”. If the names aren’t in sequence, put a number on the front to indicate the order. For example, if you first story is named “West, Texas”, the file name would be “1 – West, Texas.html”.

    — Once the file is created, copy all the text from your original document and paste it in the file. This will give you nice, clean text, but will remove all the formatting. You’ll need to add the HTML tags on your own. Your title should be surrounded by <h2> tags, for example: <h2>West, Texas</h2>. If this is a multi-author anthology and you need to include a byline, use <h3> tags.

    Each paragraph should be surrounded by <p> tags:
    <p>Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York.</p>
    In Notepad you can easily find where your paragraphs begin and end by pulling down the “Format” menu and turning off Word Wrap. Be sure to save your changes when done.

    — As I said, pasting plain text will remove all the formatting. You will need to find all instances of italic, bold, or underlined text and surround them with, respectively, <i>, <b>, and <u> tags. Word will let you search for specific formats. Press Control-F to bring up the Find dialog, then click the “More” button. In the expanded dialog click the “Format” button, and click “Font” from the pop-up menu. Then you’ll be able to find all instances of italic or other formatted text.

    — If you want to include images in the contents of your book – author photos, perhaps – put them in the same directory as the HTML files and include them in the HTML text using an image tag:
    <img src="GrahamPowell.jpg"/>
    Again, that image must be copied to the same directory as the HTML file that contains the <img> tag.

    — Now you’re almost done. Include the following code at the beginning of each HTML file:
    <html>
    <head>
    <title>Chapter Title</title>
    <style type="text/css">
    p {text-indent: 2em}
    h1 {text-align: center}
    h2 {text-align: center}
    h3 {text-align: center}
    </style>
    </head>
    <body>

    Replace the text “Chapter Title” with the title of the chapter. Now paste this code at the end of each file:
    </body>
    </html>

    The first code block indents each paragraph by the width of two em-dashes, and centers all the text inside the <h1>, <h2>, <h3> tags. The second block closes all the HTML tags.

    Yes, creating clean HTML is the most tedious part of making the book, but it’s very important if you want your text to be formatted correctly and consistently.

  5. Now you’ve created your cover art and the HTML files that will make up the content. You’re FINALLY ready to create the book in Mobipocket. Launch Mobipocket Creator and create a new publication. You’ll be prompted for a name. Enter the title and click “Create” to accept the defaults for the rest:

    — Mobipocket will now take you to a list of files included in this publication. At first it will be empty. You can click the “Add File” button or just drag and drop all your files onto this space. If you drag and drop them they will probably not be in the right order. To reorder, click on a file name and use the up and down arrow buttons to change the order. When you’re done you should have a list of all your files in the correct order:

    — Now you’ll need to add any images that appear in the body of your book (note: this does not include the cover). You can either copy them to the publication’s directory yourself, or simply add them the same way you added the HTML files, then remove them. Adding them copies them to the directory, but removing them does not delete them. If you don’t remove them, each image will appear on its own page in the finished document.

    — Now let’s add the cover image. In the links on the left-hand side of the display, click “Cover Image”. This will display the “Add Cover Image” button. Click it and select your cover image:

    Click the “Update” button at the bottom of the page to save your changes.

    —Next up: the Table of Contents. Click the “Table of Contents” link in the left-hand column, then click the “Add a Table of Contents” button. You can change the header text if you want to. Since we used the <h2> tag for chapter headings, we’ll use that to generate the entries in the table of contents. If you have multiple levels, for example “Book One”, “Chapter 5″, you can use different size headings and have them appear in heirarchical order. But the simplest is just to use h2. Please note you don’t need to use the angle brackets:

    Click the “Update” button at the bottom of the page to save your changes.

    — Now click the “Metadata” link on the left side. At a minimum, make sure you enter the book’s title and the author’s or editor’s name. Fill in as much other information as you like:

    As before, you must scroll down and click “Update” or these changes will not be saved.

    — Before we can complete making changes to the book, we’ll need to build it. Click on the “Build” button on the toolbar at the top of the window. Don’t choose to use compression or encryption, just click the “Build” button in the middle of the page:

    Once complete, click “Go back to the publication files”:

    — Now, click on the “Guide” link on the left-hand side. The guide sets up certain landmarks inside the book that the Kindle uses for navigation. The “coverpage” item is set automatically, and once we built the book, the “toc” item is also created. The “start” item tells the Kindle what to display when a reader opens a book for the first time. By default, this is the first page of content from the first file (in this example, “1 – West, Texas.html”). If this is a collection of short stories, you may want the reader to begin at the table of contents instead.

    To do this, click the “New Guide Item” button. In the “Type” column, select “start”. This will automatically set the item title to “Startup Page”. Next, copy the file name from the toc item and paste in into the same field for the start item. This filename should be mbp_toc.html and is generated automatically:

    Add additional items as required. As always, click the “Update” button or your changes will be lost.

    Now click the “Build” button and rebuild your book. You are nearly done.

  6. The final step is to edit the Table of Contents. This step is only required if you will need to set up categories or headings for your stories.

    Once the build is complete, make sure the option “Open folder containing the eBook” is selected and click “OK”. You’ll see a folder that looks something like this:

    You’re looking for the file named “mbp_toc.html”. Click on this file with the right mouse button and select “Edit” from the pop-up menu. This should open the file in Notepad. Again, general HTML editing is outside the scope of this article, but you can modify this file as required. Do not edit the links, however, as these are required for the table of contents to work.

    Once you have finished editing this file, rebuild the book before you make any more changes to the book. If you make any changes, the table of contents will be automatically regenerated and any modifications will be lost.

  7. Preview the book. Be sure to check the cover, the table of contents, and every single page. Have your friends and family check it. The more eyeballs go over it, the more chance you’ll find all the errors, and there probably will be some. If so, correct them, rebuild the book, and check again.
  8. It’s Miller time! Your book is complete. Upload the finished with extension .prc to Amazon, along with your cover image. Watch as your bank account swells, along with your head.

Obviously I can’t cover every possible combination of elements you might want to use, but this should help you avoid the most common pitfalls.

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