Kindle books from Word: A micropublishing tutorial

When I wrote The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing, which primarily focuses on physical books, I didn’t attempt to cover EPUB or Kindle’s ebook format in depth because there were no clear, simple, valid free ways to get from a formatted book in Microsoft Word to a good-looking EPUB or Kindle ebook.

As far as I can tell, that’s still the case for EPUB, although that’s also likely to change fairly soon.

Meanwhile, if you plan to use the Kindle Direct Publishing program for Kindle versions, there’s now a straightforward, simple way to get from a properly-formatted Word document to a good-looking Kindle publication. I’ve tried it. It works.

Here are the steps.

Beforehand: When preparing your book in Word

  1. Complete your book, preferably following the guidelines I used in my book. Specifically: Use styles for paragraphs, not tabs or manual formatting. Include a Contents page that’s generated using heading styles–not prepared manually. Include front matter (title page, etc.).
  2. Don’t use special character sets if you can avoid it. (Special characters such as em dashes are fine.) If you can simplify bullets, that’s good: They won’t come out looking great anyway. (KDP says bullets are ignored. That’s not quite true.)
  3. You can use tables–formatted using Word’s table mechanisms or imported from Excel, for example, but not manually formatted.
  4. You can use images–but in that case, there will be an extra step, which KDP covers in its advice. (To wit: Once you’ve generated the filtered HTML, see below, you’ll have to combine that and the folder containing image files into a single .zip file, and upload the .zip file. If there are no images, you can just upload the .htm file.)

During: Making it Kindle-ready

  1. Save the book under a different filename so you can keep the original. Do all the rest on that file.
  2. Delete all headers and footers. The easiest way to do this is to double-click in the footer, delete the line, go to the Next section, delete the line, and so on until there are no more sections. Then do the same for the headers. You may have to do this process separately for first pages of sections (chapters), odd-numbered pages and even-numbered pages. It took me 10 minutes to do it for a 20-chapter book.
  3. Save the file for later revisions.
  4. Save as Web page (filtered), which produces an .htm file. (It’s one of the file choices on the Save as… dropdown menu). Word will caution you about features that you lose in the process–e.g., small caps turn into all caps. Ignore the caution.
  5. You might want to look at the results using your browser; you should find, among other things, that the Contents page is now a set of live links to the headings and subheadings.
  6. That .htm file is now ready for the KDP uploader, which will turn it into a proper Kindle file. (You probably also want to upload a cover image; see the KDP guidelines for that step.)
  7. As noted: If you had images, upload the .zip file instead of the .htm file.

And that’s it.

On the other hand, if you’ve published a book using CreateSpace and accept the suggestion to offer a Kindle version via KDP, don’t accept the offer to translate your PDF into a Kindle book. The results are awful, partly because all the page headers and footers turn into text, partly because of other issues. Taking the extra half hour to create a filtered HTML file from Word, after stripping headers and footers, will yield a much better Kindle book.





2 Responses to “Kindle books from Word: A micropublishing tutorial”

  1. Stephen Michael Kellat says:

    The command line tool “pandoc” in the Linux realm can make the jump from RTF to EPUB, I think, but it comes out messy. Pandoc does get goofy with large input files at least on my systems here. Since it is implemented in Haskell it should be installable on Windows to play with perhaps.

  2. waltcrawford says:

    It’s not that there aren’t ways to get from some form of Word to some form of EPUB–just that, AFAIK, there’s no free, easy, straightforward way to get from a well-formatted book in Word to a well-formatted book in EPUB. That will certainly change. What you describe pretty clearly isn’t it: Going from Word to RTF will instantly lose all style information and linkable headings & table of contents, unless I’m mistaken–you’ll get something, but not what you labored to create.