How much do you know about Kindle formatting? Preparing a book for Kindle is very different from formatting for print. There are ways that it is simpler (it’s certainly plainer!) and ways that it’s more complicated. Let’s start with one of the trickiest differences to understand:
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1. Pages Don’t Exist
It’s true: Kindle ebooks do not have official pages. If you look at your document in Microsoft Word, you’re probably thinking, “That’s crazy! I see pages!” The problem is, those pages and the number of them absolutely will not carry over to your ebook. What will carry over is the amount of content between page breaks. How much of that content will fit on each screen will vary. Which leads us to…
2. Pages Don’t Have Sizes
Imagine you download an ebook to your Kindle Paperwhite and begin reading it. There are about 5 paragraphs per “page” on the screen. Later you’re in the waiting room of your doctor’s office and they’re running behind. You pull up the Kindle reading app on your phone to pick up where you left off.
Because the device is smaller you only see 3 paragraphs on the screen. The amount of content on this screen is different than it was on the larger screen of your Paperwhite.
You don’t find your phone quite as comfortable to read on, so you open settings and increase the font size. The characters are bigger now, so only 2 paragraphs are able to fit on your screen.
The amount of text that was previously on one “page” (if you were thinking of it that way) has changed again.
I’d like to see a paperback book try that!
As this scenario illustrates, the only thing with a specific size in a Kindle book is the text—and that can be adjusted by the person reading. The amount of content that will fit on each screen varies by device size, font size, and line spacing (another setting the user can change.
Every segment of your book (the space between page breaks) will flow to as many screens as it needs to fill based on these variables.
3. Text cannot be forced onto a specific screen or position on the screen
Because there aren’t real, fixed “pages” and the layout and breaking of the content is completely variable, it’s actually impossible to force text or images to appear in a certain location on the reader’s screen.
Sometimes, formatting clients will ask me to drop the contents of their copyright page down low like it should be in a printed book. I explain that if I did that, it might look okay on a large screen. But for people reading on a smaller screen or with the font size increased, it won’t look the same at all. It will probably result in a blank page or two made of all that extra, blank space ahead of the copyright.
This is annoying and potentially confusing to the reader.
Sometimes an author will ask if we can bump a subheading down so it stays with its paragraph which ended up on the next “page” (screen). I usually tell them to increase or decrease the font size on their reader or app and see what happens.
Can you guess?
If they decrease the size, the paragraph is able to fit on the same screen as the subheading. If they increase it, the subheading can’t fit anymore and follows the paragraph to the next screen.
To summarize, text (and images, for that matter) cannot be forced onto a specific screen or position on the screen.
4. Bullet points won’t line up
Kindles are excessively fond of justifying text. Justification means “text is aligned along the left margin, and letter- and word-spacing is adjusted so that the text falls flush with both margins.” (Wikipedia)
This makes everything look nice and even and is the standard in printed material as well, for this reason.
The downside is that, if your book contains bullet points, the text of each point won’t always line up evenly with the others. Know that this is normal and that there’s nothing that can be done about it when formatting… it’s just a function of the Kindle’s love for text justification.
5. Fonts don’t transfer
Kindles come with only a handful of fonts your readers can set their devices to use. They’re all very plain fonts with high readability. The beautiful script font you’ve used on your cover and for your paperback chapter headings won’t transfer to the Kindle reading experience. (Bummer, I know!)
The good news is bolding, italicizing, and underlining all transfers over. That’s why most Kindle formatting tutorials will tell you to bold your chapter headings.
6. Most dingbats aren’t compatible
No, I’m not calling names! Dingbats are the symbol fonts you may have installed on your computer. If you used a dingbat for your fleurons (scene break symbols) in the print version, it’s best not to take the chance they will look okay in the Kindle version. Most dingbats will not transfer.
We always use a simple, centered *** for fleurons in Kindle books.
7. Kindle picks the start point
Kindle used to let you manually set the start point within your formatting. You could enter a little bit of code at a particular point in your book—be it the title page, the introduction, or the first chapter—and the book would automatically open to that location the first time the user opened it.
That option is now defunct. No matter where you try to set the start point, Kindles will ignore it and automatically decide where it will start the user the first time the book is opened.
It was nice when we could set that start point manually, but at least the Kindle is smart enough not to dump readers somewhere in the middle of the book.
8. Headers are auto-generated
On some Kindles and on the reading apps, you’ll notice a header at the top of every page, containing the title of your book. This is something else that is automatically added and that you’ll have no control over when formatting. This is why DIY Kindle formatting tutorials will say not to bother adding headers to your document.
9. Image size is responsive
Image sizing and placement is variable just like text is, and therefore is difficult to control when formatting. The sizing will vary based on the screen size. The good news is, on most devices, readers can zoom in on an image.
10. Most accurate way to preview
You may be wondering: if the pages you see in Microsoft Word aren’t going to even be real on the Kindle, and other formatting elements don’t translate quite the way you might expect, what’s the best way to know what your book will look like to your readers?
We always recommend to our clients that they preview the Kindle file we send in one of two ways:
1. Use Kindle Previewer 3. This is a free program you can install on your computer. It emulates a Kindle and gives you a good example of how your book will look and function.
2. Upload the file to KDP and use their online previewer.
Not all features are operational (like zooming images) but otherwise these methods are pretty accurate.
And there you go: that was 10 things you may not have known about Kindle formatting! How many of them did you know? Do you have other questions about Kindle formatting? Leave a comment!