Kindlegen: Making it stand up and sing!

Amazon’s Kindlegen is for books, right? Those following this blog know that I’m getting close to releasing my new novel, The Unexpected Traveler, on Kindle. So why am I writing here instead of on the Mt. Sneffels Press website? The answer is simple: dealing with Kindlegen is far more a computer thing (covered here) than a writing thing (covered there).

Amazon is now selling more books on Kindle than it does in paperback, and that means lots of books. But selling on Kindle is quite different from selling a tangible book. The potential customer can’t heft it, open it at random, or weigh it against another book. And, the sheer ease (sort of) of putting a book on Kindle means there’s lots of junk up there. So how can I differentiate my book from the other guy’s? A good cover helps—in fact, it’s critical. But another thing that helps is making the actual reading experience more palatable.

In the case of a novel, that means creating a MOBI file for upload to Kindle Direct Publishing (if you have an Amazon account, you have a KDP account!) in the right format to make reading an easy experience. This means you have 1) wonderful cover art, 2) appropriate front matter, 3) a table of contents for easier navigation, and 4) text that allows the Kindle user to make use of all Kindle’s cool features.

The key to this, now that the Kindle Fire is upon us, is a rather grumpy piece of software called Kindlegen. There are many steps between your beautiful prose in your favorite word processor and a completed Kindle book. There’s the easy way and there’s the good way.

The easy way is simple. You go to your account on KDP, tell it which file to upload (e.g., DOC but not DOCX), and preview the result. If it’s acceptable, you give it the go-ahead. Why is this not the best way to do it? Well, if your book is simple, it probably is the best way to do it.

The next easiest way is to use Kindlegen. Yes, I could point you at Mobipocket Creator, but as near as I can read the Amazon website, Mobipocket Creator is being sunset in favor of Kindlegen. So, here’s the easy way to use Kindlegen (I’m skipping a few details, figuring you can fill in those):

  • From your word processor (I use Open Office Writer), save your file as HTML. (in the case of Microsoft Word, save it as “smoothed HTML,” whatever that is.) Be real careful doing this, and know where the files are going, because it will indeed be multiple files: one main one for the text, plus a separate image file for each image, such as a logo or illustration. Make sure all these files go into one place.
  • Using a “cmd” window (a DOS window), navigate to where you have Kindlegen installed. This is a royal pain. To get to a cmd window, use Start > Run (run is in the right hand column after you click on Start) and in the box type “cmd” (without the quotes, of course). This opens a cmd window. Navigate to where Kindlegen is installed (it’s slightly different for various versions of Windows). On Windows 7 the command you type in is “cd c:\kindlegen” (without the quotes). This puts you in the directory with Kindlegen. Then you invoke Kindlegen by typing “kindlegen c:\full path\novelname.html” (without the quotes and substituting the actual path to your HTML). A pain! Then Kindlegen will create a MOBI file in the same directory as your HTML. Now, here’s a secret: you’ll find that your first attempt will leave you unsatisfied. You can click on the cmd window and press F3 (yes, the never-used top row of buttons on your keyboard). That will repeat the last command in the cmd box. Then press enter and it’ll do it over again!
  • Use Amazon’s Kindle Previewer to look at the MOBI file. If you love it, you’re ready to upload.

But of course you won’t love it unless your layout is incredibly simple. If you’re willing to dig into this a little deeper with me, here’s how to create a MOBI file for upload that contains your cover picture, your Table of Contents, and other navigational aids, as well as your fascinating text.

The first thing to note is that you’ll need to create two additional files. One has the extension OPF and the other the extension NCX. What’s important to note is that it’s the OPF file that matters. And in fact (and this is incredibly important), you do not feed your HTML to Kindlegen, but rather your OPF!

The OPF file tells Kindlegen where to find parts and pieces of your book and how to put them together. Kindlegen then goes out and gets what the OPF file tells it to.

The NCX file is for a special navigational feature on the Kindle that looks suspiciously like a Table of Contents except it isn’t. You can worry about the NCX file after you create your OPF file.

And…I’m going to talk about the OPF file in another post because it deserves its own! The NCX file will follow after that.

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