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Developing for Kindle

2013 March 2

Some weeks after publishing my book Brilliant Deduction as an ebook, I realized that I had kind of overlooked one small thing: I sort of, um, forgot about the Kindle.

That is, I’m sure that I had by that point encountered information that clearly implied, if not directly stated outright, that publishing an ebook through lulu.com would not make my book available for the Kindle platform. But it was one of those things where this knowledge just didn’t quite register, until something or other prompted me to think on it more specifically and realize that oh, right. Kindle. I need to deal with that separately.

Amazon’s Kindle platform is, I remembered/confirmed, a proprietary ecosystem like that of the .epub ebook standard used for Nook and iOS, but not directly compatible with it. So, although I had worked out the technical details of creating and publishing an ebook, I had not yet published for what is close to being the ebook for many people.

I have since remedied this. A few notes, then, on this extension to my self-taught course in ebook development.

Say what you want about Amazon and their practices, but they do at least seem to make their closed ecosystem very accessible from the perspective of a newcomer attempting to introduce a product into it. Admittedly, I have a good background in this kind of thing, and had just felt my way through the .epub standard, which helped. But on the whole, taking the further step of making Brilliant Deduction available for Kindle was pretty painless.

The most difficult step was probably just overcoming the fear of “oh god, here I go again, another new spec helpfully documented in about 4,085 separate pages of instructions.” Upon a first visit, the sheer volume of sections and pages in Amazon’s Kindle publishing help site is very intimidating. Once I resigned myself to wading in, though, it wasn’t very bad at all. In fact, much of that volume is a result of Amazon addressing just about everything, in one place, which compared very favorably with the partially cross-linked haphazard mess that I confronted with lulu.com and the open .epub format. Moreover, having already dealt with said mess, much of what I found in the Kindle publishing guide was already familiar.

In fact, I ultimately created my Kindle format file from the same InDesign document I had used for the .epub file, with only a few, small changes. I needed to adjust my front cover art to yet another slightly different aspect ratio. I had to specify a table of contents for the InDesign document, itself, rather than just letting it be inferred during the export process. And I made a few minor tweaks to the typography after previewing it. That was about it, though.

I was much heartened by the array of tools Amazon makes available, including a custom plug-in for InDesign. This may not even have been necessary, as the current version of InDesign includes an option to export for the .mobi format used by Kindle, anyway… but, given that the only use I planned on making of the .mobi format was publishing on the Kindle platform, I thought, “why not just use the tool they provide?” That’s what I did, and it seems to have worked well. In combination with other software available from Amazon that simulates every Kindle device ever made, a majority of the time I spent on this was probably just skimming through my book a few times for all eight or nine different possible Kindle viewing experiences (plus testing sub-variants like font sizes, and alternative typefaces when available).

The Kindle format seems to have a few kinks in it, but certainly no more than the .epub format. I didn’t work out a good image size, if such exists, that doesn’t look too little on some devices while swelling to full-screen on others. Likewise, consistent indentation on all Kindle devices eluded me. Frankly, I didn’t bash my brains out trying to solve any of these things, though; after my experience with .epub I was prepared to be comfortable with an “imperfect” result so long as nothing looked really, overtly wrong. Achieving that didn’t prove that difficult, in the end.

Nor did getting onto the site. Within 24 hours of submitting my file to Amazon, Brilliant Deduction for Kindle is available online. To some extent I’m sure this is because they aren’t very picky, but, it’s still nice that they don’t let an approval queue back up for days.

One further note, if anyone (potentially including myself in future) is considering publishing for Kindle, it may be worth considering the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program. I don’t have a lot to say about this right now, as I didn’t look into it very closely for the reason that I’m disqualified; having only thought of Kindle after publishing for other ebook platforms I completely blew the requirement to “make your book available in digital format exclusively through KDP for at least 90 days.” In return for this exclusivity, though, Amazon does grant some perks; again, I can’t really comment on whether it represents a good trade-off but it may at least be worth looking at before publishing any ebook, so that one has the option.

So, as noted (perhaps a bit prematurely) before, I now have some (more thorough) experience with ebook development and publishing, and if anyone wants help, well, no one has optioned Brilliant Deduction for TV yet so I continue to welcome the work…

Otherwise, back to the coalface.

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