I’ve been reading quite a bit about submitting a manuscript for conversion by Amazon’s Kindle service. Amazon has done a good job of making the process work with Word documents, even PDFs. But, the Kindle is basically a web page reader. Kindle documents use the same formatting markup languages as normal websites. That means that the core of a Kindle page is written in a version of HTML, (hypertext markup language). That also means that documents submitted in any format other than HTML need to be coverted by Amazon.
While, those conversions keep most of your document’s formatting close to the original’s, the process is not perfect. That’s why Amazon recommends HTML as their document type of choice.
Now, Word will convert a document to HTML with two clicks. That’s where the good news ends. Unfortunately, the HTML that Word writes is incredibly verbose, and includ a staggering number of superfluous styling instructions, and HTML cruft that should be stripped from the document before Kindle conversion. That’s an adequate approach if you want to convert documents for your personal use. If you’re publishing, the conversion comes up a bit short of the perfect a high quality book deserves.
The funny part is that Word isn’t necessarily the best application for crafting fiction. The program has a gazillion features that make it a great business tool. Does a fiction writer need the same custom formatting as the creator of business documents? Most don’t.
In fact there are some programs written specifically for writers that come without all of Word’s formatting options. The makers of Ulysses advertise that very lack of rulers, page sizing, and other formatting features as major selling points. There’s a lot to be said for taking that approach. It’s so easy to get distracted when writing, at least for me. A program that handles the needs of writers as opposed to word processors can facilitate the craft and creativity we need for composition. I wrote this piece on TextWrangler, a free text editor for Macs.
So what about HTML, Amazon’s preferred Kindle submission format? There is actually a very simple and elegant way to turn plain text into HTML. It requires minimal HTML knowledge. It is easy to learn, especially for the limited formatting required in fiction writing. It also can be had for free. Okay, enough with the leadin. The solution is to use Markdown, a program for turning text into HTML.
The idea is straightforward. Add some minimal formatting to plain text, then run the text through Markdown and have it converted into HTML. For example, put two carriage returns between paragraphs and Markdown automatically takes the text and adds HTML paragraph tags. Add asterisks around a word and Markdown turns that into an HTML italicized word. Lists, either bulleted or numbered are just as easy, as are headings. There are more formatting options, that are just as easy, but that type of formatting is really more than the normal story requires.
- Use Markdown For Easy Web Writing (lifehack.org)
- Creating an E-book: Tips on Document Formatting (pcworld.com)
- Markdown and Me (openmymind.net)
- Kindling (aphilosopher.wordpress.com)