Just when you think you know everything Scrivener can do, you find out you can also publish to Kindle with it! Amazing, right? Just ask our brilliant tech guru Pat Haggerty how it’s done.
I love writing stories in Scrivener and I could wax long and eloquent on its many virtues, but now’s not the time. Assuming you’ve written something in Scrivener, at some point you are going to want to generate a finished output for your readers. That output step in Scrivener is called the compile. Scrivener offers a lot of options for compiling from doc files to txt, but today we are going to be taking a look at compile for Kindle.
Please note: for the sake of this article I will be using Scrivener 2.6 for Mac and Scrivener 1.7 for Windows, which at the time of this writing are the latest versions. If your Scrivener version is older then you should upgrade. If you are reading this at some wonderful point in the future, some compile details may change with time and the evolution of the Scrivener product.
Prepping the Formatting
First assumption: you have a book or partial book written and you’re ready to see it on your Kindle reader. If that’s not true, then quit surfing the web and go write.
Now that your book is written, let’s talk formatting. I’m a firm believer of the Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) principal when it comes to formatting. Before generating a compile for Kindle, strip out all unnecessary formatting. If you didn’t listen to me about writing and are still procrastinating, then at least remember these recommendations as you write so you won’t have to do any manual removals later.
Formatting I don’t like to see:
- Font changes
- Text size changes
- Large indented sections
- Manual tabs at the beginnings of paragraphs (notice I said manual, if you have Scrivener setup so your editor makes it look like there are tabs, that’s ok)
- Multiple returns between paragraphs (there should be only one)
- Special characters like &@:;<> (Some are bigger issues on particular ebook platforms. If you really need a special character, leave it in and see how it compiles when you preview in Kindle. If it messes up your formatting, do a search online for HTML entities and learn other ways to insert the characters)
- Header or footer data
- Chapter titles manually typed into the manuscript
- Title pages in the Manuscript folder
For the definitive list of what can and cannot be used in Kindle, see the KDP help section:
By the way, if you are planning on importing a book from Word to Scrivener and then publishing from there, clean the file up first in Word. Word even has the ability to search for tab characters and multiple returns so put those features to work.
Prepping the Binder
When you’re writing in Scrivener I recommend that you setup up your binder one of two ways. If you are the kind of writer that likes multiple scenes in each chapter then set up the binder’s Manuscript folder so each chapter has is its own folder and then the scenes are inside of the chapter folders. I would name the chapter folder whatever title you would like to see it have in the finished output. If your chapters won’t have titles but simple numbering, then name each chapter folder, Chapter. I don’t like to see folders named Chapter 1, Chapter 2, as I think it limits your ability to reorder things. For this group, your Scrivener binder will look something like:
If you’re more like me and each scene is a chapter of it’s own then you can safely skip the whole chapter folder idea and simply create scenes. This option will generate a binder that looks more like:
Prepping General Front Matter
Now that your formatting is all good-to-go, the next thing you need to think about is your Front Matter. Front Matter in Scrivener represents anything that will appear before your written story. This includes things like your cover, title page, copyright page, dedication, introduction, etc. This is the one place where a reasonable amount of special formatting is allowed. Creating this content should be done in your Binder’s “Front Matter” folder:
You can manually type any content on these various pages that you need (just like you would when creating a scene) and again, it’s ok to use specialized formatting. If you’d like to include dynamic replacements, take a look at Project | Metadata Settings | Project Properties to start.
So if I create a title page and insert <$projecttitle> bold and centered at the top, Scrivener will automatically output, “USMC Space Opera” come compile. Check out your Scrivener manual for other replacement options (total number of words, date, etc.).
Prepping Your Cover
Ah yes, the cover.
I don’t want to get into the importance of your cover and how it plays a HUGE role in the reader’s choice of book, or how it should look good big and as a thumbnail on the Amazon page, or how most users can pic an armature cover from a mile away. So I won’t. Suffice it to say that your cover is a big deal so hire someone and have it done right.
Amazon has some specs for your cover that you (and your designer) should keep in mind:
The sentence I’d like to draw special attention too is the one that reads, “For best quality, your image would be 2820 pixels on the shortest side and 4500 pixels on the longest side.” So please, make sure your cover is a .jpg file that’s 2820×4500. If you use a different size, it needs to have a long to short side ratio of 1.6 (so 4500/2820 is 1.6). See the above page for other recommendations.
Getting closer. Next you need to setup your compile settings. In Scrivener chose File | Compile and make sure you are in the view of your settings that displays the most options. You can do that in Mac by selecting the All Options tab and in Windows, by pressing the down arrow next to Format As.
When compiling for Kindle, on the Contents tab set the Format As to “E-book,” the Compile For to “Kindle,” then check the Add front matter and set it to the folder in Front Matter containing the documents for this book.
Note how the front matter pages by default are set to compile “As-Is” which will preserve any special formatting that you have on them.
The Separators settings allow you to determine where breaks should occur. If you read each of the categories on this tab they will explain exactly what they apply to. If each folder represents a new chapter, then you need Section (Page) Breaks between the folders and after any text file that comes before a folder. If you are using the scene only approach and don’t use folders, then you need a Section Break between each text file. Here is an example from my Mac where I was only using scenes and no folders:
On the Cover tab, make sure your cover file from Front Matter is selected. If not, select it from the Cover Image combo box.
The Formatting tab is probably the least understood tab in the whole compile process. This is where you can choose the appearance of your chapter titles and of the separators between scenes (if any). Let’s take a look at the tab:
The top half of the dialog you are seeing above controls the levels in your Manuscript hierarchy and the major options for those levels. In the bottom half you are seeing an example of the formatting to be applied to the selected Level. I have “Level 1+” selected and it has a little folder next to it, so this formatting is what a folder at any level would look like. These settings would be perfect for those of you using the Manuscript Folder = Chapter approach. Each folder should display Chapter X followed by the Title (folder name). It displays the title because I have that option checked in the top half. If you click Section Layout… then you will see that above the title will appear the prefix Chapter <$t>, or Chapter X followed by a return.
Selecting any part of the sample text in the bottom window will allow for formatting of said text. So if I click on “Chapter One” to select it, I can then use the dialog to set the font, size, style, etc. Notice the A icon that can be used to open the font chooser.
The bottom of the three default types, the single text file icon with Level 1+ next to it will control the style of your scene text files. If you’re like me and use scene files only with no folders, then make sure the Title option is checked to add the title (scene name) at the top of each new scene as well as the Text from the scene itself. Then use the same formatting approach to control your default text fonts.
Look through the next few tabs to see if there are any settings that you might benefit from but the defaults will probably be fine. Transformations can be used if you want to switch from smart quotes to straight or ellipsis to periods. Replacements is a good way to swap out character names or abbreviations and replace them with alternatives.
The final tab that needs some attention is KindleGen. Make sure that you have a big Change button on this tab and not a Choose button. If you see Choose then your kindle generator has not been installed. Head on over to the Amazon site and download KindleGen. While you’re there, make sure to get the Kindle Previewer as well. That will save you from having to delete the book every time you try to reimport it into your actual Kindle reader.
Once you have KindleGen install it and use the big Choose button to tell Scrivener where it is.
And that’s it. Hit the Compile button and generate the .mobi file. Open it with your Kindle Previewer and make sure it looks like you wanted. If there are any issues, fix them, regenerate the .mobi file, and use the Previewer again to check your fixes.
Since you will probably be using your compile settings multiple times, you might want to save them as a standard compile profile. While still in the compile dialog on Windows, press the Save Preset button, provide a name, and from then on your compile settings will be preserved as an option on the Format As menu. To do the same on Mac, in the compile settings drop the menu down for Format As and at the bottom of the list of choices select Manage Compile Format Presets. Hit the + and add your settings as one of the options.
And that’s it. Easy breezy.
If you have any question, don’t hesitate to ask them using a comment. I will try to get you an answer ASAP.
Got questions? Ask away!
Bio: After four years in the USMC, Patrick Haggerty studied Actuarial Science and Computers at Georgia State University. He has spent the past 15+ years developing and delivering technical training courses for Learning Tree International. On the side he has a successful consulting practice doing web application development for clients ranging from the United State Marines to Delta Airlines.
Seven years ago, stuck reading a mediocre book in yet another hotel, Patrick decided to try his hand at fiction. He may not be published, but these days you are much more likely to find him spending his evenings writing romance, than code. Patrick is an active member of RWA, RWAustralia, RW New Zealand, and is VP of Membership for Gulf Coast Romance Writers of America, and VP of OIRWA.
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