Monday, 7 October 2013


This next piece proved useful to people, so I’ll repeat it here with a few visuals thrown in.

To turn my story into a Kindle product, I use MS Word and convert the file to PRC using Mobipocket Creator. (PRC is nothing to do with China, as far as I know.) Go to the Kindle section of Amazon. Find a book, any book, inviting you to LOOK INSIDE!
   Do just that.
   What are you looking for? The first line of the story. Chances are, that line is indented. Amazon has a default setting within its publishing factory, which has given rise to this decidedly non-paperback phenomenon.
   When I was struggling to deal with the format of my first self-published manuscript, I soon discovered this joyful stumbling-block. That’s what the Previewer is for. Well, how do I get my book to look like a book? With the first paragraph free of indentation…
   I couldn’t find one. Answer – chip away at all possible permutations until I found one that worked. This solution relates to using Microsoft Word for the original text, before it goes through the caterpillar-butterfly transformation.
   Start with the chapter title. Type carefully. The chapter title ends with a tap of the return key. MS Word recognises this symbol as a paragraph mark.
   On-screen, the symbol resembles a capital P flipped to face the other way, with the hollow section filled in, and two legs to stand on instead of the usual one leg.

   Some of you may think of the return key as the enter key. Others might still call it the carriage return key. I feel I must refrain from making comments about age.
   Follow that single tap of the return key with manual line breaks. Hit the return key and the shift key simultaneously. That generates a manual line break. On-screen, the symbol looks like an arrow coming down and veering left.

   I use three manual line breaks like that before I start writing the first paragraph. The general recommendation is that you never use four or more.

   That should do the trick. Chapter title. Paragraph mark. A number of manual line breaks to suit your own taste – no more than three. (People like to read books on their phones, and more than three breaks will cause trouble for those readers.)
   With the title/paragraph mark/manual line break sequence in place, the first paragraph of a chapter then loses the annoying (unseen) default indent.
   You can’t just use paragraph marks one after the other, as they don’t show up when used in a straight sequence. Once converted to Kindle, they might as well not be there – leading to no space between chapter title and first line. Awkward, unless you are aiming for that style.
   (However, note that, in the above screenshot on chapter links, I place a paragraph mark at the top of the page before the title. This removes a formatting glitch from the book in relation to hyperlinked chapter titles. The title shown isn’t hyperlinked, but I use the extra paragraph mark as a matter of routine. This extra paragraph mark doesn’t show up in the finished product.)


For breaks within chapters, I separate the sections by means of an asterisk.
   End the section of text with a paragraph mark. (The return key again.) Next, add a manual line break. (Shift and return. Not one after the other. Together or not at all.) Then type the asterisk, followed by the return key.
   To end the sequence, hit shift and return together. After that, type your new paragraph. Go back and centre the asterisk. The line break above the asterisk should also centre, though the one below should not.

   Beware. If the next section opens with direct speech, you may find inverted commas starting with closing quotes instead of opening ones. Some fine-tuning is required.


Why place an asterisk between chapter sections? The reader will always see the asterisk. If you leave a blank space between sections, that space can be lost in the Kindle shuffle, depending on font-size. A new section, without indent, should indicate where the next scene kicks off. The best solution is to have some form of character, preferably an asterisk, right there as an obvious visual cue.


For authors who wish to follow the advice, remember – this arrangement worked for me. You may be doing other things in the background, or foreground, bringing my advice into conflict with how you run your office. Solution. Keep trying.
   All of my books get around the Amazon default setting of the first line paragraph indent. Is this something readers are bothered by? We’re in the Twilight Zone on that one...
   How far does an e-reading experience stray from the paper one? An army of readers, used to paper publishing conventions, will want something that resembles what went before. With all the advantages e-reading brings, into the bargain. (Instant dictionary, etc.) In another generation, who knows...
   Some readers will convert completely. Others will mix and match between paper and e-reading. A few will sample then reject outright, clinging to the familiarity of the past. There is a cry for “proper” books, whatever those are.
   If you feel that you are going to alienate many of your readers by dropping traditional publishing conventions, do your best to take account of this. Though remember – there was resistance to the end of the one-page paragraph. Robinson Crusoe would be a touch easier to read if rendered in smaller chunks on the page...
   For my part, I couldn’t cut loose of an established publishing convention even though I embraced digital publishing. I wrote my fiction that way anyhow, and stuck to that format. To first para indent or not is your choice.
   If it makes production of your book easier and you don’t receive thousands of complaints, ye are harming none and saving yourself some bother if you decide to stick with the Amazon default.
   We’d all like to think it’s what we write the readers are interested in, and not how we encode our scribble...


Paragraph indentation itself is handled in the Format box. Highlight the text you want to indent. Inside the tab marked Indents and Spacing, there’s an option for Special settings. To generate paragraph indents, set the feature to First line and select a measurement. I use 0.5 cm, as shown in the screenshot.

   Once you’ve set up the indentation, that’s it for the rest of the text unless you put in obvious breaks. Then you’ll have to highlight again.
   I can’t cover all the quirks here, as I don’t know how you write your stories. But you’ll see how things pan out as you go.
   While your attention lingers on that screenshot…
   Line spacing should be set to 1.5 for the eventual conversion to Kindle.

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