Wednesday, July 18, 2012

KDP production: Word for Mac botches HTML

(UPDATE: Since this post was written in 2012, Amazon KDP has started accepting Microsoft Word .doc and .docx files. It is not longer necessary to convert Word documents to HTML first)

For my first technology e-book, a Dropbox guide for business and personal use, I handled all of the production on my own. That includes everything from cover design to uploading the manuscript to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Nook (PubIt).

I have been working with electronic publishing tools since the 1990s. The tasks and tweaks involved weren't difficult, but they did take a lot of time. There were also a lot of transitions. I wrote the draft in Google Docs, then switched to Microsoft Word, which is recommended by Amazon and Barnes & Noble for conversion to their respective mobile formats. The weekend of July 7-8 was devoted to taking my Microsoft Word (for Mac) master and preparing it for export to various e-book formats -- Kindle (which required HTML files), Nook (whose PubIt! service for authors uses a .docx file from Word) and PDF (which used Word and a Mac app called PDFOutliner to handle the table of contents).

Kindle was by far the most problematic. The issue wasn't KDP or the format that the KDP accepted, but rather the way that my content creation tool -- Microsoft Word (for Mac) -- handled critical tasks.

Let's step back. It's early July, 2012. This is my first e-book, and I need a resource to guide me through the steps. I turned to Mark Coker's excellent Smashwords Style GuideCoker style guideto get me up to speed, and also referenced Amazon's own publishing guidelines.

It seemed straightforward:

  • Do the writing and layout in Word.
  • Follow the requirements for the different platforms (example: KDP uses page breaks, PuBit uses section breaks).
  • Export (if required).
  • Convert/append (if required).

The last two steps were problematic. Some day I'll write about the challenges related to PDF publishing, but for this post, I want to concentrate on the KDP requirements and how Microsoft Word (for Mac) was unable to fulfill them.

Amazon's KDP program doesn't accept raw Word files. They want HTML, which is the language of Web pages. No problem. I've been doing it for years, and Word can even export to HTML. The Amazon documentation advises doing this:

  • Save your manuscript as a “Filtered HTML document” on your computer at a location you can easily find (such as your desktop). To do this, just follow these steps:
    • In Word, with your manuscript open, click the “File” tab, then click “Save As” and select, for example, “Desktop.”
    • For “Save as type:” select “Web Page, Filtered.”

When I did this, I ended up with an HTML file that contained the text as well as image and formatting references. Word also generated a folder full of exported images referenced by the .htm file.

I followed the other required steps to upload the files to Amazon. A few seconds later, Amazon spit out the .mobi file that Kindle can read. The KDP Web interface also had an emulator that let me see what the file looked like on different devices. And right away I noticed a problem:

The diagram in the picture above should be a lot larger. It should practically fill the entire width of the Kindle DX screen. But it only occupied about 1/3.

In fact, almost all of the .jpg screenshots that I so painstakingly built had been botched. First, they had been converted to larger .png files. Even worse, the dimensions of the files had been reduced. The PNG files were all 433 or 434 pixels wide, max. At that small size, details were difficult to see. On some of the large format devices in the emulator, they looked positively puny.

This was a real problem. The e-book was aimed at people who depended on larger screenshots to understand what Dropbox is. Tiny pictures simply wouldn't do.

I spent about two hours trying to reconfigure Word for Mac to output full-sized, full-quality images along with the raw HTML. It was not a problem to turn off PNG conversion, but the result was a conversion of many of my screenshots to horrible-looking GIFs. The image width on JPGs and GIFs was also limited to 433 pixels.

Eventually I had to dive into the HTML and XML that Word had generated and manually reference the larger original jpg files. A lot of resizing and renaming was involved. But I eventually wrangled an acceptable version into KDP.

I'm seriously thinking of using Google Docs for my next Kindle book. …

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