Kindle Create – Not Ready for Prime Time

This past year Amazon has slowly been merging CreateSpace (CS) with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

The first was Kindle to paperback. There were some hiccups when it originally rolled and, as of this writing, some features are still in beta and limited in availability. On the other side, CS has had the option to publish on Kindle immediately after the print book is published.

In the spring, Amazon rolled out Kindle Create (KC) in beta. This month it was fully released.

While described by some as an “add in” or “plugin,” it is a stand-alone app for PC (Windows 7 or later) or MacOS (10.9 or later). Kindle Create works only with Word DOCX files. The information page specifies that files from Word, Google Docs, or exported from Apple Pages can be used. Users are reporting that files exported with OpenOffice work but not with LibreOffice files.

In addition to creating a project file for a standard Kindle book, it also has an option to upload a PDF file to publish a print replica ebook. This option allows adding video, audio, and image pop-ups. These are fixed format books and don’t become reflowable when uploaded to KDP. This option has been compared to the Kindle Textbook Creator.

I decided to give it a try with a book I plan to release in February. I used a formatted Word DOC, a non-formatted Word DOC, and PDF files. Here’s what I learned.

The first sentence on KDP’s information page says “Use Kindle Create (PC or Mac) to transform your completed manuscript into a beautiful Kindle eBook.” Sounds like easy-peasy magic. It further claims to format your DOCX file in “a few clicks.” I found it wasn’t quite that simple.

Yes, KC will “transform” your manuscript to a Kindle book. However, it was more than a few clicks. In fact, it took me as many clicks as it might to format in Word.

One feature that is appealing to those who think that formatting an ebook is a technical and daunting task is the templates. The four templates or themes have basic elements styles: chapter title, chapter subtitle, chapter first paragraph, separator, and body text predefined. If you don’t like the template chose it can be changed.

Detailed formatting changes, such as line spacing, indents, font styles, can be made. There is no option to keep any formatting that may have been done before the file is uploaded to KC, except in the case of PDF files, which will be discussed later.

A problem area for some writers is setting up a table of contents (TOC). KC is reported to solve that problem. Well, sort of. KC detects chapter titles and creates a clickable TOC. However, it goes overboard. All subtitles and divisions are included as a chapter title. Users must go through the document to change subtitle format and anything else tossed in the TOC. Even if the DOC was formatted with subtitle styles, KC sees them as a chapter title.

KC clearly states images, separators, lists, tables, and footnotes cannot be edited or formatted within the app. The user guide says if these elements aren’t correct, make the changes in Word, and open it again in KC.

My book has a couple of images, bullet lists, and numbered lists. I tried several ways to get the images to position correctly to no avail. Most of the list transferred to KC fine, but some were indented incorrectly. Some paragraph indents were also too large. I use Word styles for these elements so had to manually make changes, then open in KC again, check, and sometimes redo the process.

Once formatting is completed, a preview is available. This is similar to the preview mode in the KDP content process. Simulated views on various devices are available. Links can be checked as well as the TOC.

Even though I was unable to get the document completely formatted the way I wanted it, I tried the “Publish” button. (The online instructions call the button “Package.”) It’s too bad it doesn’t really send the document to KDP for publishing. To publish the document means to save in a specific file format, KPF. After saving the file, KC shows a pop-up with the file location. The user then uses the KDP systems to upload the file as one would with other formats created outside of KC.

The PDF upload option in KC is called a print replica. No formatting can be done with KC. It is nothing more than a previewer. When saved for publishing, the PDF is also saved as a KPF file. When the file is upload through KDP, it is a fixed layout book that is only viewable on tablets, phones, and Kindle Fire. It is reported to be an alternative to the Textbook Creator.

A big change when uploading the KPF file to KDP was no downloadable preview files. I like to download a MOBI file to manually load on my Kindle and other devices for preview. This is not possible using the Kindle Create files.

It appears that Amazon is attempting to have a method that all of the publishing options will be within their system. One observer noted that with the new file format, Kindle book creators will not be able to use their formatted files on any other platform. As this person put it, “closing the Amazon ecosystem.”

Kindle Create may be helpful for first time Kindle users who have a simple book, such as a novel with no formatting other than chapter titles. For the rest of us, it is unwieldy at best. It can actually take more time than formatting with styles in Word, converting to HTML, and uploading to KDP. It is definitely not ready for prime time.

Learn how to format your Word file for Kindle with Formatting e-Books for Writers: Convert Your Word File to Kindle or Creating and Formatting e-Books online class.

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