Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago · 4 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Lost in Amazon 6.5: How to Reflow Without Insanity

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How to Reflow’

Without Insanity
Robert Bacal said my method for creating a print-replica e-Book was overly complicated. Well, he was right. I made adjustments. But, even at it's most complex, it's a cake-walk compared to making a decent reflowable text version. 

Yes, it's easy to make an eBook. No, it isn't at all easy to make one that actually looks like a book.

Still, I needed to try to make a text-intensive eBook using the "easy" route. 

I want to say that the extra effort is probably worth it if your work is indeed text-intensive. Something like a novel will take full advantage of the many Kindle features. Those features all add up to a great reader experience. 

Amazon is big on Reader Experience.

 Producer/author experience? Not so much.

Rather than write something just to test the method, I asked my beBee friend, Don Kerr, if I could make an eBook version of his Riding Shotgun book. It took me a couple of days to get it into a format that I could use. 

It's not that the process is arduous. 

I kept getting so caught up in reading the book that I forgot to work on the conversion.

Riding Shotgun: A book for men and the partners they care for is not so much a chronicle as a series of connected thoughts and experiences. It tells of an exceptional man made all the more so because he truly doesn't think he's anything special at all. 

Then there's Kate, Don's wife. Don won Wife Lottery there. 

Not that I'm jealous. 

Well, maybe just a little.

A few hours work became two days. Oh, well. It was definitely worth the read. By the way, the link to the book is for the paperback version. I just sent Don the mobi files a few minutes ago. Once he uploads it to Amazon, I'll add the eBook link too.

Yes, you read that right. I sent Don the files, as in plural, as in many, as in my Temporary Tourrettes is just now leaving me.

Lest you think I'm upset with Don, rest assured I am not. I am grateful that he let me test this stuff on his baby. 

Imagine how much worse it would be to write a test book and THEN go through all this stuff! I needed to go through this to find the proper path, or at the least, one that works.

Amazon needs to work on the eBook creation/producing process. I designed and wrote (mostly) a full-blown Twitter Management System ( But, I had trouble with an eBook. 


As it turns out, the best way to proceed has nothing to do with Amazon at all. Using Amazon's tools just caused grief. 

Tables of content didn't appear. Navigation bookmarks failed intermittently. Every conversion met with warnings and/or errors.

I tried with PDF, ePub, and finally HTML. The HTML worked best, but still no cigar.

ePub to Kindle sucks

Are you offended by that terminology? 

Not half as offended as I was trying to make the #&^%^#*^* conversion thing work. 

It did work but it was butt ugly. 

Page breaks disappeared. 

UTF-8 text refused to encode. (Those freaking curly quotes!)

Either the HTML Table of Contents would work or the Kindle bookmark navigation would work, but never both.

The process ignored page breaks. I dug around and found a custom Amazon tag, < mpb: pagebreak / > )(Note: the spaces are only so that the tag shows here. Omit them)

Page breaks appeared once I added those tags in. Thank God for GREP!

I still wasn't happy. Navigation would be the eBook's downfall. Who wants to scroll all over the place?

I was about to just give up and send Don a print-replica when I remembered Calibre. Calibre is a free software for reading, organizing, and, yes, converting eBooks.

I started with an ePub. Not a good idea. I switched over to HTML and that worked much better. It needs to be finagled somewhat, but it works. 

A Caveat: The Table of Contents will once again cause fits of Temporary Tourettes. Try as I might, if I wanted bookmark navigation, I would get two Tables of Content or none at all. I "solved" that issue by asking Calibre to write the second ToC at the end of the book. Good enuff.

Another Caveat: Calibre isn't an Amazon property. It has no idea what  mpbpagebreak / > means. No worries. I went back to good old CSS and styled in page breaks. That was just a simple Find/Replace thing.

I didn't dig deeply into Calibre.

It's quite the powerful beast. Maybe I'll play with it some more. Who knows, maybe I'll even find a way to further simplify this process. 

Going forward, I hope I can find the time to put Calibre through its paces. A quick once-over of their documentation hints that it may well be a go-to tool. It may even be THE go-to tool. 

I added it to my long list of things I need to take a long look at.

UPDATE: The process in brief

1 - Prepare your manuscript. I write in Word. Don sent me a PDF. Whatever.
2 - Save it as HTML or Web Page. I used InDesign. Word can do it too. InDesign writes better HTML.
3 - Two Choices here: Modify the HTML to add styling like page breaks, paragraph borders, etc. Here's an example. Bear in mind that code does not show up here so spaces are added. Where there should be a space, I added " + ."

Example: Let's say your chapter headings are < h1 + class = "Chapter_NewPg" >. You want them to always start on a new page (screen load). Use Search and Replace to replace all that < h1 > text with  < h1 + class = "Chapter_NewPg" + style="page-break-before:always;" >

Second way: If your HTML process builds a seperate CSS file, make the modifications to < h1 + class = "Chapter_NewPg" > there. Just add a line that reads page-break-before  :always; .

4 - Add a new book to Calibre using the new HTML as a source. Hit Convert.

5 - Fill in the details like Author name, title, publisher, etc. Add your cover image (1688px on the short side by 2700 on the long side)

6 - Convert

7 - Save to your hard drive

8 - Open KindlePreviewer

9 - Open the file marked as Kindle Content.

10 - If you have errors and/or warnings, check them to see what needs fixing. Fix them. Hit Goto->Home, reopen the file

Yes, this is the easy way.

How long did it REALLY take

I need to discount my "Squirrel!" moments caused by Don's excellent writing. The initial two days should really be about two hours, three at the outside. It's really only applying Styles to text in InDesign. I think Word can do the trick well enough. 

Throw out the 7 or so hours trying to make Amazon tools do the job. 

Throw out 2 hours of web research. 

Throw out an hour of hand-coding XML into OPF (Open Packaging Format) and NCX (Navigation Center eXtended) files. I ended up not even needing those.

Throw out two hours of installing and studying Kindlegen (Kindlegen is a command-line interface to build KF8 files. It's built right into Kindle Previewer! You don't need it unless you plan to convert in bulk. Even then, I question the need for it.).  

Throw out an hour-long walk to clear my head.

Throw out two hours of learning the basics of Calibre.

Carry the one.

Divide by two extra-strength Excedrin.

Raise to the power of two Dirty Martinis, extra olives.

And you get...

About 4 hours of actual productive work.

That's doable. 

The next time I won't need to run down so many blind alleys.

Now, neither will you.

Thanks again, Don. I appreciate your letting me play with your work.




Blog Poets

About the Author

I'm a ghost but not the kind that's to pottery
wheels. I'm the wnting kind

Toften wonder if Im a tech-savvy writer or a
writing-savvy technologist Maybe I'm both. As
one CMO put it, "Paul makes tech my bitch!
That might be going a hittle too far
The Ultimate Twitter System

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Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #20

Wow it seems it can get very complicated. Need a consultant just to steer a person in the right direction on how to sell an ebook on Amazon and still make money.

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #19

To be sure it's more complicated than my comment makes it out to be. This only applies to Amazon, BTW. The calculation is simple. 1 - ANY ebook priced below U$2.99 or above $9.99 automatically is on a 35% royalty plan. 2 - Between 2.99 and 9.99 inclusively, the author/publisher may CHOOSE the 70% royalty plan. It is not automatic. The 70% plan carries a "delivery fee" of $0.15 per megabyte. A megabyte of eBook is quite a bit of eBook UNLESS there are many images, videos, fonts, etc. My "no-man's-land" between 10 and $20 is simplistic but close enough. (FYI: Amazon tells you what the fee is if you choose this plan while you are uploading) I just downloaded an ebook at $16.67. It's a big boy. It came in at just over 2 megabytes delivered. That's a delivery fee of $0.30. CALCULATION: AS-IS - Sale: 16.67 @ 35% = 5.83 royalty @ 9.99 - Sale: 9.99 - delivery 0.30 = 9.69 @70% = 6.78 royalty He loses $0.95 of royalty on every book sold. I would expect he would sell many more books at $9.99 rather than $16.67.

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #18

That's interesting about the pricing and royalties Paul \. I have no plans to create an ebook but wow.. if I did, I guess it's good to know how to make money vs. losing money. That must have been so frustrating for the person who had a best seller and lost money b/c it was priced 1 cent higher. Yikes!

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #17

Yes, he did let me use it for practice. I found out something important too. When the ebook first came out, I used the "Look Inside" feature to check it. I was shocked to see that some formatting disappeared. I thought it was me. It wasn't The "Look Inside" uses the older mobi file format which does not support enhanced typesetting. I assume Amazon does that to make it readable on all devices. On the surface, that sounds like a good idea, and probably is for a text -only novel thing. For anything else, not so much. NOTES TO AUTHORS WITH PUBLISHERS: 1 - If you have an eBook version it is not automatically listed along with the print version. You need to ask Amazon to link the two on one page. 2 - If your publisher sets pricing, make sure the eBook is either below U$10 or above U$20. Royalties are 70% if the price is between 2.99 and 9.99. Royalties are 35% below 2.99 and above 9.99. I see too many eBooks between $10-20. That includes one best-seller at $10! The author of the best-seller lost thousands because of that extra penny. An ebook priced at $18 will sell less and make less money per sale than the same book at $9.99.

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #16

Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr, I have an email you sent me with a book and I forgot to write back. Shame on me. I'm SO sorry because it's great!!!

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #15

Will do, Charlene Norman. Right now, neither of my tests are conducive to audio format. There's another in the works that should be ready fairly soon that would work.

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #14

LOL, well, Robert, if you don't narrate, and no one else does either, who's left? Wouldn't that will make for a very short audioBook?

Jerry Fletcher

4 years ago #13

Paul, your accounting of the time involved makes me glad I gave up on this sort of thing and now leave it to experts. I particularly like, "Divide by two extra strength Excedrin."

Charlene Norman

4 years ago #12

when you do the deep dive, would you mind cc ing me please. I am really fascinated and keenly interested. Thank you Paul \

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #11

You weren't all that far from the truth, Martin Wright. Print-replica eBooks work from PDF files so they are very close to scans but much faster to process and store. What they aren't is reflowable, meaning they don't adjust to various devices, readers can't change font size, or the font itself, etc.

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #10

Audible is an Amazon company, Charlene Norman. I'm starting to see phone app ads and even television ads for it. I will be adding a post or three about that too. In a nutshell, the process can be done for free let alone a shoestring budget. Good thing too. I prefer loafer budgets. Voice over artists are available but they will share in the royalties. I haven't started the deep-dive yet, but it looks pretty straightforward. I need to get a move on. One issue I see so far is that audioBooks narrated by the author do much better. Amazon offers a bounty program. I hate the word but any new member who joins to buy your audiobook first earns you $50.

Martin Wright

4 years ago #9

An excellent and educational look at how to prepare a boik for an electronic reader, i would have thought they used scanners - just shows how little i know.

Charlene Norman

4 years ago #8

I hear you completely Paul \ As a matter of fact, the first version I had done was awful, awful, awful. And cost about $25 or so. Did I say AWFUL? The second time I decided to give it a go, I went after the best person I could find. (went after the one with the max # of stars AND spoke English AND lived in North America.) Trust me, it took awhile to find. The final result was/is stunningly beautiful. I think I found two errors. I am really really picky. (Others would say leave it alone. Not me, it must look professional.) And fixed them myself. I truly admire you for the tenacity to do this. Not my cup of tea. Audible audio books? What is that about? I am thinking about getting into the audio book business. Shoestring budget kinda thing though.

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #7

How does it look, Charlene Norman? My opinion of Fiverr is not the best. I'm always curious. There is absolutely no way on God's Green Earth that I would do what needs to be done for $50. Free as a test and for a friend, yes. $50? No way. Surprisingly, book length is a minor consideration. It's pretty much the same effort for 22 pages as for 220. Besides, based on my research so far, a 220-page book is probably better off as 3, ~70-page books. Much depends on the subject, but it might be something to consider. (Feel free to add a link to your book and a description in a comment.) Example: My first test book, REAL WORLD PayPal IPN is about 70 pages (equivalent). The follow-up will be another ~70 for securing custom PayPal buttons. At some later point, they may be combined as a paperback, but the eBooks will stay as is. I haven't started promotion yet, but I sold 17 eBooks and 3 paperbacks (I'm in shock). More importantly, I signed two new writing clients with two more in the works. The next test book will be the diet I used to lose 60 pounds without ever depriving myself. It uses what I learned in Culinary School to make yummy, nourishing, real food that melts the weight off. I will probably test Audible audioBooks with that one. That book was written 2 years ago. I held off to make sure the weight stayed off. (I already rode the weight loss roller coaster.)
Paul \, You-da-man just because you understand all of this "stuff". Bravo!

Charlene Norman

4 years ago #5

Holy cow. I had no idea there was this much to do. I spent slightly under $50US on and had 220 pages of text converted for me. I don't have nearly the amount of patience as you. Thanks for the fantastic lesson.

don kerr

4 years ago #4

Wherein my friend Paul \ shares how to get from print book to e-book in while retaining a portion of your equilibrium.

don kerr

4 years ago #3

Paul \ Rock Star! Thanks so much.

🐝 Fatima G. Williams

4 years ago #2

Sounds like alot of work. You make it sound so easy. Now I'm off to get the book if the ebook version is ready.

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

4 years ago #1

Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr is mentioned in this post.

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