The view from down here

The Kindle Experience

April 9, 2010

So far I have sold seven copies of my Kindle collection of short stories for total of $3.43. After 14 more sell, Amazon will be do a transfer (minimum $10) and then I'll have actual passive income. (If you missed the first post, you can go take a look a the Amazon page: Amazon - Broken Mirror)

Well, it wasn't quite that passive. Getting a book into the Kindle format turned out to be quite a bit more tricky than I thought.

First, I decided to use the xhtml format, rather than upload a word file or one of the other options. I'm a programmer, so part of the whole fun was writing the program to do the conversion.

There were two main difficulties that I ran into. First, I don't have a kindle. Second, the file format that you upload is not the same as the file format that is loaded onto the Kindle. They have to do the transfer for you and then (for a fee) will deliver it to you Kindle (which I don't have.)

After many more searches than I expected, I finally found an ebook program that will generate the proper Kindle files. The program is called Calibre, and you can download it from

It sort of worked. It could make the .azw files and I could see them on the Kindle that I borrowed for a week, but the formatting wasn't quite right. It was trying to do too much for me. So I had a sample, but I couldn't depend on it.

The other think you can do is use the Amazon preview window. Upload your zip file with the properly formatted HTML and related images, and then look at it in the little Kindle screen. Nice, except that it didn't work right. The table of content link was grey, so I couldn't be sure that it was right.

This logjam was finally broken when Amazon finally released their Kindle reader for the Mac. Now I had a Kindle, or a much better facsimile than their crippled preview. But I still couldn't get my html files into the right format. For this, I thank the anonymous someone who posted the hack. On the preview screen is a link to download the zip file that you uploaded. If you copy the link, there's a format option. The hack is to copy the link and change the file_type cgi arg from zip to azw. The file still gets downloaded with a .zip extension, but all I had to do was rename it and drag it to the "My Kindle Content" folder and then, finally, I could check my formatting.

My converter program is a perl script that reads a plain text file, locates paragraphs and other simple markup, and then writes it all out. I have output converters for plain text, xhtml, rtf, and now Kindle. The Kindle one also makes a table of contents out of the level one heading tags, and does some other kindle-specific things.

I then wanted to get the book up on before the iPad came out.

I add to up the price a bit, because the you have to charge at least 1.60 before they start giving a penny royalty.

I made the deadline but I did it totally wrong. It turns out that there's yet another standard, similar to the Kindle format but not quite, called the ePub format. This comes in three parts: The content, the table of contents part and other metadata, and then the part that says put it all in a zip file. Plus, to sell on the iBookstore you need an ISBN.

So when I find the energy, I can write yet another output converter for my perl script to build all the pieces for the ePub standard and then do the iBook channel the right way. Maybe this summer, by the time I'm ready to think about getting an iPad.

The whole purpose of this exercise wasn't primarily to make money. The money side of eBooks is a whole other issue, one that even major publishers are having trouble with. I was wondering what the process would be like if I wanted to publish my full novel as an eBook, rather than submitting it to agents for traditional publishing.

What I learned about that is that having an eBook is about as easy as having a web site. For little effort you can have content available to the entire world. The real hard part, as it always is for every product, is getting in touch with people who might want it. There are billions of people with something to say, and they're all saying it pretty loud.

While I am quite confident that the full novel is of greater interest and value than my practice book, that's still a pretty big haystack for these little needles.

I'll probably stick to sending out letters to agents later this year. Another haystack. Another format. Another world. But if anyone wants to do a little eBook, I can make it Kindle ready pretty easy now.

Copyright 2010 Daniel LaFavers