Saturday, June 18, 2011

Step by Step Scrivener to Kindle Tutorial

There are many ways to get your content onto a Kindle. But it's not so simple finding a way that produces satisfactory results. For Mythik Imagination #1, I used an .html template (shout out to Derek J. Canyon "Thanks for the template!") and formatted by hand. It seemed to work pretty well, but is tedious if you have to do a lot of unusual formatting. For instance I needed a lot of italics, so it was a pain to add the many, many, many HTML tags by hand.

My goal was to find a program I could use to write all my drafts, then be able to export to send to the proofreader/editor, then paste in the final locked words, then export to a nicely formatted and professional looking Kindle file, ready for uploading. I think I've found a one-stop method of doing all that, using Scrivener.

Scrivener is a great little program that has big capabilities. It is really amazing with all the things it can do. I don't know most of those things yet, because I've been focused on just one thing: Kindle formatting. You can Google dozens of Scrivener tutorials (and heck, even read the manual haha,) and you can also go see Nicholas Olivo for good Scrivener tutorials.

You should know the basics of Scrivener before using this tutorial. I also have a disclaimer. This method seems to work really well in my tests. But, I'm paranoid, so I won't be entirely convinced until I actually upload to Amazon, then buy the finished product and see what the buyer sees. So, I'm not guaranteeing anything just yet. But it should give you a head start to see for yourself if you like this technique or not. - UPDATE: So I have now used this method on The Human Ate My Pumpkin! and it worked great :)

For convenience sake, here are some helpful links before we start:

All right, you have written your masterpiece, and now you want to get it on a Kindle, using Scrivener. Here's how to do it:

First, you will need to download and install two programs (available for Mac or PC) from Amazon:

The first is KindleGen, which is the program that Scrivener will use to do the actual converting to .mobi format.

The second is Kindle Previewer, which will let you see how your newly created .mobi file will look on a Kindle device or app.

So download those now and install them. It's okay, I'll wait.

I'm going to assume that you've figured out the basics of how Scrivener works, including the Compile command. But, if you haven't, I'll give you head start:

Select File>Compile…

Then select Compile For: Kindle eBook (.mobi) and select KindleGen from the Compilation Options.

Now you need to tell Scrivener where to find the KindleGen program. So, just point it to wherever you installed KindleGen. There's also a handy link to the Amazon KindleGen download page if you haven't downloaded it yet.

Okay, now you are ready to rock. Cancel the compile window and let's get down to bizness!

Here's a new, blank Scrivener project:

Organize Scrivener's binder the way you want your Kindle book to look. You will see I used a combination of folders and files. In the Scrivener Universe, folders and files are essentially the same. They are both containers that you can also write on. But when you compile, you can set each of those types to do different things. So here I have six sections that will be in my book:

Front Matter (folder)
Contents (folder)
Chapter 1 (file)
Chapter 2 (file)
Chapter 3 (file)
Back Matter (file)

Front Matter is just a fancy way of saying "All the stuff that comes before your actual story," like the title and copyright info, etc. The consensus seems to be to keep the front matter short. The Chapters are, well, chapters of your novel, but in my case, they will be my short stories. The Back Matter is whatever you have after your story, such as an Afterword, links to your website and other books, excerpts from other books, whatever.

So here is what I will have for my book:

What you name these folders and files is very important, because the Compile settings will use these names to automatically title each of your sections using the folder or file name. It works like this: The title of my front matter will be Mythik Imagination #2, which will also have the text of the copyright etc. The title of my contents page will be Contents: and it will have the text of my table of contents. Each of my chapters will be titled with their respective names and contain the text of the actual story. Got it? Good.

Also, remember that that folders can have text, just like files. So, my front matter folder (called Mythik Imagination #2) will have the text of the front matter written on it. (You can think of it as an empty folder, since it doesn't contain anything inside it, but it has the text of the front matter --copyright etc.-- written on it.) The Contents folder is the same. Make sense? No?Don't worry; it will all become clear.

Next, we are going to create our Table of Contents. I select all of my chapters, which are The Silver Skull, The Schofield Crew, Requiem For The Wild West, and Author's Note.

Then I go to the menu bar and select Edit>Copy Special>Copy Documents as Scrivener Links:

Boom! Now I select the empty Contents folder:

Then right click (control-click on Mac) in the editing area and select Paste:

And viola:

There is our table of contents. Note, this screen shot is after I selected Align Text Center and I have Show Invisibles turned on, which is why you see those backwards "P" symbol things. For more detail about creating an eBook table of contents, you can look at the Scrivener User Manual, at the bottom of page 252.

There's one more thing to do before we compile. You've already got your cover art, right? Right? Please say yes. Good! 

Here's some bonus info on the interior Kindle cover. First, do not confuse this with the Catalog Cover. The Catalog Cover is the super-duper high quality image you upload when publishing on the Amazon KDP site.

But forget that for now. Right now we are concerned with the actual cover image that will be the very first page of your Kindle book. This is known as the Cover Image Within Kindle Book. Oddly enough, help for that can be found on the page titled: Formatting Images Within Kindle Book

You don't know it, but I just backspaced over a bunch of info that would have turned this into a graphics tutorial. Instead, I'll just say this:

Cover Image Within Kindle Book specs:
Format: .jpg
Dimensions: about 600 pixels wide by 800 pixels tall
File Size: 127KB or less

That's a pretty small file size, so you may have to tweak the export settings of your graphics program to get the size right. It's worth the effort, though. Try to get as close to 127KB without going over, because your image will look better. My file size was 125KB, and it looks sharp and clean. Theoretically, if your image's file size is too big, KDP will do extra compression to reduce the size and it may not look very good.

Now, name it something logical, like Interior_Cover.jpg and save it where you can find it. Now drag it into the Research folder in the Binder of Scrivener:

Very good.

Okay, so now let's say you have all the content of your front matter, chapters and back matter. It's all been proofread and edited and is word perfect, right? Right. Now let's make it a Kindle book!

Go back to Compile:

Compile: Contents
Make sure you have selected Compile For: Kindle eBook (.mobi) and then select Contents under Compilation Options:

We are going to include all of our folders and files. We want to checkmark Pg Break Before for everything except Mythik Imagination #2 (our Front Matter.)

Compile: Formatting

Here, we are going to include the Title and Text for Folders and for files. We are not checkmarking anything on the middle line, because those are File Groups, which we aren't using. Here's why I made the front matter and contents folders instead of files. Because now we can set the Folder Title to "Heading 1" and set the Page padding to 3 lines.

AND we can set the Files Title to Heading 1 (or a different Heading if we wanted) and set Page padding to 8 lines. Heading changes the size of the Title, and Page padding determines how far down the page the Title is. So we end up with different settings for our Files, which are also our chapters.

Compile: Processing Options

I'm not going to get into all of the reasons for the various settings (yes, we are trained monkeys pressing buttons.) Just make sure it looks like the pic.

Compile: Separators

Section breaks determine where the Kindle will start new pages. The way our layout is organized, we want to have a Section break between everything. Just do it, please.

Compile: Cover
Now we get to use the cover image we worked so hard on in Step-4:

Just select the cover image. It's pretty straightforward, especially if that's the only image in your Research folder.

Compile: E-Book Options

Copy these settings. Make sure that whatever text you type into the "HTML table of contents title:" field matches exactly the name of your Contents: folder. Note that here I used "Contents:" with the colon. That is because my Contents: folder actually has a colon:

When Scrivener compiles, it will automatically add the folder and page names, remember? so my final contents page will look like this:

Okay, we're almost done…

HTML Options

Make sure "Convert Scrivener links to HTML links" is checkmarked.

All the other Compilation Options should be fine to leave in their default settings.

Hit the Compile button.

When you save it, you will have a file ending in .mobi. That is your Kindle book :)

Open up the Kindle Previewer and drag your newly created .mobi file into Kindle Previewer. You should see a nicely formatted, professional looking Kindle book. Check it over and over again to make sure everything turned out the way you planned.

That's it. You should be able to upload the .mobi file to KDP and be good to go. Theoretically. I will make an update to this once I've done it. But in the meantime, this should give you a good idea of how to format your Kindle book using Scrivener.

So test it out, experiment, and have fun!


  1. Great tutorial, Jon, and thanks for the plug!

  2. great tutorial, indeed. Thanks for it and the links.

  3. No prob, Nicholas. I'm glad you both liked it. I'm pretty excited to be able to have such a (relatively) easy way to format for the Kindle. We'll really find out for sure in a few weeks when I upload the real thing.

  4. Hey, great tutorial.
    It really helped.
    I did have some trouble getting the table of contents to work though. And...for some reason my 'back matter' is showing up as 'chapter 36' and the front matter is showing up as 'Front matter'
    Any insight???
    I'll keep fooling with it.

  5. Thanks for the great tutorial. But I'm a little hazy about one thing - what files go where.

    Do I need to separate the chapters out into different folders called Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and so on?

    When you say 'Front Matter' and 'Back Matter', do I need to make files called by these names, and put the title, author's name and publisher one one page and the copyright notice into the next in the Front Matter, and the blurb into the Back Matter? Where do these files go, please? And the inside cover?

  6. @elenaaitken - The Compile settings will use the names of the files and folders in the binder to automatically title each of your sections using the folder or file name. In my case the title of my front matter in the binder is Mythik Imagination #2, which will also have the text of the copyright etc. I called the back matter "Author's Note" in the binder, so that will be its title when it is compiled.

    @Pageturners - you make a folder or file in the binder for each section you want. So, Front Matter, Chapter 1,2,3 etc, Back Matter. But don't name them Front Matter or Back Matter, because whatever you name them will be the title. You pick the cover image in Step-9 in the Cover section of Compile.

    Hope that helps!

  7. Thank you for this awesome tutorial. I already have a test book working on my Kindle Fire and will be using this page as a reference while I build a cookbook. This'll hold me until Amazing releases the new KF8 tools. Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Very helpful, thank you. I am using Scrivener for my dissertation, and it just wasn't looking right when I compiled it for Kindle. I wanted to have an ebook version.

  9. HI Jon thanks so much for this! You are a GOD!

    Something weird is happening. When I copy the chapters like you describe and go to 'paste,' I don't have a paste function. It says stuff like ADD DUPLICATE LABEL RENAME, etcetera but no PASTE. none of the other key combos with right click bring up a menu, and the regular control-v function doesn't work either.

    Hmmm..... insight?

    (I'm on OSX 5.8 getting 6 this week... ??)

    1. Laura, it will do that if you don't have an editable area selected for the folder. In other words, if you click on the folder and you see the corkboard, the paste function will be disabled.

  10. Hmmm, Laura that has me stumped at the moment. I'll need to investigate. I think Scrivener has been updated since I made this tutorial, so maybe that has something to do with it.

    I'll let you know if I come up with a solution :)

  11. I practically memorized this page as I went back and forth to Scrivener and the Kindle viewer. Took me 6 versions to catch everything, at least I hope I did! Off to re-upload.

    I had previously done an upload with a .doc file which ended up with no indents on the paragraphs. Think this will be my default method going forward!

    Thank you so much for the work you put into this page!

  12. This really is a great tutorial. Thanks for taking the time to put it together. Really useful. Only bug I found is that - even if I follow your steps - I still get my "front matter" folder to be called "chapter 1" and the contents folder "chapter 2" - any ideas where I am making a mistake?

  13. Great info. What I still can't figure out is how to make the chapter titles link to the page they start on.

  14. Just got Scrivener, and am looking ahead at this compiling process just to get a preview. This is a wonderful tutorial, and I join the others who have thanked you for taking the time to write such a cogent and useful guide. I am really excited about Scrivener!

  15. Thanks, Rosana, Leon, Anon & Jim. I think I should do an update to the tutorial with the latest version of Scrivener. I've been super busy lately, but hopefully will be able to get to those unanswered questions, soon!

    Oh, and thanks Leon for the extra tip! Ha ha, that had me stumped, too :)

  16. Thoughts re the cover image? I have an image in my research folder and it does not show up when I compile. I am compiling as eBook.

    1. Are you choosing the image when your compiling? It isn't automatically the cover image just because it's in the Research folder. You have to choose the cover image.

  17. Hi Jon,

    Thanks so much for this tutorial, you've saved me a lot of time. I'd actually had the Scrivener download page bookmarked for ages, intending to give it a try at some point.

    I'm glad I did, it's fantastic. Much easier to write with than LibreOffice or the dreaded Word.

  18. Hi Jon,
    Great tutorial. Finally useful info for us Mac users and Scrivener addicts. I'll sure be coming back to read more on your blog

  19. A couple of more steps for those on a Mac if you can't get Scrivener to read the Kindlegen file. Find the Kindlegen file using the finder, not Scrivener. Click it open, when asked if you want to run a program you downloaded from the internet, click "Okay." It will run in the terminal, you can close the terminal program after that. This blesses the file and lets it run from then on without having to assign permissions to it.
    Then follow the instructions above.

  20. Very useful. Looking for an update for the most recent version of Scrivener. Thanks again.

  21. Yeah... yeah...yeah... Scrivener is the best since sliced bread... sure.... UNLESS you happen to be a Windows, (more or less like the rest of the Universe) and not a Mac person. If that's the case, then move on... there is nothing to see here... move on... Scrivener (windows version) is useless. Its version is 1.5.7 while the Mac version is 2.4.... hummm... do you think there may be any differences??? OF COURSE! Same price, less functionality... far far less... and more bugs... more more bugs...

  22. Lord, will you contact Scrivener and get them to hire Jon to write their training manual for them? Scrivener is a great product for writers, so why did they hire a writer that can't make another writer understand how to compile?

    Thanks Jon. You shaved the previous 8 hours down to about 20 minutes. I owe you.


  23. My question was already asked by someone, but never answered. It's how Google led me to this post. I have my cover image loaded into Scrivener (for Mac), both in front matter for ebook and in research, as you recommended. However, when I am in compile settings, my cover does not show as an option. At all. Back to Google I go and hope someone else actually answered the question.

  24. You just saved my life! I don't even know you but I love you, hahaha. Thank you for this.