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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Comments (13)

  1. Susan, thank you so very much for this post. I found it quite informative and enlightening, not to mention timely, as I’m considering the self-publishing track.

  2. Thank you so much for this post and including the expression “closing the Amazon ecosystem.” I’ve been trying to make a book ready for paperback publication (it’s alaready out on Kindle) for February release, and finding many of the same issues you have seen.” Unwieldy is a kind way to put this!

  3. Susan K. Stewart

    Thank you, Hillary, for your comments. I really had hoped KDP would have improved Kindle Create since I wrote this review. 🙁 You may want to prepare your book for print through Word, InDesign, or another method of formatting the interior. I chose to hire a professional designer. The small cost I paid was worth not having the frustration.

  4. D.R.K

    Definitely not ready. For such a popular system, I am amazed at the lack of features and how much of a mess it is to set this stuff up. I can’t stand it. It’s the most user unfriendly system I think I have ever encountered, especially when setting up a TOC.

  5. Susan K. Stewart

    I agree, D.R.K. I think formatting in Word is much easier.

  6. I loved Create Space and published four books with them. The Create Space customer support by phone was the best ever. Kindle sucks. Terrible. Absolutely the worst experience with formats, templates, and the ugliest book cover options. No customer support. Converting the book to Kindle was insanely tedious and non-functional and the end result was unprofessional and ugly. I am hoping Apple provides a better system for self publishing. Or someone. I feel insulted that we authors are disregarded in the transition from Create Space.

  7. Susan K. Stewart

    Janan, I agree that the offered templates and covers are not the best for either a Kindle product or a print book. KindleCreate really didn’t make it easier. Also, an e-book, no matter the company, has fewer formatting details than a print book. The process of preparing an e-book is vastly different than a print book. The easiest way to prepare for Kindle is using Word, hence the subtitle “Converting Your Word File to Kindle.”

    Apple requires approval before uploading unless you use a service such as Smashwords. It also requires an EPUB file. Apple does not offer print services.

  8. john

    I have little doubt that Kindle Create was built in response to the free Apple application called iBooks Author. It is a great tool IF you are going to publish your book to iBooks. Easy to use, intuitive, and a nice number of colorful and professional looking templates. You can even purchase templates for it on the Apple App Store. Unfortunately, if you are going to e-publish in both spaces (Kindle & iBooks) and want to use a dedicated e-book creation application, you’ll need to learn to use both iBooks Author & Kindle Create.

  9. Susan K. Stewart

    John, Thank you for your comments about Kindle Create and iBooks Author. iBooks Author was released in 2012. So Apple had a five-year jump on Amazon. Unlike Kindle Create, which is available for Windows and Mac OS, iBook Author is available only for Mac OS, so Windows users don’t have the option. Both of these free products aren’t exactly free because the user is required to limit distribution to the parent company, no other distribution is allowed.

    For e-books, in addition to using KDP, Smashwords is a good option because it distributes to iBooks, Kobo, and OverDrive (for distribution to libraries). For print books, IngramSpark is a good option because the book is listed with Ingram Distribution, which is the catalog used by most book stores. IngramSpark does have a $49 fee.

  10. slowsmile

    I have to say that I disagree with the author of this article. For starters, Kindle Create is just a finishing-off tool for ebooks. It should never be used as an end-to-end formatting tool your whole ebook. So the majority of your styling and layout work should always be done in MS Word first BEFORE you load your Word doc into Kindle Create. What are the advantages of using Kindle Create? It will give you a much better looking ebook — in terms of interior ebook styling — than just uploading a Word doc. Kindle Create allows you to add and resize ebook images without any problems, use the proper heading style for your genre, add a TOC etc. And it’s all just point and click. I’ve been using Kindle Create for 3.5 years and have come to the conclusion that it is a wonderful app for novice authors. But like any app, it also has to be learnt and used frequently in order to understand and see it’s full potential.

  11. Hello Susan Stewart, thank you for this post. It is most helpful.

    You mentioned positioning photos… I have heard of this problem elsewhere and I had trouble with it early on but found a solution. In my original document (in Apple Pages) I had to center justify the lines before and after each photo or they would automatically justify left in Kindle create. By centering the lines immediately around the photo in my original document, the photo would position in the center of the page in KC. This method worked for me in spite of exporting the Pages doc as a Word DOC in order to upload it into Kindle Create.

    I hope this info works for other people as well.

    – John

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