Is Your Look Inside the Book a Wreck?
One of the questions that I see posted, all the time, at the Amazon KDP Forums is this one--some variant on, "my Look Inside is a mess!," or, "How do I fix the Look Inside, because all my nice page breaks are gone!"
Here's the bottom line: mostly, you can't.
I know, I know--now, you're horrified. But here's the thing: while an eBook like a Kindle or an ePUB is made out of HTML, so are the Amazon webpages. The problem is, it's not the same kind of HTML. While the HTML itself is the same, HTML is controlled by something else, called "stylesheets." That's how companies like ours make things like fonts work--by using Stylesheets. In HTML, they are called "CSS." (Cascading Style Sheets). They're called cascading because a more important style will override a less important style, to put it simply. Or, a more detailed style will override a less detailed style.
Anyway, Amazon has a style set for their webpages. They also have an overriding stylesheet set for the Look Inside the Book ("LITB"). They do this for conformity and consistency, so that the LITB looks the same for all books--mostly. What this means is that no matter what you do with your book, your styling "succumbs" to Amazon's override.
If You Format Your Ebook with Word:
If you're making your eBook yourself, from Word or something similar, the best thing you can do is to be consistent, thorough and detailed in using your own Styles in Word (or Libre Office, Open Office, et.). Use page or section breaks between your sections (copyright page, title page, etc.). Do not use "enter-enter-enter-enter" to create vertical space. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go here and read the articles and tutorials on how to use Word's built-in styles to make your life easy, and for your book to come out its best. If you aren't very expert in Word, I'd highly recommend that you read the other items (in the menu on the left), starting with "Basic Concepts." You might be amazed at what you can learn to do with Word.
Anyway, back to the Look Inside: if you use the page/section breaks, you will at least get some decent spacing between the "pages" of the Look Inside. If you use heading styles for your page headings (e.g. "Acknowledgements," "Dedication," "Chapter One," and so on), you'll get a nice, consistent-looking layout in the Look Inside. It won't look like your print book; but it will be professional, attractive, and won't destroy your chances of selling the book. All in, that's about all you can do. If you have images, it's more than likely that they'll appear full-width of the Look Inside "page." Adjusting that will take a sidetrip into using HTML.
Basic Amazon Look Inside Mistakes:
In the article image, you see numbered items 1-4. These are just a few examples of the most basic LITB errors. These are:
- There's no space here, indicating that there is supposed to be a page break between the image, above the Contents page, and the Contents page. This would have been helped quite a bit by a section break. Alternatively, a horizontal line, or a border, around the image that's on the previous "page" of the eBook, could have helped.
- The Contents heading, unlike all the other headings in the book, isn't centered. This reflects poorly on the overall quality of the book production and in turn, makes the publisher look amateurish.
- As you can see, in this and the next numbered item, this publisher didn't understand that eBooks don't have columns. This isn't the publisher's first book, so it's quite a surprising mistake to have made. The "Page" heading is floating off in space, by itself, to the right of the "Chapter" column.
- And of course, here you see the page numbers for the Chapters--completely misaligned, because again, eBooks don't support columns. To create columns, a commercial eBook maker will create a table. Now, there are dangers in doing this, as not all devices (rather notoriously, for one, first-generation Kindles) support tables, and even more-advanced devices can struggle with them. This bookmaker used TABS to try to create the TOC--this may well be an automated Word-created TOC. Regardless, as eBooks don't have tabs, either, you can see the rather dismal result.
In this instance, had this publisher been our client, we would have explained that firstly, eBooks don't have pages, and thus, no page numbers (See What about my page numbers? and Does a Table of Contents Work With No Page Numbers?, for more details on this). A properly-made Table of Contents in an Ebook isn't simply typed text, like this one is--it's linked. It's an active, working mechanism that allows the reader to easily navigate around the book. Moreover, it likely means that the books by this publisher don't have the "time left in this book" information, percentage completed, etc., that you see in a professional book.
That's how TOC's in eBooks work. What this LITB displays is not only that the publisher doesn't, after six other books, know that eBooks don't have pages or page numbers, but that also, s/he doesn't care enough about the convenience of their readers to create a working, linked Table of Contents. If you are the potential buyer for this book, would you take this as a good sign, as to the overall quality of what's inside the book? Would you, if you saw this, even read further, to get to the content? Or would seeing this stop you right there?
What Stops YOU from Buying a Book? If It Stops YOU--It Will Stop Your Buyers, Too.
If You Have Professional Formatting:
Professional or commercial formatters can do a bit more than someone can do with Word. After all, we're working in HTML in the first place. For us, it's not the Undiscovered Country, to mooch from Shakespeare and Star Trek at the same time. While many of us wish it, the Look Inside doesn't yet display what's called "KF8" formatting, which is the more-advanced formatting that can be used for the Kindle Fire, Fire HDX, Paperwhite and Voyage classes of Amazon e-readers. When an Amazon MOBI file, which is an eBook for Kindle, is created, it has inside it three separate sections:
- a complete copy of the source file, so, in our case, the HTML that was used as the basis for the file;
- a KF8 file, which is a MOBI that has advanced formatting that can be viewed on the more-advanced devices, and,
- A KF7 file, which is sent to those purchasers that have either the older Kindle devices (like the K2--still millions of 'em out there!), or the still-selling Kindle DX.
When you order a book from Amazon, the server asks you which device you're buying it for, and then sends you the appropriate file--either the KF8 or KF7.
Why am I telling you this? Because the Look Inside isn't actually synched to your KF8 content; it's synched to your KF7 content. That means, not only is Amazon overriding what you have in there in the first place, but it's overriding it with the less-advanced formatting options. Yes, it's a bit like adding insult to injury, but look at it from their viewpoint--imagine what the whole website might look like, if each book was completely different. Moreover, and most importantly, what they're doing is protecting you. Because many DIY bookmakers use things that don't work correctly in eBooks. And what would happen if those mistakes propagated onto Amazon's website? That could be fairly disastrous. As I explained in our article, IS YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON ALL IN ITALICS?, sometimes, a very tiny--very tiny--little HTML error (that one on the Author Central page, mind you), can have wholly unexpected and catastrophic domino-effect consequences.
Shouldn't My Look Inside Be Justified?
One of the other questions or comments I see--particularly from the less-informed--is that books that are not justified (left-aligned) in the Look Inside "don't look professional." Well, here's something to chew on: Amazon very clearly tells commercial and professional bookmakers not to impose justification, or any other body alignment formatting, on the main text of the book. I mean, sure, if you want to make a single paragraph, or a short section, left-aligned, you can do that. Or right-aligned. But using those settings, or even justification (what some people call "full justification") is not something of which Amazon approves. The reason for this is because when you, the bookmaker/publisher, set the justification for your book, the reader can't override it with their preferred setting.
While most Kindle devices and readers still fully-justify, the advanced typography that's coming may well allow readers to choose the type of justification that they want. If you've overriden some reader's preference for left-aligned text (and, trust me--they're out there in numbers!), you could suffer a Kindle Quality Notice from Amazon if that reader complains. We know this factually because we had a client that insisted that we use left-align for her book, despite our warnings. Not a few short months later, a reader complained to Amazon, and even more than a simple KQN (which requests nicely that you fix the book and re-upload it, only), Amazon removed her book from sale--until she fixed it. Now, that's not something that you want to happen.
- If you're working in Word, there isn't much you can do to alter your LITB. Be consistent, use Styles and use page-breaks between your sections and chapters.
- If you're working in HTML, remember that Amazon's CSS will override yours.
- You can try to justify your book, to make the Look Inside look "more professional," if that's how you feel, but remember: here there be dragons!
- Remember: NO page numbers, and don't use columns unless you're a professional.
- And don't use Tabs, to either create indents for your paragraphs, OR to create a column. The results won't make you or your readers happy.
Until next time!