Formatting and publishing your picture book on different ebook platforms

I’ve just put together my first picture book, and am now working through getting it published on the various ebook platforms. The original version (made so I could send a PDF to the printers to get a dead-tree version) was in InDesign.

I’m still figuring this all out, so I’ll just update this post as I go. So far a useful piece of (free) software is Calibre, and looks like it’s going to be essential. And on forums I’ve also seen people swear by Sigil, a free WYSIWYG ebook editor. Then there’s eCub (also free), a code view ebook creator that can import html.

Obviously, as I’m going for as many outlets as possible, all the sites listed below offer non-exclusive terms (meaning they don’t restrict me to selling my book on their site only).


The Illustrated Section

File format: PDF
Time required: 10 minutes
Commission: 0
Dani Jones’ friendly site is easy to use, and she’s put up a form for you to fill in to speed things up. Things to know – images should be 100 to 150dpi, file size should be below 15mb and you should help to promote The Illustrated Section (which seeing as it’s commission free is more than fair). You’ll also need 7 jpegs – a cover image plus interior pages. And that’s it. Payment is directly to you through Paypal.


Amazon – Kindle Fire

File format: Kindle Format 8 (KF8)
Time required: 15hrs – but will be much quicker next time round
Commission: ?
Kindle books were originally dynamic, flowing text documents: This doesn’t work for picture books as your images and text will be all over the place.

There is an Amazon InDesign plugin, and Shirley Hopkins has a tutorial on making children’s picture books for Kindle Fire. Just follow her instructions. By the by, the Kindle Fire’s screen resolution is 600×1024 pixels.

To give you a quick idea of what Shirley tells you to do, it’s:

  1. download Amazon’s plugin for InDesign,
  2. create an InDesign (CS5) version of two pages of your book,
  3. export for Kindle so you have all the right gubbins for a Kindle book, the plugin creates a Kindle .mobi file
  4. Unzip the .mobi file
  5. then manually create an HTML doc for each page / double page spread,
  6. when you’ve finished, used Kindle Previewer (free software from Amazon) to recompile the unzipped file into a .mobi book

Things you should know:

  • You can tell the Kindle which page to open on by inserting the tag <reference type=”text” title=”Start here…” href=”page03.xhtml” /> in the <guide> section of the .opf file. No need to close the tag, and you can make the title whatever you want (doesn’t have to be “Start here…”. The href is obviously the page you want the Kindle to open the book at.
  • Amazon charges a download fee of $0.15/mb, and picture books can be big.
  • There is no easy way to subset fonts. I had 16mb of a Chinese font which just didn’t work, so ended up making the few Chinese phrases I used into transparent gifs.
  • Note: Transparent PNGs aren’t supported by either Mobi7 (which only supports GIF and JPEG) or Kindle Format 8 (Kindle Fire). If you want to have transparent images in your book you’ll have to use either transparent GIFs or SVG (KF8 only).
  • KF8 will support images laid over each other without an issue. However, this will not be the case in the Mobi7 version (which will be contained in the same “mobi” file as the KF8).
  • Although the Kindle documentation should be taken with a pinch of salt, it says that the mobi file format only supports images up to 127kb (256kb for KF8), and will be compressed to a suitable size when the book is converted. So best to keep image file sizes small.
  • Unfortunately, doesn’t yet have separate categories for Kindle and Kindle Fire books, and if you follow the above formatting guidelines your book will only work in Kindle Fire (I can’t even get it to work for Kindle for PC – the pictures don’t show up). Amazon do not let you put “Kindle Fire” in the title.
  • When you have finished your book and you’re uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing they will ask you for a cover image. I uploaded a smallish version (700px high) but they further compressed it when it appeared in the Amazon store, so it looked ugly and pixelated. Best to upload the maximum size image (2,000 px high) so that it looks clean.

Here are some good reference pages on making Amazon ebooks:

How to make your own Amazon Kindle ebook in just hours CHEAT SHEET v1.25

Kindle Direct Publishing forums – the most helpful forums I’ve ever used, with instant clear answers


Amazon – Other Kindle devices

The regular black and white Kindle reader has problems with my colour pictures – they look all right, but whenever the page is moved, or when you zoom in and out, it takes a second or two to adjust and the image becomes pixelated. I’m going to just use b&w line drawings for the Kindle edition.

The ratio is 9:11.
Screen dimensions:
Kindle 1, 2, 3, 4 = 600 × 800 pixels, 167 ppi (pixels per inch)
Kindle DX = 1,200 × 824 pixels, 150 ppi

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