Making Your Own Kindle Book Files

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve missed an entire month on my blog. December is usually a very busy month with my juggling 3 jobs, traveling to see my family and the usual seasonal holiday parties. I’ve also been giving my new Kindle from Amazon a thorough workout all month long as well. The abbreviated review is that I’m enjoying it immensely. It’s not perfect, but it’s got so many things right that I feel comfortable recommending it to anyone who loves reading.

There have been many good reviews of the device. Here are a couple I found really fair to the device: Steve Gibson’s review, ArsTechnica and Gizmodo. (In case you’re wondering, that is the same Steve Gibson from the wonderful podcast Security Now.) There’s not much more I’d add in terms of a review so check those out if you’re still on the fence about getting one.

First, some hidden features of your Kindle.

There are quite a few things your Kindle can do that aren’t so obvious. The most useful is the clock. Sure, it’s just a clock, but pressing ALT-T while you’re reading a good book will briefly display the current time in the lower left hand corner of your Kindle’s display. Since it’s a reading device, it writes out the time as in Eight till six instead of 5:53pm.

The Kindle most definitely is not a game machine, but that hasn’t prevented Minesweeper from finding it’s way. Just press ALT-SHIFT-M when you are on the Home screen. It doesn’t seem to work when you’re actually reading a book.

Memory CardMy last pick for the best hidden feature is the screenshot feature. To use it, you must have an SD memory card in the memory expansion slot. Pressing ALT-SHIFT-G will create a screenshot in the GIF format saved on your memory card. (I guess that’s why they chose G for the shortcut key.)For an exhaustive list of short cuts, some of which may actually break your Kindle, visit the Reversing Everything blogCreating Your Own EbooksAmazon offers an easy to use service that lets you get your own content onto your Kindle. Every Kindle can have email address associated with it. You just send your Word documents, Structured HTML documents, and PDF files to your special email address and it will be converted and delivered wirelessly to your Kindle in very short order for 10 cents. There is actually a 2nd email address that does the same thing for free and will simply return the converted book to your email address instead. You must then manually copy it to your Kindle via USB. Read all about the service here on the Amazon.com site.But what if you have information you don’t want Amazon to see what you’re reading? If you don’t want someone else reading your files, you probably shouldn’t send them out across the Internet, right? But how do you get them on your Kindle for easy reading then?Amazon provides some free tools in a way, but they are not mentioned on the Amazon site anywhere that I’ve found. Where to turn? Mobipocket.com.Mobipocket was an independent French company that made ebook reader software for multiple platforms. They also provided, for free, Mobipocket Creator software. Amazon bought Mobipocket in 2005. According to Wikipedia, “the reasoning behind the acquisition was postulated as a result of Adobe’s announcement that it would no longer sell its eBook packaging and serving software.” With the Kindle introduction, it seems that Amazon was buying a lot of R&D research as well.As I write this, Mobipocket is still alive and online although Amazon has moved its ebook efforts to the Kindle. While it’s here, do yourself the favor of downloading the free Mobipocket Creator software from their Web site. I’m a Mac person and there is no Mac version of the software, but if you’re got Parallels or VMware Fusion, you’re still in business.Mobipocket CreatorOnce you’ve installed the software, it’s pretty easy to use for most ebook creation tasks. You can import your Word document, PDF files, .txt files and HTML files and make your own Kindle-usable files. Look for the area called Import From Existing File on the middle right of the window.The first thing that the software does is convert your document into HTML, if it wasn’t already. You’ll now be in the “Publication Files” area of Mobipocket Creator. (I should mention that the interface of this software can be pretty confusing.)You could simply click the Build button from this point, located along the top of your window, but if you’re not averse to digging into some HTML, I suggest you open up the HTML file you’ve just created to look at the file you’re creating. You can open this file up in a web browser to quickly check to see if there is anything wrong with it. Some potential problems I’ve seen are page numbers from a PDF showing up where I didn’t expect them to in an ebook. I’ve also seen problems with tables of contents for documents. To fix problems like these, open up the HTML file in a simple text editor on your PC (or Mac, if you’re doing it like me through a Windows virtual machine).Fixing page numbers will require some searching voodoo. You should look for recognizable pattern and try a search and replace based on that. For example, I had one PDF conversion that had a horizontal rule followed by the word “page” and then the page number throughout my document. That helped me isolate that sequence and eliminate it from my HTML file.If you’ve got a long document with a table of contents, using an HTML editor is where I suggest adding or fixing this area as well. (There is a menu item for Table of Contents in the software based on different tags in your HTML. I skip this step in the software though.) In an ebook, the table of contents links are basically anchor tags to a place later in your HTML document. Easy stuff. Just go to the table of contents area and start creating anchor tag links for the chapters of your book. You’ll need to search for each chapter in your HTML and add an anchor tag there as well.Here’s a page with a simple example of what you’ll need to do to create anchor tags for chapter. Look in the code for the phase “See also Chapter 4” at the top of the code example and notice how the anchor tag is created, href=”#C4”. Now and that actual “Chapter 4” anchor further down the document, name=“C4”.Another step I always do before moving to the Build phase is to set the Metadata by clicking that link on the left. If you don’t do this step, your ebook will show up in your Kindle without an author. I don’t like that. It makes my home page feel untidy. grin The only areas to fill out on this screen are eBook Title and Author.Now, you can finally hit the Build button on the top of the screen. On this page, you can choose the compression you want. I use No Compression most of the time. This is based on my hunch that the Kindle will use more battery life to uncompress a document than to just read a document that was never compressed in the first place. I like my battery to last as long as possible. It is also very important that you choose No Encryption when making a file for the Kindle. Finally, you can hit the second button on this screen labeled Build. It’s at the bottom of the screen. (I warned you this was a poorly designed piece of software!)You’ll now see a screen labeled Build finished. If you have the Mobipocket Reader for PC software (also free), you can preview your ebook in it. If you don’t, you can also preview using Mobipocket Reader emulator, but it’s not going to be pretty. Once you’ve previewed or chosen not to, click the radio button labeled Open folder containing eBook. You’ll see several files in there that were used to make your ebook along with your actual ebook file. The one you want will most likely be highlighted. It’s filetype will be ebook. You need to mount your Kindle with your USB cord and drag that file (and that file only) into the documents folder found on your Kindle. When you’re done, make sure your Kindle is finished talking with your computer and disconnect it. Now you’ll see your very own ebook on your Kindle and Amazon didn’t get to read your info.One last tip. A bunch of free books.A site I recently found, Kindle News pointed me to FeedBooks.com. From there you can download a PDF to your Kindle which lists many public domain books that can be wirelessly added to your Kindle. Very cool. I’ve just added A Tale of Two Cities without even getting my USB cord out.Got a Kindle question? Post a comment. If I can help you out, I’m happy to do it.

Comments on this post.

I imported a PDF into mobipocket creator and it “converted” it into a subfolder. however, there were no files with .prc extension. The kindle could not “see” any of the files that were created. So what good is this?

COMMENT:
Hi GCT,

I’ve got Windows running in a virtual machine on my Mac. When I’m in Windows, I don’t see any extension to the ‘ebook’ file either, but when I copy it over to the Mac side, since my Mac doesn’t recognize .prc files, the extension is shown.

Did you copy that file to the documents folder in your Kindle? If it’s not in the correct folder, the Kindle won’t recognize it.

Also, I’ve taken a screenshot of a test folder on my Windows machine where I converted a PDF. I’ve pointed out the file that has the “hidden” extension of .prc.

Click see screenshot.

Good luck!

By John Morton on Oct 17 2008
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.