Ebook Checklist: 30+ tips for better Ebooks

By | May 12, 2020

I just released my ninth Ebook, and after producing this many books I’m happy to say the process has gotten much easier, leaving more time for content creation and less for fussing with Ebook specifics.

A few years ago I wrote a long article about my translation process, and while I still do many of those same steps today, that article doesn’t focus too much on the process to convert content (prepared in something like Google Docs or Microsoft Word) to an actual Ebook.

The basic process I use is fairly simple:

  1. Cut and paste content from wherever you created it into an Ebook creation program (I use Apple’s Pages app on Mac OS).
  2. Do various cleanup and final editing in the Ebook program.
  3. Export to an EPUB file, which you then upload to Amazon (assuming you are going with Kindle Direct Publishing).
  4. On the KDP portal, edit metadata and then export a MOBI file for preview on a real device, or use the device simulators provided by Amazon.
  5. Submit to KDP once everything is ready.

This article is mostly about the second step, which involves some things that may not be obvious if you have never created an Ebook before. While there are surely many articles online about making Ebooks, for the most part I went through a trial-and-error process to figure these things out myself. I won’t be talking too much about the content editing process itself, since that can be done for the most part before this stage.

So, without further ado, here is my list of things to check when making an Ebook. The list is not in any specific order, and if you are making an Ebook I recommend just going through it line-by-line. You can even cut and paste this and make your own personal checklist based on deletions or modifications that apply to your work.

  1. Understand what is being lost or retained when you copy-and-paste. A normal copy-and-paste will likely bring fonts, formatting and other things you don’t want, so I generally paste to another editor (like Sublime Text) and then copy-and-paste from there to remove everything but the basic text and spaces.
  2. Put back anything undesirable that was lost or added in the previous step. The only thing I usually need to do here is to add back italics. If you did a normal paste you may need to fix up the fonts and other formatting.
  3. Make sure you are using the right versions of special characters so that they show up nicely in your Ebook. Here are a few, with my recommendations:
    • Use proper em-dashes (“––”) 
    • Use proper ellipsis (use the single character “…” instead of “…”, as it format better).
    • Check that all your double quotes are using the same character, since I’ve seen cases where there are different characters that look almost identical.
    • Use “©” in copyrights instead of “(c)”.
  4. Make sure there are no unexpected spaces or formatting characters. These may only show up when you are actually looking at the actual MOBI file that Amazon gives you to preview your Ebook. Pages has a “View -> Show Invisibles” option that is very helpful for this. The most common thing I have noticed here is spaces that somehow end up on the end of lines, which can mess up formatting. This can also help you find places where you have extra spaces within a paragraph that can be overlooked when doing editing.
  5. If you find an error involving a hidden character, you can copy the bad pattern and search the entire book for it. For example, if you find a place with two spaces before a period, you can highlight both spaces and the period and then search for other occurrences in your book. You can even do a search and replace if there are many occurrences (ex: “[space][space].” => “[space].”)
  6. Use the Kindle simulator accessible via the KDP site to look at your final book on every device available. Try changing the font to various settings and see how things render. It’s hard to make a book look great at all font sizes, so optimize for a medium-sized font, but be aware of what will happen at the extreme ends of the spectrum. You may want to tweak formatting in your book based on what you see.
  7. Try to preview on at least one physical device. The easiest way is probably uploading the MOBI file to the Kindle app on your mobile device (e.g. iPhone). There are differences between the simulator and physical devices.
  8. Besides font sizes, in the Kindle app you can also change things like font type, background color, and line spacing. I haven’t personally had problems with these, but I would still do a quick check, especially if you have tricky formatting in your book.
  9. When you test on your real device, try both landscape and portrait modes.
  10. Use page breaks to assure that certain content (like a new chapter) begins on the beginning of a page. If you don’t do this, it might look fine until you actually preview it on a simulated/real device.
  11. For headings (like chapter title, etc.) try to use a template so that each heading of each type looks the same without having to manually tweak each one.
  12. If you run into problems where formatting gets messed up unexplainably when previewing the MOBI file (I have several times), I generally advocate simplifying formatting elements until you get something working. The less complex they are the less chance they have to break under some condition. 
  13. If you have characters in other languages (like Japanese), make sure those render properly. Keep in mind that character sets in other languages have more than just alphabet characters, the punctuation is also different. For example the period in Japanese is “。”, which is different from the English period (“.”) Also, notice the space on the right side of that period that is part of the character, at least in the font I am using now. Other characters that you might expect to be the same will look different, like for example numbers (in Japanese there is “1” vs. “1” in English). Generally I wouldn’t mix and match characters from different languages in the same sentence or paragraph unless this is a requirement of your content.
  14. Make sure the title looks as you expect it to wherever you are previewing the MOBI file.
  15. If you are using bookmarks (to jump to somewhere else in the book) or links (to link to a website), make sure they go to the place you expect. Be aware that some mobile devices may block certain web links, so test links on a real device. (I’ve seen this done by iOS devices, not sure about Android.)
  16. Make sure you do at least one editing iteration of the entire book in Ebook form (preferably while viewing the final MOBI file on a physical device). Use whatever editing process you did for the original content.
  17. Don’t forget to do sufficient editing/proofreading of supplementary sections (introduction, acknowledgments, about the author, etc.). Make sure to edit the book description that goes in the KDP metadata too. 
  18. Avoid using too many different fonts. Kindle only can show certain fonts (the actual fonts used depend on the reader settings) and different fonts can get normalized to the same one. This doesn’t apply to the cover image, where you can show whatever fonts you want.
  19. If you are using a separate grammar checker (like grammarly.com), be sure to cut and paste your content from your Ebook editing program into the grammar checker once more before you finish. 
  20. When using spelling/grammar checkers, be sure to add character names and other unique words into the internal dictionary as soon as possible. This will help catch inconsistent spellings of character names or other uncommon words.
  21. When exporting as an EPUB file, be aware of the settings regarding the title page. For example, in Pages there is an option to make the first page the title page. When you view the final Ebook in MOBI form, the cover image will be the first page, so you may not actually need a title page. 
  22. When making your first Ebook, think in terms of using that as a template for future books, which will drastically save time in the future. This means keeping things as simple as possible unless the extra effort is really worth it. When you do your second book, copy the file from the first book, rename it, and then paste in sections (chapters) one at a time. I wouldn’t delete any entire sections because you might lose formatting information in them. 
  23. Play around with special Ebook reader features when viewing your book: annotations, coloring, word-lookup, etc. While these will likely work without any effort on your part, it’s good to understand how they work.
  24. Double check the table of contents available via the top left “hamburger menu” in the Kindle app. Longer section names will be cut off here, be aware how your section names are being rendered.
  25. Make sure any special formatting is rendering properly in the final Ebook, for example left-, center-, or right-justification.
  26. Be aware of how much of your book is shown by Kindle Preview (for readers who have not yet bought the book). I don’t know of a way to know the exact page count of this until you actually publish, but you could probably ask Amazon support. I think you can also ask Amazon to leave certain pages out, but I haven’t actually tried that myself. Worst case you could publish the book and then tweak things for another edition, though you may have to wait a few days for it to get it updated.
  27. Make sure you are satisfied with what your cover image looks like at a variety of zoom levels. This applies to both on Amazon pages and on the device, with the former much more important. It may be difficult to simulate exactly what the image will look like on Amazon’s pages, but at least you can zoom it in an image program to sizes that approximate what icons look like on different pages (like the search results page). There are some places on the device that the icon becomes very small, like on the bottom center of the Kindle iPhone app when on the library screen. Generally you want an icon that can be recognized even when very small (using colors and shapes), and has the most important words visible at most zoom levels. Also be wary that icon quality can change between what you upload and what is actually shown by Amazon, but I think this is hard to test pre-submission. (Note: Amazon seems to have been making changes recently to how covers are shown on their online portal, so don’t make any assumptions.)
  28. For some reason, the Kindle app (at least on an iPhone) seems to perform a weird visual effect such that the sides of the front cover image are softened, but it seems to only occur for certain covers. I am not sure if there is anything you can do about this, but you can try to design your cover image with this in mind.
  29. On the iPhone Kindle app (and perhaps for other devices too) if you press and hold you will see a magnifying glass icon appear that allows zooming portions of the cover image. It has the side-effect of making it whitish (probably because the image is being selected). You may want to play with your cover using this to see if any undesirable visual artifacts are present when zoomed.
  30. When making the KDP metadata, make sure you double and triple check the spelling and spacing of the author, any other contributors, and the series name (if applicable). This is especially important if you have multiple books or plan to make multiple books. I once had a problem where some of my books weren’t being grouped together properly because of a space in my name.
  31. Verify any duplicate content is duplicated exactly (without variation) by copying the text and searching through your document, with case sensitivity on, to make sure the other instance(s) show up. At a minimum this would probably include chapter titles (which generally appear in at least two places), but it can include other items such as quotes that appear in more that one place. This can also include names that are constructed from several words (e.g. “Senso-ji Temple”). Spell check will find some issues, but for this example if you used a lowercase “t” somewhere it wouldn’t detect that as a problem. Keep in mind that if you don’t know how many instances there should be, this technique requires some tweaking.
  32. I haven’t used images in any of my recent books (except for the cover page), but if you are using images embedded yourself make sure you do a lot of verification with different settings on different devices to make sure the images look good. Make sure you consider how readers will have varying visual acuity and some have some form of colorblindness.
  33. Don’t forget to put your name (or the name of your publishing company) down as the publisher in the KDP meta data.

I choose to do all my projects in Google Docs because of the many useful features available: edit anywhere, share easily (helps with editing if others are helping out), and view change history. But if you don’t need these you can make your content from scratch in Pages or whatever Ebook creation program you prefer. This will save you from a few of the above steps. You can still give pre-release copies to your editor/proofreader(s), but it will be a difficult to effectively comment on them or make changes.

I mentioned using your first Ebook to make a template, but I wouldn’t mind sharing a simple template based on one of my recent Ebooks, with a few placeholders for text. It would be easiest for me to provide a Pages file, but I can try to convert it to another format if you prefer. For anyone interested, please email me at “selftaughtjapanese [at] gmail.com” (replace the “[at]” part with the “@” character). In exchange, I kindly request that you purchase one of my Ebooks (only $0.99-$2.99).

(Note: picture of Kindle taken from Pexels.com)

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