Sunday, February 17, 2013

More on putting non-Amazon books on your Kindle

I belong to a critique group, also known as a writers' group. Basically, when one of us needs feedback, we submit a story or novel chunk or even a whole novel to the group. We have more or less monthly meetings and present our critiques orally and in writing. If you read the dedication to King of Trees, you will see that I dedicated that book to my writers' group, because it was one time when their critiques radically changed the book I had given them to read.

One reason I have stayed with the group for over a decade is that they are very flexible. Some writers prefer to have their novels critiqued as they write, and others (me included) prefer to submit an entire finished work. The group is amenable either way, so long as they get two full months to read any novel-length work.

A sign of the growing digital age is that a significant percentage of my writing group now own an ereader (mostly but not entirely Kindles or Kindle Fires) and actually prefer to get an electronic copy of the manuscript (m.s.) rather than a print copy. This is great for the writer, as it saves both time and  the cost of toner and paper.  It also highlights the features of the Kindle that make it useful for this exercise:
  • You can easily send documents to it
  • You can highlight and make notes right in the m.s.
  • It's actually easier to spot typos when the work looks like a book
  • With most Kindles, you can have the m.s. read aloud if you like (not true for the Paperwhite or the Kindle 4, the bare bones Kindle)
  • No need to carry around a sheaf of papers; you can read the m.s. anywhere if you have your Kindle handy! 
But as the early adopter in the group, I find that I end up giving advice about the best way to put the m.s. onto everyone's Kindles. I offer two pieces of advice when it's a novel that's being sent. First, save the MS Word file as RTF and then convert it to mobi format (the format the Kindle is based on) with Calibre, rather than relying on Amazon's Word conversion, which will give you readable text, but often crappy formatting, like weirdly indented paragraphs. Second, use the email delivery feature to put the file on your Kindle instead of using a the USB cable, as that way it will go into your Kindle archive (assuming you have enabled that feature).

Emailing documents to the Kindle is dead simple, once you do the initial setup. There are two easy steps you have to do only once. Both can be done from the "Personal Documents Settings" page. Note that Amazon calls everything you put on your Kindle yourself (as opposed to buying from the Kindle store) a Personal Document, whether its's a Project Gutenberg copy of War and Peace or this week's shopping list.  To get to this useful page, you have to drill down through:
  1. Your Amazon page (click the link you see when you're logged on and shopping)
  2. Manage Your Kindle page (select from the initial account pull down, or from the link you see once you get to your account page) 
  3. Personal Documents Settings page (click the link in the left column of the Manage Your Kindle page)

Once you are on the Personal Documents Settings page, you just need to do these two steps:

Find out your Kindle's email address
Every Kindle, Kindle Fire, and some Kindle apps have both a name and an email address. Amazon assigns default ones, but you can edit them, if you like.  On the Personal Documents Settings page, look under the first section Send-to-Kindle E-Mail Settings to see the name (which appears when you buy a Kindle book) and the email (which you need to know to send to the Kindle). To change either, click Edit on the right hand side of that line.  Whether you change it or not, make a note of the Kindle's email address.

White list your own email address
To prevent spam from ever reaching your Kindle, Amazon requires you to explicitly authorize ("white list") any email account that can send documents to your Kindle. You can add in as many addresses as you like, but you have to be using one of them when you send a file, or it won't go to your Kindle.

Also note on this page there is a place to create a limit for how much you want to pay per file for any documents sent. This only an issue if you use a 3G connection to send a document. Using wifi to send documents does not accrue any charges.

Now, to send a document to the Kindle, it just has to be in an approved format (the file extension should be mobi, azw, prc, html, txt, pdf, doc, or docx).  Address the message to your Kindle, attach the file, and send. The only caveats are:
  • The file you send will only show on your home screen if the Kindle is set to show "All" or "Personal Documents." If you select "Books" as the filter, the file you sent will not be listed.
  • PDF files will not be converted unless you put the word "convert" (and only that word) in the subject line of the email. Files sent as PDFs will be readable, but you won't be able to change the font size.
  • Any notes and highlights you create won't appear in your My Highlights page, which they do do for books you buy from Amazon. (This is something I really wish Amazon would add!) They will be accessible on your Kindle via the View Notes and Marks menu option you see when you have the book open and pull up the menu, but not on the web.
  • If the file is a book in azw, prc or mobi, with metadata properly identified, the book will have the proper title and author on your home screen. If it's just a document, it will have the filename as the title and your email address as the author.
That's the skinny on sending books to your Kindle. Be sure to check out Project Gutenberg if you're interested in free classics beyond those offered in the Kindle store.  And of course, I have a book free in the Kindle store if you want an even easier delivery.

Here's my earlier post on this topic. Any questions, use the comments section!