The Disappointments of Kindle Formatting (why is Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature so broken?)

ebooksIn my books and with my clients, I routinely stress to keep ebooks very simple. Nothing fancy. No embedded fonts or images. Because it’s unlikely to look good on all different platforms and ebook readers.

But that’s so boring. I ignore my own advice, because for me, style and design are as important as content.

Today however I’ve proved myself wrong (or right, depending on whether you’re following my words or my actions).

I spent 10 hours yesterday re-coding the ebook files for my new book, Write, Format, Publish Promote.

I finally got all the headers and blockquotes to look pretty good. Dare I say it, it was beautiful.

Of course now that it’s up on Kindle for real, it looks like crap in the “Look Inside.”

It also looks like the Table of Contents isn’t working.


You may not think it looks that bad, but a lot of the headers are centered or right aligned, some text is normal or bolded, some text is larger than others… it’s really messy.

Here’s how it looks on the Kindle Cloud reader.


And the ebook is pretty bad too – here it is in Adobe Digital Editions.




Part of the problem (maybe the whole problem) is that I was in a hurry so I started with Calibre for conversion and then tweaked it in Sigil, which results in messy code. If I’d have started from scratch and hand coded everything, I might have been able to do better. But mainly, indents don’t always work; nor do embedded fonts.

This is what the book should look like in most Kindle devices (this is the Kindle Desktop app):


And it looks great in Amazon’s Kindle Previewer app for the various devices.


I thought maybe when I uploaded the file to KDP they’d “cleaned up the code” – but nope, I bought the book and downloaded it to my Kindle Fire, looks great, all the fonts and formatting is perfect.


Which means Amazon doesn’t give a shit

They obviously have all the right technology to get it right, but the Look Inside feature and Cloud Reader are stripped down of normal Kindle capabilities. Maybe they do it so the books will be readable on all devices and computers. (That’s possible).

But it sucks if you have a beautiful ebook that people won’t buy because the preview is sloppy.

Have you faced these issues?

Found any solutions you’d like to share?





About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • The biggest problem is that text has a jagged right margin in many ebook samples – and when I mention this to the author, she is horrified – it was perfect when it went in, and still looks perfect on a Kindle, or even Kindle for Mac.

    Ragged right margins are one of the signs of an amateur – but only if it is the author’s fault!

    I’m going to use Scrivener. If that doesn’t do it, I’m going to learn HTML, since I only need basic commands. It is frustrating – since it is common to many books, the logical place for corrections is on Amazon, not at the work station of each individual author.

    Note: it should be part of the agreement between an author and a paid formatter: a list of places where the ebook is certified to work which includes different devices – and the Look Inside feature. Get it in writing – make sure it works before you pay – and check out Jaye Manus’ website for lots of suggestions on formatting (hint: do NOT use Calibre – that isn’t its forte, Jaye says).

  • Naima, I’m hoping you mean that the Scrivener .mobi files work; have my fingers crossed – that’s one of the reasons I bought Scrivener.

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