Poetry Formatting for Kindle

Original date: June 10 2016

[ [ Note: 2-15-2018: There is a much easier way, which I did not find until I was studying up for how to render a vastly improved version of this book for BookBaby. Don’t have time to dig up the URL right now, but the essence is in the next paragraph ] ]

Basically, you use the body text and header elements in MS Word. No need to do the clickable table of contents for kindle or .epub files, because the generator extracts them from your H3’s (3rd level headings) in BookBaby (makes the table of contents for you). I used LibreOffice Writer, not MS Word, but the guide I followed was written for word. The hanging indents are handled by setting Body Text first line indents to -0.5″ or 0 (little hazy 8 months later) (or whatever minus value) and the indent to + 0.5″. The converter will respect this. As many people who haven’t spent lots of time composing digital text may be unaware, the way to start a new line without a new paragraph or extra line space is to press shift+enter (works in MS Word, WordPress, LibreOffice Writer, and various other programs). In LibreOffice you can set up custom types of text and keybindings, unsure about word. But for ebook conversion you save headaches in poetry by setting up the ‘Body Text’ with these settings and sticking to it, and not trying to screw with changing line spacings repeatedly or setting the settings repeatedly. Deal with special cases as they come. In the case of severely heavily formatted, and spatially arranged poetry, you’re on your own, although I believe (99.9%) ebooks, unlike HTML, respect extra tabs and spaces just like Word. You want to AVOID doing your endlines manually unless they are short lines, cuz you don’t want indented text to wrap unindented, generally, at least NOT EVERYWHERE. I’ll let you work out the details on how that works (you’ll get it as you write, but converting and previewing is, of course, invaluable). Apologies for this not following a strictly linear flow, but I’ve got other stuff to do, and just wanted to help out whoever next finds this.

The new version is available at Synaptic Syntactic on BookBaby, where I get a higher cut (100%), which also has links for Amazon, B&N, and Kobo. My remodeled non-blog site is at Psychic Fugue Studio. Synaptic Syntactic is also on iBooks, and perhaps others, I got kinda tired trying to figure all things BookBaby out. And the rather unique name is the #1 result on Google and DuckDuckGo and Amazon for ‘synaptic syntactic’, just so you don’t forget! :)

[ [ Older Text Follows ] ]

[ [ NOTE: Something I had not remembered to learn yet but turns out to be pretty simple and you ought to do for certain: Make Table of Contents in Word 2010 That’s Clickable in Kindle. For a bit more info see short new post:  Additional Notes: KDP Poetry Formats: ] ]


Space is, of course important for poets. Unlike a basic novel where you would have most everything indented on the first line of a paragraph, and left aligned on all other lines, poets want their spacing for the most part to appear just so. After finding the advice on this contradictory and obsolete (all 2009-2012), I picked one thing to try and after several tests got all the formatting I was using for my 2nd book right, including the changes between MS Word, HTML (an intermediate file produced by Word in this case which can be converted to Kindle instead of Word) and Kindle (to my satisfaction). Admittedly I only had two or three formatting issues to solve, not text all over the page going bidirectionally upside down and in circles like the experimental book House of Leaves (and in colors too)… [[[Note: 2nd edition is not up on Amazon yet, still debating cover changes and maybe even title changes… 1st Edition: Ziggomatic Keys (*& Synaptic Syntactic and Really Fantastic &*)]]]. But I got ’em nailed down, the ones I needed. version b {all night memetic freestyling riff} might be a bit more challenging, but on the other hand, it might not.

Probable Cover Image, though title may change. From archived work.

So anyways, recently I was trying to work out how to fix the formatting for a reissue of my 2nd ebook. There were lots of line breaks I didn’t want on the screen if it was looked at in vertical position. And the hanging indents I put in were not always spaced the same. Lines that I had wanted to wrap into hanging indent blocks didn’t, because the line breaks I put in for MS Word (normally taken directly from how the handwritten page was) would wrap, and wrap to the left margin and then break off after just a few words (because there was another full line break after).

I read several web pages about converting from MS Word to Kindle, but there are bugs with that, because even single lines in MS Word are often too long for the Kindle screen and so you have a lot of non-indented line that wrap a few words to the left edge.

One of the major problems of formatting poetry for Kindle is getting your line breaks and indents set right without tweaking a million lines of HTML code. HTML has no hanging indent setting… by default (I had not seen this at the time). There are other ways to do it though, but all the pages I had read on conversion used different methods, and all were too long and involved for me. After awhile I settled on one tiny bit to focus on, and did a few repeated tests.

The key to solving the problem
text-indent: -2em; margin-left: 2em
One must know how to use it.
{incidentally I discovered in this process that one presses shift-enter to do line breaks that are not paragraph breaks in Word, at least in Word 2011… this is key, and also works in WordPress editor (line breaks in the visual editor without a blank line every time you press enter)}

Without going into all the details, of my trial and error, what you do is this [although it may vary a bit based on the format needs of your book]:

  1. Take your word document and do “Save as Web Page”
  2. [give this a name like zk-v2-e1a-test1.htm so you can keep track of the ensuing mess of stuff and not clobber [overwrite] a file you will later need as edits proceed. zk for ziggomatic keys v2 for version 2 e1a for edit 1 a]
  3. In the dialog box leave “Save Entire File into HTML” checked like it is by default (at least in “Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 version 14.6.4”
  4. Open the resulting .htm file in a text editor (I use TextWrangler, or in Windows, Notepad++ (not as good), but you can use Notepad or TextEdit)
  5. Find the bracket group that follows “p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal” (it will begin with { on a new line, indented and be several lines before you reach the } ) Also your MsoNormal list might not be the same as mine depending on your manuscript. (This is special CSS code Word wrote for you
  6. Append to the end (but before the close bracket) the “text-indent: -2em; margin-left: 2em”
  7. Upload to a new draft book in kdp.amazon.com, and preview it.
  8. Test and repeat. Condense blocks you had broken up into blocks that wrap in Word so they will wrap in Kindle. Do not set MS Word to do hanging indents. Mark all the lines you want to break but still have an indent with a plus (+). Go back into your original Word file, delete the line breaks (actually paragraph breaks) on the plussed lines and add a shift-enter line break to each. Delete the plusses. ***Don’t overwrite your original Word file, you’ll need it for reference*** All your lines will now be left aligned, you see, so the Word document will look all wrong to you… HTML treats tabs and spaces and multiple spaces as a single space if they occur in a row and line breaks also appear as just a single space, at least if its wrapped in a <p></p> tag, so don’t think you can go just add a bunch of spaces in your HTML file and get it right.
  9. Other problems that may crop up: To add one off extra spaces, use &nbsp; &ensp; &emsp; (in the middle, in the .htm file, not in word) in groups if you must add space in only one or two or three spots…
  10. Other possible problems could happen, such as junk that you may not understand if you don’t know as much HTML and CSS lore as me. ***(note also: this only applies to the Kindle converter on kdp.amazon.com, not others, most likely)***
  11. That concludes the tutorial

Send tips to PayPal: cooper.dozier@gmail.com

Alternately, hire me to work on your manuscript for you! Or buy my ebooks at: Amazon or other stuff at Zazzle!

2 thoughts on “Poetry Formatting for Kindle

Leave a comment or question in the box for me:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s