How to Publish a Heavily Illustrated eBook on Amazon Kindle…without butchering the illustrations

I recently published the Kindle edition of my book on mobile technology.

Normally this activity should have been a breeze given the excellent online tools provided by Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP as it’s lovingly called by ebook authors).

If your manuscript is a Microsoft Word document, all you need to do is upload it on KDP and KDP’s online converter will convert it into the Amazon eBook format (.mobi). It will also let you preview it using their online previewer, and you are good to go.

Alas, not so for me.

You see, my book contains more than one hundred illustrations. Many of them are hand drawn by me, and most of these have text inside the images. All my illustrations are created as jpeg files using 100% quality (i.e. 0% compression) and at 300 dpi.

When I uploaded the Word manuscript containing all these images to KDP, and previewed the result in KDP’s online previewer, I quickly discovered that the automatic online conversion that KDP had done on the document, had resulted in all images being automatically down-sampled to some ridiculously low resolution.

I had expected my ebook to be resplendent with beautiful, sharp images such as the following:

Cellular Network

To my disappointment, the images displayed by KDP’s previewer looked something like the following:

Cellular Network

This was a huge problem. My book is called “An Illustrated Guide to Mobile Technology”. I couldn’t see how I could possibly publish it if the illustrations looked like something you would see through smudged glasses.

I spoke with Amazon’s customer support and was pointed to KDP Help pages on how to publish an ebook containing images. Specifically they told me to do this:

  1. Format images in a 600 x 800 pixels and 300 dpi resolution
  2. Insert images, don’t copy and paste
  3. Align images to the center of the document
  4. Remove all empty line/page breaks between each image
  5. If images are schemas, charts, tables, maps, or any format that includes text, save the image in GIF format to ensure the text is legible after conversion

My images were already 300dpi, inserted (i.e. not copy/pasted into the doc), center aligned and without any spurious breaks between images.

I scoured through the internet and through KDP’s support forums looking for someone who had experienced a similar problem and had found a solution to it. I tried converting images with text into GIFs as advised by Amazon but the images still came out butchered in the Kindle version.
I experimented with different JPEG compression ratios, I tried using PNGs instead of JPEGs, I tried adjusted the aspect ratio of images to match that of the Kindle Fire HD device. Still nothing. The images still came out heavily pixellated in the Kindle ebook version.

The writing was on the wall. I couldn’t simply upload a Word doc to KDP and trust KDP’s online converter to do the right thing with all the images in the document. I would need to take the bull by the horns. I would have to create a .mobi file and upload it to KDP.

And hey presto, it worked!

Well, here’s what I did:

Step 1:
I downloaded a reliable free epub creator. In this case I used Calibre created by Kovid Goyal. I used Calibre to convert the Word document to an .epub file.

Step 2:

  • In Calibre, I right clicked on the generated epub file and selected Open Containing folder.
  • I renamed the .epub to a .zip. The epub is really a zip file. I then unpacked the zip file.
  • I navigated to the unpacked folder and went into the images sub-folder. This is where all the images in my word document were stored. I found that Calibre had somehow reduced the pixel dimensions of every single jpeg image, while maintaining the DPI as 300. Therefore I had to manually replace every single jpeg image in the images folder with the original jpeg image.
  • Finally, I zipped the epub folder and renamed the zipped file as .epub

Step 3:
I downloaded KindleGen from Amazon. KindleGen is the official command line tool from Amazon for converting a variety of text media to the Amazon eBook format .mobi. KindleGen accepts .epub files as input.

Step 4:
I ran KindleGen on the .epub file, like so:
kindlegen.exe filename.epub -c0 -verbose

Doing so generated a .mobi file.
I had to fix a few minor errors and warnings that KindleGen generated, mostly to do with bad image links and TOC references in the epub. These were easy to fix by using the Visual Edit feature provided by Calibre. (Just right click on the epub title in Calibre and select Edit Book).

Step 5:
Finally, I uploaded the .mobi file to KDP.

This time KDP’s online converter preserved the image quality perfectly!

And here is the fruit of my labor.

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5 thoughts on “How to Publish a Heavily Illustrated eBook on Amazon Kindle…without butchering the illustrations

    • It’s what KDP Customer Support asked me to do. I am not sure either what they meant by that. I focused on points 1, 2 & 3 and ignored 4. I found out that JPEGs at 300 dpi and 0% compression easily beat GIFs in quality of text in images. So point 5 was not useful to me either. I hope that helps…

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      • An “empty paragraph” is where you hit “enter” to create vertical blank whitespace in a word-processing program or WYSIWYG HTML editor (like Dreamweaver, for example). When you hit “enter” doing nothing else on that line, you create an opening and closing “paragraph tag,” with nothing inside them. Ergo, an empty paragraph.

        The Kindle compression algorithm is basically using a file optimization program (like File Optimizer, the free OS program) that compresses most images to 128KB. Now, with later uploads, there are two image folders created: low-rez and hi-rez. It’s pretty much the same program that Kovid uses with Calibre, FWIW. What happened would be that Amazon down-sampled the images until they were the requisite size.

        There’s no “one size fits all” image solution. Some books do better with GIF. Some need PNGs. You’re happier with JPEGs, which I freely admit is an unusual result, as it’s a lossy format, whilst PNG isn’t. We’ve done books with 987 images (that’s our biggest number to date), and that got to be fairly hairy. We ended up down-sampling them quite a bit (doing a set, make the MOBI, check it, lather-rinse-repeat as we moved down in resolution), but fortunately the client was a sophisticated e-Publisher, and he understood the trade-offs.

        I’m glad that your book came out as you wished.

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