Formatting the Look Inside

Look Inside

Amazon’s Look Inside

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offers previews for how your e-book may look on the Kindle, Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, Paperwhite, iPad, iPhone… but not the Look Inside.

Yet prospective customers checking out your book on Amazon see your book’s Look Inside before making the purchase.

The Look Inside can significantly impact sales.

At the same time, Kindle authors tend to experience more formatting issues with the Look Inside than on the Kindle, Kindle Fire, and most other devices.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for a book to look great on a Kindle device, but format incorrectly in the Look Inside.

This problem plagues indie authors self-publishing their books on Kindle. Once they finally master Kindle formatting, the Look Inside is the last big hurdle.

In this article, we’ll explore how to format for the Look Inside. One example we’ll examine in detail is how to create non-indented paragraphs that don’t indent in the Look Inside.

Why Doesn’t the Look Inside Format Right?

Well, the technical answer involves a discussion about what is “right.” The Look inside is ultimately generated by a program following instructions. In the end, the Look Inside is “right.”

It often seems like the formatting is wrong when the author compares the original Word file with the Look Inside.

Some of the formatting that may look right in Word can get lost in translation on the way to the Look Inside.

The Look Inside sees a set of HTML instructions generated from the Word file.

Note: Even though you may submit a Word document to KDP, what the device reads is a set of HTML instructions that tell it what to display—ultimately, your submitted file is converted into a mobi file, which essentially contains a set of HTML instructions based on the Word file that you submit.

Often, what the Look Inside displays from reading those instructions differs from what Word displays on the screen.

What a Kindle, Kindle Fire, iPhone, iPad, Kindle for PC, and the Look Inside display on the screen can vary from the same set of HTML instructions generated from a Word file.

The Look Inside interprets the HTML more strictly, which is why the formatting is hardest to get right for the Look Inside.

From Word to Kindle

Kindle doesn’t see the Word document the way you do. It sees a set of HTML instructions.

The beginning of the HTML defines a set of styles used in your Word file. For example, there is a style for heading, subheading, titles, and a Normal style for the paragraphs of your body text.

Kindle (or iPad, or whatever device is being used) displays the different parts of your book according to these different styles.

If you highlight all or part of a paragraph and change the formatting of that text in Word, this carries over into the HTML.

Then the HTML says something to the effect, “Use the normal style, but change the indent size and add italics.”

This is where the Look Inside problems can begin. The Look Inside may format according to the style, and disregard some of those exceptions created by highlighting selected paragraphs. Other issues can arise from unclosed HTML tags.

The HTML generated from a Word file can get pretty messy, with all sorts of style exceptions built into the HTML, with <span> tags dispersed throughout, and with font settings redefined within the paragraph blocks. (You don’t want the file to define font size or style within the paragraph blocks. Not only can this cause formatting problems, but the device user expects to have control over these settings.)

Microsoft Word’s Styles

Much of the problem can be resolved by using Microsoft Word’s built-in style functions religiously. Modify the heading, subheading, title, and Normal styles to suit your needs.

Then make a new style that’s essentially a copy of the Normal style for paragraphs that need to be non-indented. I’m going to call this the NoIndent style just to give it a name.

When you’re modifying the styles, click on the Format button and adjust the Paragraph settings, too. Set the First Line indent for the Normal Style. It might be something like 0.2″ (since the common 0.5″ would be really large on a device with a small screen, especially an iPhone or the basic Kindle). Don’t use the tab key at all (and don’t use the spacebar to create indents). For the NoIndent style, set First Line to 0.01″.


  • I specifically have Microsoft Word 2010 for Windows in mind. (Other versions may function similarly, though they can lead to important differences.)
  • If you set First Line to “none” or zero, it won’t work. Use 0.01″. (If you try to make it too small, it won’t take.)
  • Go to Special in the paragraph menu to find First Line, then set the By value next to it.
  • You see all the styles at the top of the screen, on the right side of the toolbar, in the home tab.
  • Right-click a style to modify it. When modifying the style, click the Format button to find the font and paragraph menus.
  • You can even build pagebreaks into the styles. Click Format, select Paragraph, then click the Line and Page Breaks tab. There is an option to pagebreak before. If you have pagebreaks that aren’t respected, try this (but realize that a Look Inside displayed as a single, scrolling page isn’t going to implement this).
  • To create a new style (for NoIndent, for example), click on the funny icon in the bottom-right corner of the styles menu on the home tab (the little icon is below the A’s where it says “Change Styles”). This will pull up a new window on the right side of the screen. Find the three buttons at the bottom of this window. Click the left button.

Apply the styles to sections of your document one by one. You can highlight a section and click the style, or you can place your cursor in a paragraph and click a paragraph style from the menu.

You want every block of text in your file to be associated with a particular style.

Except when you have to have different styles in the same paragraph (e.g. you wish to italicize, boldface, or underline specific text, or create subscripts or superscripts), you want the style to dictate the formatting. Go into the Font and Paragraph menus when modifying each style to create the formatting you want there. Don’t use the font and paragraph tools on the menu at the top of the screen to make these adjustments (except to adjust specific text, with something like italics, within the paragraph).

For example, set the linespacing in the paragraph menu by adjusting the style itself and applying the style to the text. Don’t do it by highlighting text and setting the linespacing.

Be sure to check the font menu when modifying each style (from the Format button). If you go into Advanced, you may find that Word’s defaults have adjusted the kerning for selected styles (you may or may not agree with these settings, so you should check them out). The font color should be automatic except when you need to apply a specific color to selected text.

You want to have a larger font size for headings and subheadings than the normal text, but you want to achieve this by setting the font size within each style. If you select text and apply a font size or style to the selected text, this causes problems when an e-reader interprets the HTML instructions for your file.

Check the “Automatically Update” box when modifying each style if you want changes to that style to be applied to text that has already been set to that style.

Word’s styles can get mixed up. What you want to do is start with a document as clean as possible (in the worst-case scenario, this can be achieved by cutting and pasting your document into Notepad and then back into Word). Then apply one style to every section to avoid any mix-ups.

Don’t select text and set specific font styles (e.g. Georgia). Don’t select whole paragraphs and set linespacing, indents, or other paragraph options. Instead, apply a specific style to those paragraphs. Make the paragraph adjustments in the style (for every paragraph of that style in your document), and apply the style to the paragraphs rather than modifying the paragraphs through the toolbar at the top of the screen (except by clicking the styles, like Title or Normal, found on that toolbar).

How to Create Non-Indented Paragraphs

Let’s work through a concrete example that plagues the Look Insides of many Kindle e-books.

Most traditionally published books don’t indent the first paragraph of each chapter. Popular novels do indent paragraphs, but not usually the first paragraph of the chapter. Check out several popular traditionally published print books. If you understand what I mean by “not indenting the first paragraph of the chapter” (see the two pictures below) you should observe that this is very common among those books.

Examine the two examples that follow. The first example has all of the paragraphs indented. The second example doesn’t indent the first paragraph of the chapter. The second example is very common among traditionally published books. However, it can be a challenge to implement this on the Look Inside. (Many traditionally published books put the first few words in CAPS in e-books, instead of using drop caps, as drop caps can format improperly on some devices. Tip: If you write fiction where this is common, try putting the first few words of your blurb in CAPS, too. I’ve seen this done effectively in the blurbs of some popular traditionally published books.)

IndentedNot Indented

Even if the first paragraph appears non-indented on the Kindle device, it may still appear indented on the Look Inside. But there are ways to get this right.

Let me illustrate the wrong ways first. Definitely, don’t use the tab key to indent some paragraphs, thinking this will correctly distinguish between which paragraphs are or aren’t indented. This might seem intuitive, but it doesn’t work (there will be inconsistencies). Similarly, don’t use the spacebar to create indents; it doesn’t work either.

Here is another wrong way. Better, but still wrong. If you highlight the first paragraph, click on the funny little icon in the bottom-right corner of the paragraph group on the home tab, change Special to First Line, and set By to 0.01″, it might not work. It will work on the screen and may work on most devices, but may not work on the Look Inside.

Here’s the problem. You can see the problem firsthand by looking at the HTML. You don’t need to know anything about HTML to peek at it and learn what’s going on. If you want to see Word’s HTML, Save As a filtered webpage (you want the one called Webpage, Filtered). Click Yes to the question that pops up. Find this new file on your computer (e.g. it might be in My Documents; it will be wherever you just saved it to). Right-click this HTML file and Open With Notepad.

When I adjusted the first paragraph’s indent the wrong way, as I outlined two paragraphs ago, the paragraph tag for the first paragraph looks like this:

<p class=MsoNormal style=’text-indent:.7pt’>

Compare this with the second paragraph:

<p class=MsoNormal>

You don’t have to know HTML to see the difference. Each paragraph sets the style to Normal. The first paragraph says to indent 7 points (0.01 inches).

The style=’text-indent:7pt’ setting will tell some devices to ignore the Normal style and indent the first paragraph 7 points (very little).

But the Look Inside may not accept this override. The Look Inside sees that you’re using the Normal style, which was previously defined to indent 0.2″. There are two different sets of instructions.

The better way is to provide a single set of instructions. That leaves less to interpretation.

This time, instead of highlighting the first paragraph and changing First Line from the home tab, I’m going to define a NoIndent style. I’ll do this by creating a new style based on the Normal style, and give it the name NoIndent (the last bullet in the section above called Microsoft Word’s Styles explains how). Then I’ll modify the NoIndent style (again, look for the bullets in the previous section for instructions). While modifying the NoIndent style, click Format, choose Paragraph, and set First Line there.

Now I simply place my cursor anywhere in the first paragraph and click the NoIndent style from the home tab. Prest-o, Change-o!

This time, the paragraph tag for the first paragraph looks like this:

<p class=MsoNoIndent>

Now this paragraph only has one set of instructions. When Amazon’s Look Inside reads the Kindle e-book, the class=MsoNoIndent statement will tell it to indent the paragraph according to the previously defined NoIndent style, which says to indent just 0.01 inches.

You can improve on this. Find the style definition for the NoIndent style in the beginning of the HTML file. Change 7pt or 0.01in (whichever it says) to 0 (that’s the number zero, not the letter O). This doesn’t work in Word, but it does work in the HTML file.


  • Don’t open the HTML file in Word. Use Notepad to examine and modify the HTML.
  • If you have images in your file, you want to create a compressed zipped folder as explained in Amazon’s free guide, Building Your Book for Kindle.
  • Also look for span tags that include font definitions. If you remove these, be sure to remove the closing tags, too, which look like </span>. The Find tool can help you locate these.
  • Search for text-indent with the Find tool to see if any paragraphs are indenting through this setting instead of through a style definition.
  • Seemingly endless italics, boldface, or underline that’s not intended to be there may be caused by unclosed <i>, <b>, or <u> tags. For example, <i>italics</i> makes the word “italics” appear italicized. If the closing tag, </i> is missing (or typed incorrectly), the italics will keep going and going and going…
  • Other things you might look for are images. For example, instead of specifying the width and height in pixels, for large pictures that you’d like to fill the screen, you might remove the current width and height statements and replace them with width=”100%” (don’t set both the width and height this way; just set the width; however, if you have really skinny pictures, i.e. skinnier than the Kindle Fire, you might prefer to set the height instead of the width).

Chris McMullen

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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Can You Be too Professional?

Pro Am


There are many ways that a book or author may be perceived as amateurish.

Many of these correspond to doing what seems intuitive or convenient:

  • Commenting on reviews.
  • Not realizing that the cover is a visual representation of what quality to expect.
  • Including the word “by” before your name.
  • Using the default settings in Microsoft Word.
  • Creating indents with the spacebar or using the Enter key to pagebreak.

Others are more subtle:

  • Not seeking editorial reviews to earn buyer confidence.
  • Typing two spaces after a period.
  • Poor font selection.
  • Not using Word’s style functions and First Line Indent from the Paragraph menu.
  • Getting a free site instead of buying a domain or using .org.

Add to this at least 90% of the things done in the name of “marketing.”

Too Far?

If it’s not professional, does that make it amateurish?

Unfortunately, I see comments about other books and authors of the sort:

  • “That’s so amateurish!”
  • “You need to enroll in Publishing 101.”
  • “What a newbie!”
  • “Nothing says ‘amateur’ like Times New Roman.”
  • “Didn’t you preview your book first?”
  • “That book is in bad need of editing help.”

In a moment, I will come to an alternative to professional and amateurish.

First, let’s consider some of these points:

  • If there is something reasonable that you can do to improve the formatting of your book, you should do it. A better-formatted book makes a better impression. It’s certainly harder for readers who enjoy a story to recommend a poorly formatted book. A better-looking Look Inside is more likely to close the sale. However, once the book looks pretty good, for most buyers who support indie publishing, there will come a point where the formatting is good enough to earn the sale.
  • Some of the people who are avidly complaining about grammar, spelling, and writing style, and who are pointing out editing issues, are themselves editors. They want to advertise the importance of editing to drum up business. If they love editing books, naturally editing will be quite important to them. But it’s also important to readers. Frequent mistakes will lose reader interest. Not just in spelling and grammar, but using a vocabulary and style that suits the audience, having the book flow well, even improving the storyline and characterization. There are many different kinds of editors, and all editing is important. However, like formatting, customers who support indie books have some degree of tolerance. The important thing is to be on the safe side of where this line is drawn for the majority of your target audience.
  • A lousy cover suggests a lack of effort. Who wants to read a book where little effort was put into it? If the cover reflects much effort, the cover should, too. The cover is also a valuable visual tool. Customers searching on Amazon see the thumbnail among many others before deciding which books to check out. Most of the thumbnails don’t receive any attention. The cover is also a valuable branding tool. An effective cover makes the genre and content immediately clear to strangers in the target audience and appeals to the target audience. In nonfiction, sometimes large keywords can be effective with little imagery. If you interact with people personally, this can offset not having a great cover. But a fantastic cover opens many doors, and is a must for selling fiction through discovery online.

Option 3

If not professional nor amateurish, what else?

Stephen King is a professional author. Sold millions of books, traditionally published, famous.

You don’t expect to see Stephen King use his children’s school artwork for his cover. You don’t expect to see him commenting on many of his reviews. You expect his books to be professionally edited and formatted. You probably have really high expectations for the quality of his stories. Stephen King can easily get a ton of editorial reviews, famous authors to write forewords, professional book reviews, etc. His author site is, which looks very professional.

You’re not Stephen King. (If you were, why on earth would you be reading this blog?)

But you don’t need to be.

In fact, you can do some things that you wouldn’t expect Stephen King to do. (I’m not saying he doesn’t do them, just thinking what average expectations are.)


It’s your asset. You can interact with your fans, your target audience. Stephen King can interact personally with fans, too, and probably does. You can easily interact personally with a much larger percentage of your fan base. By the sheer numbers, Stephen King is pretty limited percentage-wise.

The Personal Touch

I see some authors with an website without a blog. I’ve even see a few authors switch from the free WordPress .com site to .org, and I’ve seen the Likes and Follows disappear to be replaced by Facebook and Twitter options only.

I perceive this as an attempt to appear more professional (and .org may also offer more flexibility, although .com has everything I feel that I need). Also, displaying a tally of views, likes, and follows might show that a website isn’t too popular, so perhaps some aim to hide this data.

But it seems less personal.

In addition to personalization, humility may be another factor.

We like to discover the small guy, with a humble book that tells a great story, that we can support.

By the way, is huge and may help, rather than hurt, with search engine traffic compared to .org. See here: There is a lot of helpful info there; for this point, look at the end of the first paragraph under “Keyword Use in Branding.” I have .com (with the WordPress extension in it) and draw in over 100 views per day from search engines, so .com seems to work well for me.

Readers who want a professional, impersonal reading experience can already find that with traditional publishing. One of the advantages of self-publishing is the opportunity to provide a more personal experience to a larger percentage of readers. There are disadvantages, too, so it’s important to take advantage of the benefits.

Readers can also choose a personal experience, with a perhaps more humble book and author. I’m not saying to not worry about being professional. Get the formatting, editing, and cover to look as good as you can. Marketing-wise, think personal. That’s your advantage.

An interactive blog, where it’s easy to interact and follow however the fan prefers (WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, email, etc.), with the convenient option of commenting from WordPress without having to sign into Facebook or Twitter, encourages participation. A simple Like while logged into WordPress offers a quick and easy show of support.

Think of ways to find and interact with your target audience. Readers who personally interact with an author, online or in person, and who enjoy the experience are more likely to buy the book, and to recommend the book to others if they enjoy it.

Many of the ways that books are bought are inaccessible to new authors: bestseller lists, showing up high in a category, professional reviews, name recognition, etc. But one of the big ways that books are purchased is following personal interaction with the author. Every indie author has this opportunity.

How about editorial reviews and advance review copies? This is very common among traditionally published books. Should indie authors be copying what traditional publishers do? I know, there are some incentives to reviews, as some sites that promote indie books set a bar to reach.

Some customers don’t like to see numerous reviews show up shortly after a book is published: It can create buyer suspicion. Some disregard all those quotes of how wonderful a book is. At the same time, customers want to see an assortment of neutral opinions. Ah, what is neutral? Are all those glowing remarks inside a top-selling book really “neutral”?

Is it possible for a humble book with a personal touch, along with a possible personal experience, to have more appeal than a book that seems “too” professional? Food for thought, perhaps.

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.