digital brain

Mysteries of the ToC

When I published my latest novel on Amazon KDP several months ago, the automated quality checker popped up a yellow triangle and notified me that I had failed to add a linked table of contents. It wasn’t a deal-breaker for publishing, but a deficiency nevertheless.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Except that my Word document did include a perfectly good linked ToC. I tested every link. All of them worked. The problem, I realized, was I had created the ToC following the Smashwords Style Guide, which has step-by-step instructions for adding bookmarks to the chapter headings and hyperlinking to the relevant spots in the text. I began my publishing adventure at Smashwords, so thought this was the right way to make a linked table of contents.

Smashwords Style Guide cover

Except that whatever program ingests Word docs at KDP and spits out Kindle ebooks doesn’t recognize a linked ToC created that way. It looks for a ToC generated by Word’s automatic ToC creator (which I’ve never used). Because I publish my books on both Amazon and Smashwords, I use near-identical copies of a single Word doc (with the necessary adjustments to the copyright page) for both. But when I look at one of those books on my Kindle, instead of the full list of chapters in the “Go To” drop-down, the only sections I see are Beginning, Page or Location, Cover, and End. And yet, if I go to Beginning and page forward, there’s the ToC. And the links work exactly as they should.

I’ve been resigned to this state of affairs, with vague notions of maybe disassembling the ToCs on my Amazon documents and rebuilding them the “proper” way, and then republishing, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Fiddling around with Word isn’t high on my “Fun Things To Do” list. And republishing is a pain.

So What? yellow sticker

What I did do, though, for a different reason, is experiment with emailing ebooks to my Kindle. Kindles (and other devices) have Amazon email addresses. This was news to me, but it’s helpful when someone sends you a PDF of a book and you want to read it on the handy-dandy little reading device.

Kindle e-reader

As an experiment, I emailed my Kindle one of my early books published on Smashwords. Thinking that Mobi files are Kindle-friendly, I selected that version and sent it as an attachment to the special email address. Surprisingly, I received an email from Amazon, informing me that “We wanted to let you know that starting August 2022, youโ€™ll no longer be able to send MOBI (.mobi, .azw) files to your Kindle library.”

Well, surprise, surprise. Even more surprising was the information that Amazon considers Epub a compatible format. So I emailed the Epub version of the book. When I turned on my Kindle, there it was, cover image and all. Yet another surprise was that despite the notice, the Mobi version was there as well, but minus the cover image.

The final surprise was—ta da!—both versions included a linked ToC in the “Go To” drop-down, even though it was created using bookmarks and hyperlinks, just like the one that wasn’t acceptable when I uploaded the Word doc to Amazon KDP.

So the Kindle’s “Go To” displays ToCs perfectly well after the Word doc has been turned into either an Epub or a Mobi, even if that processing was done by Smashwords’s “Meatgrinder.” But Amazon’s processor doesn’t recognize ToCs created by anything other than Word’s automatic ToC generator. Hence the admonishment that you really should include a table of contents to enhance the reader experience. With the accompanying yellow triangle, of course.

blue flames question mark

I suspect this issue may be avoided by uploading Epubs directly to Amazon, but to create an Epub myself I would have to use Calibre or a similar tool, and I haven’t so far been motivated to learn how to do that.

Has anyone else noticed this kind of thing, with tables of contents or anything else?

58 comments

  1. I always end up with four versions in my Word doc folder. The Master doc, the final edit, has just the normal Word chapter linkage. Then I make a copy and take out all the formatting, going back to Normal. (I convert the doc from .docx to .doc, if necessary.) Then I reformat the whole document according to Smashword’s specifications, including the ToC linkages. I make a copy of that one and make minor adjustments in formatting for Kindle (adding chapter breaks, mostly.) I also make the paperback version using the template I’ve been using since time immemorial and converting it to PDF. Actually, I do that first, because it’s my final edit. Of course, the pbk doesn’t have ToC linkages. I’ve never had any trouble with Amazon telling me the ToC isn’t there in the Kindle version, but my last publishing venture was in 2021 so they might have changed something. I had lots of trouble with the ToC when I first started, but I seem to have conquered the initial challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think something has changed with Amazon’s processing programs. I have no problem with quality control, but you’d think they could recognize a linked toc, no matter how it was created.
      Your method is similar to mine, except that I don’t completely reformat the document before publishing on Smashwords, just copy and tweak the copyright page.

      Like

      1. I’m still using the set-up instructions that Smashwords used way back in 2011 when I first started, and at that time they recommended that you make the whole document Normal and then add only centering and indentions on paragraphs – no block paragraphs or hand spacing. Also, they didn’t want any page breaks or section breaks. So that’s why I always wipe out all the formatting and do it over in the simplified way. Kindle is freer – they don’t mind page breaks, which I favor, too, between chapters. I follow Smashwords instructions on the ToC linkages.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It seems there are all sorts of tools out there to produce Epubs, and authors have their preferred ways of doing things. I’m happy to find a method that works and stick with it, but sometimes changes on the publishing platforms necessitate changes by us self-publishing authors. Not too much or too fast, though, I hope!

          Like

  2. You’re a much better person than I. I’ve never bothered with a linked TOC for my e-books — for the reasons you identify in this post. Just seems to be an over-complicated addition to a work of fiction where most readers won’t actually need or use the feature.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After reading ebooks, I realized that chapters with titles are more useful for looking back to check something than chapters with numbers only, in which case you may as well not bother. And you can publish without a toc, but you do get admonished.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe itโ€™s just me, but I donโ€™t know that Iโ€™ve ever used a TOC in any fiction books Iโ€™ve read. Maybe non-fiction. I think part of it is that I read like I write. I just plod through from beginning to end. No going back. No skipping ahead. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to publish. Maybe that is what the great Zon is after. There is a free app from Amazon called Kindle Create that will work for your ebook and supposedly the print book. I could get it to work for the ebook, but never the print book. To be fair, poetry books are harder to format than fiction or non-fiction books. I’m creating low-cost book covers, too. ๐Ÿ’œ

        Like

  3. Like Mark, I have never bothered with a table of contents for either my ebook or paperback books since they are essentially useless in books of fiction since they are read sequentially from cover to cover. Besides, ebooks always open up to the page where the reader left off. Non fiction is a different story altogether since someone may be looking for a specific piece of information. And while someone might, for some reason, want to look back at something in a fiction book, chapters headings aren’t likely going to speed up the process all that much.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wound up using Kindle Create to reformat my ebooks, in order to have the option of generating the ToC. I had to re-do the first six books in my mystery series to add the ToC as well as the hyperlinks to the other books. The process was time consuming with the first book as I made mistakes, but in the end I found it reasonably user friendly. I use Draft 2 Digital for my other platforms, and don’t use Smashwords, although D2D announced that they will be adding Smashwords to their roster of platforms. It’s currently in the beta stage. There’s also something new to learn, and change is inevitable, so I try to keep an open mind about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Word’s ToC is built from headings. GDocs uses the same paradigm. That way you don’t have to deal with bookmark nonsense. H1, H2, etc. all show up in an auto ToC control, if one so desires it.
    GDocs is so handy. Write there, share it, group edit it, publish it, all from GDocs. And then once it’s done, export to docx and voila, Word. (Or download it to epub or whathaveyou.)
    Also, if you’re not using Calibre ebook manager — you should. It can convert nearly any format to any other format. Even PDFs, and Word docs can get ingested and added to your kindle.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I learned about the end to Amazon’s mobi-compatibility when I was working on my last book. Since I create epubs when I do my conversions, it wasn’t too much of an issue. I use a formating software called Jutoh for all my ebooks which handles the Toc well and generates epubs. I’ve been using it for over a decade and never read the instruction manual, so it’s fairly intuitive. And that says a lot since I’m not a techie at all. Good luck as you navigate this, Audrey.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We are not simply writers but editors, publishers, graphic artists, agents, salespeople, promoters, document specialists, web (I won’t say specialists but) learners, … and mystery solvers of many persuasions.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Amazon problem may be that it doesn’t see a defined Header style for the item to be included in a ToC. Making a style specific to the chapter headings/numbers (including a ‘page break before’ instruction) means the Amazon grinder recognises the format and the sections end up in the ‘go to’ function of the device.

    Calibre is easy to learn. Free. Download. Open. Click on ‘Add Book’, and find the one to add. Click on Convert Books, use the drop down box far right to be .epub, check the cover (in this order), then click the ePub output or OK button. A little box to the right opens up to show where the new file is located, which you can then copy to your email to the device.
    There’s probably a lot more that people can do with it, but I like to keep it simple.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Audrey, I have been learning how to publish on KDP (I thought it was exclusive though so I didn’t know you could also publish to Smashwords). I have learned how to convert a book to ePub and am using Adobe Creative which is working for me. Nothing in life is every easy in my experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Only KDP Select (90-day committments) requires exclusivity. Otherwise you can publish both on KDP and elsewhere. But then you can’t give away your Kindle books for free and your book isn’t in Kindle Unlimited, where you are paid by the number of pages read.
      There are lots of options for publishing, but most of them involve some sort of complications!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve always used Calibre for ebooks, except for my how-to books which I upload as PDFs. When you do that, the appropriate KDP app [can’t remember off hand what it’s called] allows you to create a toc manually.
    Great news that you can just upload an epub these days. Saves me having to do the conversion first. Thanks for the info. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You would think, after the decades of grumbling aimed in their direction that Amazon, (and Smashwords, and WordPress, etc) would bloody-well stop trying with all their might to break, erm, I mean fix, wot ain’t broke – but no, on and on they go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think their intention is to “improve the customer experience” by encouraging that authors add tables of contents. Fine, except it would be nice if their programs would recognize a linked toc when there’s a perfectly good one in the document. But things are getting more complicated on all the platforms. I keep thinking about the good old days…

      Liked by 1 person

What do you think? Opinions welcome!

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 )

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.