Smashwords Style Guide

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

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, you’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?