Saturday, 19 May 2012

The importance of being content

An active table of contents: something that's kind of important for a novel, but absolutely essential for any kind of ebook collection, such as a collection of short stories.

Because if you're like me, you don't necessarily want to start a book of short stories on page 1 and proceed through in  the correct order. You want to be able to channel-surf a bit, check out the ones with interesting names or blurbs first, or maybe pick a short one because you only have a 15 minute train journey.

If there's no way to navigate through the book, you're stuck with flipping through page by page. The lack of an active table of contents actually turns the Kindle into a less-advanced piece of technology than a printed book, because at least with a paperback you can skip a chunk of pages at a time.

This can be irritating. As an author (and particularly as a self-published author), you want the reader on your side. Pissing them off unnecessarily is not the best way to achieve this.

Luckily, compared to the rest of the formatting hoops Kindle makes you jump through (see my earlier post on this), creating an active table of contents in your MS Word document is actually pretty straightforward. In fact the Table of Contents (TOC) feature in Word pretty much does most of the work for you; if you tell it what should be on the list, it will create the list for you (and update it whenever you want it to).

How to create an active table of contents (TOC) in your ebook

For an example, we'll take my mini-short story collection The Misfortune Teller.

The Misfortune Teller contains three short stories: 'The Room', which is my take on Rear Window, only set on the internet; a slice of life that's still in the crime genre with 'It's Not Me, It's You', and the title story, which is a Glasgow PI story with a quietly supernatural twist. As I discussed in my post about Singles, this package is also a promotional tool for Halfway to Hell, so chapters 1-5 of that book are included at the back.

Step 1: decide what should go in the table contents

All right, so if you were paying attention, you'll know we need to give the reader the ability to navigate to four places in the book: each of the three stories, plus the sample of Halfway to Hell. The first thing to do is to mark those places in the document, so your table of contents knows where to look once you create it.

(n.b.: these screens are all from Word 03, but the principles can be applied in whichever version you have. Just click on the pics to make them bigger.)

There are other ways to do this, but I find the easiest thing to do is to mark each point with the style Heading 1. This is very simple to do:

First, find the title of the first story, which is 'The Room', in this case (if you're working with a novel, it'll be chapter 1, naturally).

Highlight the title of the story and go to the Style menu to mark it with the style Heading 1.

This makes the title visually bigger and bolder, but it also codes this piece of text as a heading, something which wouldn't happen if you manually made the font bigger and bold.

Go through and do this for the other chapters or stories. I've gone through and marked 'It's Not Me...', 'Misfortune' and the Halfway sample as Heading 1. Important point - they're all Heading 1. If you select Heading 2 or 3, those will be marked as subchapters. You may want to do this in some cases, but let's keep it simple and have just the one type.

Step 2: create the table of contents

Go to the place in the document where you want your contents page to appear - in a normal book this would always be at the beginning (in mine, it's right after the copyright page), but given that this is a Kindle book, it actually doesn't matter too much, as the reader can navigate straight to it from the menu. I've seen some ebooks where the contents is located on the very last page.

Go to Insert / Reference / Index and Tables:

Select Table of Contents: this will create a list of all the chunks of text you've marked as Heading 1, which in my case means the three stories and the sample:

Word automatically lists what page each heading is on, which is really useful in a printed document, but not so much for an ebook, where page numbers are meaningless. To avoid confusion, unselect the box that says 'Show page numbers'.

Then click OK to see the list of everything you've marked as a heading:

I like to space them out a bit and add a title, as follows. If you change the order of your chapters at any point, you can update the Table of Contents by right clicking and telling it to update.

Importantly, this is not just an updatable list of contents: it also creates hyperlinks to the appropriate chapters. You can see this by pressing CTRL and clicking on each link to jump to a chapter. This is what allows Kindle to skip to each chapter.

Step 3: mark it as a TOC so Kindle recognises your table of contents

I haven't had to do this every time. Sometimes Kindle recognises the TOC without help, sometimes it doesn't. To make sure that the reader can navigate to your TOC from the Kindle menu, you should bookmark your contents page to tell it where to look. This is dead easy.

Go to Insert / Bookmark:

Type 'TOC' as the bookmark name. This tells Kindle that you're bookmarking a Table of Contents.

...and that's it. When you complete formatting and upload your document, your book will have an active table of contents and your reader will have a much easier time finding his or her way around your book.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this! Very concise, yet covers all the details.