Formatting Poetry for Kindle (with OEBPS Template)

n.b. The possibilities for Kindle formatting have been increased with the introduction of KF8, although at present these options are only available on the Kindle Fire. It is uncertain how this will affect e-ink Kindle devices. Fixed layout would (in theory) remove the problem of Kindle-broken lines, but we are not quite there yet. This guide works on the assumption of reflowable lines, with as much consistency across Kindle devices (Kindle Fire, Kindle readers, & Kindle for iPad & iPhone) as possible. Different screen sizes/resolutions causes some problems here, but we shall do the best we can. I will work on a post on what the new KF8 formatting options could do for poetry, & how we can work with better html markup & css media queries to improve backwards compatibility.

Contact me if you have any suggestions or comments. (Thanks to @tadaja & @cdcasey for some proof-reading & suggestions.)


The Kindle is not kind to poetry. For those who want to self-publish their poetry on Kindle, formatting your poems is a gloomy prospect, & one that requires reducing your expectations. If you want your poetry ebook to look at least acceptable, the best chance is by doing the conversion to mobi yourself. The workflow which allows the most hands-on control is to create your ebook in oebps format (a predecessor of epub), & use Kindlegen to convert & package your files into a mobi ebook. This is not as difficult as it sounds, & this guide will go through the process step-by-step, along with code examples and a full sample ebook of some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Teaching you about basic html, css & xml is not a part of this guide, as you can find enough about this elsewhere. The knowledge required for putting together an ebook is very small, & you should be able to see most of what you need from the example code.

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Phil Brown on Poetry & the Kindle

The Huffington Post has recently published an article by the poet Phil Brown, lamenting the impact of the Kindle on poetry. He writes:

The Kindle[…]does not care about the poet’s feelings about line-breaks or page-structure or the publisher’s in-house typographical style. The Kindle cares about giving you the words you asked for in the order that the writer wrote them – if Coleridge could read Kubla Khan as an ePub he’d write a couple of footnotes to his famous adage.

Whilst the nature of novels certainly stand up incredibly well to this treatment, the arbitrariness of page and line-breaks on the Kindle make viewing Prufrock on an eReader akin to viewing an Edward Hopper painting snapped in two and placed in neighbouring rooms to save space.

He is completely right that there is a problem with the Kindle’s reflowable text & poetry. I wrote about this issue in my review of Sarah Dawson’s Anatomically Incorrect Sketches of Marine Animals. But it is frustrating that this response to the problem is so pessimistic & unimaginative.

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HTML5, Kindle Format 8, & the Disappearing Multimedia Tags

There is something funny going on with KF8 and multimedia, which we are still waiting on the Publishing Guidelines for. Mobi 7 supports audio & video tags, albeit only for display on the Kindle for iPad and iPhone. Kindlegen includes, in its sample code, a ‘multimedia’ edition of Jabberwocky, with an embedded mp3 of a reading of the poem. This gives a clue as to why poetry ebook enthusiasts such as myself are interested in this: being able to incorporate recordings of readings is very attractive for poems, and is likely to be popular. This is why it is disappointing that KF8, with its heralded “HTML5 support“, has quietly dumped audio & video. It makes the declaration of HTML5 support somewhat odd, as there aren’t, after all, that many new elements in HTML5 other than multimedia. If Amazon, with the Kindle Fire & presumably more tablets in the future, intends on sticking with web standards for its books rather than moving towards apps, it needs to buck up a bit.

There is a good post on general KF8 frustration from Shoto Press’ blog, including the revelation that “Kindle Format 8 simply doesn’t exist yet”.

Edit: The Digital Reader has more on KF8, including confirmation that audio & video won’t be supported, and “there’s no indication of any plans to add them”.