When the manuscript for my novel A Reason to Live was ready to move from critique groups to professional editing, I was lucky enough to land the wonderful Alison Dasho (nee Janssen), a former editor for Bleak House Books and Tyrus Books [visit her at http://www.alisonedits.com/].
She’s in Wisconsin, I’m in Virginia; obviously, this was going to be a digital relationship. But there are a million ways to exchange documents online. How best to get my 90,000 words to you? I asked. Just send the Word document, she said, I’ll put it on my Kindle.
A New Way of Looking at Things
This was a use of the Kindle I’d never thought of before. It’s an e-reader, after all, a device to passively receive text, not manipulate it. But it makes perfect sense in a number of ways:
- Reading a 75,000 word manuscript on a desktop or laptop is a sure path to headaches or chronic neck pain, especially if you read as much as writers and editors do.
- In much the same way that printing one’s writing makes it easier to proofread, there’s something about reading your work on a device or in an environment meant for reading that allows you to catch errors more easily. I’ve noticed this many times when posting to this blog for instance: goof-ups always standout more on the webpage than in the edit box.
- Maybe the best feature: Notes. You can annotate and highlight as you go and refer to your Notes later when you’re ready to re-write.
Perhaps one reason I hadn’t thought of the Kindle as a handy editing device is that, as a reader, I’ve never been interested in Notes. I have strong opinions about writing and don’t necessarily dig other readers who scribble in the margins of books instead of putting together a coherent essay, so I’ve always turned Notes and Annotations OFF on my Kindle and Kindle Reader for my iPad.
But Notes can be made private (in your purchased books) and, of course, no one but you will see the Notes in your own documents, so this feature goes from being a “meh, whatever” techno-widget to a useful editing tool. Notes can also be automatically backed up to the Amazon cloud, so you can access your Notes across multiple devices.
Before anyone gets too excited, it’s important to note (ahem) that retrieving Notes from a Kindle or a Kindle-reading device (iPad, iPhone) is not straightforward:
- Notes made on personal documents (as opposed to purchased titles) are not available on your Kindle page. They simply don’t exist there, yet, so you can’t simply copy and paste from this web page to a file.
- For PC users using a Kindle, Notes can be grabbed from your “clippings.txt” file and manually loaded via USB to your computer. Since there is no file interface for the iPad, however, I haven’t tested or found evidence that you can access your Notes at all. Perhaps iTunes?
- Mac users are in luck, however. Check out NoteScraper at The Savvy Technologist blog: http://technosavvy.org/software/ to find a script that will allow you to access your Notes and pull them down into a text file or export to Evernote.
Unfortunately, without an Export function, what could be the best part of this method is lost: write up three pages of Notes and send the annotated manuscript back to your PC for hands-on editing. We’re not there yet. What you’ll have to do (still not the worst thing in the world) is prop your Kindle up next to your laptop and do the edits by hand.
Making it Happen
If you don’t mind the less-than-perfect situation with Notes, it’s easy to proceed. There are two, methods that I’ve experimented with: one fast, but less useful; the other is slower, but better.
1. Fast, but…
Amazon’s “Send to Kindle” widget is a great little time-saver (get it at http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/?docId=1000719931). It’s a very small download that installs itself on your machine. When you want to send a personal document to your Kindle or any other Kindle-compatible device, you simply right click on it in Windows Explorer and pick “Send to Kindle”.
Another option: the widget also installs itself as a printer driver, so you can simply select “Print” in your word processor and choose Send to Kindle. As long as you’re on WiFi and not using Whispernet, the conversion and delivery are free.
The problem? It’s sent as a .pdf, so Notes aren’t available. There goes half the usefulness–maybe. If you’re simply looking for a quick way to get your docs on your ereader for a read-through on that long, trans-Atlantic flight(as opposed to deep editing), this may be the option for you.
2. Slower, but better?
Two extra steps, gets you a more useful document. Using your favorite conversion software (I prefer Mobipocket Creator [http://www.mobipocket.com/en/DownloadSoft/DownloadCreator.asp]), create your doc just like you would your ebook. Mobipocket creates a .prc file, which is readable on Kindles. I then email that file to my iPad, where I can open it up directly in the Kindle Reader. If you have true Kindle, you can “side load” your doc using the USB port. Just drop it in the Documents folder on the your Kindle.
The benefit? Note-taking and Highlighting are available to you.
Fingers crossed, Amazon will continue to innovate and an Export option for Notes will be available soon. It makes a ton of sense for a device that, even without this feature, is a great tool for editing your own work.
Addendum: I forgot one important method of getting your work to your Kindle: using your Amazon-assigned email address. Go to Amazon > My Account > Manage Your Kindle > “Personal Document Settings”) and you’ll see a unique email address in the section “Send to Kindle Email Settings”. If you add “@free” before “.Kindle.com” so that the tail end reads “@free.Kindle.com”, Amazon will convert any document you mail to that address to a basic Kindle-ready file. I’ve found however, that some formatting goes out the window, so you may have to tinker with this conversion method.