Using the Kindle to Edit


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.

Take Note
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.

Summary
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.

Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in Helpful Software & Sites, Tips for eAuthors
9 comments on “Using the Kindle to Edit
  1. yoga-adan says:

    matthew, either my computer’s messed up (very possible ;-) ) or you’ve posted the part of your post twice –

    other than that, and that the widget’s not available for us mac users yet, this is great info!

    have been wanting to do more of that lately, and was wondering how

    thanks matthew!

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hi Adan, thanks for the heads up! That was strange. All fixed now.

      Hopefully the fact that Notescraper is available to you Mac users makes up for the lack of the Send to Kindle widget…I know I’m jealous. Since researching this post, I’ve been toying with Evernote and it is extremely useful. If Amazon ever gets an Export function working for Notes, Evernote is going to become my new favorite app. :)

      • yoga-adan says:

        glad i could help ;-)

        yea, an export function will be great, hope they do it soon!

        meanwhile i need to recheck about pdf’s, i think i can send those to our kindle via an email address, ie, i could convert my text file to pdf to send to kindle to at least read it that way

        thanks matthew!

  2. This is a really great idea. So far I’ve only read kindle books on an Android device. I can’t locate the clippings.txt file though. It may be with the actual program binaries, so like on your iPad you could possibly access it if you root/jailbreak your device. I’m not sure though. No problems on a Kindle device apparently, it’s all in the open.

    However, I did find out what you could do with Evernote:

    – Install the Evernote browser extension, “a web clipper”
    – Open https://kindle.amazon.com/your_highlights
    – Select highlight or note
    – Use Evernote web clipper to create a note

    The nice thing with the web clipper is you can filter with a click to only show “kindle.amazon.com” notes.

    More automated and requiring a little programming:

    – Scrape the highlights web page with some regular expressions, then copy/paste to a document. This way you can format it any way you like. Actually that might work as a bookmarklet or browser extension. I wonder whether anyone has done this yet?

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hi Marcus, sorry for the late reply.

      Yes, I love the idea of using the Kindle for editing (well, the Kindle reader on my iPad, lol).

      Thanks for the tips about Evernote…I’m starting love that app, and the more editorial/writing uses I can find with it, the better. The only problem with using it for your own highlights as you suggest is that for some reason (as far as I can tell) Amazon doesn’t post highlights from your personal docs to “your_highlights” page. Very frustrating. All your notes/highlights from purchases are there, but not your own docs. But I might’ve missed something…if so, please let me know!

  3. [...] Evernote I stumbled across Evernote while I trying to find ways to use my Kindle/iPad for editing manuscripts. People raved about Evernote, not just for the “checklist” need, but for all kinds of [...]

  4. This was super helpful…thank you! I am about to give it a shot so I can edit at the beach. And I absolutely agree about Evernote. It is easily the most useful app on any of my devices.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hey Daphne – Thanks! I wouldn’t have thought of it except for my editor who is full of good ideas. :) I’ve also used it and it’s a great way to get away from “typing” mode and into “reading” mode with your own work, though as I say in the post, it’s frustrating that you can’t re-incorporate your own remarks back into the text…sometime soon, let’s hope!

  5. Nathan says:

    Hi Matthew,

    I stumbled upon your site and read this post. It’s detailed and very helpful. The Kindle is quite amazing isn’t it? I like it too that users can get to make notes and highlight what they want too. However, I find that accessing these notes and highlights can be difficult and a bit time-consuming for some.

    A new iOS app, Snippefy (www.snippefy.com), will be released this November 2013 that can make it easier for Kindle users to access and share their notes and highlights as they can store it under one place. These notes and highlights can be shared in social media sites and can be exported in Evernote, Dropbox and email. Easy and saves time.

    I thought you might be interested to check it out and I hope you will find it useful.

    Thank you

    Nathan

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