Building an Active Table of Contents

A discussion started here Tuesday on K.S. Brooks’ post about common formatting mistakes in print books about whether a novel needs a table of contents. I like a healthy discussion, but I like facts better. So I did a web search to try to find out whether Amazon requires a ToC in every Kindle book.

The answer is no.* The KDP Publishing Guide mentions ToCs in two places. It says here that an active ToC is recommended, and here it says that an active ToC is “highly recommended.” In neither spot does it say that a ToC is required. Even Amazon’s official Kindle Publishing Guidelines pdf (which gets very granular – CSS, anyone?) uses the word “recommended,” not “required,” when talking about ToCs.

But let’s say you decide that, just to be on the safe side, you want to put a ToC in your Kindle book. What does “active” mean and how do you accomplish it?

KDP provides a link to Microsoft’s support pages. But there’s a much better explanation in Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide. I heartily recommend downloading this free book, by the way, even if you never plan to put your tender manuscript through Coker’s Meatgrinder. If you don’t want to pollute your eyes with even a glimpse of the Smashwords main page (especially if you’ve got the adult content filter set to “off” – oh my…), it’s free at Amazon and B&N, as well.

I was going to do a tutorial, but then I looked at my printout of Coker’s style guide and realized his excellent explanation runs nine pages. Boiling that down into a 700-word blog post, I think, is just asking for trouble. So I will do a quick summary of the steps involved to create an active, or linked, ToC in MS Word, and refer you to section 20 of the style guide for the full instructions.

1. DO NOT use Word’s native ToC generator. It doesn’t work for e-books.

2. Turn on Show/Hide (it’s the button with the paragraph mark on it).

3. Type up your ToC where you want it to be in your book. Don’t put in any page numbers.

4. At the start of each chapter, highlight the name of your chapter (without highlighting any paragraph marks above or below) and select Insert: Bookmark. In the dialog box, type the name of your chapter, with no spaces.

5. Then to go your ToC, highlight the words “Table of Contents,” select Insert: Bookmark, and name it “ref_TOC” (without the quotation marks).

6. Next, in your ToC, highlight the text of your first chapter name, right-click, and pick Insert: Hyperlink. Make sure “Place in this document” is selected on the left side of the dialog box. Then scroll through the list of bookmarks and click on the corresponding name. Repeat for each of the entries on your ToC.

7. Now you get to kill two birds with one stone. CTRL-click the name of your first chapter in your ToC. Is your cursor now on Chapter 1? Huzzah! Now highlight that chapter title again (not the one in the ToC – the actual chapter title), right-click and pick Insert: Hyperlink, and scroll through the list to find your “ref_TOC” bookmark. Once that’s inserted, CTRL-click your chapter name. Are you back at your ToC? Huzzah! Repeat this step for the rest of your ToC entries.

8. Now open the Insert: Bookmark dialog box again, click the “Hidden bookmarks” box, and delete all the gibberish bookmarks that Word automatically inserted for you.

That’s it. Poof, done!

*Apple, however, apparently does require a ToC. It might have something to do with their iBook publishing software, which (as near as I can tell on my lowly PC) has template pages specifically set aside for the ToC which you can’t remove. That said, my Pipe Woman Chronicles are available on iBooks via Smashwords, none of them has a ToC, and Apple has not yet told me to take them down. But that might be because no one has bought them but me. Sigh.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

18 thoughts on “Building an Active Table of Contents”

  1. Dare I believe that the Smashwords guide is something even I can follow? I looked at it for me last book and went into complete panic. Then I paid someone else to do it for me. As for ToCs – I was advised that, as I also have a list of characters with pronunciation guide, that a ToC would be overkill and I ought to leave it out of the ebook versions. Sigh. Now Kindle says ‘highly suggested’. I feel like I’m chasing my tail – and it’s too short to catch.

    1. Make a copy of your MS file and play around with it. If you follow the Smashwords guide step by step, it’s pretty easy. Give it a go! If you mess up a copy, where’s the harm?

    2. The Smashwords guide really *is* step-by-step, Yvonne. If you can insert a hyperlink into an IU post, then you’re already halfway there. Adding a bookmark to a chapter title simply puts a big neon sign on it, so your hyperlink knows where to go. 😉

      And if your chapters are just numbered (I can’t remember), I wouldn’t worry about putting in a ToC at this point.

  2. You two ladies are everywhere with great advice and comments. Thank you. I feel as though I know you! This info is incredibly pertinent for me today because this weekend I am in the process of having my ebooks created from my files. Printed book is wonderfully successful. I am a novice with ebooks—I downloaded all the style guides ages ago but never got to do it. I wish I had the sense to farm it out when my print book was published. Never too late, I guess. Please keep it coming.

    1. Will do, Ester, and thanks. 8) I find that formatting an e-book is easier than formatting a print book. There aren’t nearly as many things to think about in terms of how the book looks on the page, because the reader’s going to change the font and stuff anyway. But that’s just me. 😉

  3. My writing software [StoryBox] creates chp headings that Calibre can turn into a TOC but I wasn’t game to try it with the Amazon software. So glad I’m not using Word anymore though. That sounds very complicated. 🙁

  4. I’m not at that point in formatting my book yet, but I’ll definitely save this as a point of reference. I’m a fan of the TOC, so I know I’ll be doing one and this is good info to have.

  5. Since the statement that a novel does not really need an active table of contents alarms me, I would like to tell you why. Sometimes when I am reading fiction I run across something referencing an earlier statement that doesn’t quite ring right. So I go back and look for it. Naturally, my current reading bookmark follows me as I wander backwards. Now there are no page numbers, so I can’t find my way forward again using them. I’m not always on top of things enough to check for the numeric auto-bookmark before I start hunting. I am seldom alert enough to set a bookmark of my own, and I’m not quite sure how in any case. Solution: the table of contents will at least take me to the same chapter I was in before I tangled myself up. So, please, as your reader, I beg you not to dispose of your TOC.

    1. I ran into this just today, JK, and it was in a 3-book omnibus in which only the first page of each book was listed in the ToC. Luckily I had bookmarked something not long before I’d quit reading, so I went to the bookmark and paged ahead to where I’d quit. I also think you could probably use “sync to furthest page read” to take you back to where you left off. (But it wouldn’t have worked in my case today, as I’d gone ahead to see how long the whole first book was….)

  6. Good tip!
    This is SO important to a quality book.
    Let me add that I like to backlink to the TOC. Little more work, but very handy for readers.
    All you have to do is set a bookmark at the “Contents” line, then link every chapter title back to it, and readers can quickly zip around.

    Everything said here about TOC also applies to footnotes, by the way. Or glossaries. I’ve got titles with extensive footnotes and language glossaries, and they’re actually easier to access in ebooks than regular books–if you link to them, and link back from them to the same spot in the text.

    1. Coker has a separate section in his style guide for footnotes, etc. — it’s right after the ToC section. But yes, the process is the same.

      And yes to linking back to the ToC from the chapter heading; that’s what the “ref_ToC” bookmark is for. You can also put a sentence at the end of your chapter that says, “Back to Table of Contents” or “Back to top”, and link that sentence to “ref_ToC”. 🙂

      1. Thing is, this is not specific to SmashWords. Or to Kindle, either. ANY ebook, even pdf or doc formats can use hyperlink navigation.
        And links don’t care whether they are TOC or footnotes or glossary listings or external sites or whatever.
        The important thing is that writers understand using hyperlinks, bookmarks, and navigation in their documents and use them to take control of the way readers access their ebook.
        Once you start using hyperlink navigation, a book starts acting like a web page and it’s handy to switch to thinking of it that way–as an online or device-presented document.

  7. I don’t know how I missed this one, Lynne, I wish I’d seen something like it when I was first ePublishing. I just had to slog through the ‘How to’ in each of the various ePublishing sites I subscribed to. I found it a bit frustrating, that they all had different formats, and I thought it was a bit of overkill in Kindle. However, it’s not brain surgery, it was just time consuming.

    Nice, clear instructions, Lynne.

  8. Great tutorial. This is the one thing I need to do, but have been putting off. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

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