Roman's blog

Kindle Scribe: writing directly on the page and margins for sideloaded books

I am one of those people who are constantly torn between their desire to take physical notes right on the page of the book - and the desire to keep their books pristine and unmarked. Naturally Kindle Scribe (and other e-notes) are pretty much God-sent for me.

However, I am also one of those people who are not particularly fond of renting books from Amazon - I’m sure you are aware, that when you buy a book from Amazon, you do not, in fact own it - but instead just get a license to read it, until Amazon decides to revoke it. This is why I prefer to buy my books directly from publishers’ websites as DRM-free epub - so I can actually keep them should something happen to the said publisher.

This creates a bit of a problem, as Kindle Scribe is finely tuned to work only with Books bought from Amazon. More to that, not every book from Kindle store can be written upon - and even if it can, since it’s a reformattable, you can only add “sticky notes” to it rather than write directly on the page (which for me personally just doesn’t quite have the same feel to it).

As per sideloading, you have a number of options here:

  • You can use Calibre to convert your epub to Mobi / azw3 and send it to your Kindle via USB - this is the most straightforward and fastest way for me, given I already using Calibre for everything - but unfortunately, this will not allow you to add sticky notes to the book, neither you’ll be able to write on the page.

  • You can take a epub and send it to Kindle using, well, Send to Kindle feature - rather aptly named, isn’t it? This will convert your epub to azw3 and send it to your Kindle; this way you will get an ability to add sticky notes to the book (unfortunately it will be classified as a “Document”, not a “Book”, but honestly I don’t think of this as a big deal). However, you will not be able to write directly on the page.

  • Finally, the thorniest path of all - converting ePub to PDF using Calibre, and sending that one to Kindle.

Now, convert something to PDF and send to Kindle - it doesn’t sound very complex does it? Unfortunately with Amazon, it really really does.

The crux of the problem lies in the fact that Amazon wants to be smart - it wants to make your PDF readable on your (regular) Kindle, which has a small screen, which means it has to crop it - and it does so by default. More than that, it does it rather smartly - it only crops the white space, leaving the text intact. This is great for reading (although even that is arguable because on Scribe you end up with gigantic fonts) - but it’s absolutely terrible for note taking since you have no space to write on.

It took me a little while (like half of the morning) to figure out how to get things working just the way I want. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Ensure that you have Calibre installed and you have configured Send to Kindle function using an email. This is a strictly optional thing but it makes everything much smoother. There’re lots of manuals online, you know how to use Google (presumably I don’t need to remind you to use DRM free files for that, too).

  2. Configure Calibre to convert your epub to PDF. This is done in two steps. First you go to Preferences -> Conversion -> Common Options > Look & Feel and on Fonts page select minimum line hieght of 130% and line height of 5.0pt. You can adjust these as you see fit - I’ve chosen the values which are appealing personally for me.

  3. Now go to Preferences -> Output Options -> PDF output and set the page size to B5. This is an ISO size somewhere between A4 and A5 - empirically it was proven that it works the best. On the same page ensure that you’ve changed Serif font to something that that is actually Serif (i.e. not the default Tahoma) - I’ve choosen Bookerly, which is Kindle’s default font, you can easily download the ttf online. Make sure you choose the regular Bookerly, not a bold or a Display variations. Set the default font size to 18pt - and take it from there.

  4. Now the critical step, which will prevent Amazon from cropping your PDF. Scroll further down and in Header template/Footer template insert the following snippets, respectively:

<header style="margin-top: 5pt; margin-bottom: 24pt; justify-content: center;">

<footer><div style="margin-bottom: 5pt; margin-top: 24pt; justify-content: center;">

Calibre suggests that you can insert page number or title - don’t bother, as everything will be cropped anyway and you’ll end up with the text which sits right on the border of the screen, which will not look good.

Right, now right-click file, select Convert Books -> Convert Individually and choose PDF as the output format. After conversion finishes, open the book folder (just press O on the keyboard when having the book selected). If you did everything right, you’ll see the page like that:

PDF page

The little dots on the top and bottom of the page are the ones we’ve inserted in header and footer - they will prevent Amazon from cropping the page. Now you can send the book to your Kindle using Send to Kindle function - I’ve set up my Kindle address in “Send to email” function of Calibre, so I can simply select Connect/Share -> Email to [email protected].

Send to Kindle

alternatively just go to and take it from there (make sure to send PDF file!).

If everything worked out well, you’ll see the book on your Kindle like that:


And if Amazon-style page stickers is what you are after - well, then you won’t need to do most of it - just configure Send to Email feature to use Epub rather than PDF, don’t don any conversion and simply send it to Kindle straight away - that’ll do it.

Happy reading (and annotating)!