Kindle .mobi Without TOC

Is there a simple way in Scrivener to format a novel with chapters so that it compiles as a Kindle .mobi file with absolutely no Table of Contents showing?


If .mobi is anything like .epub, then page breaks are what signal to the e-book building app for kindle to create a ToC entry. By going into your compile settings and eliminating the page breaks that are inserted between documents and folders or other documents, you can accomplish this. But then Chapter 2 will start a line or two after the end of Chapter 1, instead of on it’s own page.

So actually, the answer is that there isn’t any way to eliminate or suppress the TOC in Scrivener. Nice program and I can see why people like it, but that’s a deal-killer for me.

I’m just a user, who has never generated a .mobi file and don’t own a Kindle, so there may be a way that I don’t know about.

Out of curiosity, why on earth would you want to have no ToC? As a reader, I would be super annoyed if I couldn’t just jump to the 20th chapter, but was forced to flip through (potentially) hundreds of virtual pages to get there.

Given that the current e-book system is mainly focussed on being a proofing tool and not a final publication tool, there are a few things like this to expect. We’ll be gradually adding more control over the process as time can be committed to it. A simple flag to disable the ToC is indeed on the list.

Right now, we often recommend that you polish off the book using .epub and a program like Sigil, before converting it to .mobi with Kindle Previewer. Your book will always have a ToC though—it just might not be visible. As Robert points out, it is highly recommended that you include a ToC with e-books because no e-book reader has an effective rapid-access technique for getting anywhere in the book at will. You can get away with not having a printed ToC in a paper book, because one can flip pages rapidly and scan the header next to the page number to find “Chapter 20” in a matter of seconds. It’s impossible to do anything analogous to this in an e-book.

Your choice, naturally. David Lynch still refuses to mark his DVDs with chapter points—but just know the industry prefers to give the user a way of getting around in the book without huge hassle, and everyone I know who appreciates Lynch and even appreciates the point he is trying to make is still annoyed by the fact that you can’t get back to where you were watching the film without holding down the fast-forward button for 40 minutes.

If you do not want “named” chapter titles, you can use the Formatting pane to set yourself up with generic “Chapter One” … “Chapter Fifty-Two” style markers. Nothing fancy, gets the job done, and your readers will be comfortable.

A TOC is indeed useful for a reference or other nonfiction ebook, but it’s completely useless in a fiction ebook – and not just IMO, but a lot of other people’s as well. Very few people, if any, read a novel by looking up what page Chapter 20 begins on, skipping to that page, then going back to the TOC and looking up another chapter, skipping to it, etc. The vast majority of novel readers go straight from beginning to end of a book. That’s why most print books don’t have TOCs. As for keeping track of what page you left off reading in an ebook, the Kindle does that for you.

There’s a whole school of ebook marketing that seeks to maximize the free samples and “Look Inside” preview feature available at by eliminating anything that would prevent the potential buyer from getting straight to the first page of the actual text of the sample and/or preview. The well-substantiated belief of this school of marketing is that every extra click that you force the potential buyer to make before she gets to where she wants to go – which would be the actual text of the novel – represents another lost sale. Ebook sales are more often than not spur-of-the moment decisions, so every obstacle you put up, such as a useless TOC, will cost you.

As I said, Scrivener is a nice program with a lot of attractive features, but its current inability to omit TOCs is a real deal-killer for me as well as a lot of other writers, I imagine. I sincerely hope you implement an optional TOC feature in the near future.

Most print novels do not have a ToC for the reasons you state, this is true and I did say as much above. Printed books have important advantages in phsyical navigation that negate the need for them. E-books on the other hand have no good rapid return method like flipping pages, which is something one does in a novel. Maybe everyone does not, some people always finish a film in one sitting, too, but not everyone does—some people do a lot of flipping around when reading a novel. Surely not as often as in a technical book where topical headings are more important than reading everything cover to cover—no debate there—but most of the e-book novels that I buy these days have a ToC because non-linear access is difficult.

Which page should load on a newly downloaded book is however a separate issue from having a ToC or not having one. It is possible to set the book to load on page 1 of the story even if you have several content, title, copyright, forward, and other “front-matter” pages in the novel. So the presence (or lack) of a ToC does not impact that important feature. You’ll probably note that in Kindle books you buy. Most of them start on page 1 of the first chapter, but if you press the Prev button a few times you’ll see there is a lot of front matter—and likely a ToC as well. I just went through about twenty novels on my Kindle, and all but one had a ToC.

I think the main question here is not whether it is useful for everyone (nobody will debate that it is), but whether it harms the book to have one, even if all it is is twenty “Chapter #” entries.

Anyway, it’s all an interesting and partially subjective debate, but in my anecdotal experience—and I’ve been reading e-books almost exclusively for over a decade now—most e-books of all kinds have one, and I have on many occasions appreciated that fact, and on no occasion have I been annoyed that a novel had one. I have, however, been annoyed when they don’t and I needed one. Hence: why not have one then? That was the rational for putting one in and prioritising its appearance over an option to switch it off. Why do I? I tend to read a dozen books at once. Sometimes it’s well on half a year before I return to a book and I need to familiarise myself with details again. I might read a scene and wonder about a detail; know roughly where it was, and use the ToC to jump to around that spot, then jump back to my bookmark when I’m done. I wouldn’t say this is that unusual. In a paper books I could just use my thumb, flex the pages, and flip through fifty pages per second to find my spot. I can’t do that on a Kindle.

Ultimately though, as I said above, we do agree with giving one the power to choose not to have one. There will be an option, but we felt that people would appreciate having something rather than nothing, even if meant a little touch-up work after compiling. It’s quite a bit easier to take a 90% done e-book and finish off that 10%, than take an RTF file and turn it into an e-book.

Sure, if one is using Scrivener to do nothing but make e-books out of stuff they have already written, I would heartily agree and say that a lack of full e-book configuration is a woeful “deal-breaking” problem. That’s not really the point of the software though. The point of the software is to write the book, not create a publishable version of it after the fact. You’ll find this philosophy in just about every output method, not just the e-books. For simple stuff (like proofing) it’s okay, but the vast majority of the software’s features and focus is on the writing process. Output is often left to be done in specialist programs.

  1. I don’t need Scrivener’s writing features; if others do, fine, but as I indicated, I don’t; and

  2. I do require an output and formatting feature that makes a TOC optional in an ebook. The marketing advantages of not having a TOC in a fiction ebook far outweigh the putative advantages of a TOC for the tiny minority of people who read a book the way you do.

Thus, in its present form, Scrivener is inadequate for my purposes. I had been looking for a program in which I could write, edit and then format an ebook without recourse to a separate formatting program. Right now, WordPerfect X6 comes closer to my requirements than Scrivener does. If and when Scrivener incorporates a feature for making the TOC optional, I’ll take another look at it.

Ah, well, yes in that case Scrivener probably isn’t the best choice. It takes quite a bit of work and learning to get a manuscript converted to what would come about by natural means were it written in Scrivener from scratch, and like I say, it’s output engine is really designed more for writers to get their work into a finishing tool once they’re done with the writing. I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy the software as a replacement for Sigil or another dedicated e-book creation tool.

Check out our Links page, we don’t have a huge e-book section yet—there aren’t many programs dedicated purely toward this purpose—but you might find something useful to help.

It’s hardly a deal breaker for me, but it would be nice to be able to omit the TOC. I write primarily individual short stories, so there’s really no TOC other than Title Page, Story, and About the Author and it looks rather silly.

As I’ve read more and more novels in ebook format, I have noticed that a clickable table of contents is very helpful and included in many novels by major publishing houses.

Not trying to sway your decision on Scrivener one way or another, but here’s a not-so-hypothetical reason to have a table of contents in a novel: I often read books on my nook, and I allow it to update my position in the book so that if the mood strikes me to read, but the nook isn’t nearby, I can just pull out my iphone and pick up where I left off.

On more than one occasion, that ‘bookmark’ did not get synced up, and I was stuck jumping ahead to another chapter, scanning a few words and hoping I wasn’t about to spoil something, finding I’d already read that bit, and skipping ahead, only to find that I was pretty sure I hadn’t read that part. It was frustrating to say the least.

Now imagine that the sync never happened and I was 1/2 way through the book on my Nook. I’m in the DMV and so have a long span of quality reading time ahead of me. So I pull out my iPhone, and it opens to the first page… and I find there’s no ToC! I can’t just tell the stupid program that I want to skip to the middle. The only way for me to continue reading is to flip, ONE SCREEN AT A TIME through hundreds of pages of text. :imp: Believe me, I might be somewhat overly critical of that book, regardless of the quality of the writing.

Exactly. This has happened to me. Often things don’t sync right or even if I’m returning to the same ereading device I have had my bookmarks lost. Luckily most of the ebooks I’ve read had table of contents.

As an author publishing in ebook format and as a reader, I think it’s worth the one page a table of contents takes up for situations just like we’ve experienced.

Just my 2 cents worth about the whole epub/mobi thing.

The Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines – which is required reading for people who create mobi files, (link requires a logical table of contents (the toc.ncx file), “spine” entries, and a linked HTML toc. You really need to have all three, and, if the spine is set up properly, when you open a book for the first time you will land on the beginning of the main text. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The “logical” table of contents defines the places that the next and previous chapter button will take you. In a short story collection, that should take you from one story to another. In a novel, one chapter to another. (This is of course in addition to the page buttons) And in a novel with parts, you should be able to define it to take you from one part to another, or whatever. This should only be at most 2 levels deep.

If it’s just a short story, it still has to be there. It just has the cover, the copyright notice, the title page, the dedication, the table of contents, and the body in it. That’s all. That is also the minimum. But if it’s set up right, with the correct spine entry, then the body will be the first thing the reader sees. If it’s not, that’s a bug.

The “spine” is the set of “beginning,” “table of contents,” “cover”, and other buttons that appear in the “Go to…” menu. This is one way in which the epub standard is better than mobi; mobi only supports a restricted subset of what’s possible in the “spine” section.

The HTML TOC is a section outline of the book that can have arbitrary depth. How well Scrivener supports this beyond the folder/document heirarchy, I don’t know.

Navigation is one of the few things that you do have control over in a mobi file, and I’m afraid at this point that Scrivener doesn’t really provide much of what is possible.

And then there’s the formatting. I hope that Scrivener will jettison the Qt html generator, because it produces HTML that’s impossible to edit. Scrivener would almost be better off using MMD to generate HTML, and supply a simple and customizable stylesheet file for those who like to play with that set of toys. Hey, it takes all kinds.

I decided to develop my own epub/kindle tools, but there’s a lot you can do, still, with the Scrivener’s epub output. It seems to me that the thing to do, if you don’t want to go full kindlegen, is to unzip the generated epub file (rename book.epub to and then unzip and edit the opf and ncx files. (At that point, for instance, you can edit the “spine” entry to make sure “beginning” has the right reference). Then use kindlegen or the kindle previewer to generate a mobi file. These things aren’t all that mysterious, really, and if you want a quality ebook it really is necessary to get beyond thinking of them as black boxes.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone wants to deal in much detail with this format, because it’s so complicated: too complicated, it seems, to trust entirely to automated tools. It won’t be long, I don’t think, before Scrivener gets to the “if you want more than this you need to hire a conversion house to do it” stage. And I wouldn’t blame them.

TL;DR: Ebook generation is simpler than docbook, but not by much.


Good points!

Late to the thread, but no one has mentioned the simple fact that it’s all too easy to get lost while reading an eBook. Especially if you read several books at a time (I continually have a whole shelf of books on slow-read, plus several eBooks) If you forgot to bookmark your location, trying to get back via guessing at section numbers is incredibly frustrating. A TOC isn’t perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

This was very informative. Thank you all for these comments. I am a little confused by this “not a final editor” thing only because Scrivener really does so much. I would love someone in the tips section or something to give a great method for getting to final project and why and where to change out.
Like ebook, compile as .epub enter sigle and finish here for xyz reasons
Novel export to word and clean up xyz before self publishing.

It just seems to me that scrivener can do it all and switching out looses an element.
I may start a new question on that latter.