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Editorial Team

16 Gmail Hacks Every Writer Can Use

The new year is traditionally a time for self-improvement. Some join gyms, others launch new projects, but I like to get introspective.

I think the new year is a great time to reconsider how we can use Gmail to get more done. Gmail is possibly the most widely used email service, but are you getting the most out of it?

The following Gmail hacks will help you take control of your inbox and go from being a Gmail user to a Gmail expert. Read on to save time, avoid mistakes, and add a dash of style to your inbox.

And BTW, these tricks are all intended for Gmail in the web browser. The Gmail app is frustratingly limited.

Note: I have an older post on a dozen Gmail hacks. The following post (mostly) covers different tricks, and has been significantly updated.

1. Unhide the promotions, social, and other category tags

Did you know that Gmail has category tags? And did you know that Gmail is hiding some of your emails in those tags and is not putting the emails in your inbox?

A few years back Google “helpfully” added category tags to Gmail. Their intention was to make it easier for you to sort your emails, but things didn’t quite go as planned. Many users ignored the tags because we either had our own systems or did not need them, but that didn’t stop Gmail from automatically using the tags to sort our incoming emails.

Earlier this year I discovered there were thousands of emails which Gmail had tagged as Social, Update, Forums, or Promotion. None of these emails made it into my main Inbox, which means I missed out on countless important messages.

My solution to this problem was to find the options menu for each of the category tags, and tell Gmail to show all emails in my Inbox.

2. Schedule an email to be sent later

In this age of notifications setting off phone alarms, we have to be careful about sending emails too late in the day. You don’t want to wake someone up in the middle of the night with an email that could wait until morning. On the other hand, sometimes you also want to make sure you don’t forget to send the email.

With the Chrome extension Boomerang, you can schedule emails to be sent in the future and set up reminders to send an email. The extension adds an extra menu bar to Gmail’s Compose window where you can specify how long to wait before the email is sent.

You can find the extension in the Chrome web store.

3. Unsend emails

And then there are the times you wish you could take back an email you just sent — perhaps you found a typo a second too late, or regret writing the email when upset.

Luckily, there’s a way to avoid this issue. Gmail has a feature called Undo Send. When enabled, it gives you 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds to stop Gmail from sending an email.

You can find this option by first clicking the Gear menu button in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen, and then selecting the Settings menu option. There, you’ll find a section labeled Undo Send. This feature is automatically enabled in the new Gmail interface, so all you have to do is specify in the Send cancellation period section just how long you want Gmail to wait before it sends an email.

4. Use Gmail offline

The Gmail website is a great way to get work done while you’re online, but did you know that you can also use it offline (just like you do the apps)? Google has released a Chrome extension which lets you keep on writing drafts, deleting emails, and so on, even though you have no connection to the internet.

You can find the Gmail offline extension in the Chrome Web Store.

5. Use “Tasks” to add emails to your to-do lists

When you get an email that requires action on your part, and you can’t get to it right away, look at the menu bar above your emails. If you’re in the reading view, you’ll see a button marked More.

Click that button and select the Add to Tasks option. This adds the email to a little to-do list.

6. Automatically archive a sent email

Inbox Zero is a popular productivity hack where you strive to keep your inbox empty — or almost empty – at all times. This isn’t always a practical goal — in fact, the best I can get is Inbox Thirty — but in principle aspiring to Inbox Zero is a great way to reduce the clutter in your inbox so that you can focus on the important emails.

One way you can work towards Inbox Zero is to enable Gmail’s Send and archive feature.

You can enable this feature by first clicking the Gear menu button in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen, and then selecting the Settings menu option. There, you’ll find a section labeled “Send & Archive”. Click the radio button next to show “Send & Archive” button in reply.

7. Pause your inbox

Studies show that limiting yourself to checking email only a few times a day can reduce stress and boost productivity. If you need to temporarily remove distractions so you can focus on the task at hand, you can use Boomerang to pause your inbox. This won’t block emails from arriving, but it will stop emails from appearing in your inbox until you’re ready for them.

You can find the Boomerang extension in the Chrome Web Store.

8. Use smarter searches

Everyone knows that you can use the Gmail search bar to look for emails to and from specific names (To: and From:) or under specific labels (label:) but did you know you can also exclude labels, senders, and recipients?

It’s true!

If you want to exclude a sender from a search in Gmail, simply add a hyphen “-” before the “From” tag. For example, “-from:[email protected] ” will exclude that from any search results. The same trick works for the “To” tag and the “label “tag.

9. Hide the email tags when not in use

Instead of folders, Gmail lets you create labels to organize your inbox. Experienced users know to set up a label for every topic, client, or ongoing project, but that can cause problems. If you use Google for more than a few years then you will end up with a long column of labels cluttering up the left menu panel.

The clutter can render the label area almost unusable, but luckily there is a fix for this problem.

Gmail will let you show or hide each label, and even better, you can choose to only show labels that have unread messages.

You can manage the show/hide options by first clicking the Gear menu button in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen, and then selecting the Settings menu option. Select the Labels tab in the Settings menu. Scroll down and you’ll find a section labeled Labels. This is where you can select which labels are shown in the left menu panel.

I have almost all the labels set to show if unread. I find that to be the best trade-off between minimizing clutter and maximizing usability.

10. Stop senders from tracking you

It’s a fact of life that mailing lists and many other senders of emails will track whether recipients open the emails they get. (This is even an automated feature in Mailchimp and other email marketing services.)

I don’t know about you, but I would rather not let senders know when I open an email – it might inspire one of them to pester me about not responding. That’s why I use a couple Chrome extensions to block senders from tracking my activity.

The two plugins basically do the same thing, and I use them both for the sake of redundancy.

11. Save space by deleting only the largest emails

Here’s a trick I picked up from a music producer that got a lot of emails with MP3 attachments.

Google gives each user a generous 15GB of free storage, but that has to be shared among all of a user’s Google services. This means that if you use Gmail long enough and are in the habit of saving everything (even the emails with large attachments) then chances are you will find yourself having to free up space so you can upload more files to Google Drive.

One way to address this problem by deleting old emails, but there is a better solution: Find and delete only the largest emails.

I used to use a service called FindBigMail to identify large emails, but that service shut down in 2019. Luckily for us, Gmail built a similar feature we can use instead.

There’s a search trick for Gmail which you can use to identify the emails that take up the most space. Some will have huge attachments, but others might just be really long email chains with new versions of the same file attached to each email.

In either case, you can find the larger emails by entering “larger:5m” into the Gmail search bar. This search term will return only the emails larger than 5MB, and it also works for other sizes.

12. Mute conversations

Have you ever found yourself subscribed to a mailing list, and been inundated by emails on a topic that has no relevance to you or your work? (I have this problem with discussions in certain FB groups.)

If you don’t want to unsubscribe from the list, and you don’t want to have to keep deleting the unwanted emails, you can easily stop the friendly spam with the Gmail mute function.

Simply select the conversation, open the More menu, and select the mute option. This will automatically archive all new emails in the conversation. They won’t be deleted, and you can find them under the All Mail option in the left menu panel.

The muted conversation will stay muted until you find it again and un-mute it; it will also un-mute itself if your address appears in the To or CC box in the message header.

13. Change the style with themes

I was a little dismayed when I saw the new Gmail interface in 2018. I was shown a theme that had dark text on a light gray background. This made it hard for me to read the emails, but luckily for me there is a fix for this issue.

Google offers a selection of color themes. You can’t bring back the old interface, but you can change the colors of the new interface so it is easier on your eyes.

Look in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen for the Gear menu button. One of the options under that menu is the Themes menu. You can change the background to any one of dozens of images or colors. This feature is particularly useful if you maintain multiple Gmail accounts. You can give each one a different theme and save yourself from sending a personal email from the work account.

14. Make the Font Size Larger

One trick I wish more people would adopt is using a larger default font size in their emails. A lot of us have older eyes, and a larger font size is easier to read. (Plus, the fact that I’m one of the few people using this trick means that I can quickly tell which text in an email chain was written by me.)

If you click on the gear button in the upper right corner of Gmail, and then click the "all Settings" button, you’ll find that one of the options in that email is font size. (You can also choose the font face – serif or san serif.)

15. Auto-Translate Emails

This is more of a Chrome trick than a Gmail trick, and it’s most of the reason I keep using Chrome.

Google’s web browser has an auto-translate feature which you can use to translate the content on almost every web page. It works almost every, including in Gmail. I like to use it to to read all the non-English emails I get each week.

16. Track whether your emails are opened

I used to hate it when senders would track the emails they sent me, but then I started doing it, and I realized how useful this feature could be.

While email tracking can be misused as a tool to stalk people, I use it to better help my clients. For example, if someone opens an old email, it might mean that they are about to send me an email with a question, so I try to make time to respond. Also, if someone never opens an email, I know that I need to send a follow up just in case the earlier email got lost.

The service I use for this is MailTrack. I like it because it adds a notice to the end of each email informing users that the email is being tracked. I think that makes the act of tracking emails less creepy, and more polite.

* * *

What about you, authors? Have you ever wanted to unsend an email? Mute a conversation? What’s the worst email you wish you hadn’t hit “send” for?

image background by miniyo73 via Flickr

How to Limit Data Tracking on Your Kindle eReader and Fire Tablet

I helped a reader enable the privacy settings on their Kindle ereader today, and I thought it would be useful to share what we did.

I am sure many people know by now that Amazon tracks everything you do on your Kindle ereaders and Fire Android tablets. Some of this is so Amazon can store your reading location and annotations in the cloud, but Amazon is also tracking you so they can show you adverts (and also so they can sell the data to other advertisers).

BTW, I also have a longer post on privacy settings for your Amazon account.

You can disable the ad-related tracking on Amazon devices that run the latest version of the firmware, but not Kindle apps or older devices. You have in fact two different options; the first is to disable the tracking in the privacy menu of each Fire or Kindle, and the second is to disable it via

Here’s how.

Go to, click on the Accounts & List drop-down menu, and then select "Manage Your Content & Devices". This will take you to the page where you can manage your devices, apps, and the content on them.

When you are in the MYC&D menu, select the option for "Privacy Settings".

In the next menu, click the "Manage Settings" button under Amazon Devices Privacy. This will take you to the menu you can manage the privacy settings for each applicable device.

You will need to select the devices one by one, and disable each type of tracking one click at a time.

You might find that some of your devices are listed here but do not have any settings you can change. Those are the devices that need to be updated before you can  manage the device’s privacy settings.

And of course, any devices not listed are going to be running software so old that you cannot enable the privacy settings.

On the Device

While I prefer to change the settings via Amazon’s website, they are also accessible on each device in the settings menu. The relevant option is about 4 or five layers deep, but they are there.

If you want to turn off tracking on your Kindle, go to the settings menu, and then select device options and then advanced options. One of the settings on this screen will say "Privacy". Select it, and when the menu pops up, select the "enable" option".

To turn off tracking on your Fire tablet, go to the settings menu, and then select security and privacy. There are two settings you need to change, "device usage data" and "collect app usage data".

Select them one at a time to open the relevant menu. You will find one toggle in each menu; make sure it is flipped to the left. This stops Amazon from continuing to collect the data.

How to Send Web Content Directly to Your Kindle (Updated for 2020)

We all spend a lot of time reading in our web browsers, but sometimes you want to finish reading a particularly long article in Evernote, Kindle, or another platform where you can save a copy, add notes, and what not.

Amazon makes this easy to do with the Kindle, but you might also want to look at alternatives like IFTTT and the several third-party browser extensions and bookmarklets.

For the most part, you’ll need to install and configure a browser plugin or a bookmarklet. Amazon has released a couple plugins for Chrome and Firefox. (There are no official plugins for Internet Explorer, Safari, or other web browsers, but you do have other options.)


The official plugins can be found through Amazon, and installing them takes but a single click. Once the plugins are installed, you’ll be asked to log in to your Amazon account and configure the plugin.

Amazon will send you to a page like this:

send to kindle browser plugin

You’ll need to choose which devices you wish to send the webpage to, whether you want to also save the page to the Amazon Cloud Drive, etc.

Once you’ve configured the plugin, you can access it from an icon on your menu bar:

send to kindle browser plugin

The official plugins are easy to use, but not everyone has Chrome or Firefox. And that’s why I found a few alternatives.


When I wrote an earlier version of this post in 2015, I listed four services that worked very similar to Amazon’s official browser extensions. One is now dead, and I don’t know that the other three have been updated since 2015.

That’s why I think your first stop should be IFTTT.

For those who haven’t heard of the service, IFTTT is an automation service which you can set up to perform specific actions. The name stands for "IF This, Then That", and it’s quite simple to use. All you have to do is identify the trigger, set up the response, and then IFTTT will do the rest.

It’s impossible to list all of the things you can do with IFTTT, but today we’re going to focus on just sending content to your Kindle. IFTTT will let you send content from any number of services, including Dropbox, Pocket, Feedly, and Instapaper to your Kindle.

IFTTT supports so many sources that I know I can’t think of all of the ones which could prove useful, but I can point you to scripts that have been made by other users which will give you an idea of just what you can do to send content to your Kindle.

One recipe I like is the one which sends only the longest articles in Pocket to your Kindle account, but if you can’t find one which suits your needs you can make your own. For example, I just set up a recipe to send articles I starred in Pocket to my Kindle account. (I would have set up a similar recipe for Instapaper, but that would be redundant – I like to read in Instapaper on my Fire tablet.)

And that’s just the beginning. The only real limitation is where you have the content, and whether IFTTT supports that service or location.

But if you can’t find a recipe in IFTTT that does what you want I know of three services which will help you send web pages to your Kindle.  I don’t think they have been updated recently, and I can’t guarantee they wlll work.

This was one of the first services to offer to send web articles to your Kindle. It offers a bookmarklet which can be installed in your web browser, as well as plugins for Safari and Chrome. I think this service may have been abandoned (the blog and Chrome plugin were last updated in 2013), so it might not have been updated to work with the latest web browsers.

This one is new to me, and I haven’t had a chance to try it yet. But I am listing it here because it offers both an Android and Windows Phone option. Install the related app and you should be able to select "send to Kindle" as a share option in the Android and Windows Phone web browsers.

Send2Reader also offers a bookmarklet which works in most desktop web browsers.

Here’s another service which offers plugins, bookmarklets, and apps. Push2Kindle has apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone as well as plugins for Opera, Chrome, Safari, and FF – but not IE.

I’ve played around with the Chrome plugin, and while it’s not as well-designed as the official plugin from Amazon, Push2Kindle does offer certain configuration options which make it appealing.

How to Turn Your Chromebook into an Adequate eReader

samsung-chromebook[1]Are you thinking about getting a Chromebook?

When I first wrote this post in 2014, and even when I updated it in 2016, I could not possibly have recommended that you buy a Chromebook. The selection of apps was still quite limited compared to iOS or Android, because frankly when it came to the major OSes, Chrome was clearly the last thing on some developers' minds.

Fortunately a lot had changed by the time this post was last updated in July 2020. Now a significant number (the majority?) of Android apps are compatible with Chromebooks, and in fact I would say incompatible apps are the exception.

Here’s what you can do to read on Chrome.

Android Apps

Android is Android and Chrome is Chrome, but did you know that you can install Android apps on Chrome?

When you get a Chromebook you will be able to browse Google Play for compatible apps. And for those feeling adventurous, there is also a hack for running any Android app on Chrome. I haven’t tried it, but I did find instructions on how to pull it off.

eBook Apps

When I first wrote this post there wasn’t much in the way of true ebook apps for Chrome, but that changed by the time I updated this post in 2020. We still don’t have a Kindle app for Chromebooks, but there’s a Nook app and a Kobo app. Also, my Chromebook came with Play Books.

  • Kindle Cloud Reader (web app)
  • Kobo
  • Nook
  • Google Play Books
  • Aldiko
  • Moon+ Reader
  • Adobe Digital Editions
  • Apple Books (haha, just kidding)

There are in fact over a dozen Epub and PDF apps in Google Play that are compatible with a Chromebook.

Save for Later

  • Pocket
  • Evernote Clearly (extension)
  • Instapaper

Library eBooks

When I first wrote this post I could find but a single option for reading library ebooks on Chrome (OverDrive). In 2020 the list of compatible Android apps is longer, and includes:

  • OverDrive
  • Libby (by OverDrive)
  • Hoopla
  • Axis 360
  • Biblioteca Cloud Library


In 2020 we have quite a few audiobook apps for Chrome, but if they do not appeal to you, you can try streaming from websites. Also, has no DRM so you could simply download audiobooks there and play them in a media player.

  • Audible 
  • OverDrive
  • Chirp
  • Nook Audiobooks
  • Play Books
  • Librivox


There are like 50 PDF apps for Chrome, including:

  • Adobe Reader
  • Foxit
  • Notable PDF
  • MetaPDF

News and Feed Readers

Here are a few compatible RSS feed readers you’ll find in the "news reporting" category in Google Play, but for this type of service you might be better off using the web browser version of these apps. (That would be my preference.)

  • Feedly
  • Inoreader
  • News+
  • Newsblur
  • Bazqux
  • Feedspot

Digital Comics & Manga

We have far more digital comics options in 2020 than when I first wrote this post.

  • Marvel
  • DC Comics
  • Tapas
  • Marvel Unlimited
  • Dark Horse
  • Comixology
  • Play Books


The above lists are (probably) incomplete, so if you know of an app, extension, website, or service which should be listed here please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.


How to Embed an eBook on a Website (2020 Edition)

I was browsing through my blog’s archives this morning when I came across an old post from 2014 on embedding ebooks in a web page.  I was surprised to discover that I haven’t touched on this topic in the past six years.

I build websites for authors, so you would think it would have come up. I would have assumed that authors would want to have a sample on their site that visitors can read while they are still on the site, but I guess the practice is still not common.

Maybe they just don’t know how easy doable it is?

ETA: Well, I think it’s easy, but then again I am used to having tech thrown at me and figuring it out how the tech works while it’s still in mid-air. Not everyone is used to doing that, so this might not be as easy for you as it was for me.

A lot has changed in the past six years. Back then you had to use third-party apps or tools such as or Bib/i if you wanted to embed an Epub ebook in your site. ( actually does a lot more than that, although I am not sure it still works.)

In 2020 it is a lot easier to embed that ebook, just so long as you are fine with not using an Epub.  Now if you want to let website visitors read an ebook on your site, the easiest way to do it is to embed either a PDF or HTML file.  This is fine by me because I am more interested in what the visitor sees than in the technical details (plus, PDFs are ebooks).

And it’s really easy – if you have a WordPress site. All you have to do is install a plugin that can display a "flipbook". (I don’t know why it is called this, but I do know that if you search the WP plugin directory for that term, you will find plugins that can display a PDF on your site, but if you search the plugin directory for Epub you will only find plugins to help you sell ebooks.)

I recently added this feature to a client’s site using a plugin called 3D Flipbook. This plugin offers several different ways to embed either a PDF, including as a pop-up that can be embedded by pasting a shortcode in the page.

You can see the shortcode in action below.

Click the thumbnail below, and the PDF should open.

[3d-flip-book mode="thumbnail-lightbox" urlparam="fb3d-page" id="139962″ title="false" lightbox="dark"]

That is a one-page PDF, so it’s not the best example, but it should give you an idea of what this will look like and how it works.

One reason I used it was so I could point out how you might want to format the PDFs to a size smaller than 8.5 x 11 so they will be easier to read. If you could format the ebooks for a 6″ ereader screen, that would be just about perfect.

Or, you could try using an HTML file as the source for the flipbook. (I would show you what that looks like, but I’ve tried 3 plugins and still can’t pull it off.)

There are over a dozen plugins that promise to let you embed a PDF in a web page. I have not tried them all, but I would recommend that you try several of them before settling on one. They each have different features, so one might have the abilities you need, while another does not.

How to Download Your Kindle Notes and Highlights and Export Them (Updated for 2020)

Amazon has a great reading platform in the Kindle, but sometimes it’s not enough.

Sometimes I need to take the notes I make in a Kindle ebook and use them elsewhere. Amazon doesn’t make it easy for us to do that, but luckily there are other ways.

Back in 2015 I needed to export my Kindle notes, so I did some digging and rounded up a few tools which would help me do just that. The tools range from the simple (copy+paste from a web browser) to the inaccessible (an iPhone app and a Mac-only script).

Now it’s March 2019, and about half the tools mentioned in the original post are gone. So I have updated the post with corrected info and I’ve also pruned the tools that have died in the past four years.

Edit: And now it’s June 2020, and I still need to export my notes, so I have revised this post.

The available tools have changed a lot over the years. For example, Amazon used to have a site called where you could find your note and highlights, see what other people were writing in the margins, etc. Unfortunately, that is gone now. (That page was sorta replaced by, but the new page doesn’t have the same features.)

So let’s start with the simple trick that still works.

Look in the documents folder of your E-ink Kindle and you’ll see a file named myclippings.txt. This is a text file of all of the notes and highlights made on your Kindle (but not on the other Kindles or Kindle apps on your account). You can copy this file to your PC and open it.

Boom. You can now copy and past your notes into other documents, emails, etc.

Kindle (devcies)

Did you know you can have your Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Oasis, or Kindle email your annotations to you? (I didn’t until Tom told me.) Amazon will email the notes and highlights to the address on your Amazon account. They will arrive as a PDF and a CSV attached to the email.

You can access the export option from the Notes menu which can be found in the 3 dot menu dropdown inside the ebook you’re reading.

iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

The Kindle apps for iOS and Android have a feature which is shared by the Kindle Fire tablets. They have a notebook menu where you can find all of the highlights and notes for an ebook.

This menu is accessible from inside the ebook, and one of the things you’ll find there is an option to share your annotations by email. Here’s what it looks like on the iPad:

kindle ipad app

The notebook menu can be accessed from inside a book, but the way you find it differs between Android, iOS, and the Kindle Fire.

On iOS, click the “sheet of paper” icon in the upper right corner. The export button is in the upper right corner of the notebook menu. The exported notes don’t look very good, but this trick does let you pull the notes out of even a side-loaded ebook.

On Android, click the "3 dots" icon in the upper right corner, and then select the Notebook option from the dropdown menu. You can either create flashcards or export the notes to Drive, by email, or by Android Beam.

On the Kindle Fire, open the ebook and press the center of the screen. One of the icons you will see across the top of the screen will look like a piece of paper. That is the notebook menu, and the export option is in the upper right corner.

Kindle Cloud Reader

Amazon’s Kindle app for the web browser is located at, and it even has a copy of your notes at

I just heard that it actually does have an export option., but you have to get Amazon CS to enable the feature first.

Kindle for PC

I forgot to include this in the original post, but the Kindle app for Windows and macOS has a notebook feature just like the one in the Kindle apps for Android and iOS. Its only export option is an HTML file. This is not an ideal option, but it does exist, which is better than nothing.

This screenshot should help you find the export feature.


This nifty little bookmarklet is simple and works great with Chrome. After you install it, you use it by opening an ebook’s highlights page on and then clicking the bookmarklet button.


I liked Bookcision because it worked well with Chrome. With other web browsers, you can save the notes to the clipboard, but with Chrome I also get multiple download options (text, XML, JSON). The latter two options include a link to the note’s location in the ebook.

Evernote WebClipper

This tool can be used to copy part of a page or an entire webpage into your Evernote account, and I’m told it works well to copy notes from a book’s highlights page on

But you might want to manually select the book notes though and copy and paste.  There’s one report that the page has an infinite scroll built-in that messes up one user’s Evernote clipper.


And while we’re on the topic, Microsoft’s OneNote has a similar clipping tool. It takes screenshots so it’s not nearly as useful, but if you already use that platform then it’s worth a look.

iphoneHere’s another service I’m not sure I can recommend. is supposed to offer an easy to use online service for managing your Kindle notes and highlights, but I haven’t found a good reason to continue using it.

While I was setting it up, I noticed that this "free" service works with a Chrome plugin which costs $2 (you can also find the myclippings.txt file and upload it). That turned me off, and since it basically duplicates activities I already perform on my PC, I plan to close the tab and forget about it.


And last but not least, calibre. This ebook library tool can not only send ebooks to your Kindle, it can also fetch the annotations from a Kindle – only there’s a catch.

fetch-annotations[1]This only works when you have your Kindle plugged into your PC over USB.  And it apparently doesn’t work for newer Kindles.

I found this trick while researching this post, and I also found a bug report which says that this feature doesn’t work with newer Kindles. I can’t get it to work with my Paperwhites, for example.

But since it might work for you, I’m including it here. Head on over to JetShred for instructions and more details.


All in all, there are a lot of tools out there that either don’t work, aren’t terribly useful, or are intended to work in only specific circumstances.

But I found at least one tool that I like, so I’m good.

Did you find one you could use? Did I miss one?

The comments are open.

image by Terry Madeley via Flickr

Thirteen Sites for Making a Spectacular Book Cover (Updated)

A book’s cover is often the first thing a reader sees when they find your book for the first time. You never have a second chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes, which is why many would suggest you hire a professional to design your book covers.

But some authors have the skill to DIY or want to learn about cover design by doing so they can work better with the designers they hire, so here are thirteen sites, services, and apps that you can use to make an awesome book cover.

Sidenote: Before you use any of these tools, you should read up on good cover design techniques.

There are many similar tools out there, so if you know of one not on this list please leave a comment.

Which one do you use?

Update for June 2020: I was making graphics today when i remembered this post needed to be updated. I have actually used several of these tools since this post was published in 2017, but for the most part I still use Canva. That app now has even very nice templates you can use as a starting point than it did in 2017.



Poster My Wall

3D Box Shot Maker

Quick 3d Cover






Book Cover Creator

Eight Tips for Extending the Battery Life on Your Kindle

Back in the olden days (circa 2011) we used to be able to buy ereader cases that included their own battery. I actually still have one such case built for the non-touch basic Kindle from 2011, but those days are long past.

Now ereader owners are limited by the battery that coes with their devices, and while screens may be getting larger, batteries generally aren’t. Most ereaders have a 1Ah or 1.5Ah battery, which is actually good enough for a couple months of usage – if you are careful.

Here’s how you can extend the battery life of your ereader.

1. Turn down the frontlight. Frontlights are the best thing to happen to ereaders since Amazon launched the original Kindle with free 3G, but you would be surprised by just how much of an impact they have on battery life. I was recently reading on Kobo’s original 6.8” ereader with the frontlight turned almost off, and that thing actually lasted through 4 ebooks before I had to recharge it.

2. Turn off wifi. And 3G One reason that that Aura HD lasted so long was that the wifi had been turned off. I usually have it disabled by default because while downloading ebooks over wifi is great, it still drains the battery.

3. Change the screen refresh settings. Most ereaders, including both Kindle and Kobo, now have an option in the settings menu where you can limit how often the device refreshes the screen rather than just changing the text. This saves battery life because a full screen refresh entails flipping the entire screen to black before refreshing the screen with the next page.

4. Restart Your Device. Your ereader is actually a small computer, and like any computer sometimes the software goes awry. When that happens to power management software, your batteyr life could be reduced to only a couple hours. If you notice that your device’s battery life is unexpectedly short, and you can’t find a cause, restarting will force the ereader to reload the software. (Turning it off and on again may be a joke on IT but it actually works.)

5 Turn off auto-brightness. Some ereader models have a feature where the device adjusts the brightness of the frontlight so that it matches the ambient light condition. That’s nice and all but it can also impact battery life any time it makes your frontlight brighter.

6. Only add ebooks (or use the wireless networks) while charging. Every time you add an ebook to the Kindle, the OS will index it. And every time you turn on the wifi, the Kindle will sync with Amazon’s servers. These two activities drain battery life, so why not kill two birds with one stone by taking care of them while your device is connected to a power source?

7. Reduce the font size, and line spacing. This may sound silly but if you have more text on the screen, you will be able to go longer between page turn, and each time you turn the page you will get further into the ebook.

8. Turn it off! The last and most important way to expend the battery life of your ereader is to simply shut it down. Yes, putting it to sleep does reduce the drain on the battery, but turning it off does an even better job.

* * *

So tell me, what’s your favorite trick for extending your ereader’s battery life?

How to Fix the Kindle Firmware 5.12.4 Blank Library Screen Bug

If your Kindle is showing you a library screen that looks like this, I know how to fix it:

Numerous Kindle owners on MobileRead and the Kindle support forums are reporting that their newly updated ereaders are no longer working correctly. The several week old 5.12.4 firmware update apparently has a bug which is causing the library screen to freeze and only show a blank screen.

Thankfully, the rest of the Kindle functions are unaffected. Users can still access the main menu and settings menu, and one even said that they could find their ebooks via the search function.

Amazon has not announced a fix (although they have removed the 5.12.4 firmware update from their site) but users have found a solution. What you need to do is dereigster the Kindle, reboot it, and then register it.

Here’s how you do that:

  1. Deregister your Kindle
    * From the home screen, tap the menu icon in the upper right corner, and select the Settings option.
    * In the settings menu, select My Account, and then select the option Deregister Device.
    * Confirm deregistration.
  2. Restart Your Kindle
    * Press and hold the power button (located on the bottom edge of your Kindle) for seven seconds.
    * When the power menu pops -up on screen, click restart.
  3. Register Your Kindle
    * From the home screen, tap the menu icon in the upper right corner, and select the Settings option.
    * In the settings menu, select My Account, and then follow the directions to register your Kindle. If your device is already registered, select the option to deregister, and then register it again.

Let me know if this doesn’t fix the problem!


Eight Default Amazon Security Settings You Can Change for More Privacy

So as you may know, my mother is on my Amazon account. (There is a point to this anecdote, trust me.) We mainly use it to read ebooks; I sideload SF ebooks while she reads free romance novels.

This worked out well for us (since long before Amazon had any sharing options) because our reading interests didn’t intersect, and because I could use Amazon’s system to email tech docs from her job to her fire tablet.  Or at least this did work out well until yesterday, when I got an email from Goodreads, congratulating me for finishing a romance novel.

It seems that when I set up my mother’s new Fire tablet, Amazon automatically re-connected my Goodreads account with my Kindle account. I had set the accounts so that my Kindle reading activity would not be uploaded to my Goodreads account, but Amazon overrode my wishes, and now my Goodreads account public profile says I am currently reading four romance novels and have finished another two.

I have since disconnected my Goodreads and Kindle accounts, but I was inspired today to write about default Amazon security settings that authors should change to protect their privacy.

Update: In light of revelations that Amazon shares your Alexa utterances with contractors, I have expanded this post with a 7th suggestion.

Update (12 February 2020): I just added instructions on how to stop Amazon from tracking what you are doing on Kindles and Kindle Fires (don’t worry, this will not affect your reading activity).

Let’s start with Goodreads.

1. Disconnect your Kindle & Goodreads accounts

An author who writes children’s books probably doesn’t want the non-child-friendly novels they’re reading showing up on their Goodreads profile. Goodreads doesn’t have many account level privacy options,  so really the only way to  solve this is to separate your Goodreads account from your Kindle account.

Note: If you use your Amazon account to log in to Goodreads then you will first need to set up new login credentials, otherwise your Goodreads will be deleted.

I just changed this setting on my mother’s Fire tablet by going in to the settings menu, opening the accounts menu, and selecting the social networks option. I was presented with options for Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, and I made sure to disconnect all three.

Note: I could not find any similar setting in my accounts on the Amazon website or the Goodreads website; while the setting might be there I could only find it on the Fire tablet.

Once that is done, let’s do something about Amazon  tracking your web browsing.

2. Clear Amazon tracking cookies

When you first visit Amazon’s website, the retailer installs a cookie on your device. As you navigate around the site, that cookie reports your activity back to Amazon.

Here’s how you can stop that from happening.

Visit, and select the "browsing history" option from the menu bar.

Select the "manage history" option on the right, and then when the new menu options, click the toggle button to disable tracking. Also, click the "remove all items" button, to clear your history.

That will stop Amazon from tracking your browsing on its site. It won’t stop Amazon from tracking your other activity – if you have an Echo, for example, Amazon records everything you say to it.

3. Delete your Alexa recordings

If you have been following smart speakers in the news then you probably know that they listen to everything. What you might not know is that Amazon records everything you say to Alexa and stores an audio recording of every voice command you’ve issued, not just in the device itself, but on Amazon’s servers.

You can play back all of the recordings in the history menu on, and if you like you can delete the recordings one by one. But if you want to delete all of the recordings, the best way to do that is to visit the "Manage your content and devices" page on Any Alexa apps you have registered, as well as the Echo smart speakers, will be listed on this page.

You can select each one, and delete the recordings associated with the app or device. If you use Alexa on a Fire tablet, you can also delete those recordings from this page.

I just deleted the recordings related to my Echo Dot. The confirmation said that my request was received, not that the files were deleted. There’s no way for us to tell that Amazon actually followed through, unfortunately, so we’ll just have to take their word it.

And while I was at it, I disabled the option to order from Amazon using Alexa.

4. Disable Alexa’s voice purchasing feature

I have heard far too many stories about pet parrots or small children using Alexa to place orders at Amazon, and that is why once I decided to take steps to enhance my privacy I made sure to go in and disable this feature.

You can disable this feature by going to the relevant settings menu on, and clicking on the toggle button to turn it off.

Okay, so this technically is not a privacy setting, but disabling this feature is still a good idea.

5. Remove your public Amazon profile

Even though you might never have rated a product or posted a review, Amazon automatically created a public profile for you that lists a lot of what I would describe as personal and private info. This won’t include your buying history, but it does include any biographical information you’ve provided as well as your comments, ratings, the authors you follow on Amazon, your public wish lists, and other interaction with Amazon.

You can control what Amazon reveals about you by going to your account page on, scrolling down to the "Ordering and shopping preferences" section, and selecting the "profile" option

This will bring up a new menu showing your public profile. If you select the edit option near the top of the screen, you will be taken to a menu where you can edit the content on your profile and its privacy settings.

I decided to hide everything from my profile, but you also have the option of being more selective.

On a related note, I also decided to hid my shopping and wish lists.

6. Make your wish lists private

When you created your last Amazon Shopping List, did you check the privacy settings?

Those lists have a default setting of public, which is great if you want to share them but not so great if your shopping list is filled with sex toys.

If you’re not sure about the privacy settings of your Amazon Lists, go to, click on the Accounts & List drop-down menu, and then select either "Shopping List" or "Wish List." This will bring up the "Your Lists" page. If you look on the left side of the screen you will see a list of your lists and their privacy levels.

If you see a public list that should be private, select the list and then click the 3-dot menu icon and then select the "Manage List" option.

This will bring up a menu where you can change the privacy status and other details.

7. Stop Amazon from sharing what you say to Alexa with contractors

Amazon has admitted to not only recording what you say to Alexa but also sharing those recordings with contractors. If you’re reading this post then I am sure you will want to stop Amazon from sharing your info, and here’s how you can do that.

Visit the Manage my Content & Devices page on Amazon, and select the option of Alexa privacy. Then, on the Alexa privacy page, Scroll down to the section labeled "Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa". Click the arrow.

On the next page you will see a blue toggle next to a label that reads "Help Develop New Features". Click the blue toggle to disable this feature and enhance your privacy. You may also see one or more blue toggles in a section labeled Use Messages to Improve Transcriptions. Uncheck those blue toggles as well.

It’s not clear that this will stop Amazon from sharing your recordings, however. According to Bloomberg, Amazon said "people who opt out of that program might still have their recordings analyzed by hand over the regular course of the review process".

8. Disable Tracking on Your Kindle Fire or Kindle

This slipped my attention when I first wrote this post, but Amazon tracks everything you do on your Kindle ereaders and Kindle Fire Android tablets. You can disable this tracking on devices that run the latest version of the firmware, but not Kindle apps or older devices. This means that at least two-thirds of users cannot take advantage of this option, but some will be able to.

Here’s how.

Go to, click on the Accounts & List drop-down menu, and then select "Manage Your Content & Devices". This will take you to the page where you can manage your devices, apps, and the content on them.

When you are in the MYC&D menu, select the option for "Privacy Settings".

In the next menu, click the "Manage Settings" button under Amazon Devices Privacy. This will take you to the menu you can manage the privacy settings for each applicable device.

You will need to select the devices one by one, and disable each type of tracking one click at a time.

You might find that some of your devices are listed here but do not have any settings you can change. Those are the devices that need to be updated before you can  manage the device’s privacy settings.

And of course, any devices not listed are going to be running software so old that you can’t stop Amazon from tracking what you are doing. (You also can’t stop Amazon from tracking what you are doing in the Kindle and Audible apps.)

Komando, Business Insider


How to Update Your Older Kindles If You Missed the October 2019 Deadline

Some tech companies such as Google  may be prone to disabling their smart thermostats as soon as the warranties expire, but Amazon makes sure your older devices continue to function long after the point where they belong in a museum.

in late September 2019 Amazon sent out an email to owners of older Kindle models, advising them that their device needs to be updated to continue to function. I didn’t get one of these emails, but someone over at MobileRead did:

Dear Customer,

We’re contacting you regarding your Kindle Keyboard (2010). If you have not yet completed the most recent update on your Kindle Keyboard (2010), please do so prior to October 1, 2019 or you will be unable to use the Kindle services on your device. The update ensures that your device remains up-to-date with continuously evolving industry web standards. After October 1, you’ll need to update your device before you can connect to the Kindle services.

How to Update

Connect your device to WiFi and the update will automatically download and install on your Kindle. For more information on how to download and install the update for your Kindle Keyboard (2010), visit

Alternatively, you can manually install the software update by downloading the update to your computer and transferring it to your Kindle. Visit for instructions.

Note: If your device is already up-to-date, or if it is not listed on the above page, no further action is needed.


Customer Service

This looks like a repeat of 2016, when Amazon released a small but critical update for older Kindle models. That update was  mandatory in order to guarantee that the devices could continue to work with Amazon’s wireless service, and from what I read over at MR, the same might be true for this update.

So if you’re still using an older Kindle model, you should definitely check to see if you need to update.

Here’s the link Amazon provided for the page of affected models:

That page includes instructions on how to check which firmware your Kindle is running, and how to install the update.

How to Change the Font Size in Dictionaries on the Kindle

I was working with a client on their website today when they happened to mention that they were having trouble reading on their Kindle (this blog comes up a lot in my day job). It seems my client was having trouble with reading and looking up definitions on their Kindle. Like me, they have old eyes, and use a larger font size to read, but the definition’s font size was too small for them.

I could appreciate that (I have abandoned print books because the text was too small), and what’s even better was that I know a solution.

This might not be common knowledge, but the dictionary on your Kindle is actually an ebook. You may only see a single definition at a time, but thanks to Kindle ebooks having their origin in Mobipocket ebooks, there’s still a dictionary ebook in your Kindle somewhere,.

If the definition that pops up when you read is too small, you can open the dictionary ebook and see the definition there. Here’s how.

And while I am at it, I should probably tell you how the same trick works in the Kindle apps.

Kindle Fire & Kindle apps for Android/iOS

Accessing the Kindle dictionary via a definition in the Kindle app for iOS or on the Kindle Fire is relatively easy.

While reading a book, simply press and hold on a word until the definition pops up, and then click the "full definition" link to open the dictionary ebook itself. Once you’re here you can change the font size just like in any other ebook; simply press and hold in the middle of the screen to bring up the menus, and then look for and open the Aa menu.


The dictionary look up function works a little differently on Kindle ereaders than on the Kindle apps; there’s an extra step in opening the dictionary. (Also, older Kindle models that lack touchscreens each have their own quirky way to access the dictionary.)

Here’s how you open  the dictionary on a current Kindle ereader. Press and hold on a word until the definition pops up, and then select the 3-dot menu beside the search icon (magnifying glass). Choose the option Open Dictionary. This opens the dictionary as a regular ebook where you can adjust the font size to whatever works for you.

It’s that simple!

Do you know a cool trick for the Kindle that you’d like to share?

How to Stop Websites From Harassing You About Notifications and Location Tracking

Update: It’s July 2019, and I am suddenly seeing a rash of websites asking to send me notifications, so I went into Chrome to block them again. I also updated the instructions for this post.

Web browsers can send you desktop notifications and track your location when you let them.

Those can be useful features if you like them and use them, but if you have no plans of ever allowing them to do so and just want the nagging requests to end, here’s how to disable the features permanently in the four major web browsers on Windows.


In Chrome, click the menu icon (three vertical dots) on the far right of the menu bar. Select "Settings" from the drop-down menu. When that tab opens, scroll down and click "Advanced Settings".

Keep scrolling down, and look for the "Privacy" section. Click the "Site settings" button to open a new menu.

Scroll down in that window to the "Location" option, and click it. Click the toggle at the top of the Location menu to block location tracking.

Then, go back to the "Site settings" menu, and find the "Notifications" option, and click it. Click the toggle at the top of the Notifications menu to block location tracking.

That’s it.


Mozilla has buried the Firefox notification and location settings options in a hidden configuration menu. Open Firefox, type "about:config" into the address bar, and press Enter.

The next thing you’ll see is a warning message about voiding your warranty. That is just silly legal ass-covering, so just accept the risk and continue.

To turn off notifications, type "notifications" into the search bar and look for "dom.webnotifications.enabled". Double-click it to disable this feature.

You’ll know you succeeded if you see the word "false" at the end of that line.

Clear the search bar, and type in "geo.enabled". You should only see one option, so double-click it to disable it.

You’ll know you succeeded if you see the word "false" at the end of that line.

Internet Explorer

I can’t find the IE setting to disable desktop notifications, but you can block sites from asking to track your location.

Open IE, and click the gear-shaped settings icon found on the far right of the menu bar. Choose "Internet options" from the drop down menu.

When the pop-up menu pops up, select the "Privacy" tab and then check the box next to "Never allow websites to request your physical location".

Click "Apply" and then "OK", and you’re done.


Of the four major web browsers on Windows, Opera is by far the easiest to configure.

Edit: They have changed how their setting menu was structured since I wrote this post in 2017. The following instructions are current as of July 2019.

You can open the settings menu by typing "Alt+P", or by opening the "Menu" in the in the upper-left corner, and then choosing "Settings" from the drop-down menu.

Click on the "Advanced" option in the menu on the left, and then select the Privacy and Security option. Select the "Content settings" option in the menu on the right (it should be about 6 down from the top).

Scroll down to the "Location" option, and click it. Click the toggle at the top of the Location menu to block location tracking.

Then, go back to the "content settings" menu, and find the "Notifications" option, and click it. Click the toggle at the top of the Notifications menu to block location tracking.

Now close the tab (or close Opera) and you’re done.


Ten Free Online Image, Graphic, and Photo Manipulation Tools

Image editing used to be something that required a dark room, expensive chemicals, and scissors.  Later all that was replaced by expensive apps, but it is now 2019 and a lot of image editing can be done with free online tools (or free offline tools like GIMP). Over the past week a couple different tools came up in discussions with clients, and it gave me an idea: Why not pull together a list of free tools?

My goal for this post was to collect a bunch of sites that each did one thing really well, but most of the sites I found are more general purpose image, photo, or graphics editors. I wanted sites that for example could remove the background and only that, but instead most of what I found were Photoshop replacements. It’s a good list so far, and I plan to add more tools as time goes by. I will not, however, add sites like Visme or PicMonkey because they are not free as well, or sites like Pixelr (which for some ungodly reason is built in Flash). For now, let’s start with the single-purpose tools.

1. PicResize

There are many online tools that can change the size of your image, but PicResize is the one I keep going back to whenever I need to reduce the resolution of the 10MP product photo I just downloaded from Amazon. This is a cropping and resizing tool that can also apply a few basic filters, and what keeps me coming back is that it works very fast and has a simple interface.

2. VerExif

Ever wonder what details were lurking in the metadata of that photo you took with your phone? This is the site you can use to find out. It will list all of the EXIF data for your photo, including any GPS coordinates, and it will also let you delete the data and then download the image again.


Speaking of removing things, how would you like to remove an image’s background? I’ve only used it a few times, but this site has proven to be a great way to isolate one element of a photo  so you can use it elsewhere. It can remove all or part of an image, leaving the remainder transparent. It will automatically delete what it thinks is the background, but if it’s wrong you can either add or remove more of the original image.

4. PSD Viewer

Every so often I am handed a design as a PSD, EPS, or AI file rather than as an image that I can readily use online. This is not a problem because I know there are sites like PSD Viewer that will let me extract the contents of those files and convert them to a more usable format. Also, I just found a couple photo editors that work with professional file formats while working on this post, so I will probably end up using one.

5. Convert a Color

As you may know, there are four ways to specify a color in an image. This site will automatically convert a color from one of the four color systems to the other 3. This tool really comes in handy when one of your tools uses one color system and another tool uses another color system.


This site can convert an image from the CMYK colorspace to RGB. (The former is used for printing, while the later is used for digital images.) Sometimes graphic designer send you an image coded in CMYK when in fact you need RGB, and this site can fix that.

7. 3D Cover Creator

This site lets you create a mockup by putting your ebook cover image on a tablet, smartphone, or ereader screen. You can also create a 3D-ish print book cover, as well as any combination of the 3 device screens. Bonus tip: If you download the new cover image as a transparent PNG, you can use it in another graphic!


1. Canva

Canva is my preferred tool for making blog graphics, print ads, etc. It has dozens of  predefined sizes and thousands of pre-made templates that you can modify or use as inspiration for your design. It’s not as good as it used to be (the selection of free images has been reduced significantly) but the developers did recently update the site with a new code base that gives you more granular control over tiny details like font sizes.

2. PhotoVisi

This is a collage maker. If you want to combine a bunch of different images into one collage to be displayed online then this is the tool for you. You can crop the images, or add filters, before adding them to the collage. PhotoVisi can also make Twitter and Facebook graphics.

3. Figma

Figma is new to me, but it would seem to be a tool similar to Canva. Where they differ is that while Canva’s projects are focused on making a Twitter graphic, or a flyer, or a single infographic, Figma is about designing a style guide. Basically Canva is what an artist might use, while Figma is what the artist’s boss might use (I think ?).

4. Photopea

Remember how I said I had trouble with PSD files? That was before I found Photopea. This is an online tool that honestly looks like it is intended to be an online clone of Photoshop. Its interface looks very much like what I would expect from a PC-based app like Photoshop while still being very easy to use and completely online.

5. Fotor

Fotor is a new one for me, but I am told that it is both an online photo editor and collage maker as well as a proper desktop application for photo editing with RAW conversion support. There are, multiple versions of Fotor. You could opt for one of the online versions, or choose to download a copy of the desktop version and install on your computer for offline photo editing. This tool is more image than graphics focused.

6. Pizap

Pizap is a photo editor and a collage maker, but what caught my eye was its emoji maker. If you’re as bored with the usual emojis as I am, here’s your chance to make your own.


Do you know of a great tool to add to this list? Do you have a specific requirement that these sites don’t meet? Let me know in the comments!

How to Remove Most of the Adverts from Your Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire is a pretty decent media tablet. It’s really great at streaming content from Amazon, and it’s decent at playing games (although the budget specs kinda limit what you can do in that dept).

Unfortunately, the Kindle Fire’s user experience is severely hampered (in my opinion) by an excess of adverts. While I am sure you know that Amazon sells its hardware as ad-subsidized, those lockscreen adverts are really just one of four different sets on the Kindle Fire.

Yes, Amazon delivers adverts to the Kindle Fire four different ways. There are adverts on the lockscreen and in the notifications. Amazon also plays adverts before Prime videos, and every so often I have noticed that Amazon will insert an advert into the carousel on the main menu of your Kindle Fire.

You might not have noticed the adverts, but I for one found them annoying – so much so that I went looking for ways to remove them. While I cannot do anything about the pre-roll adverts in Amazon Prime, I did find out how to remove the other adverts.

Let’s start with the lockscreen adverts, or "Special Offers", as Amazon calls them. It’s going to cost you $15.

How to remove the Special Offers Adverts

  1. Go to Manage Your Content and Devices (
  2. Select Your Devices and then identify the Kindle Fire you want to remove adverts from.
  3. Click the device Actions button to the left of the device’s name.
  4. Next to Special Offers, click Edit, and then follow the instructions to unsubscribe from Special Offers. You’ll see the amount of the one-time payment before you confirm.

Once you have that done, the next step is to remove the adverts from your notifications and your home screen carousel. This won’t cost you anything, and it can be done from your Kindle Fire’s settings menu.

  1.  Swipe down from the top of your screen.
  2. Tap on Settings.
  3. Go to Apps and Games.
  4. Select Amazon Applications Settings.

There are a number of Amazon apps responsible for the adverts in your notifications bar and home screen carousel, and you’re going to have to go in to each one and disable the ads you don’t want.. Fortunately, all of the relevant apps are listed in this one menu, so you can change the settings of one after another, all in just a few minute.

A few of the apps include Insider, Home Screens, and the Amazon Video app. Here are screenshots showing you the options you can disable.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t realize just how many adverts Amazon was putting on my Kindle Fire until I went to turn them off. It was more than I expected, and I’m not sure I found them all.

But I did turn off all the ads I could find. How many do you plan to disable?