The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
Here's how to convert a Word document into EPUB or MOBI file format. This option certainly won't be for everyone, but if it suits you, you can master it in seconds ... and for free.
Many authors create their books directly in Microsoft Word because of its excellent suite of onboard styling tools and its compatibility with a range of plug-ins and add-ins (including macros). Pro editors love it for the same reasons.
Once the writing, drafting, editing, and final revisions are complete, it’s time to publish. Is a Word file good enough for epublication? How about a DIY conversion to EPUB or MOBI? It depends on several factors:
Editorial assessment and freebies
Perhaps you want to send a review copy to a reader who has a Kindle. Or maybe you want to offer free ebooks for family members and friends. The devices your readers own will determine the required file format. Having your own EPUBs and MOBIs will give you flexibility beyond Word and PDF.
And if you're sending your book file for editorial assessment, your developmental editor might prefer to upload your book to their e-reader. They'll makes notes in the file in preparation for their final report or critique.
Doing the conversion yourself gives you the freedom to distribute your book without having to jump through the distributors’ hoops.
How about if you’re making your book available for sale? Should you hire a pro formatter for your ebook interior? Yes, definitely, if you have the budget for it, because a pro formatter will do a pro job. The same applies to commissioning various rounds of professional editing.
But let’s be honest – not every indie author has deep pockets, and some of you will have to make choices about where to invest your budget. It might be that a DIY conversion will suffice, and in that case Calibre could be your friend.
What is Calibre?
Calibre is free open-source ebook-management software. With it you can convert a Word file to an EPUB or a MOBI.
Go to https://calibre-ebook.com to download and install the software. There are versions for Windows and Mac.
Your sales and distribution platform
If you want to publish via Smashwords, Word is the preferred format. Here's founder Mark Coker:
"We recommend the Microsoft Word path as the best option for most fiction and narrative non-fiction authors because it’s the easiest method to produce high-quality ebooks that are readable on any e-reading device. It will also generate your ebook in multiple ebook formats at the Smashwords store, making your book readable on any e-reading device. By using Microsoft Word, it’s also easy to modify your book at any time."
Make sure you follow the Smashwords guidelines on preparing your Word file, otherwise your published book will be a mess! Furthermore, you’ll risk not qualifying for inclusion in Smashwords’ premium catalogue, which gets your book in front of some big online retailers including:
If your interior is complex, Smashwords will accept EPUB files but they should be professionally designed. There’s further guidance in the Smashwords Style Guide.
Kindle Direct Publishing/Amazon
If you’re self-publishing via KDP, Amazon will create a MOBI for you from your word file. The same principles apply: as long as you follow the formatting instructions to the tee, and your book interior is straightforward, Word will suffice. Here’s where to access KDP’s Simplified eBook Formatting Guide.
If your interior is more sophisticated, I’d advise you to hire a pro. Neither a Word file nor the DIY Calibre conversion offered in this article will do the job to a high enough standard.
If you’re selling direct from your own author platform, you can offer a PDF. But that’s not what every customer wants. PDFs look fabulous on tablets but awful on e-readers. If your customer wants something different, and you want to maximize sales opportunities, you’ll need another option. Calibre could be the solution.
The complexity of your interior design
If you have a primarily text-based Word file that will tolerate a simple heading structure for titles, part titles and chapters – as is often the case for fiction and narrative non-fiction – this quick-conversion method could work well for you.
If your interior design is more complex, I strongly recommend you commission a professional formatter (some editors also have formatting skills) to do the job on your behalf.
In my test, which involved a non-fiction Word file with multiple heading levels, a contents list, boxes, images and other design features, the conversion results for EPUB and MOBI were far from perfect, though I did find solutions when I was prepared to compromise.
Here’s how I messed up ... so you don’t have to.
If you still think your Word document fits the bill, here's how to create your EPUB or MOBI file.
How to do the quick conversion
Open your Word document and save it as an rtf (Rich Text Format) using the Save As function (select Rich Text Format from the drop-down menu). Close the file and head over to Calibre.
Click on the Add books icon and select your rtf.
The file will upload to Calibre. Make sure your book file is highlighted, then click on the Convert books icon.
Now you can select and edit the metadata:
Click OK. In the bottom-right-hand corner you’ll see the Jobs icon whirring.
When the conversion is complete, click on the new file format to check that all is well.
This will open the E-book viewer, and it’s one of Calibre’s top features because you can see at a glance what your reader will be looking at.
If you’re happy with your interior, save your converted file to your computer. It’s ready for upload and distribution.
If you have a straightforward interior that’s text-based, this quickie Calibre conversion is absolutely worth experimenting with. And it’s free, so even if things don’t go to plan you won’t have lost any money – you’ll just have learned the basics of a new tool that you might be able to take advantage of another time.
Poor formatting will earn you nothing but frustrated customers and bad reviews, so:
If your interior is complex, don't even think about using the method outlined here. Work with a pro. Professional eformatting isn’t a service I offer but I’m more than happy to put you in touch with colleagues who can help.
Drop me a line via my contact page or comment here on the blog.
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in helping self-publishing writers prepare their novels for market.
She is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors, and runs online courses from within the Craft Your Editorial Fingerprint series. She is also an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Louise loves books, coffee and craft gin, though not always in that order.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you're an author, take a look at Louise’s Writing Library and access her latest self-publishing resources, all of which are free and available instantly.
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