Monday, February 18, 2013

Creating Simple eBooks for Your eReader

In my last post I talked about how using my Kindle for editing helped me stop fiddling with my manuscript and actually read it from beginning to end. If you're a writer you know how hard that can be. Even printing it out on paper doesn't always guarantee you'll get through it without pulling out that red pen and going to town. Putting it on my Kindle really helped me get a feel for the manuscript while giving me enough tools to flag typos and make a few simple notes.

It's actually quite easy to make eBooks if you aren't planning on distributing them to the world. That is a lot more tedious and takes a lot more time. If there are interested parties out there I may talk about that in the future, but for now, we just want a file you can slap on your eReader for your convenience or maybe to pass along to a beta reader.

To do this, you will need Word, a text editor, and Calibre, a great eBook management tool that you can download here. You'll wonder how you lived without it, and best of all, it's free. (Though if you use it often - and you will - you really should support the project.)

1) Start with a file in Word. If you're a Pages user, export it to Word. I'm not a huge fan of Word - or any Microsoft product - to be perfectly honest, but you can't really get around using them from time to time. Open your file in Word. If you want to have a searchable Table of Contents on your reader, go through and reformat every chapter heading as "Heading 1." It only takes a few minutes and is worth it for navigational purposes. Save the file as a web page.

2) Open the web page file with a text editor. I use TextWrangler on my Mac but there are plenty of free ones out there. Search on " class=MsoNormal"(include the space) and do a global replace with "". Basically, you're replacing it with nothing. Save it.

3) Now open Calibre. If you've never used Calibre you might want to take a little time to get familiar with the tool. It is very powerful but I'm not going to go into that here. We're just creating a quick and dirty eBook to help you get your editorial job finished. Click the Add Books button, navigate to your html file, and open it. If you want, you can use the Edit Metadata button to change the title to something more recognizable, but you really don't need to worry about the Metadata here. We're more interested in the Convert Books button.

4) Click the Convert Books button and you get a new window. At the top left, use the drop-down menu to select the Input Format as "ZIP" and in the opposite corner, the Output Format as "EPUB". Under Look and Feel check the "Remove Spacing Between Paragraph" checkbox. If you wanted a Table of Contents and formatted the chapter headings as H1, click the Structure Detection button and enter "//h:h1" in the Detect Chapters and Insert Page Breaks dialog boxes. Under the Table of Contents button insert "//h:h1" in the Level 1 TOC dialog box.

5) Click the OK button at the bottom right. It'll churn for a minute and produce your EPUB file.

6) To convert your EPUB to MOBI, click the Convert Books button again, and this time set the input to EPUB and the output to MOBI. Uncheck the "Remove Spacing Between Paragraphs" box under the  Look and Feel Button, and type "Table of Contents" into the Table of Contents dialog box under the MOBI Output button and click OK. It'll crunch for a moment and spit out your MOBI file.

7) Now, if you plug your eReader into your computer, you get a new button in Calibre that you can use to directly manipulate the memory of your reader. Add your converted file to the main memory and you are ready to start reading without printing out your manuscript!

The first time you do this it'll seem daunting and take 30 or 45 minutes to get your text editor set up and Calibre installed, etc. (This is still less time than printing out 350 pages.) After you've done it a few times it takes less than five minutes. Calibre is powerful enough to create publication quality files for upload directly to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, or wherever, but there are some additional steps that you need to take not only in Caliber, but also in preparing the manuscript if you want to come out with a quality product.

Good luck and I'd love to hear if this streamlines your development process.

Until next time,

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website,


  1. Fabulous post! I usually just make a PDF copy and upload that to my Kindle. You're way is much better! Can't wait to try it out.

  2. LOL! I don't know if it is easier but you will start learning the process of creating eBooks.

  3. If you make your own mobi files and want to read them on your tablet (as opposed to a Kindle), the FBReader application (free) works wonders. The full Kindle application's fine in Windows XP and 7 but the stripped down version for tablets makes it a bit tricky for most people to see their own mobi files. FBReader sorts it.

  4. This was incredibly helpful. Great resource. Thank you, John. Quick note, when converting my book in calibre I had to take off the quotation marks for the chapter headings. My bad. Worked great the second time. Opening the book up in Kindle next!