How making ebooks became necessary:
(Written July, 2014) About five years ago, print sales for books were taking a hard dip while Kindle ebooks were booming. It was clear that we were witnessing an evolution in the publishing business and I found it exciting. Over at KHP Publishers, Inc., we knew it was better to jump up and surf that wave rather than panic and drown. In an ongoing effort to be as self-sufficient as possible (businesses always fare best if they don’t have to rely on outside sources to create their products), it was my task to figure out the details on making ebooks. I was formatting them for print, so there had to be a way to simply adjust our methods, right?
It took over a year, but I finally perfected it so we had our own mobi, epub, and pdf files that were ready to send directly to stores. We never had to rely on another company to convert the hard work already put into our titles. I shudder to think of the messes that come out of Word document conversions elsewhere (hidden formatting, anyone?).
I typed up my techniques in order to teach the others at KHP, and S.D. Hintz was so happy with how quickly and easily he was making ebooks (within three days on his first try!), that he wanted to sell what I’d written. I didn’t have a problem with that!
Well, the free software I use updates constantly, so some of the things I talk about needs adjusted here and there as time passes. With my current disability growing worse since then, I haven’t the time or energy. This is why I asked to have the ebook taken down a while back. I felt it was becoming too outdated.
But still, even as it is, the ebook is helpful. People can learn about making ebooks and adjust according to updated tech. I feel they should still have access to it, but they shouldn’t have to pay. Perhaps by offering it here, there will be less poorly formatted books out there.
Because I’m sure some jerk will try to lift this and plagiarize it to sell as their own (no, you do NOT have my permission to screw others for your own greedy benefit), I’m putting the original copyright information before it, as it appears in the digital file. If anyone sees it around the Net, you’ll know the true source. By all means, if you want to share it, link to it.
A few notes before you read:
These days, PDFs are needed less and less, but they can still be handy for review copies. If you’re only interested in mobi (Kindle) and epub (everything else) files, you can skip the part in the Word Document about creating a Table of Contents. That’s only important for PDF creation.
When we were first doing this, we were busy converting a lot of titles into digital format, meaning actual book blocks in Word document form. The presence of indents, etc, made the work in Stage 2 more tedious. You can save yourself much of this trouble by formatting your word document in block format, flushed left with spaces between the paragraphs before you get ready for Stage 2.
On Making Ebooks by Jerrod Balzer
Copyright © 2011 Jerrod Balzer
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the Publisher, except for short quotes used for review or promotion. For information address the Publisher.
Cover art by K.H. Koehler
This public edition distributed with permission from KHP Publishers, Inc.
After much trial and error, this is the best way I’ve found on making ebooks that are consistent in quality throughout the various methods of viewing them. Because this e-reader is pickier or more advanced than that, it’s best to keep things looking simple. For example, fancy techniques won’t show up well on the small screen of a cell phone, and some readers glitch on indentations, so one indent may show up fine while another is removed, making the formatting look sloppy in general.
Other things to keep simple are quotation marks. Any quotes or apostrophes other than the straight ones (no curlies) will most likely show up in a reader as a black diamond with a question mark inside. The same goes for vowels with special markings above them. They need to be plain vowels.
(**New Note: there have been changes to allow for curlies, dashes, etc, but you need to keep it plain in the Word document first. I’ll point out where to make the adjustment when the time is right).
While a lot of fonts are accepted by readers, one never knows if a particular reader can’t read certain ones, so I stick with Times New Roman or Cambria, etc. Nothing too wild, not even for titles.
There are three stages to making ebooks, which I’ll get into more detail next.
The first is putting everything in a Word document, complete with a Table of Contents table if needed. This is used in creating both the pdf of the ebook and a text file used in Stage 2.
The second stage is setting up the text file for conversion into an epub file. Epub files are really picky with code, since they’re HTML based, so any hard returns or other invisible commands that can infest a Word document must be cleaned out or it can cause serious formatting errors when converted. Text files are a great solution to this because it strips everything away but the…well, the text.
Once the text file is set up, the epub file that’s generated gets a good run-through (Third Stage), creating a new Table of Contents if needed, and any words from the Word document that were bold or italicized need to be redone in the new epub file, since the text file stripped all that out.
An epub file can be converted into a mobi file without any further work needed, so when all is complete, you have a pdf, epub, and mobi file ready to go.
If that all sounds confusing, I’ll break it down more with each stage.
Stage One: Word Document
The main purpose for the Word document is to have a pdf file of the ebook, but it also aids in creating a text file that can be worked on without much hassle. I am using Word 7 for this.
Format the book however way you want, but know that when it’s converted to pdf, each page in Word will look just like the pdf. So like a regular book, you’ll want each chapter to start on a new page, etc. Also keep in mind that this will be read on small screens, so it will look best if in 11 or 12 pt font, and no crazy fonts in case an e-reader has trouble with them (or if they’d be hard to read on small screens). I usually stick with Times New Roman, Calibri, Cambria, or something similar. Also, it’s fine to double space it. Again, it looks better on the small screen than single. I like one and a half space, personally.
As another convenience to the readers, I like to keep each chapter heading at the very top of the page, rather than a third of the way down like with print books. This way, when the e-reader pulls up that page, the words are readily available and the person doesn’t have to scroll down to get started.
The first page is for the front cover, centered at the top of the page. A good size is 590×750 pixels, but it also looks great to scale that down to the width of 500 pixels, or the height of 700. Consider the original 590×750 as your limit and they’ll show up well. Since some e-readers don’t show certain picture types, keep it at jpg whenever possible. Also, keeping the file size of the ebook small is a good thing, so it’s okay if the quality is around 96dpi. The publishing standard of 300dpi is unnecessary here. They’re on small devices, remember?
If an interior picture is small enough, center it on the page at the top or bottom, but if it’s fairly big, give it its own page without text.
After the cover page comes the title page, then the copyright, dedication, and meat of the book. No blank pages are necessary, and the Table of Contents will be inserted later.
While ISBN numbers are unique for each format, I’ll put the print one in an ebook’s copyright page if it exists. But I’ll put “Print ISBN” and then the number. This way, readers can hunt it down if they want. Regarding ISBN numbers for ebooks only, they’re pretty much obsolete. You don’t need them to get in the major storefronts, and any site claiming you need one is trying to get money out of you.
Formatting can be a pain depending on the source manuscript. Sometimes you have to take out indent space from the start of each paragraph. Sometimes you need to replace straight quotes with curled, etc. Just get it how you want it to look in the pdf. Anything else will be stripped with the text file, so go crazy. The part I said in the beginning regarding different types of quotes or marks over vowels do not apply here, since pdfs read differently. They pretty much show them as you make them, so the important thing is to keep it all consistent.
Creating the Table of Contents
This is pretty easy. One at a time, highlight each chapter heading (including prologues, about the author, etc) and click “Heading 1” at the top, or one of the other headings if they look better. Then bring your cursor to the page that you’d like the TOC to appear, like right after the Copyright Page, and click on the “References” tab at the top of the screen. Choose “Table of Contents” on the left, and “Automatic Table 1.” Everything that is marked as “Heading 1” will be inserted into a TOC table. Once it’s in place, you’ll need to space the next page properly again. Whatever space the TOC takes up will likely throw everything ahead of it off. Anytime you need to update the page numbers in it, just right-click on the TOC and choose “Update field” and have it update either page numbers only or the entire thing.
Also, if you’d like a chapter divided into smaller sections of a TOC, mark those smaller sections as “Heading 2” (or 3 if you marked the first as 2 instead of 1). The updated TOC will branch them down from the previous Heading.
Convert to PDF
Now you’re ready to convert into a pdf. If you have Adobe Acrobat Pro, I know this can be done by right-clicking on the doc file and choosing to convert. Or you can save as pdf. You can also use the free software, Calibre. You will need this program, anyway, so go ahead and get it here:
After it’s installed, drag the Word Document into the window and click on the “Convert” button. In the box that opens, there is a dropdown button on the upper right corner. Choose “PDF” and then click “OK” at the bottom. When it’s finished, you can expand the menu just above the window by clicking on the tiny arrow to the right of it, and there you’ll see “Save File.” There you go!
Once it’s converted, look through it and click on Bookmarks to see if the TOC comes up there. This is important because sometimes it will come out wrong. If some weird writing comes up as a Bookmark, like a sentence from the copyright page, go back to the doc, highlight that sentence, and click “Normal” in the formatting styles (same place where you’d choose Heading 1, 2, etc). Then save and convert to a new pdf. It’s an odd glitch.
Also, sometimes a chapter won’t show up in the Bookmarks even though it’s labeled properly. To fix this, go to the page for that chapter in the pdf. Then, in the Bookmarks tab, click “Add new” and type in the name of the chapter. Then save. That’s the easiest fix.
Alternatively, Calibre is an excellent tool for editing. Browse around with it and learn how to use it better. It’s a vital tool for making ebooks.
Convert Document to Text File
In preparation for Stage 2, you need to go back to the Word document.
Something to check for right now are any special characters, such as é and the like. Change them to regular vowels. but mark down where they were in the book. Finding them can be done by copy/pasting the character into “Find” and going through the document. Otherwise, you could end up with weird symbols, black diamonds, or simply nothing in place of them.
With all that finished, it’s time to convert to a text file, but not just any. Click “Save as” and “Other formats.” Then choose “Plain Text.” When you hit the “Save” button, a box will come up. Check “Other encoding” and choose “Western European (DOS).” Then check the box for “Allow character substitution.”
All the hard returns and formatting of a Word document will totally screw up the other formats needed, which convert to html. This ends up in unpredictable results e-reader to e-reader. You can try cleaning it up in the document, but once you save it, Word tends to have a mind of its own.
Saving as plain text strips all of that out. Also, since another issue is certain kinds of quotation marks, saving as the Western European (DOS) will make all curly quotes straight, em dashes into hyphens, etc. It is necessary to allow for character substitution before it can do this properly.
Stage 2: Text File
Now that you have the text file, open it. This stage is easy to do, but time consuming. It doesn’t take a lot of concentration and it’s repetitive, so the hardest part is keeping your mind from wandering and thus making a mistake.
The important thing with the text file is that everything is flush to the left and each paragraph has a space between it. Since text files are really wide, the paragraphs will look like one long sentence, only dropping down if it’s an extra long paragraph (and that’s fine). And of course, all images are removed automatically since it’s plain text only.
The first thing at the top of the file should be the title. Then “by” below that, then the author, then the copyright info, etc.
Delete the TOC if/when you get to that. It’s no longer necessary and a new one will be created later.
Between scene breaks and/or chapters, I like to put a space with a marker like “—” It can be helpful in Stage 3.
Chances are, the indentations in the book’s body transferred over, so what I do is this:
I highlight the space in front of the first word of the first paragraph and hit “Delete.” This brings it flush to the left. Next, I put the cursor just before the next paragraph down and hit “Enter.” This takes it down – giving us that space between paragraphs – and puts it flush left.
Keep doing that: cursor at the front of each paragraph and hit “Enter.” Over and over again until you reach a scene break (if you have asterisks for that, just keep them flush left) or a new chapter. After each, delete the space to bring the first paragraph flush and continue on.
Remember to put that “—“ before new chapters or scene breaks. You’ll see why later.
Once you’re happy with it, you’re ready for Stage 3.
Stage 3: EPUB and MOBI files
Now you’re ready to use two free programs for ebook creation/editing: Calibre and Sigil. Both are available to download here:
With Sigil, make sure you get either regular Windows or Windows 64-bit, depending on your system
Sigil is great for editing epub files, but it will only work with epubs and it doesn’t convert. Also, when you insert a cover into the epub using Sigil, that cover won’t display properly in iPhone applications. When e-readers have the ebook on their “bookshelf,” the cover won’t show at all, thus lessening the overall quality.
This is where Calibre comes in handy.
Converting Text File to EPUB
Open Calibre. Note that they seem to always have a new version to install, and it alerts you of this when it boots up. It’s generally worth having the best version so go for it.
Drag the text file into the center viewing area to load it. Then click on the title to highlight it. Click the button along the top (has arrows that resembles a browser’s refresh button) for “Convert.” A box will come up where you can enter the details. This is where you add the cover (the same cover file that you used to put into the Word doc), and it will show up properly in applications when inserted via Calibre.
At the top, right-hand corner, you’ll see “Output Format.” Choose EPUB. Then, you enter the info such as Title, Author, Publisher, Tags, and put the book’s back cover blurb in the “Comments” section.
On the left side, you’ll see a “Look and Feel” tab. Click on that and you’ll see an option to “Smarten punctuation.” Tick that box so it will bring back your curly quotes and transform your double-hyphens back to em dashes, safely and without weird symbols.
You’re done with that box. Click “OK” at the bottom and it will begin converting. Once it’s finished, click on the top button that looks like a hard drive (save) to save it. If you don’t see it, click on the expander to the right of the menu. More options will drop down and you should see the “Save” button there.
The folder it creates when it saves contains the cover, the text file, and the epub file. You only need the epub file, so put it in the folder that you’re keeping the cover, word doc, pdf, and text file. It’s best to keep it all in one place. To avoid future confusion, just delete the extra stuff created once you’ve extracted the epub.
You’re now finished with Calibre until the end of the process.
Editing the EPUB with Sigil
Note that Sigil has steady updates, too, though not as often as Calibre. But hey, at least they’re both fully supported and the price is right! Consider donating to them.
Click File, then Open, then choose the epub file. The set of folders on the left of the screen show the breakdown of the file’s contents. Look at the Text one. You’ll see a file for titlepage and temp_calibre…
The titlepage file is the cover file, so don’t mess with that. If it looks stretched, that’s okay. It will look straight in the readers.
The temp_calibre… file is the body of the book (if the book is very long, it will be split into two files). Here’s where we begin editing.
Among the top row of editing buttons, you’ll see one with “Ch” on it. This is for chapter breaks. If you place the cursor one line up from a Chapter Heading and click that button, it will create a new section file with the Chapter Heading at the top, followed by the rest of the book. These chapter breaks tell the ebook readers to start at a fresh page, so instead of constantly scrolling down, it jumps to a fresh start. It’s similar to a real book, where the end of a chapter may be halfway down the page, but the next chapter begins on a new page.
Right off the bat, you’ll have your book title and author. So place your cursor after that but just before the copyright page and click “Ch.” Do the same after the copyright page and before the dedication, etc. Now you have a separate title and copyright page. If you double-click on the section file for one of those pages, it brings them up. Also, if you right-click on them, you can choose “Add Semantics” and designate them as “Title Page” or “Copyright Page.” The options for Semantics give you the idea on what pages to label if included in the book, like Acknowledgments or Foreword. Note that the Cover is taken care of with that (Calibre keeps it straight).
Go through the book in this manner, giving each chapter their own heading. In addition, I like to put a chapter break with each scene change (where there are asterisks, etc) or anywhere else that would benefit from starting on a fresh page. Use your best judgment.
Since the text file stripped out our clickable Table of Contents, we need to re-insert that, and it’s done in a similar way as Word documents. You highlight each Chapter Heading and just above the folder box on the left, there is a dropdown menu to set the Heading style (usually says “Normal” until you’ve changed it). Like with Word, choose Heading 1, etc, or Heading 1 for main chapters, then Heading 2 for sub-chapters.
Often during conversion, there was an automatic attempt to create a Table of Contents but it’s rarely accurate. Fix as needed.
To check your work, click Tools at the top, then TOC editor. It will show you what the TOC will look like. Look for any chapters you may have missed, etc. When you’re satisfied with that, click on Tools and Meta editor. You should see all the info you’d typed into Calibre (Title, Author, etc) before the conversion. You don’t have to do anything with this. It’s just good to know where to see it.
If you have interior artwork, simply put your cursor where it needs to be inserted, center it, then click the Image button to the right of the “Ch” button. Put in the artwork that was sized properly in the Word document, and make sure they’re jpg because some e-readers don’t take certain files. It’s best to keep it friendly with as many e-readers as possible.
The last step can be a doozey depending on the book. Like the TOC, all italicized and bold words were removed from the text file, so they need to be put back in. Here’s the easiest way.
Open the Word document for the book. Click “Find” so the new box comes up, then the “More” box at the bottom. Then the “Format” button at the bottom of that. Choose “Font” and click “Italics” then “OK.” Run the Find and it will highlight every italicized word with each click. As you go, hunt them down in the Sigil file and italicize them. Do the same with bold. Also, Sigil has a find feature as well if you hold down “Ctrl F,” which may assist in simplifying your search.
Again, that’s a pain, but it’s worth it when you see the end result.
Be sure to click “Save” throughout all of this, and you may feel more comfortable saving it as a separate file in case you mess up, at least until you get used to it. That way, if something goes wrong, you won’t have to convert a brand new file and start over.
Special Edit for Poetry
When editing with Sigil, it often does no good to double-space something, like when a space between poem stanzas is necessary. Even if it looks fine in Sigil, the ebook reader might clear out all spaces so they run together. One space works, like between paragraphs, but two spaces won’t.
This is my preferred way around this.
You have different ways of viewing the text in Sigil. There’s the regular way that you see and edit; then there’s a way that you see it as html code (the way an e-reader sees it all), or half and half: normal and code. You can switch views by clicking buttons at the top that look like an open book (normal), a book with brackets (half and half), and just brackets (code).
Click on the “Code”.
Where you want a space between lines to separate stanzas, hit enter at the front of the lower line to bring it down, thus creating a space. And in that space, paste the following code:
The space created will seem rather large, but it does the trick, and reader screens are smaller so it won’t be as big there.
Checking Your EPUB and MOBI Conversion
With your epub still open in Sigil, click on the button with a green checkmark. This checks it for errors and validates it. If it points out problems, go to the file it mentions and then the line with the problem while viewing it in Code view. They’re pretty good at explaining the issues.
When you’re cleared on that, open your epub file in Kobo to check through. You can get a free app for it HERE.
Test the TOC (it’s so easy to leave a chapter out, so always double-check that they’re all there).
If you have trouble with an image, go to the jpeg on your computer and right-click on it. Choose “Properties” and then the Details tab. Does the title and description have a large amount of text? If so delete it. That’s often the culprit when I have an image issue.
Once you’re satisfied with the epub, load it into Calibre, click “Convert.” On the top right corner, choose MOBI as your Output Format, then “OK” and save it when it’s done. Test your mobi file in Kindle. The free apps for that are found HERE.
Again, look at the TOC, etc. If your epub was in good shape, there should be no issues with the mobi file.
That’s it! You’ve got a professional-looking pdf, epub, and mobi.
Amazon Kindle lets you upload the mobi file, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press will take your epub file, as well as Google Play and Kobo. Apple will also take your epubs directly, but you need to use their Mac software. I prefer to keep them DRM-free, for what it’s worth.
Here are some links:
Why I Don’t Use Smashwords
Smashwords insists on having you upload Word documents instead of your direct ebook files. Then they convert them using their “Meatgrinder.” The name says it all. Their style guide (free to download from their site) admits that their books have page breaks appearing in unexpected places, images appearing differently than intended or, in their words, “unpredictable things will happen.” And I love this vote of confidence in there: “Remember, good quality is the goal, not perfection.”
So, to create files using stronger, less cluttered sources (plain text) for places that take your files direct, such as Amazon Kindle and Kobo (also the biggest sellers), and then to put a lesser-quality ebook through Smashwords of the same title, means your quality is inconsistent, and it’s unfair to the paying customers.
I certainly wouldn’t put a print book through a distributor who insisted on receiving a doc file for them to format their own way (kind of takes the whole “publishing” aspect out of being the publisher), so I wouldn’t do it for a digital book. If the quality can’t be high and consistent throughout the distribution, you can’t keep a leg up in the competition. Really, that rule in business has been the same for centuries, though it’s getting more difficult for several people to grasp it.
**New Note: When Smashwords finally began to accept epub files directly, we gave it a shot, and it was a terrible mess. They would take one of our titles and pass it through with flying colors, while citing issues with others, explaining that they weren’t good enough for Apple, etc. And these were titles that were already on the Apple store because we work with Apple directly!
And the titles that went through fine with them… well, for giggles, we took them down and then put them back up, replacing the files with the exact same. They would fail! We’d try the same with some that didn’t pass and they’d go through!
Their system for processing books is as inconsistent as their conversions. That is not the way to run a business.
They also wanted us to include “Smashwords” on the copyright page. Um, no.
Why I Don’t Worry About Online Validation Tools
Some folks might say that you have to put your epub file through an online validation tool, and if it fails there, it can’t be read in some readers. I don’t buy it.
They check only the simplest of schematics and anything extra – as in beyond the most basic of ebooks – will cause them to throw up alarms. Not only that, something that passes on one can still read incorrectly on certain devices. Your chances are the same whether it passes or fails, rendering the test useless.
I’ve made ebooks that pass Sigil’s test, validates perfectly on Kindle and especially Apple, which is the pickiest of them all, and yet they fail online validation. And call me paranoid, but tossing your ebook up on a validation site sounds like a great lure for pirate traps.
I hope you find my methods helpful and that you not only profit from it, but develop a reputation for quality when it comes to making ebooks. People will tire of buying poor quality, and they’ll appreciate those who care more about what’s released.