So, I’ve been obsessanating–again. In my last post I promised that there was a way to convert Word files in Calibre into ebooks that work perfectly on Kindles. That is true. It can be done. I was looking for a quick and dirty hack that worked every time. That is not possible.
Here’s the real problem. You got your indie writer who has put her heart and soul into writing her story. She’s not technical. She’s not a computer geek. She just wants readers to find and love her stories. Problem: How to get the story from Word onto a reader’s Kindle? Enter Calibre. Just save your Word file as an html file, load it into Calibre, convert it into a mobi file and upload it to Amazon. Done!
The problem with that? Calibre mobi files don’t quite work right when uploaded to Amazon. Period. They can work, at best, almost right. For the writer who’s eager to get back to writing her next story, that’s good enough.
As a reader, that attitude pisses me off. I buy and read a lot of ebooks. It pisses me off when the user preference controls don’t work. It pisses me off when I can’t navigate an ebook. (It’s not just indie publishers, folks. I get pissed off by the Big Pubs who can’t bother proofreading the ebooks and by the nastiness that turns up in ebooks built with InDesign, and don’t even get me started on the crap that happens when they turn scanned backlist books into ebooks.) A poorly produced ebook is equivalent to a writer using a mimeograph and newsprint, stapling the pages together and saying, “Here you go. That’ll be five bucks.” I’m insulted.
As an ebook producer, I get it. Amazon doesn’t make it easy. It’s next to impossible to break open a mobi file to tinker around in the code and fine tune it. Plus, as I explained before, Amazon has… quirks. They build their devices, then create the platforms, then play catch up with updates to older models, and it’s not easy keeping up.
NOTE: The last time I bitched about Calibre being the wrong tool, Calibre’s creator informed me that the “line-squish” problem could be solved by converting the ebooks into azw3. That works. Except… I didn’t explore far enough. Amazon rejects azw3 files, so they are useless for distribution through Amazon.
The easiest thing a writer can do to ensure having a perfect ebook to sell on Amazon is to hire someone who knows what they are doing. For any number of reasons, that isn’t always realistic. I’m a realist. Hence, this series of posts that will take you step-by-step through the process of turning a Word file into a commercial-quality ebook to sell on Amazon. The beauty of this is, you don’t really need to understand html or how ebooks work or anything technical at all. All you have to know is how to Copy/Paste.
Before you begin, you will need four–FOUR!–programs on your computer.
I assume since you are using Word, you have Word. The other three are freeware. A note about Word. You do not want to do this with .docx files. You want .doc files. Older versions of Word actually work a lot better for making ebooks than do later versions of Word.
Ready? Let’s begin.
PART 1: STYLING IN WORD
Step 1: Do a Save As so your original stays intact.
Step 2: Tag your special formatting (italics, bolding, underlining). A word about “special formatting.” This only applies to words or passages that are italicized, bolded and underlined in the body text. Such things as headers and sub-heads will be dealt with later.
I use a simple tagging system for special formatting.
- Italics: -STARTI- -ENDI-
- Bold: -STARTB- -ENDB-
- Underline: -STARTU- -ENDU-
STEP 3: Turn “manuscript” punctuation into “printer” punctuation.
- “Curly” or “Smart” quotes, not straight quotes (and apostrophes). Do make sure your quote marks and apostrophes are turned in the proper direction–Word has a bad habit of reversing them.
- Proper em dashes, not two hyphens or en dashes or spaced hyphens
- Proper ellipses
STEP 4: Kill “soft” returns and tabs, and eliminate extra spaces
- To turn “soft” returns into hard returns: In Find/Replace search for ^l (that’s a caret mark and lower case L) and replace with ^p (caret mark and lower case P)
- To get rid of tabs: In Find/Replace, search for ^t (caret and lower case T) and replace with nothing
- Don’t forget to get rid of extra spaces before and after paragraphs
STEP 5: Select all, copy and paste entire file into Notepad++
Yes, that is what it looks like. That’s what it is supposed to look like. This is a straight text file.
STEP 6: Finish cleaning up the file
- Delete blank lines
- Tag scene breaks (I use ## because it is easy to find)
- Search for and clean up special formatting tags. Word is very sloppy and you’ll find tags around empty spaces and jumping paragraphs and other untidiness.
STEP 7: Back in Word, open a New Document and set your Styles (I am going by the assumption that you know how to use style sheets in Word.) For the purposes of this tutorial, I used three styles for my ebook:
- Normal (built in style in Word, modify as you wish)
- Heading 1 (built in, also modified)
- Center (user-defined style)
It doesn’t matter much what font you choose. Times New Roman is fine.
This will be used for your chapter heads. Again, font doesn’t matter much.
STEP 8: Apply the “Normal” style to the new document. Select all and copy the text file in Notepad++ and paste the entire document into Word
- Apply the Heading 1 style to all chapter/story headings
- Apply the Center style to any text you want centered (in this case, I applied it to the scene break indicators, THE END and table of contents entries)
STEP 10: Bookmark all your Heading 1 entries (Word automatically bookmarks Heading entries, but those will not transfer over so you need to insert bookmarks manually)
STEP 11: Link your bookmarks in the table of contents
That’s it for Part 1. Your document is now clean and styled and ready for Part 2: turning your .doc file into a proper html file.
A word about styles. Like I said, for this tutorial I am using only three styles. You can use all sorts of styles to create visually pleasing ebooks–just remember one very important thing: Word is a program whose main purpose is to create print documents. What you see on the screen is pretty much what you will get on a sheet of paper, but it is not at all what you would get in an ebook. I suspect after you finish this full tutorial you will have a better understanding of how ebooks work and how Word works, and you will understand why it is so important to use style sheets religiously.
A word about questions. I know you have them. Let’s make them useful for everybody. If you have a question about this tutorial, especially if it is a “How do I do this…?” type of question, email it to me at
jayewmanus at gmail dot com
I’ll put together a post with questions and answers.