Programs for Indie Publishers


Creativity is messy

One of the best aspects of indie publishing is that Do-It-Yourself is feasible. All you need is a computer and some decent programs–many of them free–and you can put together a professionally packaged book.


Many indie publishers start and end with MS Word. I suspect this has to do with comfort. They use Word, they know it (or think they do), and Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital accept Word files. I also suspect fear plays a part. No matter how easy or intuitive a program is, there is still a learning curve. Easier to stay with the devil you know than to leap into the unknown. My hope is that the list of programs I use will encourage DIY indie publishers to wander into deeper waters and increase the quality of their book production.

This following programs and tools are what I use on an almost daily basis. It’s by no means a complete list of all the programs and apps that are available. A Google search for “programs for publishing” will turn up hundreds–thousands!–of programs an indie might find useful.

A word about computers. Currently I use two. A Lenovo Z70 laptop and a Mac. (I’m in the process of finding a new desktop PC, too.) I use the laptop for ebook production and the Mac for print and covers. The reason is: Adobe. I will not allow any Adobe products on my laptop. They are big and grabby and eat RAM like peanuts, especially InDesign. Adobe CC seems to behave better on the Mac, crashing less often. Plus, I have a 29″ screen that makes using Photoshop a real pleasure.

On to the list.

DROPBOX. Dropbox is a cloud storage service. You can sign up for the basic service and it’s free. If you need more storage space, you can go with a business plan that starts at $9.99 a month. Most indies don’t need the extra space. It’s a great way to back up your files. You can synch between devices. There are apps available so you can access Dropbox from your tablet or phone. You can share files and folders. It’s an easy way to share files that are too big for email attachments. I’ve been using Dropbox for years. It’s had a few hiccups, but very few. The only ongoing problem I’ve experienced is that the Kindle Previewer doesn’t like it. So to load a file into the Previewer I have to remember to drag it out of Dropbox and onto my desktop first.

MS WORD.  Used to be just about every PC came pre-loaded with MS Word. Everybody used it. Those days are over. Now you have to purchase it.


  • Personal correspondence and writing
  • Initial file clean-up
  • Basic ebook formats for Smashwords (fiction only)


  • Everybody uses it (for now)
  • It’ll open a huge number of file types and it will generate a large number of file types.
  • Word docs are accepted by Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital


  • Most people have no idea how to use Word properly
  • Clunky, bloated and overly-complicated
  • Makes awful ebooks

NOTEPAD (PC) and NOTES (Mac). These text programs come pre-loaded on most PCs or Macs. When I’m working on a book I keep a file open where I can make notes to myself. Nothing special, but very very handy.

NOTEPAD++. This is my text editor of choice. (In the Mac I use Text Wrangler)


  • Create ebooks in html with cascading style sheets
  • Text restoration
  • File cleanup


  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • No bloat since there is nothing running in the background to add a bunch of junk to a file
  • Powerful search function with multiple levels
  • Can encode files for different purposes, including UTF-8 for ebooks


  • Learning curve (moderate)
  • Must get used to the display which is nothing like a word processor

SIGIL. EPUB editor. I have it on both computers. If you want to step up your ebook quality, Sigil is an excellent tool for creating ebooks. And yes, with some modifications to your file, you can create ebooks for Amazon Kindle, too. Paul Salvette of bbebooks offers a very good tutorial.


  • Troubleshooting epub files


  • Free
  • Mostly stable
  • Offers inline epub validation
  • Can be used in WYSIWYG mode or in html mode


  • Learning curve (moderate)

KINDLE PREVIEWER. Quick and easy way to preview your ebook files before you upload them to Amazon. If you want to see how your ebooks look with Amazon’s enhanced typesetting features you can download the Kindle Previewer 3.

CALIBRE. Quick and easy way to preview an epub file. Has an epub editor (which I don’t use and haven’t looked at it in over a year, so cannot say how good it is). Despite its many fans, Calibre is NOT the tool to use to create commercial ebooks. It causes disabled user preference controls on Kindle devices and apparently there are conflicts with Kindle enhanced typesetting.

MOBIPOCKET CREATOR. Will convert a Word or html file into a prc file that can be converted into a mobi file in the Kindle Previewer or loaded directly onto a Kindle device. Quick and simple. Good way to check how the formatting on a Word file will perform on a Kindle. I use it to do a quick and dirty conversion of Word files I want to read on my e-ink Kindle.

EPUB VALIDATOR. The idpf validator is the standard for making sure your epub files are free of errors and up to snuff. I use this tool in conjunction with Sigil. If I get an error message, I can find and fix it quickly in Sigil, then transfer the fix back to my html files.

UNMANIFESTED EPUB FILE CHECK. Apple iBooks is picky about unmanifested files within an epub package. Running your epub file through this checker will help ensure your ebook will make it onto the Apple site.

IRIS OCR. I do a lot of text restoration, recovering the text from printed books and turning it into a workable document. I have used and researched a lot of OCR programs. Quality ranges from “oh my god you have to be kidding” to excellent. IRIS is excellent. If you have an HP scanner, you can download IRIS OCR software along with the HP drivers. You can also purchase software that allows for side-by-side document editing (necessary if you’re scanning and restoring graphic/image heavy or complicated layouts in non-fiction books).

INDESIGN. For print on demand layouts. (Despite what many of its fans say, it’s NOT a good program for making ebooks. I can usually tell an ID generated ebook because it looks gorgeous and the user preference controls are disabled. There are apparently conflicts with Kindle enhanced typesetting, too.)


  • For POD it’s easier to use than Word.
  • Print is what it was made for and print is what it does best. Makes beautiful books.
  • Adobe help sucks, but google “how do I…InDesign” and you’ll find answers all over the place.
  • Trouble-free export into POD ready pdf files.


  • Expensive! I don’t think you can buy the program new from Adobe. Instead, you have to set up a subscription. If you cancel your subscription, your .indd files are rendered useless.
  • Steep learning curve.
  • RAM grabby and has a tendency to crash.

PAINT.NET. A powerful paint program that is easy to use. Fun, too. And free! Good for resizing images and creating simple graphics. Offers many plug-ins that make it possible to create ebook covers. It does a good job of modifying and manipulating photos.

PHOTOSHOP. The more I use Photoshop, the more I learn about it, the more I like it. I use it to make covers and to clean up damaged images. Unlike ID, I’ve had no problems with it either slowing my computer to a sluggish crawl or crashing. Like ID, it’s not being offered for sale by Adobe, but is on a subscription plan.


There you go. My favorite book production programs. What about yours?





Word to Calibre to MOBI: Part 3: File Conversion

You went through Part 1 and styled your Word file properly. In Part 2 you learned how to turn it into a functional html file. Now it is time to convert your file.

A caveat before we begin. I use Calibre, but I don’t really use it. It has a pleasant display and it’s a good way to double-check EPUB files I create. I don’t use it to convert my files. What I am about to show you is the result of some serious screwing around with the program. It’s a hack and it may not be the very best one. What it does is work. So, if any of you are more familiar with how Calibre works and you have a better way, feel free to share.

STEP 1: Open your html file in Calibre. It will convert into a “zip” file.

CAL16STEP 2: Convert the ebook into an EPUB file. (Yes, EPUB, not MOBI. You will never again use Calibre to convert MOBI files for commercial purposes. It’s still just fine for personal use.)

CAL17STEP 3: Once your book is converted and you are back at the main page, right click on the book title and a drop down menu will appear. There will be an entry that says “Edit Book.” Click that.

CAL18STEP 4: Holy Moley time again. It’s an EPUB editor.

CAL19STEP 5: In the left hand sidebar, under “Text” delete the file that says “titlepage.xhtml”

STEP 6: Under “Styles” open the file that says “page_styles.css”. It will contain some code that says:

margin-bottom: 5pt;
margin-top: 5pt

Delete that and Copy/Paste in its place this bit of code:

{margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; font-size: 100%; vertical-align: baseline;}
body {text-align: justify; line-height: 120%;}

STEP 7: Under “Images” will be your cover image. Open it. Now resize it. (make sure the Keep Aspect Ratio box is checked) Change the width to 800px. (The cover height should increase proportionately.)

STEP 8: Under “Miscellaneous” will be a file called “content.opf.” Open it. Scroll down to the bottom and you will see two entries: <guide> and </guide>. If you built your html file the same way as in this tutorial and deleted your titlepage.xhtml, there will be nothing in the guide.

CAL20Using Copy/Paste, insert this code between the two entries

<reference href=”FILE NAME” type=”toc” title=”Table of Contents” />
<reference href=”FILE NAME” type=”text” title=”Beginning” />

STEP 9: Figure out which of the files under “Text” is your table of contents. Copy the file name and paste it in the reference line so it replaces FILE NAME. (use Ctrl C to copy and Ctrl V to paste)

Do the same thing for whichever file (your title page or Chapter One or your preference for the beginning of your ebook) in the “Beginning” reference line.

Mine looks like this:

CAL21STEP 10: Save and close the EPUB editor.

STEP 11: Open the Kindle Previewer. Click on “Open Book” and select the EPUB file you just modified. If you did this right, you will get this box:

CAL22Now you have a MOBI file that will upload successfully at Amazon–and it will work. No squishy lines, no messed up formatting, and the user’s navigation guides will work.

I’m sure there are plenty of things you can do to modify the file in the EPUB editor. (I didn’t, for instance, even touch on the toc.ncx) This is a pretty rough hack I’ve come up with, and it can probably stand some streamlining. There is plenty of room for fine tuning. What I hope you see is that Word can be used for styling, but its html leaves far too much room for error in ebooks. With a little knowledge of html, you can write in Word, but then you do your styling in the text editor. When you’re comfortable with html, you can make complete ebooks and not have to use Calibre at all. (And you’ll be ready for Paul Salvette’s guide to ebook development, it’s featured in the sidebar.)

Again, you probably have plenty of questions. So send them to me at jayewmanus at gmail dot com and I’ll put together a FAQ post to answer them.