Abracadabra: Transforming Your Book

Hello SErs! Harmony here 🙂 Happy Wednesday.

Today, due to popular demand, I’d like to outline an easy way to format your books for ebook publishing. In the past, you had to know HTML to do any serious editing on your converted book, and using Word meant deleting lots of extra coding that did you no favours. More recently, however, we’ve seen new programs that can do so much for us. One such writer’s program that makes the conversion process so much easier and stress free (once you know the software) is Scrivener, on which PH Solomon has so kindly written lots of posts on the ins and outs here on Story Empire. If you haven’t seen them yet, please do look through our archives.

Word of Warning: this is a long post. Apologies for that. To make it easier to navigate, or take a break and find your place on the page again, I have split it into three parts with big headers. So, hopefully, you will see the different sections when scrolling down. Part One shows an overview. Part Two shows how to convert from DocX to ePub. Part Three shows how to edit your converted ePub without having to know HTML.

Part One: Overview

Happily, whichever word processing/writing sotware you use, we have a program that now does it all for you with an easy learning curve: Calibre! At first, in the very early days, it started life as an ebook library for your computer. However, it quickly evolved into so much more, like allowing you to convert a Word doc into ePub, Mobi, etc. Unhappily, if your formatting messed up for whatever reason, you had to search for HTML editing software that provided a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), or learn HTML. Ugh!

Eternal gratitude to Calibre, though, as they have now added a HTML editing program to their software. And guess what … it has WYSIWYG!!! (Okay, I’ll stop jumping up and down with joy now.) This makes life so much easier. For example, upon publishing Jewel in the Mud, to my dismay, despite all settings being correct in Scrivener, the resultant conversion to ePub left some chapter header pages left-aligned instead of centred … what to do? One to three looked fine, as did twenty-two onward. And could I see the issue pre-conversion in any of the settings? No!

So, I turned to Calibre and dragged and dropped the ePub file into its library. Then I clicked on ‘edit book’. Hey presto, the HTML editing software opened. All I had to do was find the relevant pages, click them to highlight the relevant line of HTML, and then hit the ‘centre’ icon at the top menu bar (much like you do in Word, Scrivener, etc.). And, easy as that, the text centred. Once you’re done, you can simply save (and DO remember to save, as it won’t do it for you), and then your ePub is ready to go.

The best news yet? Calibre is FREE!!!! If you don’t have it, you can grab a copy here: https://calibre-ebook.com/.

[Please note, I am not an affiliate of Calibre and receive no renumeration for posting about it here.]

Below, I take you through some ebook formatting steps. So, if you know all this already, please do feel free to skip to Part Three or right to the bottom! Here goes …

Part Two: Converting from DOCX to EPUB in Calibre

First of all, if you’re using Word and want to convert, here are some things you need to know that will make your life so much easier for formatting:

Turn on the ‘hidden formatting’ button, which looks like this …

In blue, you will now see any tabs, hard returns, etc., highlighted. You cannot use tabs, or this will mess up your spacing and alignment upon conversion. Instead, you have to use indents. It is worth Googling how to work with hidden formatting in Word if this is your chosen writing platform. You can get away with a lot of this formatting if you are going to save as a PDF for print books. For hardcopies, though, you will need to know about inserting section breaks (continuous), rather than page breaks, as this helps enormously in page numbering and header/footer placement, and not having numbers etc. on front and title/contents pages.

The above is why I love Scrivener so much, as all this micro-formatting is taken care of for you. I will say, however, that this software demands a steep learning curve and you have to put in the time to get to know it. I confess that I only know a fraction of what it can do. I learned enough to get my books written and converted, and that’s about it, lols!

Okay, so on to converting your finished MS from a Word Doc to an ePub. Whether you intend to finish up with a Mobi or not, you want to convert to ePub first. Believe me, cutting corners and going straight for Mobi will make a lot more work if you do experience any formatting that wants tweaking.

Tip: To make decorative chapter titles, you can insert images instead of relying on fonts and sizing coming out well.

Here’s what my current version of Calibre looks like when I open it …

The two buttons you are interested in are 1. Convert Books and 2. Edit book

You need to make sure the document you wish to convert is selected (see the blue bar above, which shows the book is selected), then you will click on “Convert Books”. The following dialogue box will open …

Ensure that DOCX is the input format and EPUB the output format. Upload your ebook cover jpeg from your files. Ensure the meta data is correct: Title, Author, Publisher, etc.

To keep things simple, ignore ‘look & feel’ and ‘Heuristic Processing’. Click on ‘page setup’.  …

At this stage, you are going for a generic device, and selecting ‘Tablet’ fulfils your needs. Ensure ‘default input profile’ is highlighted.

Caution: Some care is needed on this section, as even if you have a format selected as above, if you hover your mouse over one of the other selections by mistake, the program will show those parameters instead. This is one of the very few quirks I have found with this program, and it is easily overcome. In this instance, I have selected ‘Tablet’ by hovering over it and left-clicking the mouse. Once you have selected the output format you want, carefully slide your mouse sideways and to the left, until you are over the ‘Page Setup’ menu option again. The ‘Profile Description’ box should stay as it is above. If you have accidentally hovered over one of the other choices, the information in this box will change, and you will need to select again.

Now click on ‘structure detection’ …

Ensure you tick ‘Remove Fake Margins’. Then go to ‘Table of Contents’ …

In this part, I have ticked ‘do not add detected chapters to the Table of Contents’. Depending on your initial formatting, you might want to leave this unticked. Here’s why … Whenever I format a Word Doc for ebook, I make my own ToC. This is because the conversion puts them at the back of the book, which Amazon and other platforms don’t allow. They need to be at the front. It is much easier, though time consuming, to insert your own and tick this box so that they don’t duplicate. Do not use Word’s auto ToC tool, as this doesn’t convert well into ePub. Instead, you have to bookmark each chapter header, and then on your contents page near the front of the book, type the chapter title/number and insert a link to the relevant bookmark. Again, due to space, I won’t show that here, but you can Google it with ease.

Ignore ‘search and replace’. Go to ‘DocX input’. …

Select ‘do not try to autodetect a cover from images’. You have already added your own cover image at the start.

Ignore the other options and click ‘OK’. Calibre will now convert your MS to an ePub.

Once it’s done, you will see the same as Image One at the top of this post. By highlighting your book and clicking on ‘ePub’ beneath the image of your book on the right-hand side, you can view the ePub. However, the best option is to upload it to a tablet device and see how it displays on there. If you need to make changes to the formatting, then go to Part Three below. Otherwise, skip to the bottom …

Part Three: How to Edit your EPUB file

Okay, so you’ve spotted issues in the formatting that need fixing. Here’s what you do … at the top right of your home page in Calibre, click on ‘Edit Book’. This beast opens …

Using the headers on the left-hand side of the screen, find your page text/image that needs fixing and double click … a single click won’t open it. Now click on the area of the page you want to edit (on the far right). This highlights the relevant line of HTML in the middle. For the purposes of this post, I want to keep it simple, so I focussed on centring the title header image as mentioned earlier. You will see the relevant line highlighted. Now, if you know HTML, you can get going and type here (in the middle screen). If you don’t, then this program makes it super easy … on the menu at the top of the middle screen, click on the ‘centre’ icon, and the job is done! Your image will move to the middle of the page as you want.

When you’re all done editing, click on the save icon at the top menu (left-hand side), or click on ‘file’ then ‘save’ or ‘save a copy’.

With this software, you can edit as much as you need. Have a play. Take a copy of an existing ePub file and save it to a new location, then drag and drop into Calibre and click on edit. This is a safe way to play and learn while minimising the risk of overwriting your original ePub.

Once you’ve saved your edits, I would suggest uploading the new version to your tablet device and doing a good check through to ensure all is as it should be.

For Amazon, you don’t need to then convert to a Mobi, as Amazon will convert from ePub to Mobi for you. You can then download a preview Mobi from them, which gives you both ePubs and Mobis to email out for ARCs or whatever purposes. Most other platforms prefer the base file to be an ePub too because it is the most versatile ebook file format.

The Bottom!

Phew! We’ve made it! I hope this has proved helpful for those of you wanting to know more about formatting your books. If any of you would appreciate an in-depth overview of formatting from within MS Word, then please let me know in the comments, and I shall put together a detailed post for you on that topic, as I have had to skim over that here due to space limitations. Already, I’ve given you about 2000 words to digest, and I felt that a larger post really would be too much, lols.

Best of luck with everything and thanks for sticking with me this far!

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How to Edit HTML in your ePub book file easily and for FREE using Calibre’s ‘Edit Book’ function!

Harmony Kent

Twitter: @harmony_kent

Harmony Kent Author Page: Amazon


59 thoughts on “Abracadabra: Transforming Your Book

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  5. I LOVE Calibre, but I never knew that I could use it to edit my novel. I’ve used it to convert pdf’s to mobi so that it’s more user-friendly on my Kindle. I also show hidden formatting when I’m typing my novels on Word. It has saved me many hours of formatting later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Yvi, I’ve had such a learning curve since first publishing … not least of which was Word and its hidden formatting! Calibre is so awesome! Best wishes with everything 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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  8. Sorry, Harmony! In my first comment to you, I was mixing up my two templates, and talking about the CreateSpace template for part of the post. I have one of those, and once I fixed the page break issues (which weren’t correct), it works fine for print books. But I also have a Word template for my eBooks, and type every one of them using it. I save each draft chapter separately, then compile into a Word doc using the same template, then save again as html for uploading. If I was confusing, I apologize. I should post until I’ve had my 3rd cup of Earl Grey! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lols! I’m like that only it’s coffee not Earl Grey! Now I see … yes, having a template that you know works is a great way to go. I do that with Scrivener now, which saves me having to remember all the settings when I come to compile into epub, lols. My little grey cells just don’t cope that well anymore! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, don’t mention those stinkin’ gray cells. Mine are leaping out of my ears at a rate lemmings can only dream about! 😀 But somewhere during my first book, once I got it right, I saved that template, and write even my drafts using it. So far, so good. But things change at a speed faster than anything on earth (except my suicidal gray cells) so who knows what will work tomorrow. This was an interesting post, and I’m saving it, just in case I have to go to Plan B at some point. 😀 Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Okay, now I’m totally confused. I write my books in Word, then cut and paste each chapter into the appropriately-sized template provided by CreateSpace. I make sure to add page breaks where needed, etc, and when it’s done, I save it as a doc file, then again as an HTML file, and upload the HTML file to Kindle. If I need to make corrections at any future point, I just open the doc file (the one set up using the template) and make the changes there, save it again in HTML format and re-upload to Kindle.

    So far, it seems to have worked. I do try to preview the uploaded file using the Kindle previewer to be sure everything looks correct before I publish it. The only time I’ve ever had a problem (that I know about) has been my own error, usually with the Table of Contents, because I sometimes miss a step there. But again, once I correct that in my saved doc and save again as an HTML file, I’m done.

    What am I missing?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Marcia! You’ve been lucky so far, lols! I’ve seen people have absolute nightmares with this process. And so many variables can affect the result, such as which operating system you use and what version of Word, etc. Kindle previewer doesn’t always show hiccups in formatting, which is why it’s best to try and view the resultant ebook on an actual device whenever you can. Regardless, I’m overjoyed it’s working so well for you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Shhhhhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone, then. I’ve made it through six 400-page novels, a novella, and a book of poetry, with no problems that I’ve seen, other than an occasional glitch with the TOC, which was my fault. I follow the instructions in KDP’s free Building Your Book for Kindle. And the first thing I do after previewing is download and read on my Kindle, so I can fix things that might have been missed on the previewer.

        I do have a print template I modified to be sure it didn’t screw up the page breaks for the print books (which the original one from CreateSpace did), and a Word template I made for my eBooks, which I use every single time, so the spacing, headers, etc, are consistent in each book. I do think it’s best to upload as an HTML file, though they don’t require that anymore, since it’s so easy to save it as one. But if you say I’ve been lucky, then I hope my luck holds. Fingers crossed. And if it might be due to the operating system or version of Word I’m using, then I’m NOT changing!! 😯 Nope. Not ever. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for a great informative post. I will download Calibre and try it as you recommended. Out of curiosity, have you tried using Kindle Create? The one for the Mac is stand alone, but they do have one you can attach to PC versions of Word. I have a Mac and I used it on my last ebook. It works okay, but very cumbersome to use. VERY TIME-CONSUMING. Once you are done with the formatting, it converts easily. I’m hoping I can find an add-on for Word that will work with my Mac version. Calibre might work until someone comes up with one. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Chuck! I tried it once a long time ago and immediately shut it down again and uninstalled it, lols. Hated it at first sight!! 🙂 As you say, cumbersome and SLOW. Good luck with your formatting 🙂


  11. Thank goodness I don’t need to format my own novels (still scratching my head how Indie authors do it all). The couple times I used Calibre for shorter works I found it fairly user-friendly, but I had no idea you could edit HTML. Bookmarking. Thank you, Harmony!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, my goodness, Harmony! This couldn’t have come at a better time as I am about to tackle the conversion process. Since I have always paid someone else to do this for me, I needed this tutorial! I am pinning it for future reference and have downloaded Calibre. Thank you for being inspired to post this!! You responded to my request to the Universe for guidance. 🙂 Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great post, Harmony! I have three indie titles to my name and I used Calibre for conversion in all of them. The addition of an HTML editor is huge! I remember constantly jumping back and forth between Calibre and Notepad every time I had to correct something. This will surely simplify a lot of hoops.

    Liked by 1 person

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