My Super Simple Ebook Formatting and Conversion Process for the New Kindle, Smashwords and Epub Rules

My Super Simple Ebook Formatting and Conversion Process for the New Kindle, Smashwords and Epub Rules

I’ve been meaning to learn ebook formatting and conversion for over 2 years. Sadly, every time I got started, the sheer enormity of the process scared me away. Multiple formats? Lots of Code and HTML? Yuck.

But I’ve been giving the work away for too long, and I know it’s something I’m going to need a lot of, so this week I forced myself to figure out an ebook formatting  and conversion process that works.

Things keep changing, Kindle recently updated some things that made a lot of Kindle Formatting Guides online obsolete (and I know, because I just spent over $100 on various guides and ebooks.)

Everybody seems to be recommending complex workarounds that involve uploading various pieces of code and text, and copy+pasting your novel all over the internet – then heavily editing it again.

After a lot of trial and error, I’ve figured out my process for turning my Word Documents into ebooks for epub and mobi that seems to work great, and it’s very easy.

The Easy Way

#1) Format your Word Document according to Smashwords Style Guide

Even if you don’t plan to use Smashwords, their Free Formatting Guide is the clearest, most comprehensive thing out there to get started. Basically you need a very clean Word file. Follow the guide, take out the Tabs, link your TOC, get everything ready.

Click here to get the guide

If you want your ebook to look awesome, change the chapter numbers or titles to a simple jpg file (for example, type them out with a nice font, use Snagit or another screen capture to get the perfect shot, and insert that into the document.) Of course you need to make sure every pic is the exact same.

Get everything the way you want it, and then…

#2) Save as Webpage, filtered

#3) Take that HTML file, put it into Calibre (free software, download here).

In Calibre you can see how things look. You can set all the meta deta easily, change the book cover, fill in all the details, and then change the output format to convert your ebook to mobi or epub.

Go to “Convert”, “Convert Individually”, then save as Epub, and again as Mobi (Kindle)

Calibre’s ebook formatting may do some things you don’t like, however, and you don’t have total control. If you need to make little fixes, you can:

#4) Open up the Epub in Sigil (free software, download here)

Sigil is an open source ebook editing program, with a WYSIWYG editor that looks a lot like Word. You can switch between the code view and the book view. Don’t mess with the code much if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you can find your way around html, you’ll be able to make more precise changes this way.

Edit things you don’t like. Save. Done.

A Faster Way?

There was one thing I couldn’t make Calibre do, which was NOT indent my first paragraphs. (Some authors have found a work-around to do this in Calibre, but I couldn’t figure it out).

Kindle automatically indents the first paragraph (along with all other paragraphs). In your Word file, you can set the first paragraph to no indent (Smashwords recommends “tricking” the auto-convert, which also ignores “0 indent”, by making the indent “0.01”  – just a tiny bit, but unnoticeable).

But Calibre overrides that option.

First I used to convert my html file to epub. That worked great at first, but then it started adding spaces between my paragraphs.

Finally I just converted my Word File to HTML filtered and opened that directly in Sigil. Everything looked the same. Even the many images I’d added for the Chapter Headings.

All I had to do was insert Chapter Breaks after every chapter, using the curly “Cb” button in Sigil.

So basically, I skipped Calibre altogether.

If you don’t mind not having your first paragraphs indented (personally, I don’t think most readers care), then sticking with Calibre is safer and easier.

If you want more control, use Sigil instead.

Either way, it’s a 2-step process: 1) Word to Calibre/Sigil 2) Export/Save as Epub.

Sigil only saves as Epub, but we can convert it to Mobi/Kindle easily by downloading KindlePreviewer. Just drag and drop your epub file into the program, and it will save a copy for Kindle automatically.

Other things that could work

If your book looks funny or there are things that aren’t getting converted right, you can try copy+pasting your word file into this website:

Check these options:
1. Remove empty paragraphs
2. Replace non-ascii with HTML entities

I’ve also heard it said that OpenOffice automatically makes cleaner HTML than Word, so pasting to OpenOffice, then saving as WebPage (HTML) might be an alternative to this step.

Now that you have a super-clean HTML file, you can either go to again, or (recommended) open up Sigil and

  1. File=> “New Book”; View=> “Code View”
  2. Copy all the HTML (click the big “Copy to Clipboard Button”) and then past it all between the two “body tags” in Sigil:


DELETE THIS: <p>&nbsp;</p> AND COPY YOUR HTML DOC HERE (between the body tags)


Unfortunately, while this way preserves the TOC/menu you made in your Word Doc, it doesn’t save your titles – so you need to quickly go through Sigil and fix them.

Switch back to “View=>Book View” and you’ll be editing your Epub file just like you would write a blog post (with a WYSIWYG editor). Select the Chapter, Click on “Center text”, then click “Format=>Heading=>Heading 2”. It’s a pain in the ass, but it just takes 10 minutes and it gives you a chance to look things over again.

While you’re at it, you can click the “Chapter Break” button at the end of each chapter (it’s a curly red “Ch” on the menu). This will split each chapter into a separate section.

Other resources

Some of this information I learned from Suzanne Fyhrie Parrott at Unruly Guides: if you want some personal support, in-depth how to videos and an awesome kit with ready-made templates, check it out.


  • MartinRinehart Posted

    Great stuff, Derek. Many thanks.

    I use LibreOffice (which is almost identical to OpenOffice) and it does do nice, clean HTML. One warning. If you open a DOC/DOCX it will try to edit as DOC/DOCX, which is not its forte. Expect crashes. Workaround: open the DOC/DOCX and immediately Save As ODT. LO loves ODT. No crashes. Save As (after any changes) will return you to DOC, but MS Word can read ODT, too.

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      Thanks, I’ll try to make some more templates soon.

    • Robert Worstell Posted

      Calibre will now open LO ODT files directly and convert them to epub (or mobi, etc.) No need to export them to html. The fastest workflow I’ve found is to build your book in LibreOffice, import to Calibre, convert and edit the epub file there. epubcheck is inside Calibre ebok editor, so that saves another step. Just keep your Calibre updated (it will alert you to updates) as it just keeps getting better.

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