Most are free but have paid options with more features, such as designers and technicians on call to assist you any time. These companies will distribute your book to all major retailers on your behalf as long as it passes their quality test.
If you are coming here from Formatting a Document for Conversion [in OpenOffice], then you most likely have a clean, formatted document for processing. If you did not, then I hope you have a clean, formatted OpenOffice, Pages, or Word document ready for use. Otherwise, click the link above for help formatting your file in OpenOffice, or follow this guide here by Catherine, Caffeinated for formatting your story in Word.
Now that you have a formatted document, let’s begin!
Program Options There are a great many programs for converting a document to an epub, which is the standard for digital books. You could use an online option, like Online Convert, Epub Converter, or Ebook Convertor, but I am kind of old fashioned and like to use a program. After mucking about with several, I found one that I liked, called Calibre. This guide will now assume you are using Calibre for all intents and purposes, but it could apply to many converters.
A smartphone or tablet with the Kindle app and/or Google Play Books on it
A dedicated e-reader device, such as a Nook, Kindle, etc.
Converting Your Document
Obtain your program or load web converter of choice. [We’ll go with Calibre. Install and run the program.]
Load your formatted file in the program, and look for some place to input metadata. Metadata is a group of little info bits attached to your finalized e-book. It tells e-readers things like the author’s name, whether the book is part of a series, and what tags have been attached to it. Fill out as much of this data as possible! It helps people to more easily find your book, and that is never a bad thing!
Once that is done, go over your settings. You should have options like Font Size Key, [which should be something like 7.5, 9.0, 10.0, 12.0, 15.5, 20.0, 22.0, 24.0 if you want reflowable text] Output Profiles, and your general format area. [in this case, epub]
Or you could be brave and leave everything at default values and see what comes out! You can always do it over again, so experimenting does not hurt you!
Once you tell it to convert, you should have the option to save it to your hard drive. Save it.
Proofing Your Epub
Now, take your epub file, and load it up in Adobe Digital Editions. This is the front line for proofreading.
How does it look? If it doesn’t want to make you gouge your eyes out, and the text is uniform–not jumping around the page or overlapping, then congratulations–you’ve passed the first test!
We’re not done yet though! Now it’s time to run that puppy through EPUB Validator. Load up the file, and press submit, then wait for it to finish. Agonizing, no?
If you did everything right, you should get no errors! Yesss! If you are going through a distributor such as Smashwords or Amazon, then your book must pass this test 100%. If not, it will be rejected, and you will be sad.
If you really want to experience your masterpiece as the average reader, take your file and upload it to your smartphone’s reader app of choice, [I like Google Books] or dedicated e-reader. Poke it. Reflow it, skim it, skip chapters, click the hell out of your table of contents! Try to break it. If you can do all those things and it still looks fabulous, and doesn’t error out, then congratulations–you have a completed e-book!
Repeat this process from the top if you need to make it a Mobi file, or anything besides epub. Use your epub file as the input now instead of your doc to minimize errors.
You’re done! Pat yourself on the back and have a cookie!
I’m going to assume you are here because you have used OpenOffice to write your manuscript, only to hit a wall when you discovered that all the tutorials on formatting a document properly just assumed you had Microsoft Word.
It’s okay–it’s going to be okay! I will show you exactly what I did to format my book, entirely in OpenOffice, step by step.
First, assemble your programs! You’ll need the following installed on your computer:
If you want to set up your document before you start writing, you can skip to Step 3! For those of you who were more concerned with getting your mind excretions out in the open, without knowing what the hell you were doing, you should start at Step 1. [Like me. I totally started at step 1.]
Ready? Let’s begin!
Step 1- Save a Copy of Your Manuscript
You absolutely, 100% want a backup. If you screw something up, you don’t want to lose all your work. No one wants to see hours of blood, sweat, and brain stuff thrown away. Back it up! Save it as “your_manuscript_title_formatted.odt” or something like that.
Step 2- Open the Renamed Copy in OpenOffice Writer
Look at that thing. Probably using tabs everywhere. I see you, and your tabbing ways. Click on the icon that looks like this. [it’s most likely on the upper right of your toolbar somewhere]
This is called a Pilcrow, and it is your friend. It will show you what a mess your document is. In fact, your document will now look like this:
See these? → These are where you hit the tab key. See those ↵ symbols? Those are soft returns. They appear when you hit shift+enter, or when the program inserts them to indicate a line wrap.
“But Mel,” you shout, “You’re supposed to indent the first line, and all dialog! Also, I don’t know how those weird bent arrows got there! Aliens!”
Tabs and Alien Arrows are not the way! Soft Returns and Tabs are the enemy. We hate them. We want them gone. Now, we could spend hours painstakingly removing them from our document, or we could make the system do it for us! We’ll come back to that in a minute, because first…
Step 3- Creating and Assigning Styles
In your open document, go to Edit on your menu bar and then to Select All. [or hold down ctrl and press A]
Go to Format, then Character. Select your font [Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana, Garamond, and Calibri are great standards] and set it to 12pt size, and regular. Press Ok to apply, then close that window.
Now go to Format, then to Styles and Formatting. [or press F11]
Click the button that looks like a piece of paper with a green +
Select Create New Style From Selection, and name it “Ebook body”. This is the style you will use for the bulk of your book. [The body, if you will.]
Then go to your menu bar again, and back to Format, then select Paragraph.
Set the following parameters:
Before Text- 0.00
After Text- 0.00
First line- 0.30
Automatic- check this box
Above Paragraph- 0.00
Below Paragraph- 0.00
Line Spacing- Single
Hyphenation- Set to Automatically, and set 2 characters for both line end and line begin
Options- Both Orphan Control and Widow Control should be selected and set to 2.
Press Ok, then close this window. Things should jump around and look more like this:
Go back to Formatting and select “Ebook Body”. Click the green plus again and select update style. Congratulations! You now have created a style. Styles make your e-book not look bad! But we’re not done yet!
Step 4- Removing Manual Formatting
As you can see, we’re back, to this, and we still have those pesky tabs and soft returns, even though they just kind of edged over to the left a bit. I did this in a certain order to save you the time. You’re welcome. Now, onto the automation!
Go back to your menu bar, and go to Edit, then Find and Replace [or Ctrl+F]
On the box that pops up, go to the bottom and press the More Options button. Check the box labeled Regular Expressions.
In the Search for field, type “\t” [Yes, that is a backslash. If it doesn’t work, you’re using a forward slash. Drop the quotation marks.]
Leave the Replace with field blank, and hit Replace All. You should get a message that the search key was replaced eleventy billion times. Click ok, and close the Find and Replace window.
Repeat these steps, except replace “\t” with “\n”, and in the Replace with field, also type “\n”. Then press the Replace All button. After it tells you it removed a bunch of these things, close that window.
Read through your work. If you do not see → or ↵, then congrats, you did it! You defeated the tabs and alien arrows, and it should look like this:
Step 5- Go back to Step 3?!
Yes. Because you need to format your Chapter headers, silly! Your body looks great, but you need more styles!
Select one of the titles to one of your chapters, then repeat all of step 3, except set it so that there is no first line indent, and set the font to be 14pt, bold. You can set the alignment to be left, or you can center it. Completely up to you.
Your chapter title should stand out now! Save this new style and name it “Ebook chapter header”.
Go through and change all your headers to this style by highlighting them and double clicking on the name of it in the Styles and Formatting window.
Finally, save your work! You now have a wonderfully formatted manuscript, done in OpenOffice.
You can now add your front matter, back matter, [remember to set styles for those pages! Front matter is typically centered except for the Table of Contents–those are typically left aligned] save it, and plunk it in your favorite epub conversion tool.
There is something amazing about seeing your finished work in a finalized format.
I have spent the past few weeks fine tuning my manuscript and getting it encoded into e-book format. It would have been done faster, but there was a week or so where everyone in the house came down with the creeping crud–I got lucky and mine turned into full blown Bronchitis! I win!
After quite a bit of trial and error, I now have what looks like my final edition.
I can definitely, without a doubt, tell you that writing is the easiest part. With what I’ve learned, I shouldn’t have to work very hard on the next books in the series as far as conversion goes, but to use an old colloquialism– the first step is a doozy! I’m pretty sure part of why I had to work harder to find information is because I use OpenOffice [it’s free, open source, and awesome! Also free!] as my word processing program, and you wouldn’t believe how many tutorials and walkthroughs just assume you have Microsoft Word. [So they either think I am upper middle class, or say “Yearrr” a lot.]
It’s all worth it in the end. Seeing my book there in my app, next to the other books in my library was quite a thrill, even if it’s not live and I just popped it in there to check it, it was quite a rush. This is how people will see my book. I was speechless.
Then my daughter grabbed my tablet pen and dunked it in my mug of chocolate milk.
I had to redraw parts of the cover earlier because I suddenly discovered that the site that said to not make images larger than ___ size was horribly wrong, and that images should be at least double what I had the cover at. Awesome. I love doing the same thing over again.
Anyway, that’s why the pen and the milk were sitting next to me. I set the pen down to stand up, and in that split second my daughter thought it would work better if it had some chocolate milk. [Spoiler alert… it didn’t.] Fortunately I rinsed it off right away and it was fine, but I had a serious “Oh shit!” moment. All I could think of was that these stupid pens cost almost half as much as the damn tablets.
Part of me wonders if I should compile what I’ve learned and make a guide out of it. It could take a while, but if it can help someone out, then it will be worth it!
I mean, I can’t be the only person who uses OpenOffice… right?