Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Old Novels into New—Part 3

November 17th, 2010

Converting my old novels into e-books has proved to be an interesting process. I’m writing a fairly detailed account of the steps I took in the hope that the information will be of some use to other writers who are contemplating doing the same.

Part 1 of this series covered steps 1 & 2 of the process by mentioning rights, the option of creating a publishing company, and acquiring your ISBN number. It then went into more detail on step 3, creating a cover. Part 2 discussed the fourth step, preparing the manuscript. Today we move to step 5: converting your perfect-as-possible Word document to *.epub format, and cleaning up the result.

Just to let you know, I haven’t done any comparative studies, and I don’t know if the way I’ve done this can be easily bested or not. Basically, I found a way that worked “well enough” and didn’t spend any more time looking for a better process. So let me know if you find a better way—I still have a few more manuscripts to deal with!

Stage 1:
Following suggestions from other writers, I acquired a program called Calibre by Kovid Goyal. It’s described as an e-book manager, but for our purposes its value comes in converting a Word doc into an epub file. The process is simple. First, use Word to re-save the file as *.rtf. In my experience, all the formatting is preserved. Next, import the *.rtf file into Calibre using the “add books” button. (Of course you are backing up your precious files at every step of this process, right?) Once the file has been imported, click the convert button. Select .rtf→.epub, upload the cover, and click “go.” The process takes a minute or so on my rather slow laptop.

And that’s all we need Calibre to do–for now, anyway.

Being rather fussy by nature, I copy the epub file from the Calibre library (located in the user folder) and paste it into a folder for the book I’m working on.

Stage 2:
Again following suggestions from other writers, I acquired a program called Sigil which is an e-book editor. Open up your epub file in Sigil. What you see will look a lot like the screenshot you’ll see if you click the Sigil link I just gave you. Your epub file will be revealed to have many sub-files, hopefully broken up by chapters, all of which are listed in the left column. “Cover” always seems to be the first file (don’t stress if your cover looks horribly distorted). All the other files will have long confusing names.

Tip: Right click and select “rename” to rename files. Double clicking doesn’t work.

Take another look at that screenshot. See the open book icon at the top? See the angle bracket icon close to it? Those are used to switch between code view and book view. Try them out. They are very important. It’s also good to know about that strange, script icon “Ch” second from the right—that’s used to split an existing file. You’ll need that on the rare occasion when the split wasn’t done right by Calibre.

So, back to the cover:
Switch to code view. I don’t know what the SVG tag means, but I learned to replace the generated code with this: (my cover images are 600x800px; yours may be different)

<svg xmlns="" xmlns:xlink="" height="100%"
 preserveAspectRatio="xMidYMid meet" version="1.1" viewBox="0 0 600 800" width="100%">
<image height="800" width="600" xlink:href="../Images/cover.jpeg"></image>

Don’t be afraid to adjust your code. You can always start over if it doesn’t work out. Switch back to book view to see if the changes work.

Open up one of the chapters:
If you included copyright pages and such, skip past those for now and open up a file containing a chapter. Does the file start at the beginning of the chapter? Does it end at the end of a chapter? I never had any problem with this, but if you do, you’ll need to fix it.

Assuming everything is fine, look at the chapter in book-view. How does it look? Don’t worry that the lines fill in the whole window and there’s no right or left margin. There will be on the e-book. Look instead at the line-spacing, the paragraph indentation, whether or not your first paragraph and first words are doing what you want them to. Does the chapter number look okay? Probably not. Either that, or you need to be a lot fussier.

It’s likely you’ll want to make some changes.

Look again at the left hand list. Find the “styles” folder and open it. Doubleclick on the stylesheet inside that folder to open it up.

Does what you see horrify you? If so, you’ve probably never worked with HTML and CSS code before. I worked in website development for years, so when I started using Sigil I was like the little girl in Jurassic Park when she sits down at the computer and says, “Oh this is Unix. I know Unix.” Well, I don’t know Unix, but I know how to do HTML and use CSS, so from this point everything fell into place for me. If you haven’t worked with CSS before, go now and find a nice, simple tutorial. CSS is highly detailed, but not horribly complicated for what you will need to do.

Next time, Part 4: Editing your epub file.

Posted on: Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 at 9:33 pm
Categories: E-book How-to.

2 Responses to “Old Novels into New—Part 3”

  1. Naomi Says:

    I’m trying to convert the Word file to an e-pub with Calibre and it’s not doing it; the Calibre help files (here: ) say it does not convert from Word but (a) I can save the Word file as HTML and Calibre can then convert it from HTML, or (b) I can download an additional suite of macros that will do it.

    What exactly were you doing — HTML, macros, or did this previously work and then they took the feature out?

  2. Linda Says:

    Sorry. I left a step out. I’ll fix the description, but you actually have to save the Word doc as an RTF file. So in Word choose “save as” and then select “rtf.” I never had any problem with preserving the formatting during this conversion, and Calibre can convert the RTF. Thanks for pointing out the error!