Nine ways to self-publish an ebook

ebooks1What’s the best way to produce an ebook? An ebook is a fairly simple format as it’s basically an HTML file with some CSS styling, very much like a web page.

There are several specialist programs which help you to produce good ebooks, such as Jutoh and Scrivener, plus there are word processors, including the loved/loathed Microsoft Word and the free Open Office, which you can use to produce a file ready for ebook conversions.

Here’s a short guide to some of the best tools to prepare and publish an ebook.

Microsoft Word

Love it or hate it, Word is by far the most used word processor in the world.

Microsoft is hellbent on making you buy or subscribe to the whole Office package, which includes PowerPoint and Excel among other programs you might not ever want to use, as well as Word.

There is a wide range of various choices and prices for Office, but you might have it already installed on your computer as OEM software or be able to get a version relatively cheaply at Staples or Amazon.

Word doesn’t offer any specific ebook facilities, but it’s easy enough to prepare a book for conversion.

The best way is to set styles using Word’s style sheets and then save the file in doc or docx format.

Styles can be set from Word’s ribbon bar, which is above the main input screen. At the simplest level, you need only to set a couple of styles — one for chapter headings and one for body text.

One of my default settings for ebooks is body text of 12pt Georgia, justified, with 1.5 line spacing. You can set all this by modifying the Normal style on the Word ribbon bar.

For chapter headings, modify the Heading 1 style to 18pt or 24pt Georgia.

To look professional, the initial paragraph of each chapter should be set flush with the left-hand margin while the rest of the chapter should be indented.

Don’t indent too much, you only need about three characters or so. I find 0.2” or thereabouts is fine.

Keep the Normal style as the setting for opening paragraphs and set a new style for indented paragraphs.

To set a new style, go to the drop-down menu right at the top of the page and select Format/Style.

The Slideshare presentation below gives a short guide to How to Set Styles in Microsoft Word to Publish Ebooks. You can view the slideshow in full-screen view by clicking on the diagonal arrows icon on the bottom right, or view it on the Slideshare site by clicking on the icon on the bottom far right.

If you’d like to know more about typography settings for ebooks, I have written a post on How to Choose Typography for Ebooks.

Don’t think that your ebook will look much like how it looks on the screen in Word, it will be quite different, this is definitely not What You See Is What You Get. Once you get your Word file converted, you can download it and send it to your ereader or use Kindle Viewer to check on the results.

Flowable ebooks are basically HTML files with CSS styling that reflow to suit the device they are being read on.

How to convert a Word file to ebook format

The simplest way to convert a Word file to a Kindle ebook is to upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing for conversion to a mobi file. If you’ve set and applied styles correctly, then you should get good results, but you’ll need to check it over carefully. You can check a file using Kindle Viewer and/or download the file and send it to your Kindle by using your Kindle email address or transfer it using a USB cable.

You can also use the conversion service at a distributor such as Draft2digital. You don’t even have to sell your book through D2D, although they do offer a good service, as you can just upload your doc, docx or rtf file from Word and download the converted mobi file.

With D2D, you don’t need to provide items such as title page and copyright page as they can be generated automatically with the site’s Layout tool, although it’s generally best to set your own information pages.

You can also use Calibre or Sigil (see below) to do a relatively simple conversion from your Word file to epub formats, but again the results can be variable.

Open Office

The great thing about Open Office is it’s free. It’s an excellent alternative to Word and has a wide range of options for producing PDFs if you want to publish a print book.

It is open source software which has been developed over the past 20 years and it runs smoothly.

Most of the styles can be set from the right-hand pane next to the input window or you can use Format/Styles and Formats from the top drop-down menu to set or modify your styles in much the same way as with Word.

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The screen shot above shows some sample text (The War of the Worlds by HG Wells) in Open Office set with a chapter heading of 24pt Georgia centred with 24pt space after, with body text of 12pt Georgia and 1.5 line spacing.

Open Office uses its own file format of odt as a default, but, using File/Save As, you can save a file as a doc or rtf file for uploading to a distributor for ebook conversion..

There is a third-party extension to Open Office, called Writer2ePub, which can create an epub file. I’ve never used this extension, but it was updated in summer 2014 and has had over 142,000 downloads, so some people have obviously been making use of it.

Libre Office

This is an offshoot from Open Office and is also free, but offers support for a wider range of file formats, which is particularly useful if you want to import any work in outdated formats such as WordPro.

It’s very similar in use to Open Office.

Scrivener

Scrivener is one of my favorite programs and has become a very popular all-round program for writers.

It takes a different approach to many word processors and can be confusing initially, but once you find your way around, it’s a fantastic piece of software.

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Scrivener offers a PDF manual covering all aspects of how to use the program and there are several third-party guides, including Scrivener for Dummies, available in print or ebooks. There’s also a highly recommended training course, Learn Scrivener Fast.

The software can output epub and mobi files, plus a wide range of formats, including PDF, Word, Open Office, RTF, HTML, Multimarkdown and even Final Draft for screenwriting.

It is an all-in-one solution for self-publishers as you can write and output your book in the same program. You can also import files into Scrivener from other word processors.

Scrivener costs $45, which is a great price, and it is available for Windows and Mac.

Jutoh

This is my go-to software for producing ebooks and I’m always surprised that it still seems to be a niche product among authors.

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It is an incredible bargain at just $39 (£25) and runs cross-platform on Windows, Mac and Linux. You can even load the different versions of the program on a USB memory stick and run it across platforms at no extra cost — that’s something you really won’t get with Word.

You can produce any type of ebook using Jutoh, covering reflowable, fully illustrated and fixed-layout books.

It’s a fairly simple program to use and, once again, setting styles is the key to success. You can generate tables of contents and adjust them to your own needs.

Support for the program is excellent. As well as an extensive FAQ section on the website, there is also a built-in Help manual in the program, plus an excellent free guide, Creating Great Books With Jutoh, by the software’s author Dr Julian Smart, and video tutorials.

Jutoh isn’t really a word processor, although I have written directly into it and published ebooks. You might, however, prefer to use a word processor such as Open Office to write your book and then import the file into Jutoh for formatting.

The program is fast and stable and generates great output for mobi and epub along with a range of other formats, including Open Office’s ODT, so you can export a text file of your ebook.

InDesign

Adobe InDesign is the big hitter for producing print publications, but I’ve never been so sure about using it for ebooks.

It operates on a subscription policy, so you have to pay around $20 a month (£17) to use it, which isn’t far off the cost of being able to run Jutoh forever on any platform you like.

InDesign also only outputs an epub file. You can convert the epub file to mobi using a tool such as Calibre, but I find it faintly ridiculous that small firms such as the producers of Scrivener and Jutoh offer software that outputs epub and mobi while the giant Adobe seems stuck in epub.

The big strength of InDesign for ebooks is being able to produce fixed-layout epubs with some sort of interactivity. If you’re interested in producing this sort of book, including children’s books, cookbooks, textbooks, etc, particularly for Apple’s iBooks store, then InDesign could be what you need.

The program can, of course, also produce quality PDFs if you’re publishing print books.

Calibre

Calibre is free software that has been around since 2006 as an ebook format converter and has been developed over the years.

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It has seen over 27 million installs and now features an ebook editor as well as library management, ebook conversion and ebook viewing.

Calibre is a great program for converting formats and library management, but I’m not so keen on it for editing or building ebooks, although it does have its fans.

Sigil

Sigil is a free open source editor for the epub format. There was a lull when it looked like the program had gone into limbo, but the software was updated in November 2014 and can be downloaded at Github.

It’s obviously great value and is quite a powerful program for producing ebooks, but the links to the manual and tutorials seem to be broken, so you’ll have to delve around the internet if you need support, although it is fairly intuitive.

If you’re comfortable with HTML and CSS, then Sigil could be a good choice as you can work in the Code View of an ebook. You’ll still need to use Calibre if you want a mobi file as Sigil only outputs epub.

A word of warning — running on my Mac, the latest version of Sigil was not very stable and crashed several times.

PressBooks

PressBooks is an online platform where you can upload files and format for ebooks, print, and to publish on the web.

It operates on the basis of paying a fee per book, which is a system I don’t like, and which, unless you’re only ever going to produce one book, is much more expensive than using Scrivener, Jutoh, or even InDesign.

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This is an example of PressBooks’ PDF output

However, PressBooks does offer a good range of templates, which takes the edge off the price, as decent templates can be either time-consuming to construct or cost a reasonable amount to buy.

The one-time fee is $19.99 per book to produce epub and mobi versions up to 25Mb, while it will cost $99 per book for epub, mobi and PDF for print versions.

That looks expensive but it is painstaking work to produce both a print book and ebook, as they are very different formats.

I generally produce ebooks using Jutoh, but then use InDesign or Quark Xpress to produce print books. If it really is possible to publish quality ebooks and print books at the same time using PressBooks, then $100 could be money well spent, although I do think that half that price would be fairer.

There is a good user guide available and a series of video tutorials, so the software is well supported.

One of the PressBooks themes is called Leonard, after the King of the Crime Writers, Elmore Leonard
One of the PressBooks themes is called Leonard, after the King of the Crime Writers, Elmore Leonard

It looks promising as PressBooks has over 50 themes which offer templates for all sorts of genre, fiction and non-fiction.

The service should be particularly good for WordPress users who want to publish books by using posts from their blog as PressBooks features the ability to import XML files direct from WordPress.

PressBooks itself is built on a WordPress framework and the import feature can use the Tools/Export facility in WP to pick out posts to import into a book, saving bloggers a massive amount of time. There’s also a PressBook plugin available for WordPress, although this does require a fresh install of WP Multi-User.

Other programs

You might also want to consider:

Vellum

This is a Mac-only app. It looks like it should be a fantastic program to produce ebooks, but the big drawback is that it costs $49 per ebook. You can pay $299 for unlimited use, but when you compare that with $49 for Scrivener or $29 for Jutoh, it doesn’t look like a good deal.

Ulysses III

Another Mac-only app. It’s really a Markup-based word processor with a reasonable cost (about £32). If you like Markup and elegant, simple interfaces, then it’s a great program, although for ebooks you can only produce epub files as there’s no support for mobi. If you’re puzzled by the word ‘Markup’, then it’s probably not for you.

Pages for Mac

As you might guess from the title, this is another Mac-only app. The latest version of the program launched late last year has provoked protests from some users who say features have been removed which were in the previous versions. You can produce epubs relatively easily and the program puts its focus on outputting files for use in the iBooks store.

How to Choose Typography for Ebooks

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