Calibre update brings docx export

Ebook converter Calibre has been around for nearly nine years and the free software gets updated very frequently but a recent update has brought a useful new function that could help with workflow for self-publishers.

Calibre users can now export ebook files, such as epub or mobi, as docx files for Microsoft Word.

If, like me, you produce ebook editions first and then move on to sometimes publishing a print edition at a later date, you can find that you end up with two different versions of a book — not wildly different but with some differences nonetheless.

For instance, once you publish an ebook — no matter how closely it’s been edited and proofread — you are bound to either notice or have brought to your attention a number of errors. This is simply the nature of the business, there isn’t such a thing as perfection in publishing.

Obviously, you make whatever corrections are needed and convert and upload the file again. Now, if you’re very good at version control and/or only ever use a single program, such as Microsoft Word, to produce both ebook and print versions, then you might be OK in terms of keeping both ebook and print consistent.

However, if, like me, you are ebook-first and consider there can be limitations with single-template solutions for ebook and print and feel you can get better results with dedicated ebook production software then you can run into problems.

I generally use Jutoh to publish ebooks and then switch to a print publishing program such as InDesign, Quark XPress or even Word to knock out a print edition, which means you can end up with some inconsistencies where corrections have been made on one platform but not another.

Working out an efficient workflow through the publishing pipe can be difficult when you’re using several different programs. For instance, my workflow often comprises writing into Word or Scrivener and then importing that file into a template in Jutoh where I’ll finetune the ebook before publishing it.

This invariably involves making changes as there will always be edits that I spot when I’m going through the Jutoh file, so my original Word file will be out of date unless I take the time and trouble to make the changes there too (very unlikely).

Quite often, I actually write straight into Jutoh and I consider the compiled Jutoh file that produces an ebook to be my Master File. But Jutoh is, of course, a proprietary format specifically aimed at outputting ebook files, so as well as needing a file for possible print editions, I also need a back-up in a word processor format for safekeeping.

Jutoh has a great range of export formats, including both mobi and epub, but it doesn’t offer export straight to doc or docx for Word.

It does offer txt export, which is a basic format for text editors, and it also features Open export, which produces an ODT file which is the native format for Open Office. I like Open Office a lot — it’s free and offers a great alternative to Word, but I’ve been using Word a lot longer than I’ve been using OO, so I know my way around it and I’ve also set up a lot of templates for Word that work and I don’t want to have to set them up again for Open Office.

I could export to OO and Save As a doc file and open that in Word. That’s easy enough but it’s not the same as a more direct export to docx, which is also a more useful file than the outdated doc as it’s built on XML and has better support for pictures.

Taking the Calibre route, you still have to take an extra step by opening your mobi (or epub) file in Calibre and then converting it to docx, but it’s one less file to get confused with as you’ll only have the mobi file and the docx file, rather than a mobi file, an ODT file and a doc file.

Calibre warns that the docx export is a new feature and that various glitches are still being ironed out, but I am finding it to be excellent so far.

The process is a quick and simple matter of adding your ebook, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a mobi or epub, clicking on the Convert Books option and setting the output format as DOCX.

Other text output options include TXT (plain text) and RTF (rich text format).

Calibre has a total of 18 options available for output, including such exotica as FB2 — Fiction Book 2.0, which is an ebook format that was big in Russia at one time.

The resulting docx file from Calibre is in pretty good shape, although it will definitely require some work to get it ready for a print edition.

Styles that have been set already are tagged but you’ll probably need to modify at least some of these. For example, the chapter headings I had styled as H1 came in to the docx as Para 6, but the full-out opening paragraphs came in as Para 1 and the indented paragraphs stayed as Para 2, so it’s a fairly quick job just to whip through the styles and make the necessary adjustments.

However, the point is that not only does Calibre offer an easy way of producing a good back-up file in an easily accessible format, it also gives you a relatively simple way of keeping a consistent text version of your ebook. When you make corrections to your ebook file, just output a new docx file from Calibre, preferably overwriting the previous one.

Once, however, you use the docx file, either straight in Word or importing into InDesign, and style it as a print book, you’ll have to go through the finished print book file to make any corrections as you wouldn’t want to have to restyle a docx file again, which means you’ll have to sort out a version control system.

You could, of course, also take the opposite route of using Word to prepare your ebook and then converting it to mobi and epub using Calibre. This generally produces decent results, particularly for straightforward text-only ebooks, but I feel Jutoh has a lot more flexibility and functionality.

The addition of docx export is only a little victory in the publishing workflow battle but it’s a handy tool to have, particularly as Calibre is such a brilliant program anyway for any reader or publisher.

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