A Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Making Imperfect .EPUB Files

I’ve been reviewing works in progress for folks on Absolute Write’s Beta Readers, Mentors, and Writing Buddies board. (Which is an amazing place if you really want to get a story reviewed, by the way. I got 4 offers in under 24 hours for my 70,000 YA fantasy novel.) One of them taught me how to make EPUB files.

And it makes sense. Unless you’re asking for line edits (and none of the people I was reading for were) you don’t have to read an 80,000-word novel on the computer. So it’s apparently very common to convert the file into a quick-and-dirty EPUB file so you can read it on an e-reader.

Making a professional, polished EPUB would take a lot more time and care than what I’m showing here. But if you just need something for a beta partner? Here’s how you’d do it!

Please note that I write everything in Microsoft Word 2010, and that’s what I’m using in this tutorial. (These features exist in every version of Word from 2007 and onwards, however.)

1. Start with a well-formatted Word file.

So, I started with my .DOCX file. “Well-formatted” means:

  • Chapter headers are marked using Word’s “Heading 1” style. (You can customize this style so that it looks how you want it to. The important part is that the headers are flagged as headers.)
  • Each new chapter starts on its own page. It’s easiest to do this with a hard page break (which you can do by hitting Control+Enter).
  • Use 12 pt Times New Roman font. Or Courier, I guess. Courier looks awful.
  • Double-space the document.

2. Save your file as a “Web Page.”

This is under Save as > Save as Type. Select “Web Page” from the drop-down menu. This saves your manuscript as an .HTML file.

3. Open your HTML file in Calibre.

Calibre is a free-to-use program that creates EPUBs. It’s also very easy to use.

Screenshot showing a list of chapters.
Screenshot showing how Calibre has broken my story automatically into chapters.
  1. Go to Add Books. Select your HTML file.
  2. Go to Convert Books. Select “Convert Individually.”
  3. There are a lot of conversion options. You don’t have to change anything. I changed the metadata so that my story’s title and my author information were correct. Then I hit “OK.”
  4. Give it a few seconds to convert.
  5. Right-click your newly created story. Select “Edit Book.”

Now you can change whatever you want. If you marked all your headers correctly in Word, your book should already be organized into chapters, just like the screenshot to the right.

If you want to add a table of contents, you can add it by going to Tools > Table of Contents > Insert inline Table of Contents.

Calibre will add its own generic cover page. You can change that if you want. I don’t have custom art (and I’m not going to make any for beta readers), but I didn’t like the default cover, so I went to the title page slide and deleted the “SVG” tags and everything inside them.

I didn’t do anything special in Calibre. I find it’s much easier to do all the special formatting in Word. You can make changes to your novel in Calibre, but it requires some knowledge of HTML/XHTML.

And that’s it! Now you’ve got one shiny new EPUB, ready for all your non-professional needs.

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