At some time or another in your publishing journey, you will need to create EPUB and MOBI versions of your book, stories, or documents. There are many reasons to do this and I hope that the information in this post will help you plan a publication and marketing strategy that incorporates sharing with early readers (beta publishing), editing, distributing book reviews, sales, and distribution. Here are some reasons to put eBook conversion not only for your books but for your short books and other lead magnets, in your publishing plan:
- Offering a short book as a giveaway for email subscribers.
- Providing a draft to a manuscript reviewer or developmental editor who prefers a digital format.
- Submitting a digital ARC to a book reviewer.
- Uploading your ebook files to BookFunnel, Instafreebie, NetGalley, or LibraryThing's Early Reviewers (to distribute to book reviewers).
- Creating a final version of your ebook to upload the online retailers (Amazon KDP, Apple iBooks, BN Press, Kobo, and Google Play are the most popular).
- Distributing your ebook using an aggregator (Smashwords, Draft2Digital, StreetLib, Scribl, and IngramSpark are all good options).
- Selling digital downloads of your book from your website using a payment gateway and digital delivery service like Gumroad.
These 10 tools will help you create EPUB and MOBI files. Some are quick-and-dirty conversion tools and others are end-to-end writing, beta publishing, and distribution tools. Others will create perfectly-acceptable files for publication and others create beautiful final books. A few require a certain level of geekiness and while others are very easy. They include both free and paid options.
Quick Summary of the eBook Conversion Tools
In alphabetical order, they are:
- Calibre - The most robust desktop tool for eBook conversion and editing. For casual sharing with friends, editors, and other early readers, or even final formatting for publication. Also for when you need to tinker with ebooks that have been created or converted elsewhere. Free (donation-based) and open-source.
- Draft2Digital - Super easy web-based tool for quick, informal sharing with friends, editors, other early readers, as well as for final formatting and eBook distribution. Free.
- Leanpub - An awesome and very easy to use end-to-end solution for writing, sharing, publishing and selling as well as creating beautifully-formatted ebook and print books to distribute elsewhere. Robust and worth the $99 price tag.
- Pandoc - For geeks only, especially those who love markup formats. Free (open source).
- Pressbooks - WordPress-like book publishing tool with templates that exports to EPUB, MOBI, and PDF for print. $19 for digital or $99 for digital and print exports. I use this tool a lot.
- Publish Xpress - Super easy and free way to convert quickly.
- Reedsy - Quick, easy, and free browser-based formatting tool for books.
- Scrivener - Robust, end-to-end solution for composing and organizing your writing projects and exporting to eBook formats to share or for distribution. $45 for Mac or Windows desktop app.
- Vellum - Much loved Mac tool for creating gorgeous eBooks and print book files for any reason. Desktop app $199 for eBook only, $299 for print and eBook.
- Zamzar - Quick and easy tool for converting virtually anything from docs to images and videos. Free.
Five of these are dedicated book creation or formatting tools: Draft2Digital, Leanpub, Pressbooks, Reedsy, and Vellum. But they can also be used to create short, casual books like giveaways, or they can be used as pre-press tools whenever you need a digital version of your book. As for the remaining five, Scrivener is a hybrid tool used for writing, organizing, and formatting. Finally, Calibre, Pandoc, Publish Xpress, and Zamzar are specifically for eBook conversion, with Calibre the most robust.
Here are the details about each of them and recommendations about when and how to use them.
Calibre is a free, open-source eBook management desktop application that can convert your documents or book files into MOBI and EPUB format or edit existing MOBIs and EPUBs. You can use it for casual eBook conversion and to create final, publishable files. It works for simple books as well as books with more complex formatting.
Once you download the Calibre application you simply add your book, complete the book metadata (title, author name, description, etc.), create a simple cover or upload your professionally designed cover, click the CONVERT button, and download it to your computer.
I've used this tool for casual conversions of Word and Pages docs that I want to provide in MOBI or EPUB on my site or to share on DropBox. I've also used it to change the front matter of eBooks I distribute on Smashwords, which are branded "Smashwords Edition" to "Kindle Edition" for upload to Amazon KDP. When selling directly to my readers, I use it to remove the Smashwords and Kindle branding to create another edition. (I use Gumroad as the payment gateway and digital delivery system for direct sales.)
See my previous post for step-by-step instructions on Using Calibre to Create EPUB and MOBI Versions of Your Book. Click the image to play the video demo of how to use Calibre.
Draft2Digital is an eBook creation and distribution service with a very easy eBook conversion tool. Authors love D2D for its ease-of-use, customer service, and distribution to the major eBook stores. You can use it even if you don't distribute with them, though they hope you will.
They give you the EPUB to distribute with them or anywhere else. Use D2D to create your EPUB to share with early readers who want EPUBs. (If they want MOBIs, use Calibre to create them from the EPUB.) The beautifully-formatted EPUB can also be uploaded to BookFunnel, Instafreebie, NetGalley, or LibraryThing's Early Reviewers.
Leanpub is a great end-to-end writing, sharing, publishing, and direct-sales tool for authors that I think has been too much overlooked by the general indie publishing marketplace. (They're very popular with computer book authors.) You can publish your in-progress book, making money with your writing before your book is done, plus leverage your readers to beta test your book and give you feedback.
Create your book in their browser-based tool, or upload a PDF, EPUB, or MOBI, or create it in doc format in a connected Dropbox folder along with images and other assets. (This may sound a little complicated, but they do much of it for you automatically and provide easy instructions.)
Use it to create any kind of book files for early readers, for upload to review sites, for publication, or lead-magnet creation. I especially like it as a way to beta publish and grow your email list.
Leanpub exports beautiful EPUBs, MOBIs, and PDFs for your in-progress writing and for upload to the stores or for distribution when you're finished.
When selling in the Leanpub store, they pay a royalty rate of 90% minus 50¢ per book purchase. It costs $99 to create a Leanpub book.
Learn more about it in the Consumer's Guide for Self-Publishers.
GEEK ALERT! If you need to convert files from one markup format into another, Pandoc is your swiss-army knife.
Pandoc can convert documents in (several dialects of) Markdown, reStructuredText, textile, HTML, DocBook, LaTeX, MediaWiki markup, TWiki markup, TikiWiki markup, Creole 1.0, Vimwiki markup, OPML, Emacs Org-Mode, Emacs Muse, txt2tags, Microsoft Word docx, LibreOffice ODT, EPUB, or Haddock markup to HTML, word processor formats, eBooks, documentation formats, archival formats, page layout formats, outline formats, TeX formats, PDF, lightweight markup formats, and custom formats written in lua.
If you understood any of that previous sentence then this tool is for you.
Pressbooks is a WordPress-based book publishing tool I use a lot. You write and format just like you would a WordPress blog.
Export beautiful EPUB, MOBI, and PDF files to share with early readers, for ARCs for reviewers, and to publish to the online stores or distribution services. Or you can simply share your book on the web, as I do with my Consumer's Guide for Self-Publishers.
It costs $19.99 to remove the watermark from the webbook, EPUB and MOBI versions and comes with 25MB of storage (for your book files and images). Or pay $99 to remove the watermark from the PDF along with the digital book files. They provide about 40 themes for your book so no formatting knowledge is necessary.
Publish Xpress is a super easy conversion tool created by author, designer, and publishing expert Derek Murphy. It's very effective for simple books like novels as long as you have formatted your Word doc correctly using Styles. Simply upload your doc into the Publish Xpress website to create an EPUB and a MOBI file. If you need to tinker with the resulting EPUB or MOBI, use Calibre.
Reedsy Book Editor
Reedsy is a marketplace where authors find publishing pros. They also provide a simple, browser-based print and eBook formatting tool that's free and easy to use. Simply import your chapters and parts into their editor and format your content. Export to EPUB and PDF for print. Use another tool to create a MOBI from the EPUB file.
If you're an author you've probably heard about Scrivener. I love it as an idea-organizing tool for my blogs and books as well as an eBook formatting tool. It creates very nice looking EPUBs and MOBIs, even with more complex styling.
Invest in the $45 desktop app and the somewhat steep learning curve tool, and you can use it for most of your writing workflow. My only complaint is that the PDF for print conversions aren't pretty enough to publish formally.
This tool has a dedicated author following and I'm a fan! Scrivener is one of my favorite tech tools. You can read more about it and other tech tools I find essential in a previous blog, Tech Tools for Writers Roundup.
If you're on the Mac, you're in luck. Vellum is becoming the go-to app for Mac users to easily create beautiful ebooks without having to resort to using InDesign. You can use it for end-to-end writing and formatting to create digital and print book files for any purpose, such as email freebies, to share with early readers, reviewers, and for upload to the online retailers and distributors.
Book styles incorporate classic touches like custom drop caps and ornamental flourishes. A live preview instantly shows how your book will look in the eBook reading devices, and refreshes when you make changes. In June 2018 they added auto-import from Scrivener.
Vellum Ebooks is $199.99 and Vellum Press for print (and digital) is $249.99 and worth every penny for its ease-of-use and ability to control the look, add flourishes, and export beautiful books.
Zamzar is a browser-based conversion tool that handles 1200 different kinds of document, audio, and video formats. Yes, there are that many formats! I actually use this app a lot.
For example, I use it for Word documents that I created on the Mac, which unfortunately do not retain hyperlinks when converted to PDF. I use it to create quick conversions of my docs into MOBI and EPUB formats when I want to offer a freebie to my email subscribers. Zamzar can also convert image and video files.
The free version works for most purposes, but if you convert lots and lots of files they offer basic, pro, and business versions for $9, $16, and $25 per month.
It works best with docs that use just a few styles.
The Importance of Styles
Ebook conversion tools work best if you have used Word (or Pages) styles to tag every single paragraph of your book. For example, your chapter headings as H1 and your body text as Normal. If you don't know how to use Styles, please see my earlier blog post, What Every Author Needs to Know About Microsoft Word Styles. I highly recommend using a book design template to make sure that you format your book at the right size (such as 6x9) and that each paragraph is assigned a style. Exception: If you use Leanpub, Scrivener, or Vellum, you'll format your book in their tool with their styles, instead.
How Will You Publish Your...
Okay, now that you've reviewed all the eBook conversion tools, how will you convert your docs and books for your
- Email subscriber giveaway
- EPUB for review sites
- Final book for upload to stores, distribution, or direct sales
I'd love to hear your ideas and questions in the comments below.
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