Thursday, February 2, 2012

Quickest, easiest, cheapest way to create an ebook?

Update 2: More thoughts on OpenOffice and Writer2ePub for EPUB

Update: I've added the OpenOffice document, including images, the EPUB file generated with the Writer2ePub extension, and the Kindle file generated from that EPUB file with Kindle Previewer 3 at the end of this article.

I've been writing about creating ebooks for a while and it occurred to me that I've tried to cover a lot of the edge-case scenarios: nice formatting, drop caps, special fonts, audio, video, fixed layout, poetry, and more. But what if you had a drop-dead simple book and you wanted to create an ebook in the quickest, easiest, cheapest way?

Here's what I'd recommend. First, download OpenOffice. It's free and available on multiple platforms.

Next, download the Writer2ePub extension. It is also free. It was written by Luca "Luke" Calcinai, and like a good European, he offers documentation in several languages. Install the extension by choosing Tools > Extension Manager from inside OpenOffice and then clicking the Add button and finding Writer2ePub.

Once it's installed, you'll see that there are three new icons on your OpenOffice desktop:

Writer2ePub buttons

Next step, write your novel. I'll wait.

OK, you can open any Word document in OpenOffice. You could even copy someone else's if you have to. That's what I've done. Mark Twain's “The Jumping Frog”.

Now paste it into a new document in OpenOffice.

You could just hit the export to EPUB icon already, but as much as I want to give you simplest way, I can't go that low. (If you can, just skip on down to the bottom.)

Select all of the text and choose Text Body from the style menu.

Text body

Next, select the title of your book and choose Heading 1 from the Style menu.

Heading 1

Now, select each chapter title in turn and choose Heading 2 from the Style menu.

Heading 2

Now, add your images by choosing Insert > Picture > From file, and then locate the image you want to place. You can resize it by dragging the corners. Hold down Shift to maintain the original proportion.

Add any final formatting you wish. Feel free to make some of your text bold or italic, or what have you. Remember this is the easy-peasy system so I'm not going to go into special effects.

The actual EPUB part

Now, save your document. All you non-savers go right ahead and do it anyway, Writer2ePub won't let you proceed until you do. (Choose File > Save.)

Now click the leftmost Writer2ePub icon (the one that's all green). The metadata window will appear.

My recommendation is that you fill out all of the metadata, but Writer2ePub will work with just the title. (Note that when I tried to add a cover, it gave me an error upon validating my EPUB later on.)


Click OK to generate the EPUB file.

First you'll get a little alert that confirms your EPUB was created and tells you just how long it took.


And if you look in the folder that contains your OpenOffice file, you'll now see your new shiny EPUB:


Mine passed ePubCheck with nary a peep. Here it is in iBooks:

Jumping Frog

Now, there's a LOT more that you can do. You could add a cover, you could format the book much more nicely with drop caps and background colors and sidebars and centered images, you could add video and audio and all those things that I teach you in my books. But if you just want to convert your Word document into EPUB, you could do a lot worse.

Here are the sample files that I used in this article just in case you want to take a closer look:

The OpenOffice file (Twain.odt), in this case Mark Twain's The Jumping Frog.
The EPUB file generated with Writer2ePub extension (Twain.epub)
The Kindle file generated from the EPUB file with Kindle Previewer 3 (
And a zip file that has all of the above plus the image files (


  1. Hmmm, how mobi friendly is the output?

    1. One problem might be that the default style has text-indent:0 which means that paragraphs are not indented at all on Kindle (and kind of all run together). Why don't they run together on the iPad? There's a p+p style (that Kindle3 doesn't support but Kindle Fire does) that allows for indenting all paragraphs after the first one. But no space between lines.

      At any rate, I did not mean to imply that this method would be useful for professional production. More on that soon.

    2. Sounds like a bug with the css for the plugin.

  2. I'd be interested to see what you get back if you upload your ODT file to, and ask for ODT to ePub conversion. It will do that by converting ODT to TEI XML and then doing TEI to ePub.

    1. I am going to post the files that I used (and generated). I'd love to hear what you think about them and if there are other systems you could combine and tack on to good effect.

  3. I still think that Pages is a better option, even if it isn't free.

    1. Please note that the key characteristics of this system were quick, cheap, and easy. Quality was not mentioned because this system is wholly lacking in that department. I would suspect (though I'm no expert) that Pages does a much better job, and hope to investigate that further. InDesign certainly does. Maybe we need a rating system that takes all the different pieces of the story into account. Not everyone needs everything that can be achieved with the most expensive or complicated methodologies.

  4. Thank you, Liz.
    Do you think this conversion with OpenOffice is so good as making EPUB from scratch with SIGIL? I mean, does it generate clean code this conversion?

    1. I have not used Sigil extensively but plan to study it in the near future. I'll report back.

  5. For the record, why OpenOffice with
    an extension, and not a dedicated app
    like the Calibre ebook management/
    creator client available for the 3 major

    1. Calibre doesn't let you edit your document, it relies on an existing document. So it adds an additional step and an additional program instead of being an all-in-one solution. That said, I plan to talk about Calibre and its advantages and disadvantages very soon.

    2. I'm generating EPUB from plain HTML, using Calibre. And I generate the HTML file from a lightweight markup language, so I can also export to LaTeX (and then PDF). I make this using

      I haven't tested it on Mac OS X but since it's Unix based, it should work.

  6. Excellent write-up Liz. I know at least three people that are using this method to get their single 'hobby' book into an ePub.

  7. Thank you. Now I can add this procedure to my "Easy eBook Publishing". COuldn't recommend Open Office prior to this extension. But certainly will now.

    Gotta let CJ know also.

  8. Thank you for this post. I work with LibreOffice (based on OpenOffice) and the extension works here too.

    1. Thank you, that's good to know. I'd love to hear how LibreOffice differs from Open Office.

    2. I believe that LibreOffice is the original team from OpenOffice who parted company with OpenOffice's official owners ... or so the story goes.

      I used Writer2Epub in combination with Sigil for a course I was running last year. Impressive how well it works.

      For those who want a similar Kindle solution - export your file to HTML and then open in Kindle Previewer. But for personal use you can always email Word files to a Kindle without any conversion.

  9. Wim, I'd be very interested to know if you use LibreOffice with Ubuntu Unity version, and in this case how on Earth were you able to import Writer2Epub into LibreOffice. I've been unable to do it neither through Ubuntu Software Centre nor through LibreOffice Tools > Extension Manager. Anyone? Many thanks.

    1. I used Mint 12's LibreOffice yesterday and downloaded the extension to my desktop, then used the Ext. Manager to add it. To see the extension you have to close the app and re-launch it. Hope that helps.

    2. Thanks a lot, Doug, I'll try that. And thanks to Liz Castro for including us non-professionals in her invaluable tips.

  10. Very cool. Sometimes we just make things more difficult than they need to be.

  11. hello,

    Thank you for these tips. It's important to create good ebook and with free tools it's great.

    best regards

  12. Right, So now I have everything to make my own eBook... Are you going to provide me the content :P

  13. pandoc is a swiss army format conversion tool providing epub output. It also allows additional css stylesheet inclusion. It's available for windows, mac, linux.

    Why muck with word processors at all?

    pandoc -f markdown -t epub -o test.epub test.txt


  14. Thanks so much for this! I'd been using to make simple, no-frills ebooks, but it's down right now so I was in a little bit of a panic. Thanks to this guide though, I was able to get the same results with practically no added effort!

    Regarding the indenting problem someone noted earlier, it appears to have been fixed. I have a Kindle Paperwhite, and use Calibre to convert .epub files to .mobi, and the indenting appears as it should.


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