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:
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.
Next, select the title of your book and choose Heading 1 from the Style menu.
Now, select each chapter title in turn and choose Heading 2 from the Style menu.
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:
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 (KP3-Twain.mobi)
And a zip file that has all of the above plus the image files (Writer2ePub-example.zip)