Yesterday I posted a quick how-to on how to create an EPUB file out of a Word (or Word type) document using OpenOffice and the Writer2ePub extension.
There were a number of comments about why I didn't explain other, more powerful tools, and also others that questioned even using OpenOffice.
And it made me think a lot about the range of tools available and how best to talk about them. Some EPUB tools are very costly—there are turnkey automated systems in the hundreds of thousands of dollars—and some, like OpenOffice are free. Similarly, the power, flexibility and number of features changes drastically from one end of the spectrum to the other, not always in a direct correlation to price.
I am a long-time InDesign user. I use it for my work and consider it an essential part of my tool chest. I had PageMaker so ingrained in my fingers that after a long hiatus (during which I was a happy FrameMaker user) when I returned to InDesign I automatically pressed Command-D to place an image, even though that was not the command in Frame and I hadn't used PageMaker for years. So, it's completely natural for me to think about InDesign and include it in my workflow.
But my profile (computer book author and publisher) may not match that of each of my readers. Many people who are creating ebooks today are not interested in print, which is InDesign's forte. And they're not interested in InDesign's price, which is around $700.
Do I recommend using OpenOffice to create ebooks that you're going to sell? I don't. It would be a little bit like trying to sell spiralbound copies of a print book straight off of your home printer. You might be able to eke out a decent looking thing in OpenOffice, but you'll need to do a lot more than I explained in my post yesterday. Which probably begs the question: Can you create a professionally designed ebook without touching the code? Again, I don't think so.
But maybe you don't need a professionally designed ebook. Maybe you want to “rip” a quick EPUB out of a Word file to bring with you on your phone. Maybe you want to share your growing manuscript with a friend. There are plenty of situations where OpenOffice + Writer2ePub might be just what you need.
And it's important to know what tools are out there, especially if they're free. One of the brilliant things about ebooks and independent and self-publishing is that it's open to all. I would hate people to think that they had to buy a $700 program before they could create an ebook.
There are more tools that I want to talk about. Pages, Sigil, Calibre, BBEdit, Smashwords' Meatgrinder, KindleGen maybe even iBooks Author—are there others you depend on? Each one has strengths and weaknesses, and each might be the best suited for very specific situations. I will spend some time in the coming weeks going over each of these.
For now, know that you *can* create EPUB files from Word using a completely open-source and free combination of software. It won't create the kinds of files you can get from InDesign (or other tools), but it's better than nothing. Just.