Friday, February 3, 2012

A Range of EPUB Tools, more thoughts on OpenOffice and Writer2ePub for EPUB

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.


  1. Although I use InDesign every day for magazine production, for converting 100+ page text or Word docs to epub I've been using Pages. Quick, easy and fairly cheap too - though far from perfect.

  2. Is there a tool that will give you a "professionally designed" ebook, without requiring you to touch the code? :)

    I think it is awesome that there are open source tools that empower many to be creative and perhaps profit a little.

  3. Great idea for a series Liz, it's important that people know there are a variety of tools available to them in case some of them don't meet their needs.

    Personally I use exclusively Sigil but I have heard good things about Amanuensis which is also odt>epub converter, for similar use-cases as the Writer2ePub extension but (according to those who have used it) more powerful.

  4. Don't forget that you can use Automator in Mac OS X Lion to create apps/scripts/actions that convert RTF and text files to epub.

  5. Here's where to get the files and a neat tutorial on the technique that Baldur is talking about:

  6. I'd recommend Scrivener - cheap price, good ePub conversion and top-notch customer service (plus it's just a very handy, innovative writing program).

  7. Using Scrivener together with Storybook for a very complex first attempt at a novel. Scrivener for the writing and conversion but Storybook to untangle the web and keep track of all the interactions.

  8. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who AREN'T touching the code at all, because KDP will accept Word files, but the results are terrible. But if they can get their book up for sale without having to hire someone, they are going to keep doing it.

  9. I also love using InDesign (CS5.5). However, when I export a book to epub (validates and looks great on devices), then push it through Kindlegen to get mobi I get an error message that I'm missing the TOC - even tho it shows up in the ncx. Has this happened to anyone else? Any advice appreciated...

  10. I read your, "EPUB Straight to the Point" several weeks ago and I highly recommend it. I used Sigil to convert my "Graphics Essentials for Small Offices" into an eBook version. Although I was happy with the results, it's also useful to tweak Sigil's output by hand.

    For that purpose, I like Calibre's ability to to open and repackage an EPUB without having to use zipping tools.

    I also like the Kindle Previewer for its ability to display an eBook as it would appear on a variety of devices.

  11. I've been using InDesign CS5.5 to generate .epub from a print layout, then as David mentioned use Calibre ePub Explode, then tweak with both Sigil and Dreamweaver on the code level. So having a bag of tools help, unless you really enjoy pure hand coding.

  12. I would like to mention the extraordinary Docbook to epub xslt stylesheets now able to create epub 3 by Bob Stayton.
    Definitely it is a professional tool, but it is open source, clever, and clean.
    You can obtain a Docbook working on Oxygen.


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