How to Quickly Create an EPUB File From Word (And Then Edit It)

Here’s the situation: Your book is sitting in a word processing system (such as Word), and you’d like to get that material translated into EPUB format without using the automated meatgrinder process of Amazon or Smashwords. Let’s assume you’re not a coder or programmer, but can figure out some some simple HTML. These are the options I’ve found that don’t involve purchasing software or going through coursework to learn code. Caveat: These methods will really only be helpful if your book is predominantly text, with few images.

For Mac Users: The TextEdit to Sigil Method

Sigil is a free, open-source editor for EPUB (ebook) files. It’s intuitive even for a beginner, especially if you know a little HTML from blogging. To use Sigil, you can’t start with a Word file—but it can handle basic text or HTML files. So what we need to do is appropriately prepare our Word files to import into Sigil while retaining our basic formatting. This process requires using Mac’s TextEdit software, which is installed for free on every Mac.

  1. Open TextEdit preferences.
  2. Adjust the HTML Saving Options as shown below. Select “XHTML 1.0 Strict”, “No CSS”, and “Unicode (UTF-8)” and check “Preserve White Space.”
  3. Open your Word document in TextEdit, then save it as an HTML file.

Text Edit Preferences

You now have a file that’s (more or less) like an EPUB file and ready to open in Sigil. Next steps:

  1. Download and install the Sigil software if needed.
  2. Go to “Open file.” Select and open the HTML file you just prepared in TextEdit.
  3. Presto! You now have an EPUB file you can edit and fine-tune through a simple interface. (There’s a code interface, too, but let’s save that for another day.)

If your entire book manuscript was in that one file, you’ll need to break it into chapters. To do so, look for the menu button that looks like this (“Split At Cursor”):

Sigil Split Chapters

Place your cursor where the chapter break should occur, then click that button. You’ll immediately have a new chapter file in your ebook.

If your book is split across many different Word files, that means you’ll have to convert all of them to HTML (following the TextEdit instructions above), then import them one by one into your Sigil EPUB file. To add a second, third, fourth, etc. chapter to your ebook, look for the menu button that looks like this (“Add Existing Files”):

Sigil Add File

Here’s what my Sigil work area looks like after importing two chapters:

Sigil Ebook Editing

From this point, you’ll have to learn to use Sigil, but it’s not hard. If you can use WordPress—or even if you’re comfortable with Microsoft Word’s quirks—you can probably handle Sigil once your content is imported properly. It’s a very lightweight software. (Here’s a guide to using it.)

For PC Users: From Word to Sigil

I have not yet discovered a way for PC users to save Word files as clean HTML in quite the same way that TextEdit can. You’ll probably have to do “Save as Filtered HTML,” but your results will likely be undesirable. In an effort to make the conversion cleaner, someone developed a Word macro for clean HTML, but I haven’t tested it. You can also try this online tool.

For Anyone: Google Docs to Sigil

It’s easy to import Word docs into Google Docs—and once you have a Google Doc, you can save to HTML much more cleanly than you typically can in Word. However, it will still import with some extra code you probably don’t want. Again, if you’re a Mac user, the best possible scenario is to save everything as HTML from TextEdit using the settings described above. For those of you who have Apple Pages, you may wonder: What about saving directly as EPUB from there? That works too, but again—it’s not as clean as the method I’ve outlined.

For Anyone: From Word to Calibre (Then Sigil)

Calibre is a free ebook management software that has conversion and editing capabilities. Download here. Next steps:

  1. Add your Word document to Calibre as a book.
  2. Click on “convert book” and select EPUB format.
  3. You can then edit the EPUB in Calibre (which I don’t find very pleasant—but it’s possible), or you can open it up in Sigil for further editing. To risk repeating myself a lot, this specific process will end up creating more cruft (garbage code) than you probably want or need, but it gets you an editable EPUB file.

What tricks or tips do you have to share about creating and editing EPUB files? Let me know in the comments.


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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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41 Comments on "How to Quickly Create an EPUB File From Word (And Then Edit It)"

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Marc Schulman

Hi Jane,
If you our on the Mac I find the best method is to import the file into pages and then save the page file as ePub- It almost always works without a problem. I like Sigil but if your readers do not want to have to get involved in another program Pages is easy

LJ Cohen
After using callibre for some time, I moved to using sigil.(And then kindle gen to create the mobi) Instead of converting from doc or odt into html, I find it simpler and cleaner to cut/paste the text into sigil, then break it up into chapters. It took me a bit of experimentation, but I now have a stylesheet that is robust enough to work across all the ebook devices I could test. And I highly recommend that folks check their epubs in adobe digital editions. That’s the rendering engine used in several ebook readers. It’s important to become comfortable with… Read more »
Alan Drabke

What about: (1) doc file to HTML through Mobi Pocket Creator (2) build table of contents in SIGIL on HTML file, (3) export as EPUB to Calibre, (4) convert epub to MOBI file in Calibre, (5) sell on Amazon?

Seeley James
Word’s “Filtered HTML” is quite clean. There are two things that throw people off: 1) All Styles and Fonts are included. You can select and delete all of them, leave them there because they’re not hurting anything, or create a template that only has the ones you need. Two seconds. 2) The style names are Microsoft’s own. You can use them as is, or search and replace for shorter names. ie: {Mso-Style-Link:”Heading 1 Char”; is “H1” in simple HTML. Either works but the MS version works for complex CSS documents. I have a routine to create a filtered HTML sheet,… Read more »
Willson John

Thanks for providing this useful tip !!!!

Lakota Grace

If you know how to use Dreamweaver…for PCs, just save your Word file as filtered html, open in Dreamweaver and go to Comman/Clean up Word html. It will eliminate everything else that’s troublesome. 🙂 Lakota

David Mark Brown

I still prefer to use Scrivener for everything. Just remember to check for updates before compiling to ePub. Only once did I run into trouble with uploading the Scrivener ePub to Kobo. Within a couple of weeks Scrivener had posted an update to comply with the new ePub requirements.

Super easy and no need for any other software.

Joan Leacott

Jutoh doesn’t need stripped Word docs for conversions to epub, mobi, pdf, Smashwords and a bunch of others. It also comes loaded with the Kindle Previewer and only costs $39. I bought it while ago and really like it.

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Greg Scott
I just found this website, http://ebook.online-convert.com/, and used it to make an epub file from my .DOCX manuscript. Looking at the epub file with the Nook previewer – it looks OK. The bolds and italics followed. Chapter breaks look good. Table of Contents in intact. The front matter isn’t perfect, but workable. I have no idea who sponsors this website or how they make money, but it seems to have done the job. And Amazon has an authoring tool to make a .mobi file. The Amazon documentation says to save the .docx as HTML first and then upload the HTML… Read more »
Ant

Hi, what about files with images? I just tried and Textedit only allow to save as .webarchive, not .html so I can’t open it in Sigil

Bash Badawi
Honestly, I have tried everything availabe and the best converter is the OLD Mobipocket Creator( http://www.mobipocket.com/). It was bought by Amazon so it;s pretty much been end-of-life’ed. How it works: Point it to the file (word DOC format, PDF, Text, HTML – this is where Filtered HTML works best) , Click Import and it will produce an XML file and an archive similar to Epub. Once you have the XML, everything else is just a schema, EPUB, MOBI, etc. Export to Mobi into Calibre and convert to EPUB from there. It works great. I rarely ran into any issues whatsoever.… Read more »
Jenny

Thanks Jane! I tried Lulu’s auto converter, and it kept inserting blank pages – hopefully your method will fix it 🙂

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Jassie S.

Hi Jane,

I’m Jassie. I am a regular fan of your posts, amazingly written and resourceful.I do need your help in book formatting.I have written a children’s book. May I know if I can format my manuscript in Google Docs to Epub or Kindle friendly format? If so, how can I proceed?

Alexander

Hi Jane, thanks for this article it’s very helpful. I’m trying to upload an eBook to http://ablik.com/en and though I managed to save as Epub I could not figure out how to create the chapters. Is there any new update on how to do it best with PC? Thanks!

Becky Renner

Thank you! This was very helpful!

Jeremy G

This was extremely helpful, thanks! I ended up trying a few conversion variations and settling on the Word2cleanHTML webpage because it preserved the desired amount of formatting (more or less). It’s also nice to know a bit about what’s under the hood of an ePub file.

B A Boland

thank you for all of this – I am not very literate on the computer but getting to grips with the language and concepts

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[…] which can cause the text to reflow across a different span of electronic pages. EPUB files can be created from Microsoft Word documents, exported from files in Apple’s Pages program, converted from Apache OpenOffice documents with […]

ed eart

How to create epub ebook with figures geometric, 3D renderings, photos?

Pdf goes perfectly, but on Kobo, Amazon and others need to epub, kindle who see very badly.

Gonzalo León

Thank you for your post, it’s been very useful. I don’t have Microsoft Word, I use Libre Office in a PC and Open Office in a MAc and I’ve just needed to translate some word kind of lenghty documents to ePub in order to read them while away from my computer, and found that the LIbre Office export to html very clean and efficient to use inside Sigil. Both Libre Office and Open Office are freeware, and pretty good replacements for word.

Janine-Langley Wood

Just want to say thanks, Jane. Very helpful site.

Jim Dodds

Ummm, I installed Calibre, but it has no option to convert to EPUB???

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