How to Turn a Microsoft Word Document Into an Ebook (EPUB)

turn Microsoft Word document into ebook EPUB

Note from Jane: This post has been updated to reflect changes in tools available on the market.


So your book is sitting in Microsoft Word, and you’d like to get that material converted into an ebook format you can sell through ebook retailers such as Amazon. Unfortunately, your basic version of Word doesn’t offer that functionality. So what do you do?

If you’re patient and willing to format your Word document carefully, you can use the automated conversion processes of Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, Pronoun or similar ebook retailer and distribution services. They want to make it easy for you to get published, so they’ll convert your Word document into an ebook (EPUB) file instantly, as soon as you upload it.

But the results may look terrible. Much depends on the quality and complexity of the document you start with.

Thus, the following list offers workable options I’ve found that (1) don’t involve hugely expensive software, with one possible exception, and (2) don’t get you knee-deep into Word formatting. My assumptions are that you don’t want to become a Microsoft Word ninja and that you may desire to edit your ebook file outside of Word.

Note that most of these methods will only be appropriate if your book is predominantly text, with few images and specific formatting requirements.

Start with Draft2Digital’s free conversion tool

Authors often report the Draft2Digital conversion from Word to EPUB to be the smoothest and easiest they’ve used. Fortunately, you don’t have to distribute through Draft2Digital in order to take advantage of their conversion; their terms of service allow you to set up an account, upload your Word doc, export the EPUB file, then take it elsewhere, to another retailer or distributor. (Not all ebook distributors are so kind in their terms.)

Once you’ve downloaded the EPUB file from the automated conversion process, you may be happy with it exactly as is, or you may want to open it up in Calibre or Sigil to make adjustments. Calibre is a free ebook management software that allows you to edit EPUB files; Sigil is an open-source software for editing EPUB files. They work on both PC and Mac.

Use Amazon’s free tools for creating ebook files

Amazon offers a couple free tools to help you design and format ebook files using Word, but there’s one huge caveat: They will create ebook files that work on Kindle, but they will not be EPUB files. That means that the files you prepare using Amazon’s tools will not work at other retailer or distribution sites, which almost always ask for EPUB format ebook files.

Amazon’s tools include:

  • Kindle Create. This is a free software you can download (for Mac or PC) and use to preview and edit your book. You start with either a Word document or PDF file.
  • Kindle Create Add-in for Microsoft Word. This is a free plugin for Microsoft Word users that allows you much of the functionality found in the stand-alone software, but right in Word. Currently it’s only available for PC users.

Use Reedsy’s free cloud-based editing tools

Reedsy is best known as a freelance marketplace where you can find editors and other publishing professionals help you edit, publish, and promote your work. They also offer a suite of editing and collaboration tools that can help you format and export EPUB files out of their cloud-based system. The functionality is so far limited, but—as before—you can load up your EPUB in another software, such as Calibre or Sigil, to make further adjustments if you don’t want to keep working in Reedsy.

The drawback: You can’t import your Word file into Reedsy. So if your book is in multiple Word files, you’ll have a very large copy-and-paste job ahead of you. They explain the process here.

For Mac users: Vellum ($)

One of the most beloved tools of indie authors, Vellum is an intuitive software that helps you design, format, and export great-looking ebooks, in EPUB format. It allows you to start by uploading Word documents (among others). However, it will cost you. While the software is free to download, being able to export your files will cost you a one-time fee of $199. This option makes the most sense for authors who expect to be producing multiple ebook files over many months or years.

Dump your Word doc into some other word processor that can export EPUB files

If you own or use any of the following tools:

  • Apple Pages
  • Scrivener
  • Google Docs

… then you can export your document as an EPUB file. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to take your Microsoft Word document, import it into or open it inside another one of these systems, then see how well it exports as EPUB.

For unafraid and adventurous Mac users: Sigil

As mentioned earlier, Sigil is a free, open-source editor for EPUB (ebook) files. Probably the most difficult part of using Sigil is identifying how to download and install it, since it’s on Github and isn’t exactly marketed to the average non-tech consumer.

However, once you have the application installed, it’s not difficult to work with if you know a little HTML. 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 user guide.)

To use Sigil, you can’t start with a Word file, but it can handle text files. So what you need to do is appropriately prepare your Word files to import into Sigil while retaining your basic formatting. This process requires using Mac’s TextEdit software, which is installed for free on every Mac. (PC users: Sorry, I haven’t found an equivalent way to do this using PC software.)

  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.

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

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

Posted in E-Books and tagged , , , , , , , .
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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63 Comments on "How to Turn a Microsoft Word Document Into an Ebook (EPUB)"

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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???

Jacqueline Stigman

Hi Jane, I’m using Calibre and saved my docx to epub and to mobi. I got the right mobi icon and file. But the epub opens as an editor. It’s name is an .epub but I want to send it to smashwords and certainly don’t want it opening in this editor! If Jane not available can anyone here make a suggestion? Thanks!

Patsy Trench

Very useful post, thank you. I don’t use any special software. Having formatted my Word doc using Style Boxes I make sure there are no hidden codes such as the tab code, add the contents page in Word and bookmark where appropriate, and Bob’s your uncle, I think, unless I’m missing something.

Chris Kennedy

I’ve always used Calibre for digital conversion, and you can convert it into any format you need.

Katie Dale

Jane, hello. What if I wanted to simply make a short ebook in the form of a PDF, downloadable as a freebie resource guide on my blog? In that case, should I just create a PDF in my preferred app (Word, InDesign, etc.) and have it uploaded to my blog so others can access it? (I want it to be free) And can I do this as a fillable form too?

Brad King

At Carnegie Mellon’s ETC Press, we use Pressbooks to create EPUB, MOBI, Digital PDFs, and Print PDFs. (And we use Calibre to fix the metadata.) I’ve played around with Vellum (no footnotes), Sigil (too much coding), and others. Readsy does look promising.

Terry Freedman
Thanks for such a comprehensive article, Jane. I only found out about Kindle Create after I’d bought Vellum! I’ve tried various options (not Kindle Create yet), and have found Vellum to be by far the easiest and best, on the whole. The only thing it seems not to facilitate, unless I’ve missed it, is internal links, eg when you write something like “See Chapter X”. I’ve stopped bothering with any Word-based formatting solution because I don’t like having to deal with all the extraneous code that Word loves to insert. For what it’s worth, my writing/publishing process now is: 1.… Read more »
Martha Anderson

This was a great read, thank you for the insight. I have been looking to publish a book on the art of customer service but haven’t even started writing it because I didn’t know where to start. Knowing I can work in the comfort of Microsoft word and convert late makes it so much easier!

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Phillip Stephens

I used to use Sigil but the results were unpredictable. I use Indesign, which you can subscribe to for around $20 for one month. It has far superior type features.

However, for a basic Kindle and ePub converter, Calibre can’t be beat. It’s free, easy to use and frequently updated.

David Kudler

A wonderful post, as always.

For what it’s worth — there’s now a Sigil plug-in (DOCXImporter) that will directly import Word documents. It’s not perfect, and I still use InDesign as my conversion tool, but the plug-in works, and it does save time — the styling converts over, and it imports all images.

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