There are really four basic options for converting your e-book manuscript into another format. You can send the file to a person’s Kindle (and they may have to pay a fee for converting a personal document), gift a copy of your book from one of the websites (it’ll be at your cost, of course, though you’ll make part of it back with the royalty usually), pay someone else to convert it for you (usually at a very high cost for doing the same things you’ll read in this tutorial), or send off a copy of the book that’s already in a format compatible for your prospective reader’s e-reading platform (i.e., mobi for Kindle, epub for Nook and Kobo, etc.). If you’re sending to a reviewer, you will more than likely want to use the last option.
One of the more useful applications of Calibre is the ability to convert your books into other formats. This makes it a lot easier to read your books on your various e-readers and such, and have copies of your own books to lend friends, reviewers, and the like. But it can be a bit of a mystery to the uninitiated or the slightly technophobic.
Here’s the simple way to go about converting a book:
Step 1: Download, install, and start Calibre (duh).
Step 2: Either through using “Add Books” or by drag-and-drop, add a copy of the e-book you want to convert into the main Calibre screen.
Please note that the e-book can be in any format except Microsoft Word’s doc and docx. For your best results, convert your book into a webpage (html file). Most e-book formats are just versions of webpages, anyway. If you have a Word doc/docx, save the file as a “webpage, filtered” for the best results. You’ll get a little warning pop-up saying that the formatting may be affected. The margins may move a bit and small caps will usually become ALL CAPS. As with any conversion, you’ll be checking the finished document anyway to see if there’s any problems you need to go back and fix in the html file (which, of course, can be edited in Word just like any document).
Remember: The manuscript or e-book you want to convert can NOT have any DRM (Digital Rights Management) in it! Calibre’s basic program is not made to crack DRM, and will not convert a book that has DRM.
Step 3: And normally, that’s it. Calibre will automatically convert your file into a mobi file. You can tell it’s doing it if there’s a number in the lower right hand corner of the program window, which will denote how many books are left to convert in the batch you just added. Once that’s back to “0” (zero), you can highlight a book, click “Edit Metadata” and correct any problems, add a cover, or just play that funky music, white boys.
Speaking of “Edit Metadata”, let’s take a look at that screen o’ many options:
I’m using this great old paperback that got scanned somewhere along the line for this example. Don’t bother searching for it – while it’s kinda fun to read for a comic book fanatic, it’s not that great of a book, even if the great Otto Binder did write it.
Most of the top of the screen is self-explanatory: Title, author, the two ‘sort’ fields (which will be how the book shows up in your book catalog on the main Calibre screen), series name. ‘Number’ is for book number in the series. I never use that, preferring to put the name of the series and number of the book in the book’s title. The block in the upper right will show you in what formats you currently have the book, just mobi in this case.
I managed to find a beautiful jpeg version of this book’s cover on the internet so I added it. “Change Cover” allows you to do that, as well as some basic editing (‘trim borders’) and it will also try to search the web for a cover if you pick “Download cover”.
You can rate the book whatever you’d like, add any tags to the metadata, and add various comments – the right-hand panel has about as many word processing features as your average blog. You can also download the standard metadata from the internet, just like the cover.
Once you’ve got the metadata how you want it, close out the window by clicking “OK”.
Again highlight the e-book you’d like to convert and click Convert Books>Convert Individually. This will bring up the following screen:
The most important thing to look at in this program window is the upper right corner, and the Output Format. The default is “MOBI”. If you are converting individually or in bulk, you can set it for ANY of the available formats (epub, rtf, lit, azw3, pdb, rb, txt, etc.)
Also, “Smarten/Unsmarten Punctuation” will make all quotes, ellipses, etc. uniform. “Smart” makes them fancy (curving), “Unsmart” makes them text/ASCII quality (straight). Your preference, really, though if the book’s in a serif font, I’d go with “smarten”.
Most of the other options you can play with on your own to see what gives you the best results for your particular book. Feel free to explore and play around with them. Make sure you’ve saved a mobi copy of your book to a separate directory first, just in case something goes banana-wacky.
The next thing you should choose is “Edit Metadata” and either add your book’s cover or add a generic one for now. If you do not select a cover, Calibre will usually pick a random image from the book to use as the cover. This can look a little weird. You can, however, edit the metadata later on (as described above) to replace whatever Calibre puts there if you forget.
You should also click “Page Set-Up” in the left hand column, just to make sure that the Output format is set to the device you plan to be reading the book on. “Kindle” is usually the default, so if you’re not sure, I would pick that or “Generic e-ink”.
Next, click the “Mobi Output” option and decide if you want a Table of Contents and where you want it placed. For some reason, the TOC is automatically added to the end of an e-book with Calibre. I usually set it for either the obvious front of the book or to not add one at all (my quiz books haven’t really required one until recently, and most novels, unless you have fancy subtitles, also don’t really need table of contents).
To finish the conversion process, just click the green “OK” at the bottom of the window.The conversion will take anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or two, depending on the size and complexity of your e-book (i.e., books with lots of pictures).
Once it’s done, double-click on the book’s title/line in the main Calibre window. This will bring up Calibre’s on-board e-book reader, and you can page through to see if there were any problems with the conversion.
Most problems can be fixed with an html tweak here and there. If your e-book looks fine but after a paragraph or two suddenly reads all in italics or bold for the rest of the book, that means there’s a missing tag somewhere, and is usually a very easy fix (just add an </I> or a </B> where needed). Remember: As with anything, the more complex something is, the more chance there is for something to mess up, and e-books (and HTML) are no different.
Right click on your e-book’s entry and choose “Save to Disk>Save Only Mobi Format to Disk” and there you have it! A nice, pristine Mobi copy of your e-book for lending! If you’d prefer an epub copy or some other format, highlight the book and click “Save to Disk>Save Single Format to Disk” and choose the correct one. Easy as cake!
ONE IMPORTANT POINT: Page through your entire mobi file, using your Kindle or Kindle for PC app, to look for any problems BEFORE you send it off to whomever you plan to send it. You might have written the Great American Novel, but if it looks like a preschooler formatted it up for you, don’t expect 5-star reviews. Books with a lot of fancy fonts, poetic formatting, etc., might need to be formatted in a different way (namely, using Kindle Previewer or Sigil), since most of the options in Calibre are all or nothing – you can’t do everything one way, except for that first line of each chapter; all the options are applied throughout the book.
Also remember that there is no DRM in the book you’ve just created, so if you post it anywhere or give it to someone without any scruples, they can in turn give it to anyone (or anyone could download it). But, conversely, this is also an easy way to get your books to reviewers, fans, friends, and other folks in order to get more of those oh-so-precious reviews to bolster your work on Amazon or any of the other sites.
(And, yes, I know I didn’t mention PDFs at all in this article. That’s because I hate PDFs and the fact Adobe is going to a subscription-based financial model for all their useful programs. I don’t use PDFs. I don’t read them. If someone sends me a PDF to review, I’ll convert it, and probably knock off a star or two because the PDF made me hate them as horrid examples of humanity as well. And the options in creating PDFs are so varied and time-consuming that they rarely convert properly anyway without a lot of TLC. The hard-and-fast rule is that Adobe sucks. Just like Disney. Deal with it.)