Featured image of The White Musketeer Kindle ebook cover

How to Export Your Microsoft Word Book for e-Books (for non-geeks!)

This article is copyrighted (c) to Christina Roberts. All rights reserved.

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Need to export your book from Microsoft Word to a format your e-reader can load? Don’t know how? I’ll show you how in a simple, non-technical way.

This article is written for people who

  1. aren’t technical,
  2. aren’t familiar with e-books,
  3. have never (or very little) edited or converted documents for e-readers, and
  4. don’t know HTML code.

Note: I use the term “e-reader” in this article to refer to e-reader devices and the plethora of e-book apps out there.

When you write a book in Microsoft Word (or another document-editing program), you need to convert it to a format that can be loaded into your e-reader. You can’t simply save it as a .docx and paste it into your e-reader. E-readers can’t understand all that technical under-the-hood formatting that comes with Word documents. What do you do?

First, A Notice about Converting from Word Straight to e-readers

When you convert from Word right to your e-reader, your book is going to suffer formatting problems. You don’t want to convert this way and pass it out to people. This is because Microsoft Word inserts all sorts of junk under-the-hood code in your documents. We don’t see it, but the programs that convert from Word to an e-book format do. They aren’t able to fully convert the file in a clean manner to fix all the junk code. However, you will be able to read the book fairly easily and take advantage of the tools in your e-reader, like text size, font style, spacing, etc. You can’t do that with a PDF.

If you intend to share your book and want it to look good, or intend to sell it, you will have to reformat the book yourself for e-readers. The best way to do that is by removing all the formatting from Word so your file is pretty much plain text and then “rebuilding” the formatting in an e-book editing program like Sigil. Not to mention your book won’t pass validation testsĀ  for distribution.

Don’t be intimidated! You won’t have to know much (or any) code to make a clean, beautiful, valid e-book. However, for this article, I’m not discussing the formatting process or code. I’ll soon have a separate article all about that manual formatting stuff, so stay tuned and subscribe!

The Top Popular e-book File Formats

There’s dozens of e-book file formats, but only 4 top primary formats that most e-readers can understand:

  1. PDF: People save documents off in this format when they don’t know how to export to a “real” e-reader format. This is the easiest method, but the most problematic. Your PDF text may look very small on your e-reader and be hard to read.
  2. MOBI: This is a common e-book file format that Amazon’s Kindle and many other e-readers can load. Nook cannot load this format.
  3. AZW/AZW3: This is Amazon Kindle’s native e-book file format. Nook and many other e-readers can’t read this format.
  4. EPUB: This is the most widely-supported e-book format. Kobo, Nook, and many other e-book proper devices, plus many smart phones and tablets, can read it. This is an excellent “catch all, universal” e-book format. Kindle cannot read this format, unfortunately.

I suggest exporting your book to the EPUB or MOBI file format to cover your bases. I most typically export to MOBI, as I have a Kindle Paperwhite.

Two Free Software Programs for Exporting Your Book to your e-reader

There’s two useful free software programs you can get to export your documents for e-readers: Calibre and Sigil.

  • Calibre: Mostly used to export from a file format to another. It has tools to let you choose an e-book cover, put in book meta data, and specify some other useful things. Calibre does have an e-book editing tool, but it has no visual view. You’d have to edit your book looking only at code. That won’t work for non-geeks. You really only need Calibre if you have no intention to edit and fix anything before you export.
  • Sigil: This is one of the most popular tools to re-format your book so it’s properly valid for e-readers. If you just want to export your book for yourself, you technically can bypass Sigil. Otherwise, for comprehensive validation and re-formatting for e-book, you need Sigil.

Get Your Book Exported And On Your e-Reader

For now, I’m only using Calibre, because I only want to export from Word to my e-reader directly.

  1. Download and load Calibre. To load a book for conversion, drag-and-drop the document right into the Calibre screen (The Library). When your book shows up, right-click on it and select “Convert Books > Convert Individually”. This just means “convert one book at a time, not a bunch at once.”
  2. The convert screen comes up. Here, you have an opportunity to fix or specify meta data. My meta data was set wrong, so I fixed it. Calibre tries to pre-fill the data for you, but it’s often erroneous. You can also set your desired export format (I stayed with EPUB), and browse to specify a cover photo for your e-book.
  3. When you’re satisfied, click on the green OK check mark button on the bottom right. Calibre will re-load The Library and take a few minutes (depending on the size of your document) to convert the book. The bottom right jobs spinner lets you know when the export job is done.
  4. When your book is ready to go, you can right-click on it and specify “Send to Device”. Make sure your e-reader is plugged into your computer before you specify this option, or it won’t be available. You can also right-click and “Save to Disk” to move the e-book file somewhere more convenient on your computer; or, right-click and select “Open Containing Folder” to go to where Calibre saved your exported e-book file. I opened the source folder.
  5. Plug up your device, if it’s not already interfaced. Go to your book’s source export folder and copy the e-book file. For me, that’s the .mobi file, since I have a Kindle Paperwhite.
  6. Open your e-reader’s folder and go to where it stores its e-books. For me, that’s Kindle > documents. Simply paste the e-book into that folder.
  7. Disconnect your e-reader, restart or open it, and look for your book. Your book will show up if you loaded it correctly.

That’s all there is to it! Your specific steps to load the book into your e-reader may vary based on the device.

Conclusion

To export your Word book off for your e-reader, you really only need Calibre. It’s not a difficult process at all! However, skipping the e-book formatting step is only acceptable if you’re saving the book off for yourself. When skipping the formatting step, your e-book will most likely suffer from many issues, such as an incomplete table of contents, lists showing up in weird places, odd paragraph breaks, hanging letters, or incorrect meta data.

If you want to sell the book anywhere, or even share it with just a few people, you should format the book from scratch in a program like Sigil. As formatting for e-book is quite a bit of it’s own topic, I’ll soon have a “formatting your e-book for non-geeks” blog post. Subscribe and stay tuned!

For your diversion, here’s how The White Musketeer turned out with a direct Word-to-Kindle conversion:

Kindle Paperwhite - The White Musketeer broken, incomplete Table of Contents
Chapter 1 of The White Musketeer suffering from an incomplete Table of Contents. This book was exported from Word to MOBI with no format checks.
Kindle Paperwhite - The White Musketeer chapter one paragraphs in ordered lists
Chapter 1 of The White Musketeer suffering from paragraphs loaded in ordered lists. This book was exported from Word to MOBI with no format checks.
Kindle Paperwhite - The White Musketeer chapter one list highlight misformatting
Chapter 1 of The White Musketeer suffering from highlighted text when I didn’t specify any highlighting. This book was exported from Word to MOBI with no format checks.
Kindle Paperwhite - The White Musketeer chapter 2 misformatting
Chapter 1 of The White Musketeer suffering from a broken ‘M’ drop cap and a numbered list ‘Chapter One’. This book was exported from Word to MOBI with no format checks.

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