HOW-TO: Turn a document into a ebook (EPUB) for iPad, Kindle, etc. [Video]

UPDATE: Oct 21, 2011:

I have been doing a lot more experimenting with this process lately, and I’m finding a) how you set up your Word document is **extremely** important, even more than I mention in the video, and b) things are working a little differently with the latest versions of the software tools and I’m not getting as satisfactory results as I used to.

First, go through your entire document very carefully, tagging every single element in the whole file. If you want something to look like a header, highlight that line and tag it as a header in Word. Use the hierarchical system they give you in Word to create headings and sub-headings (e.g. chapter heading might be H1, while the main sub-headings are H2 and the topics beneath those sub-headings are H3, etc.). Tag your tables the same way, tag your paragraphs as “normal,” and make sure everything — indents, paragraph spacing, bullets, etc. — is lined up exactly how you want it to look. This should help with some of the issues that are popping up. Issues seem to be a little random, in my experience, so just because something worked ok last time even without all this careful detail doesn’t mean it will the next time. Or so it seems…

Secondly, now Calibre recommends an intermediate step: first save your polished-up Word document as a web page, or in “HTM” or “HTML” format. Then load that .htm file into Calibre and go from there.

I’ll make a new video soon with this much stronger emphasis on the finer details, and on the html conversion step and some important oddities to search for in your html file that will cause you trouble if you don’t “fix” them, first.

Meanwhile, I’ve found an even better process than this one, so I’ll make a new video soon. [Hint: Use Pages instead of Word.]

ORIGINAL POST: September 17, 2010:

So, you’d like to convert that long paper into an ebook so you can read it on your iPad, or Kindle, or other e-reader? And you have a Mac? Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to do this!

First, the video:

(Click here for a mobile-friendly version here if the YouTube feed below won’t play:

Next, the written summary:

The following is the bare-bones, paint-by-numbers version of the information presented in the video shared in this post. The video goes into a lot more detail, such as showing the viewer around inside Calibre in addition to the specific steps involved in importing and converting a document. Hopefully one of these formats is helpful to you, if not both!

How to turn a document into an ebook (EPUB) so you can read it on your e-reader [Mac only]:

  1. Download Calibre from and shoot the developer a little cash for his efforts.
  2. Open Calibre, click on “Add books,” and select a document file to import (example in video is a PDF file created from a Word file).
  3. Edit the “metadata” for your soon-to-be ebook by right-clicking on the title, selecting “Edit metadata,” and then filling in the blanks so that the title, names, dates, etc. all make sense to you.
  4. Click on “Convert books,” and choose the original format (top left corner, e.g. PDF) and ending format (top right corner, e.g. EPUB), and then click “OK” (bottom right corner).
  5. When your conversion is done, your title will show that it is now available in both formats (right sidebar).
  6. Load it onto your e-readerby either:
    • Plugging in your e-reader and then clicking “Send to device” in the toolbar or by right-clicking on the title, or
    • Highlight book title and then click “Path to open” (right sidebar), then drag the whole folder (not just the file entitled something like “mybook.epub”) onto your iTunes window, then use iTunes to add it to your device.

Note: If you have extra information in your document, such as headers, footers, comments, and so on, all of that content will import directly into your ebook in a way that may not be completely satisfactory to you. If you don’t want this, especially since the EPUB conversion looks after page numbers for you already, make sure you delete this material from your original document before you make the conversion.

Note 2: You probably won’t have great results if you try to follow these steps with a scanned-to-PDF document. Give it a shot, sometimes it works out fine, but oftentimes it winds up looking pretty junky. I haven’t experimented with this idea yet, but it may be that using an OCR program to convert the scanned PDF to a text format before then converting it to EPUB might solve this problem? I wonder… Have you tried this out before, and how did it work out for you?

Please add any of your questions and additional suggestions to the comments, below. Do you have a different program you like better, for instance? (I’d love to try it out, too!)

If you like this information, please Tweet it, Facebook it, Digg it, or whatever you normally do. (That would be awesome!)


Photo credit for photo image within full poster image: Yutaka Tsutano

Full poster image: Erin Anne Beirne

About Erin Anne

I use storytelling and "content marketing" to promote my clients' work. I develop and implement communications strategies using all the on- and offline tools and media at our disposal, publish books and ebooks and market them internationally, or even just simply create a new website and teach the client how to run it. If you have something interesting to say, a valuable service to offer, or an important cause to promote, I'd love to work with you, too!


  1. Will you be making “Message in the Meal” available to read or download?

  2. Hi Jennifer (whatever happened to my reply? did I dream I wrote you back?) 🙁

    The trick with your chapter headings, etc., is to choose the size, colour, font, etc., you want all your headings of that type to be (e.g. all your chapter headings in Arial 14pt in crimson red), then select one of those headings, tag it using the format tag tool in Word, and save that style so that every time you tag another heading as an H1 heading (or H2 if you have “parts” or “sections” that you then divide into chapters, like Edward Rutherford’s novels all seem to have) it automatically formats in that way.

    Then go through your whole file and do the same thing with the first level of sub-headings inside each chapter, only maybe make those headings a little smaller and maybe a little more different, say Arial 12 px in a softer red, then save that setting for your H2 headings (or H3 as noted above). Go through your whole document and tag every first-level heading inside each chapter with this same tag and they should all automatically format to the same Arial 12 px in softer red style that you saved.

    And so on. Tag your whole document this way — whether it is a table (tag it as a table), a bullet list (tag it as such), a number list (ditto), a regular paragraph…

    You need to spend the time telling the software exactly what each piece of your document is and how you want it formatted, or the conversion process will get confused about what you want and give you funny results.

    I’m planning to do a new video soon. After doing quite a bit more work with this process since making this old video, I’ve learned a few things more that I would like to share to make this easier for you to follow with better success.

    I’d better get it done soon!


  3. Jennifer says

    I’m confused on some things though such as making chapters. and How would I exactly change font sizes on let’s say the chapter name at the top of a page

  4. Is that you working place on the photo?
    It’d be interesting to view the full image 🙂

    One more way to convert to epub

Speak Your Mind