So you’ve recently written a book. Great! Maybe you’ve published it online as a paperback already, but now you want to get it into the hands of those with eReaders and Kindle devices. Seems straightforward enough, right? 

Well, kinda. 

An eBook isn’t quite as simple as just handing out a PDF version of your book. I mean, you can do this, but it’s not very optimised for reading on a mobile device via the various eBook apps. It’ll require a lot of pinching-and-zooming on smaller screens!

Your eBook Options

If you’re publishing/published via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), once known as CreateSpace, then there is an automatic option for you in your author dashboard. It’ll take your uploaded manuscript and attempt to rework it into a formatted Kindle version. 


Personally, I’ve found this method to be rather hit-and-miss leading to various formatting issues and messy internal code (that makes up the eBook), leading it to get rejected on other eBook publishing websites (I’ll come to these later). Other online publishers offer similar automated methods, and there are even extensions you can get to plug into OpenOffice or MS Word that’ll enable you to export to ePub format.

But there is a way around this using a variety of tools and websites that can help, and using these methods you can create an eBook which will be accepted everywhere and work smoothly on all devices!

As I’ve only had experience with KDP’s automation, I’ll be explaining my methods from that perspective, and the end result will be a working Kindle (MOBI) and ePub formatted eBook.

Step One: Get your Kindle file

The first thing to do will be to upload your manuscript to KDP if you haven’t already. Once Amazon has processed it all, you’ll have the option to download your book as a Kindle preview MOBI file. Doing it this way first will take out the bulk of the work you will need to do in creating a working eBook version of your manuscript.

Amazon KDP dashboard to download a MOBI file
The Kindle eBook preview page in the KDP Dashboard

Step Two: Convert your MOBI file

Once this has downloaded, head over to where you can upload your MOBI file and have it converted into the ePub format. Other online converters are out there, I’ve just found this one to work well.

Step Three: Validate Your ePub File

Now that you have an ePub file, you will need to validate it to make sure there’s no extra bits of code in there or bad formatting which will get your eBook rejected by publishers like iBooks. Many places have very strict guidelines on how an eBook must be formatted for acceptance, which can be frustrating if you don’t know how to fix these.

Now, head on over to…/epub-validator and upload your ePub file. Depending on the file size (and your connection speed) this will take a moment, plus processing time. When it’s complete, you will most likely see the following message with similar errors:

Error messages from a failed ePub file
Error messages from a failed ePub file

This may look daunting, but it’s not as bad as it seems! Now you know exactly what you need to look for to get your eBook in order as the error message tells you which file the error is in (eg: part0002.html) and also it tells you the line and column number in the brackets at the end of the filename with the error. For clarity, that last error in the screenshot above is telling you that in file part0002.html on line 12, the error begins 69 characters across and is something to do with the id attribute.

Step Four: Cleaning Up Your eBook

This is where it can get a bit technical; and this step will be easy or difficult depending on how familiar you are with editing basic HTML code. You might be thinking, ‘aren’t websites made with HTML?’ — and you’d be correct! ePub files are basically very simple, self-contained websites using simple HTML and CSS styling.

If at this point you’ve just zoned out at the mention of strange acronyms and web design, then you really only have two choices from this point on:

  1. Learn to code HTML and CSS. I highly recommend as a way to jump into learning coding for free.
  2. Alternatively, you can pay someone else to do this part for you, which is definitely simpler, but potentially more costly (see note at the end of this article for more info).

I’ll continue with this guide assuming you chose point number one.

To start with, you’re going to need the right tools for the job. I recommend using Sigil eBook editor as it’s free and also really easy to use. You can download the latest version from here for Windows or Mac. There are other ePub editing software available, Sigil is just my personal preference. If you want to check out some other (also free) alternatives to see what feels most comfortable to use, have a look at this list.

Sigil eBook editor interface
Sigil eBook editor interface (Windows version)

I’ll continue this guide using Sigil as my example since it’s what I’m most familiar with. You can see from the screenshot above what the interface looks like: it has all your HTML files in the left column (these are your pages), the centre column is the editor and the right-hand column is your table of contents. As you can see, it’s a fairly straightforward layout, and the editor is much like any other Word-based, rich text interface. But we’ll come back to this later.

For now you need to be in the HTML view, which looks a little bit like this:

Sigil HTML editor view
Sigil HTML editor view

You can access this by pressing one of the buttons on the toolbar along the top which allows you to quickly and easily switch between editor and HTML view.

From here you will need to do a search in all your HTML files for any of the attributes mentioned in the errors from the previous step when validating your ePub file and either modify the offending attribute, or remove it, depending on the error message you got.

This can be a tedious stage, and if you are unfamiliar with HTML, quite a frustrating task. But once you have removed all the formatting errors in the code, you can check it again in the validator and you should hopefully see this message:

eBook formatting success message
eBook formatting success message

Step Five: Check Your eBook Layout

Now that the monotonous stage is behind you, there’s still one aspect of formatting to check: the layout.

Since eBooks flow and scroll on the screen of various devices of various widths, you’ll need to make sure that page breaks from your physical book haven’t transferred across to the ePub file, causing strange gaps in the page flow. You can check all of this in the visual rich-text editor of Sigil to make sure everything looks right.

Sometimes you will want page breaks for chapter pages, even in an eBook. This can be easily accomplished in Sigil by press Ctrl+Return on your keyboard to effectively create a page break by splitting the HTML file in two. The separate HTML pages will act as separate ‘screens’ on the eReader device/app; anything else will scroll until the end. If you make a mistake, you can easily merge the files back together again.

You will also want to make sure all your headings are correctly formatted using the H1-H6 buttons, with H1 being the main title/priority heading, and the rest following on in order of relevance. You can then make use of the Table of Contents generator which will base everything on the headings you set. You can then choose how deep the headers go which are included, and also remove individual headers that may not be relevant to the ToC.

Sigil Table of Contents Generator
Sigil Table of Contents Generator

Step Six: Publishing and Distributing Your eBook

Finally, the part you’ve been waiting for! 

There are multiple avenues to do this, and you can format and submit your ePub for each provider individually if you like, but that means managing multiple dashboards and files across many websites (eg. Google Play Books, iBooks, Nook, B&N, Kobo etc.) which can be a massive headache.

What I would recommend that you do is, and what I have done for my last two books, is use only two distributors: Amazon and Smashwords.

Smashwords is a free service which will distribute your eBook across multiple platforms, and it can be managed all from one dashboard, which is nice. It also lets you create vouchers and do promotions plus a bunch of other handy tools at your disposal.

When you submit your ePub to Smashwords, it will also run it through a validator. All being well, it should pass, though Smashwords has some strict formatting guidelines it follows to make sure your book is as widely distributed as possible. If it flags up any errors, just repeat Step 4 again until it’s right.

Because we’re already using KDP, it makes sense to keep Kindle distribution directly through Amazon as you’ll keep more of the royalties. Smashwords makes their money by taking commission on your sales (as do all publishers). But this is totally up to you how you work this; you can, of course, publish your eBook completely through Smashwords and let them handle the Kindle distribution as well. I only kept my books separate because I was managing the paperback via KDP so it was easier to look after the Kindle version there as well and see combined sales reports for just Amazon in one place. 

If you do distribute this way, make sure you opt-out of Amazon distribution in the Smashwords Channel Manager otherwise there will be a conflict.

One important point to watch out for: when adding your eBook to KDP, Amazon will ask you if you want to enroll in the KDP Select program. The benefits of it will sounds very appealing, but the kicker is that it is exclusive. If you opt-in for KDP Select, then you assign exclusive eBook distribution rights to Amazon and cannot distribute your eBook with anyone else (such as Smashwords). 

Maybe this option will appeal to you and that’s fine, but it’s something to be aware of if you want the widest possible distribution of your book.

Now you just need to upload your ePub file to Smashwords and KDP. Amazon will convert your formatted ePub into a valid MOBI file, and you can then download this file and test it on your Kindle device or app to make sure it’s all working fine and looks right. You should do the same with your ePub in the relevant eReader apps (like iBooks, Play Books etc).

Once your testing is done and you are satisfied with your eBook, all that is left to do is click publish!

What next?

Publishing your book is only half the story (no pun intended!). Now you need to make people aware that your book exists, and that’s where marketing comes in. This is a little out of the scope of this article, so feel free to read my 7 Tips for Marketing your Book on a Budget as well.

If you would like help with formatting your eBook so that it is valid and passes the publishing checks, please get in touch with me and we can work out a fair cost to help you with this.

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