Converting Word to ePub

Posted by Dr. Burton on January 23, 2012 in Android, iPad, Kindle Fire, Mobile |

I was faced with a challenge:

As you may have noticed from other posts on this site, I have written a few books.  When writing, I generally use Microsoft Word.  I’ve been using it since Word V.6 when I changed from WordPerfect.  I have taught how to use Word at the colleges and high schools.  In other words (sorry), I know how to use Word.

So when writing my books, it was a natural choice to go with Word.  I have it on both my PC and Mac laptop.  By using DropBox, I could continue working on the book no matter where I was at (beyond a few minor differences between the Mac and Windows versions of Word).

Saving the book to PDF for distribution was easy in Word.  I did find that making the PDF on the Windows version of Word (2010) resulted in a smaller PDF file size than the performing the exact same function on the Mac version of Word (2011).

An important thing that I was reminded of in the process of writing the book is that if you use headings properly, the Table of Contents tool does a great job and is essential for converting to ePub & mobi.

But then I want/need to be able to publish the finished document as ePub and mobi. Microsoft really dropped the ball.  There isn’t any capability to do either!  (BAD Microsoft! Very Bad!  Almost as bad as the time you told me a piece of software didn’t exist that I was holding in my hand that had your name on it).

Just so you know what I’m trying to do, here are the specs of my book:

Over 400 pages
Internal Links from index to the chapter and chapter subheadings using the table of contents tool.
Complex formatting with multiple fonts and margins
Lots of images including Jpegs, PNG and images made with the line tools.

My expectations are that the conversion process should be easy. It shouldn’t take me more than 1 hour to learn, setup, import and have a finished ePub and mobi document.  Am I asking for too much?

In PDF it looks great.  All the links work, images are in the right location, handles the pages and formatting without any problem.  Looks great, but my audience wants it in ePub and mobi for their eReaders, and I want to keep my audience happy!

Here are my experiences (in no particular order) of trying to get my book converted to ePub and mobi:

Nope no ability, just like Word.. moving on!

Aspose Word Express Word to ePub Converter: Free
This was a pain to download, requiring registration and hopes to jump through, but I have been really impressed with what a great job it does converting the word file into ePub.  Sadly, it doesn’t do mobi.

Calibre – Donation
While Calibre does not convert from word to epub, it does convert epub into a host of other formats.  Fairly easy to use.

WonderShare MePup – watermarked free trial
Easy to use conversion from Word to ePub.  However, it did not handle the table of contents correctly.  Everything was listed as being in chapter 1.

Aiseesoft PDF to ePub Converter: Free trial version
The trial version will only convert the first 10 pages.  But in that 10 pages I was able to see that it creates a table of contents for each page of the document, not based upon my internal table of contents (which would be surprising considering that it is converting it from PDF). 

Apple iBooks Author – Free (Mac only)
I thought I would give it a shot since it was free from Apple.  It did an adequate job of importing from Word.  The Table of Contents were not handled correctly, and it would take at least a day or two to get the book looking nice.  The real problem that I have with it is that the output file it is proprietary to the iTunes iBookStore.  The final file size was nearly twice the size as the original word document, without using any of the special Apple-only ePub tags.

Apple Pages ($19.99 Mac only)
Pages did a nice job of pulling in the Word document.  I did have to go in and fiddle with some settings and internal links, but in the end, the ePub document was 1/3 smaller than the version created with Aspose and performed MUCH better on my iPad. 

Adobe inDesign CS 5.5$$$
First, inDesign is NOT intuitive!  I know it is the publishing industry standard and has all the bells and whistles.  I have spent hours trying to get my document to properly import into inDesign.  I have no doubt that should I actually get it imported, it would output it the way I want.. but I don’t have hours and hours to become an expert in this piece of software.  The Word import doesn’t work the way one would expect.  I must say, Adobe, WTF?  What happened to creating software that people can use, instead of software that doesn’t work?  Complete waste of money (yes, I bought it).

Amazon Kindle Conversion – Free (kind of)
This surprised me.  When I was posting my eBook to Amazon to sell it on the Kindle (mobi) , they asked for a Word DOC file (not DOCX).  I uploaded it, and after going back and making a few tweaks to the file, it was finished. I was able to download the converted file, view it in a Kindle previewer (supplied by Amazon) to make sure everything looked correctly.  In less than 30 minutes I had two books converted and ready to be sold on Amazon.  Of course, Amazon does take a healthy cut of the sale  (30% to 65%), but that is the percentage which they would take even if I did all the conversion work.  Nicely done Amazon!


After spending weeks working though each of these programs in my spare time, I have decided that I will be using a combination of products:

  • Originally, I was using Aspose Word to ePub Express. But I was having very slow response from the final document on the iPad and it was HUGE.  So I switched to Apple Pages.  The final document was 30% smaller and performed much better on the iPad.  I have now switched to Pages.
  • For my Amazon Kindle/mobi version I will use Amazon’s built-in conversion system for Word DOC files.  It was easy and fast.
  • For the mobi version that I will provide on my site, I will use Calibre E-book Maker.  Again, fairly easy to use and straight forward in its design. I use the ePub created with Pages to convert the book into any of the other formats that I might need.
  • Finally, I will probably spend some time using iBook Author by Apple to get the book into the iTunes store.  This will be the LAST step in the publishing process, as it will take some significant time to get it formatted and looking the way I want.

I have updated the ePub version of “Mobile App Development with Corona” to address performance issues.  The new version is now available!

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  • John says:

    OpenOffice-LibreOffice is working with “writer2epub” extension.

  • Libby says:

    I thought the iauthor format could only be read on the ipad? And that for the ibookstore you used the epub format?

  • Dr. Burton says:

    You are correct. Currently iAuthor is only readable on an Apple device, and it is sold through the iBookstore.

  • suhird says:

    I want to work of Epub conversion.



  • Techguy says:

    Is it a formatting error when you are reading an e-book, and you come across some strange characters or numbers, or is something elso going on?

  • Dr. Burton says:

    It is usually caused by the original text being written in a font or containing formatting information that does not translate into the default fonts/formatting on the device.

  • Charles Brewer says:

    With respect to iBook Author and publishing on iBookstore, it’s my understanding that you have to agree to sell only on iBookstore. (That’s from tutorials I listed to on YouTube.) Is that correct?

  • Dr. Burton says:

    My understanding of the legalise is that you are obligated to sell it on the iBookstore, but it wasn’t exclusive (at least the last version I read, it is updated regularly and may have changed). I’m not a lawyer, so I recommend reading the agreement or speaking with a lawyer.

  • Jeff says:

    A hearty thank you for documenting and sharing your experience. As college textbook costs spiral out of control I wrote my own for use by 1,000 students a year. These tips will save me a great deal of time and enable me to spend my precious time with the wife – coincidentally I brought the Macbook home from the office and can get started tonight with using Pages…. after she is done with me.

  • Dr. Burton says:

    Pages is far from perfect (I’m currently trying to get a document that looks great in Word over into Pages so that I can convert it to ePub). But it is the best solution at a reasonable price that I’ve found. Please share if you find a better solution!

  • Ferramenta | Annotary says:

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  • Bob Pish says:

    I have used Calibre and another docx to epub converter and each gave me the same problem that I cannot find an answer to.

    I have all the footnotes at the end of the book since the converters put them there if I did not. But then after conversion by Calibre and others, the epub version puts each footnote on a separate page. The jumps from the text to the footnotes and back work but it is an annoying [at least to me] feature since I have seen other epub books where the footnotes flow down the page at the end.

    The most annoying thing is that I have been unable to find any discussion of footnote handling anywhere.

    Any help would be appreciated

  • Dr. Burton says:

    I wish I had an answer Bob. I used APA style documentation so I haven’t run into this problem. If I find a solution, I will post it here.

  • Hank says:

    Hi Doc,

    Thanks for your post, I thought it was quite a helpful comparison. I’m currently testing Aspose Words Express v1.1.0 . From the produced .epub one can easily convert to a .mobi using Calibre. It handles TOC, in-document links, different fonts, formats, and sizes very well. Footnotes and endnotes are problematic though. For example if one has both footnotes and endnotes in a Word document, aspose converts them both to endnotes that go at the very end of the document (without respect to defined sections and section breaks in the Word document). I think Bob Pish’s problem above would get solved with Aspose’s conversion. If one does not want to register on their website there’s a quick download link here: http://rghost.net/50354786

    I think aspose is an acceptable comprise to just get the basic book “out there” as a epub or mobi format, and then for everything else there’s the nicely and correct formatted PDF produced from Word using Adobe Acrobat PDF Creator plugin.

    I also agree with your statement “When writing, I generally use Microsoft Word. I’ve been using it since Word V.6 when I changed from WordPerfect. I have taught how to use Word at the colleges and high schools. In other words (sorry), I know how to use Word. So when writing my books, it was a natural choice to go with Word.” lol, I also prefer Word, I feel ‘at home’ with Word and am able to do most things that I would like to. It’s really lame of Microsoft to not include File > Save As > .epub and .mobi That would have been the handiest feature and probably would have produced good (enough) results.

    I have heard of people switching to Scrivener; Scrivener can natively compile and export to .pdf .epub .mobi .doc .ps .html and others, it has rave reviews on many writing and self-publishing websites: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php for novel writers it’s pretty much an all-in-one tool but perhaps for non-fiction books or academic works it doesn’t hold up so well for advanced content and formatting. I’m planning to test it out.

    InDesign is without the doubt the most powerful and advanced tool if one knows how to use it, but for an average Joe like me it’s too difficult to use. As you mentioned, it’s the industry standard of nearly all major publishing houses worldwide (Wiley, Blackwell, Thomson, Springer, Sage, Oxford etc.) however it requires time and effort to learn, time that I don’t have and effort that should be spent actually writing. I agree with your opinion on it. Some people even do their writing in InDesign! http://www.bergsland.org/writing-in-indesign/
    It’s also a massive system resources hog and does not run well on old computers (very slow to load and crashes a lot).

  • Gabriele Poole says:

    it is rather easy actually to convert word docs into epubs. Just save them as filtered htm. Table of contents with links, internatl links will work, endnote links will all work. Before that: Images must have certain characteristics (I forget but it’s easy to find discover what they should be). All footnotes must be converted into endnotes (since ebooks can rescale characters the ‘pages’ change hence footnotes don’t make much sense). Once you’ve done this if you exchange the extension from .htm to .mobi your Kindle will read them and I imagine the same goes for Ebook readers with their extension. To be on the safe side, load your htm file into Caliber and convert it to the format you want.

  • Jim Burnside says:

    I think I’ll give up now! Why don’t major publishers offer a conversion service, after all they are the ones making the profits out of writers meeting higher industry standards for mobile use. Not only have Microsoft let us down but also Adobe. Acrobat, InDesign and DigitalEditions do not seem to integrate in a reasonable manner. Doc’s observations about the annoyingly cumbersome use of InDesign strike a chord with me. I have spent the last three days sailing in circles, having manually uploaded my 484 page novel only to find the active TOC that worked fine in Word and Acobat does not transfer to epub.

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