Format an Ebook with Sigil

Sigil logo

by C. K. MacLeod


Updated July 24, 2016: Sigil's newest version has a different interface from the one you'll see in this post. While Sigil is a great tool for the right price, I've begun to use Jutoh instead. Jutoh is better supported, and it allows me to create epubs and mobis.

It's possible to build an ebook that's straight fiction with a tool that many writers already have: Microsoft Word. But for more complex books with headings, endnotes, pictures, and other advanced style features, there's a better way.


Sigil is a free, open-source epub editor that allows you to create an epub file that you can upload to most distributors (all but Amazon, actually). It's surprisingly easy to use and if you're at all interested in having more control over how your ebook looks, Sigil allows you to do a bit of tweaking under the hood.

Here's how to get your book from Word into Sigil:

Quick Steps

  1. Open your book in Word (I use Word 2010). Go to File, Save As, and save your file as Plain Text (.txt). Select "Other coding" and choose UTF-8 encoding (you'll need to scroll down in the menu), Click OK.
  2. Now that you've saved your document in a form that Sigil can read, copy and paste it from Word into the middle window in Sigil's Book View.

You'll find more information about how to begin with Sigil at the Beyond Paper blog.

Use Cross-Eyes to Prevent Ebook Formatting Problems

Use CrossEyes to Prevent Ebook Formatting Problems, by C.K. MacLeod

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated. Originally posted at Beyond Paper Editing.

Hidden formatting in a Word document can cause trouble in the ebook conversion process. In Word, what you see is not always what you get. This video will show you how to use CrossEyes—a format revealer—to reveal hidden formatting in a Word document.

Have you ever worked with WordPerfect? If you have, CrossEyes works just like WordPerfect’s Reveal Codes feature. It's a free Microsoft Word add-in for Windows, and you can get it at Levit & James, Inc. Once you download CrossEyes, you’ll find it under the Add-Ins tab in the Custom Toolbars area in Word.

Note: CrossEyes doesn't work in Mac versions of Word (sorry!) or Word 2013.

Formatting Codes

If you’re not familiar with formatting "codes," CrossEyes will seem a little foreign to you at first. But with some practice, you can become adept at reading the formatting codes and deleting the ones you don’t want. It helps that the codes are featured in bright colours and colour-coded according to type.

CrossEyes window; codes are in colour (Click to enlarge)

A quick peek in the CrossEyes window tells you that in the first line of the document paragraph, the author introduced a different font to the document. The font is similar to Times New Roman used elsewhere in the document, but with an unpracticed eye, or without the help of CrossEyes, it can be easy to miss. CrossEyes exposes the font so you can delete it.

How to Delete or Change a Style

To change a style in CrossEyes, double-click on a coloured formatting code in the CrossEyes window, and hit the Enter key to select a new style. A Styles dialog will pop up, allowing you to choose another style option. You can also hit the Backspace key to delete a code, which will then delete the applied style.

CrossEyes Styles dialog box

CrossEyes can also help you to see formatting that you can’t see, but that can cause problems for ebook conversion later on. If you click on the white space in a document, you’ll discover if different fonts are lurking, or if "illegal" ebook spacing (tabs and extra paragraph spaces) have been applied. You'll want to remove unwanted formatting so that it doesn’t alter text in undesirable ways on an e-reader.

If you have a Word document that behaves in strange ways on an e-reader, or an ebook that's getting error messages after you upload it to a distributor, such as Amazon or Smashwords, CrossEyes will help you to see what’s going on.

Image by Charline Tetiyevsky

How to Find the Hidden Formatting That Will Mess Up Your Ebook

by C.K. MacLeod

Remember the days of the typewriter? Authors of a certain vintage are nodding their heads. If you began your writing career on a typewriter, (and even if you didn't) you might be guilty of "typewriter" formatting. (Editors everywhere are now nodding their heads.)

"Illegal" typewriter formatting can create unpredictable results in the ebook conversion process. This two-minute video will show you how to use Pilcrow, or the Show/Hide feature in Microsoft Word, to find instances of typewriter formatting in a Word document.

And what do you do when you find typewriter formatting in your Microsoft Word manuscript? You blast it away using Microsoft Word's Find & Replace codes listed in Advanced Find and Replace for Microsoft Word, by Jack Lyon. Or, if you're looking for a method that's more efficient, try the Microsoft Word add-in, Editor's Toolkit Plus.

Image by rahego 

This article was originally posted at the Beyond Paper Editing blog.

Kindle Textbook Creator in 6 Steps

Create New Textbook from File by C.K. MacLeod

Amazon recently released the Kindle Textbook Creator as a way of making textbooks with complex layouts available on the iPad, Kindle and Android tablets. If you’ve had to create an ebook with design features, such as tables, diagrams and sidebars, you’ll appreciate how easy this tool is to use.

Textbook Creator Quick Steps

1. Download the Kindle Textbook Creator to your computer.

2. Click Create New Textbook from File.

Create New Textbook from File
Create a new textbook from a PDF file

3. Find your book file on your computer and click Open. Your book will appear in the middle pane of the Kindle Textbook Creator.

Textbook Creator middle pane
Your book will appear in the middle pane

4. Page through your book using the thumbnails on the left. If you encounter any blank pages, you can remove them by selecting them and pressing the Delete key, or by going to the Edit menu and clicking on Delete Pages. You can insert blank pages as well.

Textbook Creator delete pages
Delete blank pages


Package for Publishing
Package for Publishing


5. When you’re satisfied with how your book looks, Click File, Package for Publishing. You can also convert your file by clicking on the Package link in the right pane or on the package icon in the top right.

Notice how Amazon has laid out the publishing steps for you in the right pane.

Your book with be saved with a .kpf extension. This is the file that you will upload to Kindle Direct Publishing




6. Preview your book file by clicking on the Preview icon in the top right. You can preview your book on a variety of devices, which are listed in the pull-down menu.

Text Creator Preview

And that’s it! You’re ready to upload your .kpf file to Amazon.

Note: You can’t design your book in the Kindle Textbook Creator — you’ll need to create your design and layout with design software like Adobe InDesign or Page Plus, and then save it as a PDF. The Text Creator will then convert that file to Amazon’s .kpf file format.

Reader Experience

At the time of writing, my .kfp file is being held up in the review process. It’s early days for the Textbook Creator (it's a beta release), so I suspect Amazon is checking these files carefully for any problems. I cannot comment on the reader experience yet, but according to Amazon specs, readers will have options to highlight text, take notes, look up words in a dictionary and create flash cards.

3 Essential Tools for Publishing

By C. K. MacLeod Number three

Self-publishing authors are doing everything that traditional publishers once did: writing, editing, and designing and formatting books. These tasks require authors to be more tech aware than ever before.

Tech tools can help with tasks once handled by traditional publishers. Below, I'll share with you the three tech tools that I use for my self-publishing workflow.

Criteria for Choosing Tools

These are my criteria for choosing the tools I'll use...

A tool must

  • have the right features for the task
  • make a task more efficient
  • be inexpensive, from a cost-per-use standpoint
  • not take too much time to learn (there is only so much time for steep learning curves when you're a jack-of-all-trades)
  • have adequate support in the way of tutorials, videos, guides, forums, or someone to answer questions, if necessary

The tools I describe below meet all of these criteria.

Sure, it'd be wonderful if one tool could do it all, but I haven't found that tool (let me know if you have). No tool is designed to do everything, and using some tools for editing, for example, is akin to using a spoon to dig a hole to plant a tree. The smartest thing you can do is choose the best tool for the job.

These three tools are the best tools for the jobs I do...


For writing book-length works, I haven't found a tool that beats Scrivener. Scrivener shines in the way it allows writers to arrange and manipulate sections of a book. If you're a plotter, panster or tweener, you can begin writing your book from the beginning or middle because you can arrange your book's sections with ease later.

Scrivener will let you store your book alongside research notes and pictures, and it has nifty colour coded labels that can help you to indicate your progress on a section of writing. You can also set word count targets, which can help you reach your daily or weekly writing goals.

Scrivener Labels
Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener

This handy Scrivener cheat sheet will get you started.

While Scrivener has track changes and comments features, it isn't my favourite tool for editing my writing. As a professional editor, I know that there are ways to automate editing tasks, which helps with efficiency, but more importantly, helps me to catch errors I'd otherwise miss.

Microsoft Word / WPS Writer

My tool of choice for automated editing tasks is Microsoft Word. Most professional editors use Word for editing, and with good reason. If Word isn't in your budget, try WPS Writer(part of the WPS Office suite). The free version mirrors many of Word's powerful features. Upgrading to the Pro version ($60) will allow you to run macros—tiny programs that automate hours-long editing tasks with a few clicks. If you can cut and paste, you can learn to use a macro. This free 20-Minute Macro Course will teach you how.

For the record: while I do everything to make my writing as polished as it can be, I know that I'm not the best person to copyedit my own writing. I have my editor do that. If you hire a copyeditor, your copyeditor will most likely work in Word (and if she doesn't, and she charges by the hour, you may pay more for editing than you should).


After the editing stage, you'll likely format your book for e-reading devices. Word is notoriously finicky for formatting ebooks, and Scrivener creates ebook files with unsightly gaps between words. So, while you can format ebooks with Scrivener or Word, they aren't the best tools for the job.

To format ebooks, I prefer Jutoh for a more reliable outcome. You can export an edited Word document into Jutoh easily, and if you've had the foresight to style your paragraphs and headings in Word, those styles will transfer, too. Jutoh will then create an epub or a mobi.

Having the right tools for the right tasks will help you produce better books, faster. While the tools I recommend aren't the only tools to get the job done, they are the best tools I've found to date.

Image by Hubert Figuière

Creating and Checking Your EPUB in Sigil

by C.K. MacLeod

This is the third post in a series on using Sigil, a free epub editor that will allow you to build epubs for Apple iBooks, Lulu, Smashwords, and Kobo.

In previous posts, I explained how to get your ebook from Word to Sigil, and from there, how to style your ebook so it looks and operates like you want it to. In this post, I'll show you how to create an epub and do a quality check so that you end up with an ebook that looks great!

How to Create an Epub

  1. Add your metadata.

In Sigil's Book View, click on the Metadata button on the toolbar:

Sigil's Metadata button in yellow

A box like this will pop up:

Metadata helps readers find your book

Fill out your book's metadata. Metadata is information that search engines will use to help readers find your ebook, so it's important that you fill it out. You can also click on the Add Basic button to include more details about your book, such as the date of publication.

2. Convert your book to an epub.

Simply go to File, Save as and save your book. Sigil will automatically convert it to an epub with a .epub extension. That was easy wasn't it?

How to Check Your Epub

1. Click on the Validate EPUB With Flightcrew button to check if your EPUB is working properly:

Sigil's epub validate button

If all goes well, you'll get a message that looks like this:

This is what you're hoping for!

If your epub doesn't pass Sigil's EPUB validator, you'll get messages that look like this:

Errors show up in red

Don't despair. In a future post, I'll address how to handle these error messages so that you can create an epub that looks and works great!

2. Do one more epub check.

If an epub passes Sigil's validation process, I like to run it through IDPF's EPUB validator. If your file passes this final test, you're ready to upload your epub to a platform that will accept it.

Originally posted on the Beyond Paper Editing blog. Revised and updated.

8 Steps to Styling Your Ebook in Sigil

by C.K. MacLeod

In today's post, I'll discuss how to style your ebook in Sigil.

Many of the steps in this post are based on Paul Salvette's excellent tutorial, How to Make an Ebook with Sigil. I've broken down the steps further and provided more screen shots in those areas where I think it's easy to get stuck. I've also suggested some "how-tos" and "why-tos."

If you followed the instructions in this post, you will have pasted your ebook into Sigil's editing window. It will look something like this:

My ebook in Sigil

To review, Sigil has two "views"— the Book View and the Code View. We'll concern ourselves mostly with the Book View for now.

Book View (red arrow) and Code View (highlighted in yellow)

Styling Your Ebook in Sigil

The toolbar in Sigil has all the features you need to style your ebook. Follow the steps below to style your ebook.

1. Align your text.
Check your ebook distributor's guidelines for how their conversion software handles text alignment. Generally, it's a good idea to left-justify your text (also called ragged right).
Left-justify your text
2. Style your paragraphs using the Paragraph button.
This sets your paragraphs to "normal style" in the same way that you would set your paragraphs to Normal using the Word Styles menu in Word 2010 (if you don't use Word Styles, it's a great habit to get into for the purposes of ebook building). Again, if you already styled your paragraphs to Normal in Word, you can skip this step.
Use the Paragraph button to style paragraphs

3. Style your headings.
This step is important because Sigil will use your styled headings to generate an external table of contents (NCX) that readers can use to navigate your ebook. Style a heading by selecting it, or clicking in the middle of it and then clicking on one of the heading buttons:

I used the h2 button to style this level 2 heading

If you already styled your headings in Word, you can skip this step. I've noticed that heading styles are retained when you convert your Word .docx file to a plain text file.

Note: Style your chapters headings as H1s.

4. Break up your book into chapters.
Up until now, your file is just one continuous stream of text in Sigil. You want your book to be divided into chapters. Place the cursor where you want to split your book and click on the Split at Cursor button:

Split at Cursor button

Look what happens:

From one file to many

Don't worry, your split parts haven't disappearedeach chapter has become a new file. Note the highlighted parts in the screen capture above. You can rename these .xhtml files to meaningful chapter titles, by right-clicking on them and selecting Rename.

To access your chapters at any time, double click on the the files in left menu bar, or on the tabs at the top of the middle window.

Tip: If you've styled your chapter headings as HIs, you're in luck. In the course Creating Ebooks for the Kindle, Tony Harmer explains that you can search for H1 headings quickly in Code View, using Sigil's search function (Ctrl + F). This makes splitting your books into chapters a quick task.

5. Style any lists using the Bullets or Numbering button.
This will ensure that your lists are lined up neatly on the left. If you've styled your lists in your original Word file, using the Bullets and Numbering buttons on Word's ribbon, check to see whether that transferred to Sigil.
6. Insert hyperlinks.
If your ebook contained hyperlinks in Word, they may have transferred intact to Sigil. If they haven't, select the URL and insert a hyperlink using the Insert Link button on Sigil's tool bar.
Insert link button

7. Insert any images using the Insert File button.
Inserting images is a separate set of considerations and deserves a post of its own. For now, consult your distributor's formatting manual for image size and quality guidelines.

8. Create a table of contents (TOC).
Open up the TOC pane by going to View,Table of Contents, if you don't have this pane open already. Click on the Generate Table of Contents button:
A menu will pop up:
All headings are selected by default
Decide which headings you'd like to include in your TOC and click OK.
Your file now looks something like this:
Sigil's TOC pane with your new TOC
You can use your newly created TOC to navigate your Sigil document. Click on a TOC entry and give it a try.
Congratulations! You've now successfully styled your ebook in Sigil. In a future post, I'll show you how to check the quality of your EPUB and troubleshoot problems using Sigil's Code View. Don't worry: it's not as difficult as you think!
Revised and updated. Originally posted at

How to Create an Ebook With Sigil

by C.K. MacLeod

Ebook distributors make it possible for authors to upload a Microsoft Word document for publishing an ebook. Because many authors use Microsoft Word, this is an attractive option. If your ebook is mostly text and you've done a good job of cleaning it up in Word, the end result can be quite acceptable.

Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes, though, a distributor's conversion software doesn't do what you expect. For example, the Lulu and Kindle converters tend to indent paragraphs, even if you've applied block paragraph styling in Word (block paragraphs are generally the preferred style for nonfiction books).

While there is a way to trick the conversion software's annoying tendency to indent automatically, the results aren't always pleasing. Similar quirks occur in Scrivener, as well.

Block-style paragraph styling in Word
Paragraph styling is indented after it's converted by Lulu conversion software

Enter Sigil. Sigil is a free, open source epub editor that allows you to create an epub file that you can upload to most distributors. It can help you to prevent some of these quirks. It's surprisingly easy to use and if you're at all interested in having more control over how your ebook looks, Sigil allows you to do a bit of tweaking under the hood.

How Sigil Works

Sigil has two views: "Book View" and "Code view" (don't worry about Code View for now). Sigil's Book View operates like a simple Word processor. I would never have believed it if I hadn't tried it myself. Look at the buttons on the toolbar. I'll bet you can guess what some of them do...

Sigil's Book View works like a Word processor

Help Sigil Read Your File

Your first obstacle to using Sigil is to figure out how to get your ebook from Word into Sigil. Why? Sigil doesn't read .doc or .docx files, it only reads HTML, epub and .txt files. Here's what you need to do (I learned this trick from Paul Salvette's excellent tutorial, How to Make an Ebook with Sigil):

1. Open your ebook in Word (I use Word 2010). Go to File, Save As, and save your file as Plain Text (.txt). This option strips your Word file of unnecessary code that can mess up your ebook in the conversion process.

Save as plain text (.txt)

2. A message box like this will pop up:

Select UTF-8 encoding

Select "Other coding" and choose UTF-8 encoding (you'll need to scroll down in the menu), Click OK.

3. Now that you've saved your document in a form that Sigil can read, copy and paste it from Word into the middle window in Sigil's Book View.

Paste your ebook file in the middle window

Because you copied your ebook from a plain text file, you will have lost a lot of your formatting, so you'll need to reapply some of that formatting in Sigil. But here's the good news: if you click on the Code View (the button to the right of Book View), your ebook will have been cleared of a lot of unnecessary code that can give you undesirable results later on. This point will become more meaningful in a future post.

An aside: The Sigil User Guide suggests that you can also save your Word files as Web Page, Filtered. This will leave your formatting mostly in tact, but your book will look like a dog's breakfast in places in Code View. So, while it's possible to save your Word file as Web Page, Filtered, saving it as plain text might be a better option. Don't take my word for it, though. You can save your file in both formats, copy them to Sigil and decide for yourself.

4. Your next step in producing an epub is to style your ebook in Sigil, using Sigil's toolbar. For now, don't be afraid to play around a little. I will discuss the ins and outs of styling an ebook in Sigil in a future post.

(If the suspense is killing you, check out How to Make an Ebook with Sigil, by Paul Salvette. You don't have to be a tech wizard to create an ebook in Sigil. It truly is a lot easier than you think.

Updated. Originally posted at

How to Format an Ebook the Simple Way

Word iconby C. K. MacLeod


One of the easiest ways to format an ebook is to begin with the tool you probably already have—Microsoft Word. 

I know, I know. HTML & CSS enthusiasts and InDesign evangelists everywhere have just engaged in a collective shudder. 

But hear me out. Not all self-pubs have access to expensive design software or the time or interest for the required learning curve. Many of them do have access to Microsoft Word, though. Why not begin where they're at? That's what Joel Friedlander and Aaron Shepard have done. You're welcome to take it up with them. wink

So, having gotten that out of the way, if your manuscript is in Microsoft Word, there are several things you can do to ensure a smoother transition from Word to ebook. Your first step is to clean up your book in Word. Here's what you need to do:


  1. Remove headers, footers, and page numbers.
  2. Remove underlining in headings.
  3. Remove footnotes.
  4. Remove two spaces after end punctuation.
  5. Remove manual tabs and spaces.
  6. Remove text boxes.
  7. Remove tables formatted in Word. Reinsert them as images instead.
  8. Avoid using the list buttons on the ribbon to create bulleted and numbered lists.
  9. Choose photos over clip-art.
  10. Decide if you need an index.
  11. Use italics to emphasize words—but sparingly.

Read more at the Beyond Paper blog.

Ebooks Made Easy: Word to Jutoh in 10 Steps

Jutoh Ebook Editorby C.K. MacLeod

Updated. Originally posted at Beyond Paper Editing.

Have you discovered Jutoh? Jutoh is an elegant and inexpensive piece of software ($39 USD) that allows you to convert Word docx files or ODT files to epub and mobi ebook formats.

Jutoh will work for fiction that's mostly straight text, but it will also handle nonfiction texts with

  • pictures
  • headings
  • bulleted and numbered lists, and
  • internal and external hyperlinks

Word to Jutoh Workflow

Below is my Word-to-Jutoh workflow. Unless otherwise stated, I perform most of these steps in Word 2010.

1. Tag any special formatting that you'd like to retain, such as headings, italicized and boldface words, and hyperlinks. JW Manus suggests a system for tagging special formatting. Use what works for you. The idea is that you want to be able to search and replace for these items later.

2. Nuke your Word doc. Word is infamous for creating formatting gremlins that can show up in your ebook. Zap 'em. Copy your entire book into Notepad (comes with Windows) or another text editor and paste it into a brand new Word document. I then execute a Clear All from the Word Styles menu for good measure.

A bit much? Maybe. But I've noticed that a nuke doesn't always remove hidden fonts. How do I know? CrossEyes (free for PC users) helps me to see what lies beneath...

3. Clean up any extra uses of the space bar and Enter key, such as extra spaces between words and after end punctuation, or extra paragraph spaces. Clean up tabs, too. You can use a copyeditor's trick and do this automatically by using tools like the Editorium's File Cleaner or the Wiley Publishing Cleanup Tool (free). You can also use Word's Find and Replace feature to clean up extra tabs and spaces.

4. Set heading and paragraph styles in Word. If you want to use an indented paragraph style, be sure to set your indents in your paragraph style. Use fonts that are ebook-friendly and copyright free. Times New Roman is always a safe bet. Remember, readers can adjust fonts on their e-readersyou want to choose a font that plays nicely with conversion software.

5. Resize images in an image editor. I use Paint.NET, but GIMP is another good free option. Check your distributor (Amazonor Lulu, for example) for image width and height restrictions.

6. Insert images into your Word file (Insert, Image). Images can really increase your file size so you may need to compress them. You can compress them in your image editor by setting the image quality to 75%.

7. Insert external, or off-book hyperlinks where you've tagged them. Shorten links using a link shortening service, like or Pretty Link. Shortened links have a better chance of surviving your chosen distributor's converter.

8. Address any cross-references, or internal hyperlinks in your book using Word's bookmark feature. If you forget to do this in Word, you can use Jutoh's indexing feature.

9. Page through your document with with the Show/Hide feature activated (Pilcrow). Look for any extra spaces you may have missed (or re-introducedit happens).

10. Export your file to Jutoh. If you've carefully formatted your document in Word, your file will export almost seamlessly, with styles, images, and hyperlinks attached. Tip: some font styles won't export. If you use the ebook-friendly fonts recommended by the Jutoh manual, your fonts will transfer over.

Jutoh is designed to play nicely with Word. If you follow good ebook formatting practices in Word, your book file will convert seamlessly.