How to Turn Your Print Book into a Digital File

My grandmother's typewriter: an Underwood Noiseless Portable
My grandmother's typewriter: an Underwood Noiseless Portable

by Carla Douglas

Adapted. Originally posted at Beyond Paper Editing in August 2014.

OCR—not your grandmother’s typewriter!

You can turn your essays, stories and other documents—stuff you might have lying around in a drawer—into ebooks. You also may have unpublished or previously published books, now out of print, that you want to self-publish as ebooks (be certain you own the rights).

You can do this yourself, but first you need to get this material into a digital format. One way is to re-key the text manually (not really an option if you have a book-length work) or you can use optical character recognition (OCR) software, which converts a scanned document into a digital file.

There are many OCR programs available, ranging in price from free to fairly costly. I chose OCRonline to experiment with. It’s web-based, and your first 5 page conversions are free. After that, they’re 4 cents per page. Simply open an account and log in, then follow the instructions.

1. Scan your document and save it as a pdf. The photo at the top of the page? That’s my grandmother’s typewriter. She was a prolific correspondent, and I’m currently digitizing a collection of her letters. Here’s a snippet of one, dated March 13th, 1944:

Tip: Be sure to scan all pages into a single document, or you’ll be stuck (as I was) with multiple separate files that have to be compiled later.

2. Upload your scanned file.  Browse >> Upload

3. Convert your scanned file to MS Word .doc (no .docx option) >>Process

4. Retrieve your converted file at the link provided.
Here’s what my converted snippet looks like:

That’s it! As you can see, the Word file is littered with debris and some ugly bits, but you’re well on your way to having an editable, searchable file, suitable for formatting as an ebook. So go ahead—open your drawer...

Next: File cleanup.

Photo by Carla Douglas