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.

Most Popular Tech Posts of 2014

Top 10by C.K. MacLeod

Here are the top 10 Posts on Tech Tools for Writers in 2014.

  1. 20-Minute Macro Course (free)
  2. Retrieving a Backup File in Scrivener
  3. Improve Your Writing with Macros
  4. Scrivener Cheat Sheet (Downloadable)
  5. How to Make Word Behave Like Scrivener
  6. A Self-Editing Toolkit
  7. New Tool for Writing and Editing: WPS Writer
  8. Creating and Checking Your Epub in Sigil
  9. How to Add a Macro to Word
  10. A Macro for Commonly Confused Words

Which tool will you try in 2015?

Image by Sam Churchill.

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