How to Create an Ebook With Sigil: It’s Easier Than You Think

by Corina Koch MacLeod

There are a number of steps you need to take to publish an ebook. In this post and this post, I discuss how you can clean up your manuscript in Word so that it converts cleanly to an ebook format. Whether you’re producing an ebook for Amazon (Kindle mobi format) or Smashwords, Nook, or Lulu (EPUB format), the clean-up process is a critical first step. Whatever you do, don’t skip this step.

Once you’ve cleaned up your ebook, you can upload it as a Microsoft Word .doc or .docx file. Many distributors will convert your Word file for you with their online conversion software. Nifty, right? 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.

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’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:

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 make some adjustments to your ebook 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 next week’s 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 a Plain Text might be a better option. Don’t take my word for it, though. You can save your file in both formats and copy them to Sigil to see what I mean.

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 next week’s post.

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

Related Posts
From Manuscript to Published: 8 Steps to Publishing Your Ebook
At a Glance: Ebook Formatting for Lulu
Ebook Formatting Principles: Organizing the Reading Experience

4 thoughts on “How to Create an Ebook With Sigil: It’s Easier Than You Think

  1. Another thoroughly useful post that I’ve added to my Guidelines for New Authors. Keep up the great work — this is brilliant guidance not only for independent authors but also for the editors and proofreaders who are supporting them.

    1. Thanks, Louise. There’ll be more posts in this vein, I’m sure. I’ll try to continue to write about free and easy-to-access tools that can help self-publishing authors with the publishing process.

  2. We need step by step instructions on building e books that play nice with Mathematica animations. My intuition tells me if I have Calibre and Mathematica’s CDF player installed on my computer, I’m good to go. But we need more detail. Every math teacher in the world would follow this thread!

    1. Alan,
      You’re quite right. I believe that Sigil can do many more things than what I’ve written about so far. I’ll continue to explore Sigil’s capabilities, and I hope to write more posts about my discoveries. For now, I think it’s safe to say that Sigil does an excellent job of helping self-publishing authors create a nice looking EPUB, without too much difficulty.

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