This post is part of TeleRead's "Using Calibre for E-Book Management" Guide: Ch. 1 | Ch. 2Ch. 3 | Ch. 4Ch. 5 | Ch. 6Ch. 7 | Ch. 8Ch. 9 | Ch. 10


Thank you, Joanna, for that excellent post on setting up shelves for the Kobo reader. I keep thinking about getting a Kobo Mini. If I do, that article will come in very handy.

And now, finally, after metadata, content servers and Kobo, we get to e-book conversion.

Just so you know how good you have it in 2013, let me remind you about the bad old days, pre-Calibre, pre-Amazon, pre-just-about-everything-e-book-cool, where you downloaded text documents from somewhere (often questionable) in a variety of formats and had to run them through programs like Interparse and Aportis Doc to get your books onto a mobile device that, in those days, was probably something running Palm OS. (Note how there are no links to the programs I mentioned? That’s because they are so old they don’t even exist anymore.)

Yes, we’ve finally reached the Age of Mammals in the e-book world, and we have Calibre. What used to take hours now takes minutes.

Calibre can, of course, be used to convert .mobi to .epub and vice versa, but that’s not really why you’re here. Odds are, you want to format Word or .txt documents into an e-book, and that’s what I’ll cover. If you can do that, the aforementioned conversion is easy.

If you’re using a Word document, the first conversion you’ll need to make is outside of Calibre, in Word. Calibre doesn’t support conversion of Word documents, so you’ll need something else. I recommend either .rtf if you have elements like italics. Otherwise, .txt is fine.

Fire up Calibre and click “Add books” to import your document into Calibre. The example I’ll be using is a piece of fanfiction I wrote for a Livejournal event. It had a tricky feature which makes it a good example: Word added extra spaces between paragraphs, and I wanted to get rid of those. However, I didn’t want to use Word’s “Remove all formatting” option because that would have eliminated all my italics. Fortunately, Calibre has the options to handle it.

Once Calibre is up and running, start by adding the document in question. Then select “Convert books,” which brings up the following screen:

You’ll see you have lots of options along the left side of the screen. We’re only going to use a few of them today. First, let’s fix the metadata and add a cover. I want my name as author, and an artist made a pretty cover as part of the event.

I used the “Change cover image” feature to navigate to the folder on my hard drive where I’d saved this cover.

Next, we want to make it look right, with my preference of single space between indented paragraphs. This required me to change two options. First we went to “Heuristic Processing.”

You won’t use this option often, and it’s a bit tricky when you do. Basically, it has a set number of options that Calibre will implement as best it can. Sometimes a document is in such odd shape, it’s worth a try. In this case, we’re just using one option. Heuristic processing is disabled by default, but I enabled it here and selected only one option: “Delete blank lines between paragraphs.”

Now we move to “Look and Feel,” where again, we’re only going to select one option, “Remove spacing between paragraphs.” If it looks like I’m doing the same thing twice, you’re right. If I hadn’t used Heuristic processing, the output would have had double-spaced, indented paragraphs. Yucky looking! These two options ensured I’d get what I wanted.

As you can see, you have lots of options you can use to influence how your book looks after conversion. Calibre can manage to correct or modify a lot of odd formatting options added by word processing programs.

I didn’t need anything else modified for this document, so I clicked “Okay” and let it convert. Let’s use the “View” function from the main menu to see how it did. Yes, Calibre has an integrated e-reading program so you can check how things look before sending to your device. Here it is, complete with cover:

And here’s a view of the text. Italics were handled correctly, and Calibre fixed the line spacing and indenting.

Calibre is a powerful conversion program with numerous options for formatting a book. If you know HTML and set your CSS correctly, it can do even more, including creating Tables of Contents. I’ve only scratched the surface in this article. Play around with the various options and see what it can do for you.


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail