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  • [Reality Check] Should I Do My Own Ebook Conversions? – The Pros and Cons
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[Reality Check] Should I Do My Own Ebook Conversions? – The Pros and Cons
Written by
Zetta Brown
January 2014
Written by
Zetta Brown
January 2014

Howdy, She Writers, and Happy New Year!

This year on [REALITY CHECK], I will be inviting other She Writes members to share their bouts of reality with you. Over the next several months you will be getting a wide range of topics covering pre- and post-publication.

I kick things off with a word about ebook publishing, and for that, I turn the floor over to my husband, Jim Brown, who presents the answer to the question...


Should I Do My Own Ebook Conversions? – The Pros and Cons
by Jim Brown


It’s not too far back in publishing history when the idea of publishing your own book would have resulted in a) complete failure, and b) you becoming a laughingstock in the eyes of “real” authors and publishers. But the time of the self-publisher and the independent small press is now, and that part of the industry is flourishing. It is now far easier, and more importantly, acceptable to self-publish or be a small indie press and be taken seriously as a result.

Ebooks are now firmly established as a reading method and a viable format for published material – be it fiction, non-fiction, kids’ books, educational books, etc. As a result, to not consider having your books in ebook format is not recommended - in fact, ebooks are so popular now that there are a huge number of authors and indie presses who publish only in ebook format.

Of course, having books made into ebook format comes with a cost, so those on a budget for production and release of a title will likely, at some point, consider doing their ebook conversion themselves. The question is, is this recommended - or even viable? Let’s look at some of the main pros and cons of making your own ebooks:


  1. You save money. Some services charge as much as $400 for a single ebook format, even for a simple text-only fiction-style book.
  2. You get to format the ebook the way you would like it to be done.
  3. You have the ebook made when you need it rather than wait on a service to do it for you.


  1. It takes time – time you could be spending doing other things.
  2. You may do something wrong and don’t know how to correct it, and end up having to hire a service to redo or fix what you did.

In order to help you decide whether you should try to create ebooks yourself, here’s a few pointers in the form of a Q&A that may assist you in making a decision:

Q) Do I need to be an expert in HTML or CSS in order to make ebooks?

A) Not an expert, no. But it is extremely beneficial if you have a basic understanding of how HTML and CSS work. In other words, you should be able to look at HTML/CSS and understand the basic coding and how it affects content. More importantly, since the vast majority of people use Microsoft Word to write their books, it is of paramount importance that you fully understand how to produce a clean Word doc.

Q) How much time should I allow to make ebooks?

A) The very first ebook conversion I did took me two and a half days, because I had to learn from scratch. Nowadays, I can do some conversions in about an hour for three/four formats. If all you plan to do is your own conversions, then certainly allow a full day at least. If you are a small indie press and are doing more books, then it’s very possible that you could produce several formats in the space of three to four hours.

Q) What software do I need?

A) Amazon provides KindleGen software to make Kindle books from Word docs. For epub formats there’s both Jutoh and Sigil epub editor. Many people try to use the free utility Calibre, but I recommend against attempting to make epubs using that software because they will not validate using the epubcheck tool, a strict requirement for submitting to the likes of Apple and Nook.

Q) Can I make ebooks using a Mac?

A) Yes you can. Versions of Jutoh, Sigil, and KindleGen are available for Mac.

Q) How do I know if I did it right?

You can view the end result in free software from Amazon (Kindle Previewer), and Adobe (Adobe Digital Editions) for the epub. You must also run your epub through the validation tool as well as check it visually.

Q) How do I fix errors?

A) That’s the big question, isn’t it? There’s no definitive answer to it because there are so many errors that can occur. This is where a basic understanding of HTML/CSS and a big understanding of advanced Microsoft Word formatting techniques can help. Many errors are produced at the document formatting stage, i.e. – poorly formed paragraph settings, inconsistent spacing, wrong use of Word styles, and so on, but some are produced during conversion, and understanding the validation errors in epub, for example, goes a long way to being able to fix them.

Essentially, experience in converting goes a long way when it comes to fixing any issues, just as it does with the other aspects of publishing. If you only convert a few books in a year, you may struggle with any errors, and of course, some individuals can pick things up easier than others. Ebook conversion can be fairly straightforward, especially if you start with a well-prepared Word doc or source file, but you should always be prepared for issues to arise. I’ve been converting ebooks for five years now, and there’s always some new issue that makes an appearance from time to time.

But, all things considered, it can be extremely satisfying to take the step and make your own ebooks successfully, especially if you come across issues and manage to get past them.


Jim Brown is the founder of JimandZetta.com – an established publishing services provider since 2008 that offers a variety of cost-effective solutions for both self-published authors and publishers ranging from ebook conversion to the production of print files. You can follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jimandzetta


©2014. Zetta Brown is the author of several published short stories and the novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk or Zetta’s House of Random Thoughts.

Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)

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  • Darlene Deluca

    I've formatted three books myself working with a Microsoft Word document and following the online instructions. My two critique partners each paid for the service. Yes, they saved time, and I saved the money. But what I really gained was control of the product. When I saw a couple of changes I wanted to make afterward, I made them myself, and immediately uploaded. My critique partner, on the other hand, had to go back to the person who did the formatting for her, get back on her schedule, and wait for her to make changes. I will continue to do my own.

  • Toi Thomas

    This is very informative and helpful.

  • Pamela Olson

    I agree that unless your book has seriously complicated formatting, you shouldn't pay more than $100 for conversion. In fact, you shouldn't pay anything.

    If you just want a perfectly nice eBook with pictures, clickable links, and a clickable table of contents, I've written a simple guidebook for doing so called Simple eBook Formatting for the Technophobic Author. It's just $2.99 on Amazon. I've done about eight eBooks by now, and I use my own guidebook to remind me of the steps each time.

    It may take a few hours the first time -- but it's better than taking a few days, which it did for me the first time, wading through endless confusing how-to pages online. I wrote this guidebook so other people won't have to go through all that!


  • Nora Gaskin Esthimer

    Hi. I enjoyed your pros and cons. I would like to add that anyone paying hundreds of dollars for conversion is being conned. And robbed. I have had great results from Ebook Launch, with each conversion costing around $50. I found them through Smashwords. Look for Mark's List on Smashwords. Cheers.