Overcoming the Enormous Technical Challenges to Digital Conversion . . . is Already Done

Sigil. calibre (yes, with a lower-case first letter.) There’s even one called Hamster.

If you’ve ever searched for a tool to convert your manuscript to an ebook, you’ve come perilously close to drowning in geekness.

Stop. Step back. Put down the chainsaw; you don’t need one to make a toothpick. Especially if you already have a box of toothpicks.

making toothpicks
making toothpicks

Everything I say in the rest of this post will have exceptions. I’ll mention a few at the end, but if your manuscript doesn’t fall into the exceptions, don’t go to exceptional lengths to get the job done.

You only need your digital version 2 places: Kindle, and Smashwords. Yes, “Smashwords” is a funny name. The company is not so funny. They distribute your book to every other outlet on the planet that’s not Kindle. (Including the notoriously difficult and demanding iBooks, for which otherwise you must upload your manuscript from a Mac; no PCs allowed.)

But we’re talking about conversion, not distribution. To convert your manuscript for Kindle, upload it to your Kindle Desktop Publishing account.

There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

The Kindle conversion tool Amazon provides does the best possible job with zero effort on your part. No geekery required.

Ah, but Smashwords. They have things called “requirements” and something called an “Autovetter” which tells you when you’re wrong.

And that’s the thing: not only does the Autovetter give clear understandable explanations of what might be wrong with your files, the process to get your book into the Premium catalog (free, and also vital) involves feedback from real live human beings.

If you are capable of composing and sending an email, you probably have the technical skills to convert your word processor document to an ebook. And your readers only need a computer, if they don’t have an ereader already. There are free readers for Mac and PC for any format you want (although there are really only three formats: PDF, support for which is built into every computer on the planet, Kindle, and ePub.) Search for “Kindle for PC” or “Kindle for Mac” or a similar search for ePub readers, “Nook for PC” or “Kobo for Mac” or whatever your favorite ereader and computer platform combination might be.


If you have lots of images, or images whose relation to specific portions of text is important (like diagrams) you may need help adjusting those images and their placement in the document.

If you have advanced formatting (tables, columns, callout boxes) you may run into challenges, all of which can be solved (because I’ve done them all.)

If you depend on font styles beyond bold and italics. For instance, I’ve written two books in collaboration. We indicated which voice was which with different fonts in the print versions. That’s tough to do digitally because most readers leave font choice entirely in the hands of the reader (that is, the human being reading the book.)

6 thoughts on “Overcoming the Enormous Technical Challenges to Digital Conversion . . . is Already Done

  1. I love using Smashwords for the different formats it puts your ebook into automatically. When I entered my books in the New England Book Festival they wanted a certain file format, and all I had to do was snag it off Smashwords and drop it into an email. Slick and fast.

  2. I’d forgotten that. Yup, you can grab any format you want from them in case, for instance, you want to enter a contest or give it away to friends or fans.

  3. Another exception: If you’re a Canadian.

    If you’re a Canadian you have to obtain a US tax number to publish & sell in the States (i.e. publish through CreateSpace.) To obtain this you need to present a valid passport and one other proof of ID to Uncle Sam for approval.

    One other side detail I learned: You have to have bought a book from Amazon before they’ll let you leave book reviews. I have an account but still they won’t let me comment on anything.

  4. Is it different in Canada than the rest of the world? Kerry Dwyer, an author client in Bordeaux, France, told me her process to get a US Tax ID was simple (and she’s self-proclaimed technically challenged.)

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