Ebook conversion software

This section looks at desktop ebook conversion software, focusing on the two most commonly-used tools, Amazon’s KindleGen and the open source Calibre.

Ebook conversion software

Ebook conversion software does a similar job to the automated online services like Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing: they take a marked up source file and convert it automatically to one or more ebook formats. But instead of operating over the internet, they run locally on a PC or Mac. The two most popular programs are:

  • Calibre
  • KindleGen

Both Calibre and KindleGen have default settings that require little technical knowledge and are often good enough for personal use or in-house applications such as proofs or advance reading copies.

Beyond the ‘out-of-the-box’ default settings, both programs have extensive options for customization and fine-tuning which require a moderate to high level of technical competence.


Calibre is free software that you install on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer. You feed in a source file in a wide range of formats and Calibre outputs ebooks in EPUB, Kindle and a wide range of other formats.  It will also convert DRM-free ebooks from one format to another for use on a range of devices.

Read more


KindleGen is Amazon’s advanced software tool for creating ebooks in the Kindle format. It’s a professional-grade tool which you install on your PC, Mac or Linux computer. You need a basic understanding of HTML and other technologies to use it effectively.

Read more

DIY example: Converting an ebook using Calibre

In our simple example, we’ll convert a Word document and a cover image that we’ve prepared using the guidelines in the previous chapter and convert it to an EPUB ebook using Calibre.

Calibre started its life as a way for early ebook users to manage their personal ebook collections and get content from sources such as websites to read on their e-readers. As a result, it’s relatively easy to use, especially if you just operate it with Calibre’s default settings and have a well-prepared source file. But there is a more technical layer which provides a powerful tool for more advanced use.

Caution: Unless you know what you’re doing, don’t use an ebook produced with Calibre for commercial distribution. Our demonstration here is for educational purposes only.

Step-by-step instructions on how to use Calibre to create an ebook

Viewing the ebooks you’ve produced

The following are useful ways to view ebooks in this production environment.

  • Calibre has its own built-in e-reader software. It’s fairly basic but it’s quick and simple to use and will allow you to view ebooks in several formats.
  • Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). For a more fully-featured e-reader application for your PC or Mac, it’s a good idea to install the free ebook reader software Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). ADE supports the EPUB format only. ADE reads ebooks in the EPUB format and is a great way to quickly review and proof your ebooks. It also reads DRM-protected commercial ebooks that have been protected using Adobe’s widely-supported Digital Rights Management system. Another useful feature: Adobe recently added the ability to print EPUB files. You can download ADE from http://www.adobe.com/products/digitaleditions.
  • Kindle Previewer. Amazon provides a free application you can use to preview your Kindle ebooks. It emulates each of the various Kindle devices.  Download Kindle Previewer


Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.


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