2 Nov 2011

How To Create an Ebook with OpenOffice.org

Do you want to see your name on the front page of a book? It’s easier than you might think. First, write the book. Next, follow these simple steps to prepare an ebook using the free OpenOffice.org or LibreOffice desktop publishing application.

Publishing ebooks today can be a DIY business. If you write for a specific audience, you can create a successful book without the help of big companies, and get your work into the hands of readers who can download ebooks from popular sites such as Amazon CreateSpace, Lulu, or Lightning Source.
Let’s assume you’ve already written the book you want to publish. Your work might be in plain text format or written using a word processing application. No matter where it starts out, import it into OOo Writer (or LO Writer, but lets not distruct ourselves from the main topic) and use that program’s rich set of tools to create a file for publication.


Begin by formatting your text. OOo Writer allows you to use styles for different sections of the document. Styles are set of rules for the text. They can specify such things as what fonts to use, how to justify your paragraphs, and how much space to leave between lines and paragraphs.
OOo Writer comes with several predefined styles, but you can add your own or edit standard ones. To add a new style, call up the configuration screen by pressing F11 or choosing Format -> Styles and Formatting. In the pop-up window, select the Paragraph Styles button, and then right-click on empty space and choose New from context menu. To adjust an existing style, right-click on the style you need, choose Modify, and adjust the settings.
One special style, Default, is the style for the page, not for the paragraph or text. You can define margins, text flow, and overall layout of your page here. If you need to change your page layout, you can do so with Default style.
What font works best for books? That depends on how you expect most people to read your work. Use a serif font for paper printouts and sans-serif in documents intended to be read from the screen. Stick to commonly used fonts, as they have proved their usability.
The decision whether to fully justify your text or leave a ragged right margin depends on the output file format you are going to use. In PDF files, your text will look the same on any device and on any screen or window size, so you should justify your text – it will look like a real book. But if you choose a free-flowing text format like ePub, ragged right is better, because smaller window sizes can make justified short lines look strange.
Leave a little space between your paragraphs – 1.2 or 1.5 times more than between lines. This helps to visually split the “text wall” into logical parts. Don’t leave too much, because no one likes to jump too much vertical space between paragraphs. Also, indent the first line of each paragraph to ease reader navigation through the document.
Once you have defined styles for your book, you can apply them by selecting a section of text and then selecting the style you want to apply to it. All the text within your selection will take on the properties you defined. It is a good idea to use the same style for the same type of text throughout the book. Some, but not all, defined styles are listed in the combo box on OOo Writer’s default toolbar. To see all available styles, choose More in drop-down box or go to Format -> Styles and Formatting.
Styles can help with more than the look of each page. If your book has several sections or chapters, you might like to create a table of contents. OOo Writer can automate its creation if you choose a Heading style for your section or chapter headings.
You can have as many heading styles as you like to distinguish different sections and subsections in your book. But be judicious – more than four or five different heading styles many confuse your readers, and be hard for you to keep track of. If you think you can’t get by without half a dozen levels of headings, look at the structure of your book. Maybe you should create more top-level headings and promote some of your subsections one or two levels up.

Headers and Footers

Now you should have a document full of structured and styled text, where all the headings are marked as such. Each page in your book can also have a header or footer, which can contain information such as page numbers and the book title.
Inserting a page number variable means you don’t need to number pages manually. You can add page numbers to your OOo Writer document by following the advice in this tutorial or this video.
You can also put text in your headers and footers – for instance, the book title. Of course, you can format it, insert horizontal lines, and so on.
You can use different layouts for odd and even pages, so you can, for example, place page numbers on the outer sides of pages. While that can make sense for paper books, it might look strange in an ebook.
If you need to have several elements be on the same line of a header or footer, use a table.

Tables are elements of text with predefined structures. You can add text within any cell of the table, and its position will remain the same in relation to other elements of the table whatever you do with the window or text. You can also specify text layout within any cell: this cell is left-aligned, this one is right-aligned, and this one please center.
Here is simple table. I use this layout for the footers of my book pages, but without table borders.

This text is aligned to the left

and this one to the right

and something at the center.
If you look at that table and play with your current window size you will notice that the text “and this one to the right” is always aligned to the right, located on the same line as phrase “This text is aligned to the left” and above line with “and something at the center.”

If you decide to use tables in your header or footer, insert the table in the element you need, split it into as many columns and rows as you like, then populate it with the contents you need. You can make table borders invisible if you don’t want to see them when you print your ebook. However, leaving the top or bottom border of the table visible can provide a separator between the header or footer and main text of the page.

Cover and Title Page

People do judge books by their covers, so your book should have an attractive cover and title page. You can create both your cover and title page in an image editing application. Two great open source graphics tools are the GIMP and OpenOffice.org Draw.
If you don’t have a talent for graphical design, don’t despair. The latest versions of OpenOffice.org Writer build in tools for creating title pages. If you have an older version, you still have a workaround. Go to the top of your text and select Insert -> Manual Break from the menu. When the pop-up window appears, choose the Default style. If you don’t want your title page to be numbered, tick the appropriate checkbox on that screen and leave 1 in the box below. Now your first page is in a different section from the rest of your document, and you can format it the way you like.

Table of Contents

Now that you have a title page, chapter headings, page numbers, and the text itself, it’s time to add a table of contents to help readers navigate in the book.
Go to Insert -> Indexes and Tables -> Indexes and Tables. From the resulting pop-up window you can select the parameters for your table of contents: depth of headings you want to see in table, layout, separators, and so on. Note that OOo Writer does not by default create links from the table of contents to your chapter headings. If you want to make your ToC clickable, you need to insert hyperlinks on the tab Entries. Put your cursor at the place where linked text should start and press the Hyperlink button, then move the cursor to the place where the linked text should end and press same button again. At the end, your line might look like
LS E# E T # LE

You also need to decide how your link should look. “Internet link” style makes links underlined and colored blue. “Numbering symbols” style leaves hyperlinks looking like normal text, but still clickable. Repeat the hyperlink selection process for each level of table of contents you use; select the heading level number on the left one at a time.

Electronic Print Press

By now your ebook should be looking pretty spiffy. Only one problem – publishing it in OOo format will severely limit the size of your audience, because it’s not a common ebook format. A better approach is to choose an open standard format such as Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) or the International Digital Publishing Forum’s ePub.
Personally, I recommend using PDF. It is platform-independent, meaning it can be displayed on just about every electronic device. Your document’s layout remains the same on every device. Best of all, OOo Writer lets you export your document into PDF format right out of the box by using the File -> Export as PDF menu item.

When you choose that menu item, you’ll see a pop-up window like the one above. You can specify a password to protect the document, and restrict users from printing the document and from copying text from it. With those choices your text remains in only electronic form and only in the document you publish. Nobody can copy your copyrighted text and represent it as his own.
Unlike PDF, ePub is specifically designed as an electronic format for publishing, and unlike PDF, it allows any device to reformat the text, so readers can choose the font and type size they prefer, margin size, and other parameters. Technically speaking, text in ePub format is “free flowing,” meaning that the file does not keep any notes as to where each line should stop, except for ends of paragraphs. Each reader’s device or program decides on the layout.
OpenOffice.org by itself can’t generate an ePub document, but you can install an extension such as ePub Generator to do the job for you. Once you do that, and restart OOo Writer, you should see a new panel on the toolbar. My OOo placed it in the left-top corner, but yours might do differently. On the panel, one button is responsible for file conversion, the second for meta tags in the file that describe your ebook for potential readers, and the third lets you do some minimal configuration of the ePub extension, such as default font, rules for splitting the files, or filename format to extract metadata.

At this point all the preparation steps are done. Press OK; your document is now saved as PDF or ePub file, and you can call yourself a writer and tell your friends, “I published a book.” Your next step is marketing your work – but that’s a whole other article!

Originally published at Wazi.


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