Best Editing Tip Ever #2 – Mobi Files!

ebook and ebooks in letterpress typeI discovered a great editing tool when a cover artist made a mobi file of my debut novel, Mark of the Loon. I sent the Word doc file. She converted the mss to a mobi file to read on her Kindle, and asked if I’d like to have it. Newbie that I was (this was January 2012), I didn’t even realize a self-converted doc-to-mobi was an option. (The MOBI file format is designed for Open eBook Publication, and is one of the file formats Kindle can “read.”)

I promptly sent the mobi to my beta-readers, then popped it into my own Kindle. Acccck!! Two dozen screens into the story I realized my narrative was composed of way too many long sentences and was tedious to plow through. (One of the things we miss when we’ve read a WIP 5,000 times). I emailed my betas and asked them to hold off. Revelation: Reading a novel in Kindle format makes every challenging issue stand out like a house on fire. I spent another month reviewing each paragraph and when the editing was done, wanted to make my own mobi to – once again – proof on my Kindle.

Backstory: I bought my e-reader the summer of 2011, initially to read the works of self-pubbed authors. I’d also read that it’s best to proof your own novel’s ebook version on a Kindle to double-check formatting prior to publication. Not only does proofing on a Kindle work wonderfully, you and your beta-readers can make and save notes right on the screen, then return the mobi file so the author can access the notes and make edits. This simplifies the Kindle editing process, as Kindle doesn’t display page numbers and it can be tough to record good written notes.

So, wanting a current version of my WIP, I emailed Jan to ask how she’d made the mobi. She directed me to Calibre E-book Management and told me anyone can get the software free from the Calibre website and easily convert their documents. I downloaded the software. FYI, you can also make an e-pub file using Calibre, which is a file format used by other e-readers.

Here’s the process to generate a mobi file using Calibre:
Save your manuscript’s Word doc as a Rich Text File (RTF)
Download Calibre and open the software
In the top menu bar, go to “Add Books from a single directory”
Browse to find your RTF file > double click on it
The RTF now appears in your Calibre list. Rename as desired.
Select (highlight) the uploaded RTF document
Go to “Convert books”
OPTIONAL: Choose “Look & Feel” on the left-hand menu, and, if desired, check the box “Remove spacing between paragraphs” Leaving the space in helps with proofing! You can also justify text and/or change paragraph indent, etc.> Click Okay
If you took the optional detour above, return to “Convert Books”
Choose “Convert individually” > Click Okay – wait for the spinning wheel bottom right to stop
Plug your Kindle into your computer’s USB
Select (highlight) the new file > right click > Choose “Send to device” > “Send to main memory”
A pop-up will ask “Auto convert following books before uploading to device?” > Choose yes
Wait for the spinning wheel bottom right to stop
Detach your Kindle > go to the device’s main menu. Your new ebook should appear!

Note: In theory, you can use Calibre to create your own mobi, proof it, then upload the file to Amazon, but some readers report that Amazon often doesn’t like Calibre-generated mobi files. If this is your experience, “Mobipocket” is another free tool you can use to generate your own Amazon ebook files. Scrivener also exports an MSS to ebook files. There are also many third-party vendors who offer inexpensive ebook formatting services.

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48 Responses to Best Editing Tip Ever #2 – Mobi Files!

  1. Heather Jacobs March 12, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    I often send my MS to my kindle (even while I’m writing). That way I always have a copy with me and if I don’t have access to a computer I can pick up where I left off with old school paper and pencil.

    It does make beta reading and editing your own MS a breeze too. Thank you for sharing this fantastic tip Molly!

    I use Scrivener as well and with that program you can compile your MS into .epub or .mobi files easily. Great tool.

    • Molly Greene March 12, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

      Heather, clearly I am late to the party – but better late than never! I’m glad I finally discovered this useful tool. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. Janel Gradowski March 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    I recently did the same thing, edited my book on my Kindle. I used Scrivener to arrange the stories and do the conversion to .mobi. After a few hiccups it turned out to be very easy to produce the files AND it was fun and exciting to see the book how it would appear on Amazon.

    • Molly Greene March 12, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

      Yes, isn’t it exciting to see your OWN e-book on your e-reader? Life is good!

  3. Mike Engleman March 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Molly…No reason to go to all that trouble. Try these simple steps.
    1. Turn on your Kindle’s wifi feature.
    2. Address an email to yourself (your email address prior to the “@” and follow it with “@free(dot)kindle(dot)com
    3. Attach your manuscript (in MS word) to the message. Be sure that your attachment ends with “(dot)doc.
    4. Also make sure that your subject line is empty and that there is not type in the message part of your email form. All that should be in the message portion of the email form is the attachment icon.
    5. Send it off to Amazon and, within five minutes, your manuscript shows up on your kindle, formatted exactly as it will be formatted on your readers’ Kindle.

    • Molly Greene March 12, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

      Hey Mike! I knew you could email Kindle but their instructions aren’t as clear as yours. (Techies will hate this, but I disconnected my wireless router last year.) I assume Amazon only offers a single format option – with Calibre you can mess with the layout, it’s fun! Also, people with e-readers other than Kindle (and no access to Amazon) can use Calibre to make e-pub files. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave these instructions and share with all of us!

  4. Paul Keene March 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    Wow! What a great editing tool. Thanks Molly–I plan to use it.

  5. Belinda Pollard March 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    Hi Molly

    I discovered this one myself just a couple of months ago. I was going away for a couple of weeks and wanted to do a clean read of my full ms… didn’t want to cart a big printout so I made a mobi and put it on my Kindle.

    I noticed the same things you did! The errors and waffle leap out at ya!

    I make my Kindle files on Scrivener, because I’m writing in Scrivener. It was so easy I couldn’t believe it. I’m not saying it was the most beautifully formatted doc in all the world (I’d need to do a bit of work on it in the “beauty” department if I was planning to sell it like that) but I just connected my Kindle to my computer and copied the mobi file to the Documents folder on the Kindle, and Bob’s your uncle.

    By the way, I’m currently doing a detailed crawl through my ms using the two-column-landscape-Word-doc idea you blogged about earlier (you gave it a more elegant name…). It’s really helping me see what needs to be tightened. Thanks Molly, and best wishes with your Loon! 🙂

    • Molly Greene March 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

      Belinda, judging by all the comments everyone is using Scrivener and I know nothing about it (sounds like another blog post!) SO glad Christine’s 2 column trick works for you, too. Thanks for stopping by and for your support!

  6. Grant McDuling March 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    Great tip, Molly. I will try this approach out. I have always written my books using Scriviner, which also takes care of the conversion for you.

    • Molly Greene March 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

      Thank you so much, Grant!

  7. Wendy Reid March 12, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    I learned all of this with the publishing of my first book on Amazon. Their own system is complicated and it took forever. A friend referred me to Calibre and that’s what I use now. Not perfect either, but much better. I don’t notice too many errors that I’d missed when I edited, but I DID have formatting errors that would have looked terrible in a Kindle. Now I check everything with my pc kindle version before it gets uploaded. 🙂

    • Molly Greene March 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

      So much to learn! Thanks so much Wendy for taking the time to share!

  8. JB Rowley March 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    Molly, you saved my bacon.

    I have had two days of stress trying to upload my first Kindle book to Amazon. I followed their instructions carefully using a Word doc and a jpg for the cover but I just could not get the cover to appear in Kindle Fire (via the previewer). I thought I had solved it this morning and was very excited but then success slipped away from me and I was back to square one – i.e. everything hunky dory except the cover would not show up in Kindle Fire.

    Then, with one simple sweep you solved my problem. I followed your instructions, found Calibre easy to use and, hey presto, fixed the problem with the cover. Finally, I pressed the ‘save and publish’ button. Thank you! Thank you! JB 🙂

    • Molly Greene March 13, 2012 at 7:07 am #

      Oh my gosh, that is so exciting! I’m ecstatic for you, and what a great confirmation that Calibre beats Amazon’s system. Thank you so much, JB, and best of luck on your project!

  9. Lisa Gomley March 13, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    Thank you…thank you…thank you!!! This could not have come at a better time!! The Amazon conversion process is a pain compared to this. A friend of mine, who has been reading/proofing my manuscript has not been able to get it onto her Kindle. This took no time at all…not to mention no headache involved!

    I just have one question. I left the spacing as you mentioned. There are large gaps, in between the chapters. I did save as an RTF. Is it because I did not opt to have the spaces removed? Have you seen how it looks if the spaces are removed? Just wondering for anyone wanting to read it but not editing.

    Thanks again!!

    • Molly Greene March 13, 2012 at 9:54 am #

      So wonderful to read this – thanks for the confirmation that Calibre process is easier than Amazon! To answer your question: Yes, I’ve done it both ways – spaces removed and left in. Spaces betweens graphs take a bit to get used to but for proofing and editing seem to isolate each section and help issues stand out. For just reading, best to choose the “leave out spaces betweens paragraphs” option. Hope this helps – Best of luck to you on your project!

  10. Claudia Lefeve March 13, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    I hadn’t thought of that until recently, when one of my beta readers did that to my WIP. She’d converted it to mobi file! I hire out my formatting, but I think I am going to download Calibre so I can read my file on Kindle before it goes to editing! 🙂

    • Molly Greene March 13, 2012 at 9:45 am #

      Yaaaay! Thanks Claudia – please tell us who does your e-book formatting and if you’re happy with their service??

  11. Laura Zera (@laurazera) March 13, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    This is all such good info — the post and the comments. When I converted my backlist title last Dec., I started with Smashwords and B&N and had zero problems. I had a few problems with Amazon because I’d upload it and then not see the issues until it was already up (a day later!). Had to go through two revisions/uploads to correct some formatting. Wish I’d know about all these other tricks! Thanks for this post, Molly.

    • Molly Greene March 13, 2012 at 9:56 am #

      We’re all learning as we go! So much fun to share tools and resources so others can benefit. I love it!

  12. Sher A Hart March 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    I downloaded Calibre because it said I could edit kindle files. I didn’t realize I could also convert them. I bookmarked this post so I can find the instructions when I need them. Thanks! p.s. the only reason I haven’t followed your blog is lack of RSS feed. My email is too cluttered, so I read in Google reader. There’s also a linky follower widget now or the Networked Blogs widget. I think both let you see all our faces (or other representation).

    • Molly Greene March 15, 2012 at 7:07 am #

      So glad this post helped! And yes, I probably should add more following tools … bad Molly :-O

  13. Rick Daley March 15, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    Thanks! This is a great tool…

  14. Kirsten Corby March 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    Once you read and make notes on your Kindle, how do you get the file back onto your PC so as to make the changes?

    • Molly Greene March 17, 2012 at 7:05 am #

      Hi Kirsten! As far as I know, you cn’t re-convert the file. You’ll need to go through your Kindle notes while editing the mss on your PC.

  15. Mary M March 18, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    Excellent tip!! And I bookmarked for future ref.

  16. Brad Geagley March 24, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    This is so perfect, because so many reviewers are requesting .mobi files. I wasn’t quite sure how to convert. Thank you for the great advice.

    • Molly Greene March 25, 2012 at 6:45 am #

      SO happy I could help!

  17. Dannie Hill March 31, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    I’ve been following you for a while on Twitter, Molly. I’m really glad I have. I’m a writer but not up to date with technology– lol. I’ve often wondered how to convert my manuscripts to Mobi and how other authors offer ARC in Mobi format.

    Thanks to you I now know! I’ll be listening more closely to your helpful tips from now on!

    I know the info is out there and probably for quite some time but it helps me when someone like you puts it in turns even my puddin brain can deal with. Thank you.

    • Molly Greene April 1, 2012 at 7:08 am #

      Hi Dannie! There’s an enormous amount to learn, and I am so glad this post helped you. Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a wonderful comment!

  18. Peter Spenser April 4, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    You ended with “…in theory you can use Calibre to create your own mobi, proof it, then upload the file to Amazon. Would love to hear if any of you have done this successfully…”

    Yes. I have done it and I deeply sympathize with all of the people who have had, and are still having, so much trouble formatting their books. After the hard work of formatting my own first two books (and it was not easy, even for me who is an experienced systems engineer and teacher of computer courses to corporate customers), I finally figured out how to use the combination of just about any word processor with Calibre to format a Kindle book. I have put it all together in my latest book, “Anyone Can Make a Kindle Book” on Amazon.

  19. Jim April 4, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Thanks for the help. I was able to produce two versions of book in just a few minutes. After spending a lot of time beating my head against a wall before finding your article. Thanks again.

    • Molly Greene April 4, 2012 at 11:42 am #

      Yaaaay, Jim! Love that story, thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  20. JB Rowley April 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    I have just published my second ebook.

    The process was so much smoother this time after your blog introducing Calibre helped me enormously when I uploaded my first ebook last month. What was especially helpful was that you posted step by step instructions on how to get started with Calibre. That took away my ‘new technology fear’, gave me confidence to give it a try and made the process easy. I guess every time I upload a new ebook I’m going to be thinking of you, Molly! JB 🙂

    • Molly Greene April 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

      JB, what a wonderful comment! Warms my heartstrings — so GLAD to help! Best of luck with your book sales!

  21. Ron McCabe April 19, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    Hey Molly! I’m so far behind I didn’t get around to letting you know how helpful this article was. You’re getting to be a regulation guru! You already know you make me smile. Now you’re helping me edit easier. Like I’ve said before…you gotta be a helluva nice person! Make sure you save time to write. I’ve really enjoyed your chapters to Loon. Look forward to getting around to the entire read!

    • Molly Greene April 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Hi Ron! Thanks so much for the lovely message. I’m actually looking forward to the day I can work on the next book! Best to you in everything.

  22. Gilly Fraser June 16, 2012 at 2:22 am #

    I just want to say
    in a heartfelt sort of way
    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you x 100.

    Now could you please take it upon yourself to translate every incomprehensible set of gobbledy-gook I’ve ever tried to wade my way through, into the same clear, concise and easy to understand instructions please?

    And again – thank you.

    • Molly Greene June 16, 2012 at 6:41 am #

      Gilly, reading this comment makes all the work worthwhile! Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know it helped. Best to you in all you do!

  23. Darcy July 25, 2012 at 11:51 am #


    I really love the idea of editing by using notes on your kindle/kindle reader. But as I understand it, the notes aren’t attached to the mobi file, but to your reader. If you want to email the file to another person, will they get the notes with it, or just the original text?

    I’m trying to figure out proofreading techniques right now, and if this can work, it’d be really awesome! I hate to convert everything back to a .doc when I’m proofreading because it’s the conversion process that risks so many errors to begin with…I’m glad to see other people are working on this process too!

    • Molly Greene July 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

      Hi Darcy! The answer is yes, notes made on one Kindle will be available on another. One of my beta-readers sent back my mobi file w/notes and I went through them on my Kindle and made corrections. My Kindle was older, hers was a new Kindle Fire. I’m assuming this will be true for all Kindles, but why don’t you test it out with a reader first just to be sure yours are co-operative?

  24. TW Luedke August 11, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    I went down the same road with my manuscript. I eventually found an even better set of free tools for creating high quality mobi-epub files.

    Use Mobipocket creator.

    With this free software you create your own file that is more or less the same as what you would create through Amazon’s kindle ebook creation process. Then you open the Mobipocket file (PRC file) with Calibre and convert it to epub or mobi or any number of other ebook file formats.

    This truly gives you a feel for what your Amazon-Kindle published file would look like.

    Hopefully this is helpful.

    If you want to see what I went through to get cover art done by professional freelance artists check out my blog:

    • TW Luedke August 11, 2012 at 7:32 am #

      An additional note: using RTF-to-mobi on Calibre was kinda funky for me, it had a lot of weird errors. The mobipocket creator uses a word document saved as filtered html (use the save as button–its really easy). This filtered html is the exact same thing you do when you publish through Amazon-Kindle.

      Mobipocket creator uses the html file to create an ebook that is pretty much exactly what an Amazon-Kindle ebook would look like. Its like a practice run for publishing to the Kindle.

      I did not like the rtf (rich text file) to mobi process used by Calibre. Most authors who dabble in ebook conversions will tell you that Calibre is a poor tool to use for the intial word to ebook conversion. Calibre is intended to take an existing ebook file and convert it to other ebook formats. Its a program for managing ebook collections in various file formats for various different ereader devices.

      • Molly Greene August 11, 2012 at 10:46 am #

        Hey TW, I agree. Calibre was great for on-Kindle editing but Amazon would not accept my Calibre-created mobi when I tried to publish Mark of the Loon. Switched to Mobipocket and it worked like a dream. Thanks!

      • Peter Spenser August 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

        You are not required to use “RTF-to-MOBI” when using Calibre. The best way is to use the “filtered HTML-to-MOBI” the same as Mobipocket Creator. You get great results.

        You are correct that “Most authors who dabble in ebook conversions will tell you that Calibre is a poor tool to use.” That’s because they are dabblers and have never taken the time to learn how to use it.

        I use Calibre professionally and will tell you categorically that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. After a little initial instruction, one discovers that it is extremely easy to use and has enough professional-grade controls to convert virtually any e-book manuscript into a perfect MOBI-format Kindle book.

        I have heard stories of rejections by Amazon of Calibre-created files and I wonder if they are rejected because they contain one or more KF8 commands, which Calibre, by its programmers’ own admission, does not yet do well. I, and several of my formatting clients and purchasers of my formatting book, have never had a Calibre-created standard MOBI file rejected by Amazon. Even as recently as today Amazon has published them.

        One major drawback for some authors is that Mobipocket Creator is Windows only. Calibre is available for both Windows and Macintosh.