Bill Pringle - [email protected]

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Creating eBooks for Handhelds

This page describes how you can create your own eBooks and store them on your iPhone, iTouch, Android, Blackberry, etc. There are free eBook converters and eBook readers available to do this. You should only create and load eBooks that you legally own. Do not convert copywritten documents belonging to others. It is illegal, and you can get sued.

Reading Documents on Handhelds

One of the things that I have frequently done with my handhelds has been reading books and other documents. There are many readers available, and many of them come with a library where you can select books to download. You can obtain commercial eBooks, but you can also get a large collection of free books, such as those which are in the public domain. You can also create your own eBooks from any text document or web page, which you can then load on your handheld and read.

There are text readers that will allow you to read text files. Usually these readers don't support font changes Bold, Italics, Chapters, etc. that are available with other types of documents.

There are packages that will allow you to read Microsoft Office documents on your handheld. You can create Word or Power Point documents, as well as spreadsheets with your own content and then install them on your handheld. Some packages allow you to make changes and sync with a desktop application.

There are several PDF readers that you can install on your handheld. The advantage of PDF documents is that you can have nice looking documents, but usually you cannot make any changes to these documents.

Back when I had a Palm based handheld, I could take advantage of all the Palm Pilot documents that are available. A great place to find these documents is Memoware. Fortunately, you can convert Palm documents to epub documents, and read them on your handheld.

There are also eBook readers available for most handhelds. Many come with a library that allows you to select books to download to your handheld. Some will also let you download your own eBooks to your handheld. That is the type of reader you need if you want to install your own content. Like PDF readers, you can have nice looking documents, but you usually can't make any changes to the content on the handheld, but you can make changes at the source and regenerate the document. (I will frequently do this when I find typos in an eBook.)

Creating eBooks

If you want to make and install eBooks on your handheld, you need to get a program that creates eBooks. The program that I use is Calibre, which runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Calibre can convert HTML (web pages) as well as text files to eBooks. It can also convert Palm and Blackberry documents to epub. Calibre also comes with an epub viewer so that you can view eBooks on your computer.

When you first install Calibre, click on the "Preferences" option and select a location where you will store the eBooks. The steps you should take to create an eBook are:

You can also use Calibre to convert other types of eBooks to epub documents. Calibre supports a large number of electronic formats, so pretty much any electronic file you have could probably convert to epub. For example, Calibre doesn't support Microsoft Word, but it does support Rich Text Format (rtf), so simply save your word document as rtf.

Downloading eBooks

The next thing you want to do is to find an eBook reader that will let you download your own eBooks, sometimes called your own content. What I like to do is to download eBooks from whatever source I can find, and then copy them from my local computer to my device. This way, I always have a copy of my eBooks on my computer, so if anything happens, I can restore my eBooks.


If you have an Apple handheld, the easiest way to download files is to use iTunes. There are several ebook readers available for Apple, including Apple's own iBook. I don't use iBook out of principles - I don't like the way that Apple is driving many reader developers out of business by insisting that all eBooks be purchased through iTunes. I am also suspicious that Apple, like Kindle and Nook, might keep statistics on what books you read, what passages your highlight, and what pages you spend the most time on. Fortunately, there is a pretty easy way to work around that restriction.

The reader that I have been using recently is BlueFire Reader, which you can get in the app store. Whatever reader you use, when you connect your device to iTunes, click on the "Apps" tab along the top of iTunes. This will list all the applications you have installed.

Use the scroll bar at the far right to scroll past the list of applications to a second list, which allows you to maintain application data. Click on your reader, and on the right will be the eBooks that are currently loaded on your reader. At the bottom of the list are an Add and Delete button. Click on the Add button and navigate to whatever eBooks you have created. This will copy your eBooks to your device so that you can read them using your reader.

External Drive

If you don't have iTunes, then there are often utilties that will allow you to copy files from your computer to your handheld. The utility usually allows the handheld to look like an external drive on your computer, so you can copy files between the two. In these cases, there is usually a directory (folder) on your handheld where eBooks are stored. Simply copy your new eBooks to that directory and you should be in business.

Local Web Sites

Another approach is to download eBooks from web sites. Many readers already have interfaces to feedbooks, smashbooks, and similar sites. If your reader allows you to connect to a web site of your own choosing, then you can create a web site on your local computer and download eBooks from there.

I have Xampp, which is a web server that you can install on your own computer. What this gives you is a web site that you can access over your home WiFi network. There are several choices on how to set up a web server on your computer. I chose xampp because I do web development and need a heavy-duty web server. You might only need a basic server.

Assuming you have a web server running on your computer, you need to determine its IP address. Since I usually have a Command window open, I simply run the "ipconfig" command. It will probably be something like 192.168.x.y. You also will want to create a directory on your web server for the eBooks you want to download. I have a subdirectory stanza on my web server.

I can then use my browser and type the address: http://Addr/ebooks/. This should display a web page displaying the files in that directory. (I have an index.html page in the /ebooks/ directory with links to the various files that I want to download, so that is what I see. If you don't create a web page, you will probably just see a list of files.)

If your browser displays something other than an error message, then your handheld can see your local web server. Next you want to store whatever eBooks you wish to install in that directory. Use whatever means your reader provides to select an eBook to download, and you should be prompted to enter a URL. You want to enter: http://Addr/ebooks/Ebook, where Ebook is the name of the eBook file. (Don't forget the file extension.) If I am going to upload several eBooks, I usually select all and then copy the URL so I can paste it for the other books. When you click on the Download button, your reader should download your eBook into its local library. Repeat this process for each eBook you have placed in your /ebooks/ directory.

Finding Text Documents for eBooks

There are many places where you can find the text of books and other documents for creating eBooks. Probably the biggest and best source is Project Gutenberg, which has a huge collection of public domain documents in various formats. Originally the collection had only text files, but now you can find HTML versions as well as eBooks. (I didn't care for the eBooks they had, and instead created my own eBooks.) If you can find a good HTML file, that is probably the best file to use for creating eBooks.

Another good place to look for eBooks is feedbooks. Many of the readers provide an interface to this web site, but I prefer to download eBooks to my computer and then copy them to my handheld.

If you like Science Fiction and/or Fantasy, The Baen Free Library is the place to go. They have a large number of commercial quality free books; in fact, some of the free books are available for sale at other sites. In many cases, the free eBooks are part of a series, and the remainder of the books in that series can be purchased from the web site.

Another possible source for document texts is to use Google. What I will often do is to type the book title followed by the word "text". I might also include the author's name if I get too many false hits. Again, if you can find an HTML page with the text you want, download that; if you can only file text (.txt) files, then you can still use them.

Be very careful when downloading free eBooks. Some of them are pirated copies of eBooks that are not legally available for free. Besides moral issues, some media companies are lobbying to get strict laws in place that can cause you legal problems if you get caught downloading illegal eBooks. A few porn sites are demanding money for content they claim you downloaded, hoping that people will be too embarrasses to contest their claim, and just send them the money. Another scam is impersonates the FBI to frighten people into paying "fines" instead of going to court. There are enough free eBooks out there, that you should think twice before downloading any questionable ones.

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