How to Convert Multi-Chapter Txt Files Into eReader Formats

by JoHarrington

Your work is scattered across several txt documents. You want them to be combined into PDF or ePub (or more), free of charge. Come right in!

I use Notepad to write my stories. Those txt files are collected into a folder on my hard-drive. That's all very well, until I was asked to create an eBook from them.

There are many companies who will do it for you. But those are for digital books which are destined to be published. There are costs involved. I didn't want an ISBN. I just wanted something which can be shared with my friends.

I also wanted to do it free of charge. It took a few hours of experimentation, but I did it. This is how it was done.

All Systems Go

We will be taking multiple txt files and creating one eReader compatible eBook from them. Are you excited yet?

During the course of this tutorial, I will be recommending several necessary programs to download.

They are all free of charge.  They have all come highly recommended by the geek factions in my life.  I have downloaded them myself and I have been using them all day.  They work and they are clean.

I will be focusing on creating PDF and ePub.  But there will be a pointer at the end for producing other eReader compatible formats.

You don't have to be an out and out geek to follow this.  But you'll look like one!  Go on.  Amaze your friends. Be an eAuthor!

Image: Multi-Chapter Story in Notepad
Image: Multi-Chapter Story in Notepad

Converting Txt Files into a PDF eBook Free of Charge

It takes less than a minute to create a basic PDF. Longer if you want your chapters back.

One of the great myths of the internet is that you have to pay extortionate fees to write a PDF.

You do that if you like.  I'm going to use the open source PDFCreator.  Not to be confused with its better known cousin CutePDF, this one is much more versatile.

It also couldn't be easier to transform your Notepad documents into a single PDF file.

  • Download PDFCreator.
  • Click the 'Add' button (fifth icon in on the toolbar).
  • Highlight all of your txt files in the pop-up box.  (NB: You may have to change the file type from 'postscript files' to 'all files' in the pull-down menu of this pop-up, if your txt files aren't there.)
  • Click 'Open' to upload them.
  • Click 'Ok' when prompted to temporarily make this a default printer. (Note 'temporarily'. You don't have to do anything to remove it later, it's only for this instance of use.)
  • Don't bother filling in the meta-data, in the pop-up box, just yet.
  • Click 'Wait - Collect'.
Image: Txt Files waiting in PDFCreator
Image: Txt Files waiting in PDFCreator
  • Double-check that all of your txt files are in the order that you want them to be in the PDF eBook.
  • Click on the first file.  While pressing 'shift' on your keyboard, click on the last file. This should highlight them all in PDFCreator.
  • Right click your highlighted files and select 'Combine All' from the bottom of the pull-down menu.
Image:  Combining Txt Files in PDFCreator
Image: Combining Txt Files in PDFCreator
  • Click the 'Print' button (first icon on the toolbar). 
  • Fill in the meta-data in the pop-up.
  • Press save; and select where to save your PDF eBook.
  • Wait a few seconds while PDFCreator does its thing.
  • Open the folder where you saved it.
  • Rejoice.
Image: My txt documents combined into a PDF
Image: My txt documents combined into a PDF

Treat Yourself to a Mission Accomplished T-Shirt

You have successfully completed your task. You have a PDF eBook. Win!

How to View and Refine Your PDF eBook

You already have it! Mission accomplished! So what can you do next?

PDFCreator comes already loaded with a sister program.  PDFArchitect allows you to view your new eBook, even if you haven't already got a PDF reader.

However, it's extremely basic.  All you could actually change in here is the language. Nevertheless, if all you wanted is a plain PDF eBook to load onto your eReader, you're now all done.

I'm a little more fussy than that.  I want my chapters back for a start.  Then I want a table of contents, so I can quickly zoom over to a specific page. For that, you are going to need a more powerful program.

There are plenty of free ones that will do this for you.  I personally use another open source one called Foxit.Reader.  Once you download it, there's a mechanism for adding bookmarks. That list then acts as a table of contents.

I've not found a free PDF editor which has all of the bells and whistles that you find in a bought one.  If you want to indulge in further editing, then you'll have to spend some money.

However, PDFCreator allows you to combine more than just txt documents. There's nothing stopping you adding images or title-pages in amongst your chapters there.  Also we're making an eBook here, so I'm about to introduce you to Calibre.  You might want to hold off making your table of contents for that.

Buy a PDF Editor for Full Refinement of your eBook

If you are purchasing one of these, you don't need PDFCreator. These will make your eBook from scratch too.

Using Calibre to Read and Tidy your eBooks

Given all that Calibre does, it's quite a shock to discover that it's free!

Calibre is my second favorite new software to play with.  (My number one favorite is coming right up!)

Its main function is to allow you to read eBooks, in all formats, on your computer screen. But it does much more than that.  For now though, I'm just going to concentrate on your sparkly, new PDF eBook. 

Let's get downloading!

  • Download Calibre.
  • Select your eReader device (if you have one).  (You may be able to transfer your PDF straight onto it from Calibre, if it's supported.)
  • Select a folder for your Calibre Library on your hard-drive. (All eBooks will be stored in there.)
  • Open the program and click 'Add Books' - the top left-hand button, on the main toolbar.
  • Select 'Add books from a single directory', then find your PDF eBook.
  • Click 'Open'.

Your PDF eBook will now be uploaded onto Calibre.  It's time to start fiddling with it.

Image: Adding Metadata in Calibre
Image: Adding Metadata in Calibre
  • Right-click your PDF eBook.
  • Select 'Edit metadata' from the pull-down menu; then 'Edit metadata individually' from the next.

Note that some metadata is already in there, because you added it in PDFCreator.  It carried across.

  • Add in any metadata that is missing at the top.
  • Explore the options under 'Change Cover'.  (For this article, I chose 'Generate Cover'.)
  • Add in any tags that you want embedded into this.  (Keywords for yourself or your readers. This is really more important if you plan to sell your PDF.)
  • Change the publishing date by clicking on each element in the pull-down calendar.
  • Press 'OK'.
Image: Filling in metadata in Calibre
Image: Filling in metadata in Calibre

Your PDF now looks much more like an eBook.  Simply adding a cover can do wonders!

But we still haven't got that table of contents.

By clicking PDF, under 'Formats', you will be taken to your PDF Reader.  There you can hunt down your chapters and add bookmarks to each of them.

As all PDF Readers are different, I can't really walk you through it.

On Foxit, the top icon of the left-hand side toolbar opens up the bookmarks list.  The second icon allows me to browse the pages. The 'Edit' pull-down menu (accessed from the top toolbar) allows me to add a bookmark.

Your reader may differ slightly. 

What you're aiming for is something that looks like that pictured here.

Once saved, it doubles as your table of contents, as it should transfer as such to your eReader.

I'm now going to ask you to do something which might sound a little bizarre.  But there is method in my apparent madness.

You're going to convert your PDF eBook into a *waits for the drum roll* PDF eBook!

The reason is all down to that book cover.  It's currently saved as a separate file in your Calibre library.

This is fine and dandy, as long as you plan to only read it in that program.  But we're aiming to get this PDF onto your eReader. We'll need to therefore combine the files.

  • Highlight your eBook on the Calibre library page.
  • Select 'Convert Books' from the top toolbar.
  • Select 'PDF' from the top right-hand corner pull-down menu.
  • Tick 'Use Cover from Source File'.
  • Press 'OK'.

It will only take a few seconds to a minute (depending on your computer speed), but you will soon have two options in your format choices - 'PDF' and 'Original PDF'.  The one in the library on your hard-drive will be the newer version, with the cover embedded within.

Image: Converting a PDF eBook in Calibre
Image: Converting a PDF eBook in Calibre

Uploading your PDF eBook onto your eReader

You're seconds away from nestling between the great and the good in your digital library!

Calibre does support a host of eReaders. If yours is included, then right-click your eBook in the library.  You will see the 'send to device' option there. 

Upload it. Find a nice spot for a bit of reading.  Or visit everyone you know and show them how clever you are.  Fame and happiness start here.

But if, like me, your eReader's updates haven't yet been matched by Calibre's patches, then we have one more step to complete.

Don't worry.  This program is both free and invaluable too.

PDFs onto Kindle

Wizzley author Kinworm explains all!
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Another eReader Article by Me

I could have had a Kindle. I could have had a Nook, Sony or any e-Reader I fancied. But after careful consideration, I went for Kobo.

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Now you know how to produce an eBook, buy a guide on how to up your game into professional and successful formatting.
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Using Adobe Digital Editions to Upload eBooks onto your eReader

Calibre currently can't upload eBooks onto Kobo. I'm going via this free program from a very respected company instead.

Adobe has been a market leader in all things PDF since the beginning of time.  (Or it seems like that in internet terms.) 

Fortunately for us, the company also produces freeware like its Digital Editions

This is precisely the software needed to transfer eBooks in any format from your hard-drive to your eReader.

The company have naturally done it to ensure that PDFs make it onto our readers. But it does them all.

  • Download Adobe Digital Editions.
  • Happy dance at the fact that you get three eBooks free from Adobe.
  • Create an account, so that you can authorize your computer (and eReader) to access it.
  • Click on 'Library' in the top left-hand corner.
  • Select 'Add item to Library' from the pull-down menu.
  • Find your eBook in the Calibre Library.
  • Add it.

You can now read your book in Adobe, as well as Calibre AND your PDF reader. But we still need one more step to get it onto your eReader.  The end is, in fact, nigh.

  • Plug in your eReader.  (With my Kobo, this is a USB cable, through which I'd access Kobo for PC anyway.)
  • Your eReader should appear in the left-hand column on Adobe.
  • Click your eBook in the Adobe library, then drag it onto the eReader listing.

It's there!  It's actually on your eReader now!  Woot like there's no-one listening, then give yourself a hearty pat on the back. 

Of course, you may have to update your eReader, in its own dashboard, for it to show up!  Please note that any media transferred in this way will not show up in the official PC libraries.  Those companies prefer to keep those for literature bought through their stores.

However, your PDF eBook will most certainly be on your eReader.

Image:  My PDF eBook on Kobo
Image: My PDF eBook on Kobo

Buy a Kobo eReader

If you are in the market for an eReader, then I do recommend this one. I own the Wifi Touch and I've just proved it accepts your own eBooks.

What About Converting Txt Files into ePub and Other Formats?

I'm with you on this one. I prefer ePub as well. That's the route that I'm going down on all of my stories.

PDFs are lovely and all, but they do come a little small on eReaders. That's because they display as whole pages.

Naturally we can fiddle with the settings and make the text bigger.  But that means constantly shifting the view backwards and forwards, just to read a single sentence.

I don't know about you, but I'm way too lazy for that when I'm reading.  I want to be in the story itself, not the technology upon which I'm reading it.  But for those who really want to stick with PDFs, may I suggest reading it landscape?  The font is of a tolerable size then, and it reads well enough, if you set the margins so that the frame hugs it.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will rush off to ePub and the other popular formats.

Of course, the astute amongst you will realize that I've already told you how to do this.  Remember when we converted our PDF into another PDF in Calibre?  That pull-down menu at the top listed all of the other formats too!

Just to recap (and to save you scrolling all of the way up again):

  • Highlight your eBook on the Calibre library page.
  • Select 'Convert Books' from the top toolbar.
  • Select whatever format you like from the top right-hand corner pull-down menu.
  • Tick 'Use Cover from Source File'.
  • Press 'OK'.

Then carry on as normal, through Calibre or Adobe Digital Editions, to transfer your eBook onto your eReader.

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Of course, the really eagle-eyed amongst you will be frowning about now.  I told you up above that Calibre was my second favorite new piece of software.  Then I didn't follow through with my promise to tell you about the first.

That's because we haven't got there yet.  I wanted to give you a moment to bask in the glory of having your own work as an ePub on your eReader.

It felt cruel to tell you prematurely the horrible truth about txt files, that many of you will just be finding out.  They have hard returns embedded into them.  This doesn't matter with PDF, because that does its own formatting without any regard to Notepad's little quirks.

But ePub and the rest are trying to be sensitive to your original source.  Sorry.

If you just want a book that's readable, without worrying too much that your paragraphs just went to pot, then you're done.  Happy reading!

If you want something perfectly polished, then that is the subject for another article.  Now you'll finally get to meet the wonderful Sigil.

Sigil is a free, versatile and powerful program for converting lots of txt files into ePub format. You'll soon be reading your own work, alongside the classics, on your eReader.
Updated: 03/09/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 09/16/2012

Glad to have been of assistance! And please do come back and let us know, when you have your eBook in the on-line stores.

Good luck!

brlamc on 09/15/2012

Great information thanks for this. Now I just have to write an eBook.

JoHarrington on 09/10/2012

I have a whole forum of people beta-testing various formats, then listing the issues. I'm then having hours of fun cracking the way into removing those issues. No doubt there will be more to come!

Looking forward to seeing your ebooks out there. I'll be able to say that I knew you when... <3

katiem2 on 09/10/2012

Ah Ha and then there's more, diggin this series, I have so much unpublished content in terms of stories and series. One fine day I'll get it formatted for print. Good useful formatting information. :)K

JoHarrington on 09/09/2012

Thank you and you're welcome. It is a different experience reading on a screen, but the words remain the same. :)

Ragtimelil on 09/09/2012

Great resource. I haven't gotten into reading on a screen yet. Sometime soon though.

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