docx, PDF, ePub, mobi... Help!
May 29, 2012 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Looking for the best way to publish a frequently-updated document to multiple electronic formats (PDF, ePub, mobi, etc.).

I have a rulebook for a game that while mostly stable, is still subject to updates as errata, new rules, and other changes happen. For a while, the book was entirely on a website, but this proved problematic when the people who used it didn't have an internet connection - given the game is a LARP out in the woods, this was often. (The other situation was being inside a convention center with no signal, and the same issue came up).

Since then, I've migrated the rulebook to a single Word doc, which makes it MUCH easier to maintain, as well as print for use in an offline environment. However, given it's 400+ pages, reprinting it is a pain in the rear, not to mention expensive. The idea of getting it onto an eBook reader of some sort has been a major goal for me.

I'm currently exporting the book to two formats: PDF, which is readable on most devices, and a monolithic HTML file, so it's still accessible on the web as needed. The main factor in this is that I want to keep all produced versions of the file from a single source, if possible - I've already run into issues with trying to maintain multiple parallel copies of the "original" book. PDF and HTML work, but neither are quite as nice as ePub, or another more eBook-oriented format.


1) I need to keep PDF format as one of the outputs, as we need to keep the option of dead tree copies for people who don't own eBook readers, or to show off the book to potential new players at events where they won't be able to browse the electronic version easily.

2) There's a lot of tables in the document. Some pictures, too, but they can be removed if needed. The tables can not.

3) I don't mind having something other than Word as the original / source file, but I would prefer to keep it to one source, and to save as / export / convert to multiple formats from that source.

4) I am on a Mac, so OS X is preferable, but Windows will work in a pinch via Parallels.

5) DRM and hosting on a store are a non-issue, we host the files on our site. There's no money being made off the book, people pay to play when they attend the game's events.

Any thoughts on what is the best way to accomplish this?

Thank you!
posted by GJSchaller to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
We just started using Asciidoc at work to do documentation between HTML and pdf and it's working mostly well. We haven't solved how to control table width in a satisfactory manner, so we're living with full-page-width tables with some columns containing too much whitespace. I'm using asciidoc to generate the HTML document and a2x to generate PDF. I'm running it on Linux, haven't tried to build/run it on OSX, some colleagues have run it on Windows. The colleagues did a survey of other options (markdown, etc) and settled on Asciidoc. I don't have the criteria they used to make that choice.
posted by dr. fresh at 10:16 AM on May 29, 2012

You might try putting the source into Docbook, which is an XML format designed primarily for technical books but which is also usable for a document like yours. Writing Docbook by hand is a pain, so try Asciidoc, which is a way to write Docbook using plain-text markup.

If you go the Asciidoc route you will need to convert the Word to plain text (the sort of thing you edit with a text editor like Windows Notepad; I don't know what text editors exist for OS X.)

Asciidoc will allow you to produce HTML or PDF. I don't have any experience getting it to epub but IBM has this tutorial.

Most of the Docbook toolchain has lots of UNIX tools so OS X will make you happy here.

Unfortunately this is a somewhat technical way to go about this, but I doubt there is anything simpler.
posted by massysett at 10:18 AM on May 29, 2012

There may be an easier way to do this, but if you're okay with keeping Word as the original source, I would do that, save it as PDF (as you're presumably doing now) and then use calibre to convert the PDF into whatever e-book format you want. It's really easy to figure out AND has the benefit of, if any sort of special formatting has to happen for your conversion to work happily, will save the formatting so you can just run it every time.

(I've only used it for Windows, but assume that OS X is pretty much the same. I love it and can't recommend it enough for just plain dicking around to easily figure out how something works -- and for taking text files of free/public domain scanned books and turning them into decent looking ePub/mobi/Kindle files)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:03 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Calibre has a command line conversion utility. You should be able to write a little script that converts your file to whatever formats you feel like in one go. It won't take docx as a starting point, but it'll take PDF, odt, RTF, HTML. You might want to do a little experimentation or thinking about which is your best option for getting the various outputs to look good.
posted by hoyland at 11:44 AM on May 29, 2012

Thirding the suggestion of Calibre. Of particular note, it supports HTML as and format, and RTF for both input and output. So if you switched the master document's format to RTF you could put that directly into Calibre for conversion to most ereader formats, or alternatively you could export to HTML and go to other formats from there.
posted by JHarris at 1:53 PM on May 29, 2012

Edit fail. It supports HTML as an input format.
posted by JHarris at 1:53 PM on May 29, 2012

AsciiDoc, as several have already mentioned, is great. Another option is pandoc, which as the name hints aims to be a converter of many document types. You could use one of its native input formats directly, or use AsciiDoc to generate DocBook, which can then be converted to the desired end product with pandoc.
posted by dendrochronologizer at 6:26 PM on May 29, 2012

In case anyone comes back to this, I have a semi-solution.

LibreOffice allows output from the "base" file to PDF, and version 3.5 has an add-on that will output to ePub.

The catch is that the extension is in Beta, and only runs with 3.5 or prior, not 3.6... so it's not perfect, but it's better than converting every time you do an update. You just Save As / Export to all 3 formats.
posted by GJSchaller at 8:36 AM on September 25, 2012

« Older We're one dead dog short of a sad country song   |   Please input your output Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.