eReader: ePub Tools

Let's talk a little about eReaders today, specifically the ePub format (that pretty much all eReaders use except the Kindle) and some ePub modification tools that can make your life easier.

If you don't know what an ePub file is then a great place to start would be the Wikipedia write-up. My two-second non-techno-babble explanation would be that it's a eBook file that works on non-Kindle readers (B&N, Kobo, Sony, pretty much every third-party device currently on the market) and which is closely related to an HTML file. The ePub format differs from, say, PDF in that the ePub format contains text information and can be resized/reflowed easily on most eReaders.

If you publish an eBook, your readers are going to want and expect an ePub version.* (Or at least I will.)

* They will also want a Kindle (mobi) version, but once you have an ePub version getting a mobi version is pretty easy. 
More on that in another post.

So let's talk about some tools that I like, love, and use on a near-daily basis.

Sigil is a free What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor for ePubs. It is incredibly powerful and is a super-sweet, super-easy to use program. Take it home to Mom and give it some good loving. I seriously use Sigil once a day. I love it so much.

Here is what you can do with Sigil. You can copy-and-paste text into the Book View (or type directly into it) and save it as an ePub. Once you get a little more comfy with ePub code (and you will, because a good ePub is a clean ePub and clean code is minimal code so basically "getting comfy with ePub code" means "learning what to strip out" which is fun in a tidying sort of way) you can switch back and forth to the Code View and tinker directly with the code. And if you mess the code up, like by leaving an end tag off, when you switch to Book View Sigil cleans that up for you. Thank you, Sigil, you're such a sweetheart!

You know what else you can do with Sigil? You can load in an HTML file and save it directly as an ePub. So clean, so neat. You can go through and create new chapters through a honking big HTML file by pressing CTRL+ENTER at the end of a line. You can do so many groovy things. If you are ever, ever, ever going to modify an ePub, you should download and install Sigil. If you are using ABBYY Fine Reader and 1DollarScan to convert paper book to PDFs to ePubs, you should be saving the Fine Reader output into HTML (not Word) and loading that into Sigil. Seriously, it's the difference between an hour's worth of clean-up and a day's.

dotEPUB is a free plugin for Firefox and Chrome browsers. It lets you create an ePub file directly from a webpage with the press of a button. Super-useful if you like to save things for offline reading -- go to a site, press the dotEPUB button on your browser toolbar, save the file into Calibre, and away you go. Wheeeeee!

The one major downside to dotEPUB is that it's not quite smart enough to gobble up page links, so if the article you want to save is spread across multiple pages and there's not an all-on-one-page-for-printing option anywhere, you'll have to make multiple ePub files to save everything. But never fear! epubCreator is a not-free tool that can merge and concatenate ePub files into one. So far, based on my runs with the software, it works great with dotEPUB outputs if you open the files with Sigil first and save them once before conversion. (Sigil cleans up any nasty code artifacts. Who's a good software program? Sigil is a good software program! YES, YOU ARE.)

Modify ePub Calibre Plugin
This Calubre plugin by KiwiDude is worth mentioning because it's great for force-stripping out publisher dross like embedded fonts (no, I don't want to read things in serif font, thank you) and ridiculously huge margins. It's a powerful tool, but like all conversions should be handled with care. Make a copy of your original file before you start automatically stripping out code.

I think that's probably enough gushing out of my system for one post. I'm pretty fluent in most of these tools at this point -- especially Sigil -- and am happy to field questions in the comments.


Isabelle Fallon said...

I LOVE Sigil, it is seriously the best tool out there for ePub manipulation! And dotEPUB is a great little plugin, I particularly use it to save blog posts if a) I haven't a chance to read them straight away or b) I know I'm going to want to read them again. As for Calibre, the modify ePub tool scares me a bit (me and code are still only on nodding terms) so I just reconvert the ePub file and go to Look and Feel -> Filter Style Information and check the boxes for Fonts, Margins and Padding. Gets rid of the nonsense and still I have the option to restore the original ePub if it all goes haywire! I am not an author, I'm a reader, so my ePub manipulation is to do with my own preferences and foibles, not providing for an audience, but I think Sigil in particular is ideal for authors AND readers!

Samantha C said...

Cool, advice =D I was worried when I first thought about publishing that I was going to have to put money out every step of the way to create an actual digital copy that's not just me mailing people a Word document XD Going to have to check out Sigil for sure.

Of course, going to have to edit potential e-book so it sucks a little less first....there's the rub huh?

Ana Mardoll said...

Ha, yes, the writing is the hardest part.

I can say from experience that going manually from Word to Sigil takes only a few hours. (Do a format global find-replace on your Word document first to make all italics colored red and it will make your life SO much easier.)

I haven't tried it yet, but Scrivener -- which is a very nice writing tool I enjoy and which you can snag for $20 with the NaNo coupon that everyone can use -- has an ePub and mobi export features. I plan to test those feature out in the next month or two and then I'll report back. :)

Fluffy_goddess said...

Oooh. I got a Kobo for Christmas, so this is *definitely* relevant to my interests!

Of course, I'm still at the stage of playing around where I'm trying to find the easiest way to find good deals on kobobooks, and thus far all my converted-from-html files are .pdfs. Which is... not the cleanest format in the world. Takes <10 minutes to do, but still.

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