What are ebook editors?
Ebook editors more closely resemble word processors than high end design software like InDesign. The latter are designed to deal with rich and visually-complex layouts while ebook editors are best-suited to long-form narrative works.
They fall into two basic categories:
- Simple and easy-to-use: Aimed at non-technical editors and authors
- Powerful and complex: Aimed at tech-savvy production professionals
We’ll look at two examples that highlight these different approaches: Jutoh and Sigil.
Of the two, Jutoh is simpler to use and better-suited to non-technical users. Sigil is probably the most widely-used and gives technically-savvy users access to the raw HTML and CSS code and more power to fine-tune the result.
We’ll also survey some other common choices, including Apple’s very powerful iBooks Author — which aims to provide both power and ease of use.
Jutoh combines the ease of use of a word processor-like interface with the ability to tweak and fine-tune the resulting ebook for a professional finish. It’s commercial software with a modest price tag starting at US$39 and runs on PC, Mac and Linux computers.
It will suit many publishers producing relatively simple ebooks and is likely to be a good option if non-technical editors are contributors are actively involved in the production process.
Sigil is an editor specifically for EPUB files (but not yet EPUB3) and it is best-suited for more advanced users who use it to tweak the code inside EPUB ebooks. So Jutoh’s weakness — that it doesn’t allow direct editing of the HTML and CSS inside an ebook — is Sigil’s strength. It is free software with an active community.
iBooks Author is a very capable ebook authoring tool from Apple, aimed initially at the textbook market. It goes beyond authoring in text and images to include video, audio, animation, and interactive features like quizzes.
iBooks Author is built from the ground up to produce ebooks in Apple’s own iBooks 2 format, an EPUB3-like format that only works with Apple’s iBooks and iTunesU reader apps.
iBooks Author is free software (Mac only) but any commercial ebooks produced with it must be sold through Apple’s iBookstore. Despite these restrictions, iBooks Author is a very rich and capable ebook creation tool, especially for educational applications, and in many respects it rivals Adobe InDesign — without the steep learning curve or price tag.
Here’s a demonstration of how to build a book using iBooks Author.
Calibre, the popular ebook conversion software, added an ebook editor which gives code-level access with a live visual preview to EPUB and Kindle (AZW3) files. It is very similar to Sigil (in fact, it was added as a replacement tool for Sigil users when that open source software went into a temporary development hiatus.) http://calibre-ebook.com
Other editors for ebooks
Pages for the Macintosh is word processing software from Apple which includes an export to EPUB feature. For simple ebooks, the results can be surprisingly good but it’s unlikely to suit most professional publishers and you’ll need an application like Sigil if any tweaking is needed.
Scrivener is a favourite writing and research tool of many authors and scriptwriters which includes an export to EPUB feature. If you’re not planning to use Scrivener as your manuscript editing tool, it’s unlikely to be useful as an ebook editor. It’s more suited to do-it-yourself individual authors than to publishers.
Vellum produces beautifully-designed print and ebooks. Pick from a few basic styles and customize the key elements such as chapter headings, running header and footer, type styles etc. Free to try but you’ll need to sign up for a plan to export PDF (for print interior) or ebook formats.
Mac version only at this stage.
Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.