Using ebook editors to make or fine-tune ebooks


This section looks at ways to do digital production in-house using ebook editors. They offer more control and ability to fine-tune the output than conversion services.

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


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.

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Here’s what the main screen looks like, showing its visual editor:

Jutoh Main Page

Jutoh has some nice features to ease the job of designing an ebook, including cover design and table of contents templates, an index generator and a neat facility that lets you store assets relating to the project such as original images and research notes.

Input formats include HTML, plain text, EPUB and ODT which is the file format used by Open Office (openoffice.org), the free competitor to Microsoft Word. To use Word files, you’ll first have to save them in ODT format (which is supported by later versions of Word), or open the Word files in Open Office and save them to the ODT format.

Output formats include EPUB and mobi for the Kindle, as well as plain text and HTML.

To produce the Kindle format, Jutoh actually installs Amazon’s KindleGen and Kindle Previewer software into the Jutoh application and uses them to generate the Kindle ebook edition. This means you’re getting the same conversion you would get using KindleGen directly, including compatibility with Kindle’s latest format, KF8 (though Jutoh doesn’t yet support all of KF8’s advanced formatting features).

On the EPUB front, Jutoh simplifies things with a built-in version of EpubCheck, the essential error-checking test that any ebook must pass before being accepted for commercial distribution. There’s no support yet for EPUB3.

Jutoh’s advanced features include an extensive search and replace capability for cleaning up files or producing new versions, and it has a US$40 upgrade called Jutoh Plus that adds scripting capability to automate a lot of ebook publishing functions.

One downside for advanced users: you can’t directly edit the HTML and CSS code in the ebook files, though you can add custom HTML and CSS code to the Jutoh project.

Available for Windows, Mac, Linux and FreeBSD computers.

Jutohhttp://www.jutoh.com

Sigil


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. 

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Here’s what Sigil’s main screen looks like. This shows both its word processor-like Book View and the Code View which lets you see and edit the underlying HTML and CSS code:

Sigil Split View

Sigil is often used in conjunction with conversion software like Calibre to create the ‘raw’ EPUB file which Sigil edits, updates and fine-tunes.

Another approach is to assemble an ebook from HTML and CSS files, using Sigil to generate the navigation (table of contents), add the metadata, and package the files together into a single EPUB ebook file.

Among its many features is a powerful find and replace capability with full support for regular expressions, and you can import and directly modify CSS style sheets.

Input formats: Sigil only accepts EPUB or HTML files as input. It’s not designed primarily as an ebook creation or conversion tool. With Sigil, you can directly open and edit the underlying HTML and CSS code that makes up an EPUB ebook. It also supports import of images, style sheets and fonts.

Output formats: Sigil outputs EPUB (not yet EPUB3 and no Kindle formats).

Available for Windows, Mac, Linux computers.

Sigil: https://sigil-ebook.com/

iBooks Author


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.

http://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/

Calibre


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

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.

http://www.apple.com/iwork/pages/

Scrivener

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.

http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

Vellum

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.

https://vellum.pub

Resources


Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.

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