Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sigil vs. hand-coding ebooks

Sigil is a free piece of software for building EPUBs. I heard lots of raving about it at Balticon, so I decided to give it a try for generating Disciple, Part III's ebooks. Previously, I had been agglomerating all of my text into one document, stripping it down to a naked .txt file, hand-coding it using jEdit, and converting the resulting HTML file into EPUB and MOBI with Calibre. (My PDFs are generated from the print layout because Calibre sucks at making PDFs.) I talked about that process a bit in this post.

Things I liked 

  • Sigil let me import separate text files into the EPUB. Thumbs up on that one.
  • Sigil automatically generates a TOC for you. If you use their header tags, that is -- it won't let you choose custom tags. A minor problem, okay, I can make that work.
  • Sigil automatically replaced all the em dashes with the appropriate code. Nice. But it didn't catch the odd characters, í & ü & ä, so I had to search & replace those. Good thing that writing this made me think to check the ellipses, because it didn't do them either. On the whole, not much improvement over doing that by hand.
Yeah, these are the good points and I'm already complaining. To be fair, if you aren't familiar with HTML markup, Sigil does have a nice, word-processor-like interface to help you with that. Being me, I went straight to looking at the code and didn't use the word-processor side much. It was convenient when I got the revisions back from my proofreader and had to make some minor edits.

Things that were annoying
  • I'm running Mac OS 10.7.5. Sigil's current version is for 10.8, isn't backwards compatible, and there isn't a user's manual specifically for the 10.7 version. So the manual I used occasionally referred to functions that didn't exist in what I was using. Feel the love.
  • Their vaunted Regex search function crashed Sigil a few times, then mysteriously began working. Regex is a method for searching and replacing HTML tags and other bits of code that are surrounding text that you don't want to change. Why do you need need a whole search function for that? Because…
  • Importing files into Sigil generates a lot of junk tags which are redundant once I apply my Disciple-specific CSS.  This offends my aesthetic sensibilities. It's annoying to have to do several searches to clean them out, too.
  • Having done all the necessary cleaning and coding, I opened the resulting EPUB in Nook and... the cover art did not show up in the bookshelf view. None of the spacing I specified in the CSS had been applied. Grumble, snarl, wtf.
Calibre to the rescue, as usual. I converted the EPUB to an EPUB and lo and behold, it's fixed. Also generated the MOBI (for Kindles) using Calibre, but that was to be expected.

On the whole, color me not so impressed with Sigil. Then again, I'm a bit of a control freak (as you know if you're a regular reader) so take that with however much salt you like. :)

1 comment:

Liz A. said...

Wow, most of that went right over my head. I had enough trouble trying to get Calibre to recognize double Ls when I converted my manuscript so that I could read it on my Nook.

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