Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
There are many ways to get at the insides of an EPUB—many of them idiosyncratic and unique to the particular needs of a given ebook developer. And not all tools are created equally.
So while this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, it’s a quick guide to some of the best tools for four key pieces of the development process that ebook designers confront day in and day out.
It’s also an invitation to start a conversation about just how we go about confronting them. As I’ve written before, ebook developers are still working out how best to balance print and digital outputs in ways that support readers in both formats while making efficient use of publishers’ production resources. That’s no easy challenge, and there’s no one solution, but opening up our respective toolboxes and sharing tips of the trade is one good place is start.
Many developers are perfectly comfortable with the command-line method of unzipping EPUBs to edits their various pieces. If you prefer the drag-and-drop method, Rorohiko’s free script eCan Crusher will be a big help to you. It works on both Mac and Windows and simply creates a folder of the HTML, CSS, etc. that live inside an EPUB, which can be edited and then re-zipped into the .epub format.
An essential step in the editing process is to run any EPUB through an EPUB validator to make sure you didn’t miss an HTML close tag or a semicolon in the CSS. There are a couple of ways to do this. The IDPF has an online validator for books that are under 10MB. You can also install a local version on any desktop. I use the pagina EPUB-Checker app, a piece of freeware into whose window you can drag any EPUB to find out if it validates. It is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
FlightDeck is a newer tool that is already proving to be an indispensable part of my workflow. EPUB validation is built into the report it generates, though its feedback is much fuller than the sometimes cryptic error messages that a validator will usually throw up.
Flight Deck instead provides detailed error messages about whats’ going wrong plus lets you compare the ebook against an industry-standard set of best practices; a full set of fonts, images and external links statistics; and a review of the built-in metadata (as well as a space to edit and add to the metadata). It also shows a preview of how the various platforms will deal with the ebook and what elements might cause problems at the ingestions stage.
Once an EPUB is unzipped, the HTML, CSS and other pieces of the package can be edited with any text editor. Many of them have powerful find/change menus with RegEx options—which is critical for any HTML cleanup operation. TextWrangler is a free text editor that can run RegEx searches on a full folder of HTML files at once. Its older sibling BBEdit is available for a very small fee and includes full web authoring tools. Coda is another, slightly more expensive text editor with a preview function that is popular with developers. Finally, Sublime is a low-cost editor also popular in ebook developer circles.
There are a few EPUB-specific editors on the market as well as one XML editor that functions nicely as an ebook editor. Sigil is a multiplatform ebook editor that inspires wild loyalty; it is an open-source tool under active development created by ebook developers for ebook developers. Sigil has some intuitive, organizational tools—including some allowing the creation of semantic names for the HTML files and then editing the navigational document and OPF to reflect those changes. Unfortunately, it is currently stalled at EPUB2, although I am told that EPUB3 capabilities are under development. In addition to being open-source, another major advantage is that it is free.
I personally use oXygen to edit EPUBs. It is an XML editor that works nicely for most ebooks. It will open EPUBs directly, allowing users to skip the zip/unzip step entirely. It validates HTML and CSS on the fly, redlining any erroneous bits and pieces. It will also validate to the EPUB2 or EPUB3 spec, whichever is indicated inside the ebook. Users can flip between code and author views, making it a little more WYSIWYG for people who want that. This software has a steep buy-in but is also available as a subscription.
What Do You Use?
This is a personal list, partly reflecting my bias—because I like the tools that I like— and partly reflecting the still decidedly sub-par nature of other tools in this space. That being so, I am very curious about what other ebook developers use. Please don’t hesitate to tell me and other readers of this post about your own favorites in the comments section below.