ePubEditingHere’s a handy overview of the basics of manually editing ePub, the industry standard format for e-books—courtesy of Kotobee.

Yes, sometimes Calibre, Scrivener and the like are enough for creating e-books, especially for your personal use or very limited distribution. But what if you care about the details and know the readers will, too?

Even the people at Kotobee, the developers of Kotobee Author, admit that only so much can be automated.

It’s a huge failing of ePub—the fact it’s been around for years and you may still need to resort to manual editing, even for a simple book, unless you want to use a commercial service.

Why can’t the industry get this right? And now the International Digital Publishing Forum—the group behind ePub—may merge with the World Wide Web Consortium and team up on new standards for other reasons. Let’s hope that this time the standards people are more helpful to publishers of all sizes and early on can develop good authoring tools and encourage others to do the same.

Related: ePub validation tool—to make sure you ePub complies with the standard. Also see Blank line issue pits Scrivener against EPUB standards, Chris Meadows’ post, for an example of the limits of automated solutions. For basics on the free Sigil editor, check out Felix Pleşoianu’s guide here on TeleRead.

(Found via  Ebooks, Ebook Readers, Digital Books and Digital Content Publishing on LinkedIn.)


  1. At times I wonder if there’s anyone developing the epub standards who understands ebook publishing particularly by small publishers and independent authors. These troubles and others should have been cleared up long ago and by now epub should be much more powerful than it is.

    Far too much effort has been devoted to adding audio and video content to ebooks. I was working for Microsoft back in the late 1980s when multimedia was the buzz, driven by the added space on CD-ROMs. It bombed then because the public did not want to blend medias. The same is true today. When people want to read, they want to read.

    Epub development has also missed a critical distinction between webpages and ebooks. Users SCROLL through webpages, so there’s no reason to fret about handling breaks in the text. On the other hand, readers PAGE through ebooks. The epub standards and epub readers need to be smart enough to handle page breaks intelligently and practically for all screen sizes. I’ve yet to see any evidence of that. The last time I checked, ebook readers couldn’t even handle something as trivial as widows and orphans. Not thinking about that distinction is, in my mind, not thinking about ebooks at all.

    I’ve also recently become worried by hints that epub’s official developers are big on adding what’s euphemistically called rich media to epub.


    Sounds benign doesn’t? It is not. It’s bad for ebook publishing. Here’s Google’s definition:

    “Rich media is a digital advertising term for an ad that includes advanced features like video, audio, or other elements that encourage viewers to interact and engage with the content. While text ads sell with words, and display ads sell with pictures, rich media ads offer more ways to involve an audience with an ad.”

    You read it right. Rich media in epub means inserting advertising in ebooks. Think webpages with gifs you can’t stop and auto-start audio and video that blare away. That’s where at least some epub developers want to take epub. Living in the world of webpages glutted with irritating advertising, they want to take ebooks in that same gosh-awful direction. And that for a format that can’t even handle simple graphics attractively.

    Books and ebooks are currently almost the only forms of media where we can escape from the clutches of advertisers. Print books are fairly safe. There’s a lot of tradition that says they’re off-limits to advertising. But ebooks are another story. Epub could turn them into blaring ads while, as I mention, not even be able to handle a placed graphic well.

    Ah, and here is another gripe about the cluelessness of epub’s developers. That’s all the emphasis on interactivity, again as if a book were a website. One of the chief tasks of a writer, whether of fiction or non-fiction, is to eliminate the need for interactivity. Events and characters are presented just the right order and with just the right amount of information. A good writer doesn’t dump in a character called John and say nothing about him because, what the heck, interactivity lets reader jump to a bio of John. That’s poor writing.

    Yeah, in addition to their strange idea that epub should be little more than HTML for books, they seem to know little about what real writing is. Everything is, in their mind, little more that lots and lots of webpages. I can understand why they might think that way about 2006, when ebooks were new. But to not understand the distinction in 2016 is absurd. The early cars imitated horse carriages and that was understandable. That was all the designers knew. But a full decade on, it would have been ridiculous for cars to still look like horseless carriages. And yet that’s what we have with epub. It still thinks an ebook is merely a really long webpage.

    Maybe I am being a bit cynical, but I can’t see how mating International Digital Publishing Forum, which at least claims to be about publishing, with the World Wide Web Consortum, is going to improve matters.

    –Mike Perry, Inkling Books

  2. @Mike: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. In the ideal scenario, the proposed W3C merger would result in the standards setters being more responsive to the needs of small publishers. That remains to be seen. ePub was much needed. Related hassles for small publishers are not. Likewise, I share your fears about intrusive ads. As an option to enable free books? Sure. But I’m not sure how well the industry can resist the temptation to inflict ads on all and make books as junky as the web in general has become (lots of good stuff – but also an abundance of SEO spam and malware). David

  3. I think the problem is that the Epub standards people are bound and determined to turn “ebooks” into something other than books.

    Books are print and pictures. Period. Replicating the paper book experience as much as possible.

    You want to add sound, video, etc. — that is all well and good but that product is no longer a book.

    I wish there was a specialty format and product definition for multimedia projects that include video, audio and text and pictures, all packaged into a zip-style container for multimedia players — they are clearly not books, but the idea of a “portable” (self-contained) media package, most likely with a self-contained HTML 5 browser to “play” it (Ideally platform independent so it will play anywhere — iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, Blackberry, etc.)

    I’m sure somebody could come up with the format and a snappy package name to enable its widespread adoption … but again, such projects are many things, but they are NOT books.

    Books should be by definition a “limited medium,” just as radio / podcasts are AUDIO only. You want to add pictures and video, sure, go ahead, but it is no longer radio or podcasting when you do that.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.