Editing EPUBs in the Post-Post-Sigil World?
I wrote the first drafts of these tutorials in April and May 2014, and I’ve been dribbling them out ever since. But almost since the day I started, there has been an uncomfortable reckoning on the horizon: Step 5 of my workflow uses Sigil, an open-source HTML/EPUB editor that ceased development right as The Yellow Buick Review project got underway.
Computers, E-books, the Web, life in general—we understand these things to be dynamic and shifting. Anyone reading this blog in 2022 (hi!) will find outdated information. The best I can do is offer honest advice in good faith. But when Sigil went quiet in Spring 2014, I felt as if I were leading people down a path I knew to be a dead end. It was hard to be enthusiastic about documenting Step 5:
5. Place the HTML and CSS files into an EPUB. We’ve been using Sigil, a free, open-source EPUB editor. Sigil wrangles together our HTML/CSS files, plus any images or media files we’ll be using. Sigil also helps us make a Table of Contents…
But I got excited this week reading this post over on the development blog of Sigil:
Now that all changed about a month ago when Kevin Hendricks decided to invest his time in some bug fixes. Then he decided to start working on a plugin framework for Sigil. He’s been spearheading the effort to get this feature implemented. It’s not ready yet but it’s coming a long (sic) nicely.
Hooray! Sigil is back! The little EPUB editor that could!
I’m thrilled because Sigil sits at the sweet spot of WYSIWYG editors and code-savvy text editors. My trusty Adobe Dreamweaver is elegant and powerful, but it can’t auto-generate tables of contents or edit book metadata. Those are EPUB tasks, not Website tasks.
Major hurdles remain, though. The program doesn’t fully support EPUB3, not yet. Inside, the markup/code Sigil generates is xHTML 1.1 and CSS 2.1, which are hallmarks of the EPUB2 standard. Is that bad? Not really, not for now. Many E-readers can’t use EPUB3. No E-readers require it. And you can absolutely create an elegant, standards-compliant poetry E-book with last-generation technology. (It’s a little supercilious, frankly, to call a 2010 Kindle or Nook “last-generation technology.”) I’ve been using HTML5 for this tutorial, and all of the sample files are in HTML5, but when I put those into Sigil, they’ll get converted to xHTML 1.1.(1) Really, though, it’s not a big deal, not for the Yellow Buick Review project.
Where it is bad is that the lack of EPUB3 support might keep the larger E-book developer/typesetter community from embracing Sigil (2). As I understand it, Sigil is sailing with a skeleton crew of developers, and while they’ve stated that EPUB3 is in the offing, they have a list of features to implement and bugs to track. Here’s the graph of their lastest GitHub commits:
It’s important that Sigil succeed. Amazon and Apple have rolled out their E-book tools, but those tools only support the platforms of Kindle and iBooks, respectively. Sigil is an open, free solution for an industry that too often locks itself into proprietary, costly tools. I’m so glad it’s back, and so glad I can keep Step 5 as-written with a clear conscience.
Note: Sigil is a volunteer project, and they’ve hung out the sign for Paypal donations on their blog. If you make E-books for a living, please help them out. Even if you don’t use Sigil, you will benefit indirectly from the options and choices it keeps open for the industry.