Using Sigil as a Proofreading Tool for Ebooks

Proof Blog 2Indulge me a moment… A few months ago I wrote a story. To my regular readers this is no big deal–you write stories in mass quantities and many of you earn your livings doing so, so ho-hum, am I right? But, for reasons I won’t bore you with, it was a big deal to me. I let my friend Julia Barrett read it and she liked it. Then Julia decided to put together an anthology of romance stories with a foodie theme. Knowing how much I like foodie stories (I call it food porn–yum!) she asked me to write a story for the anthology. To which I said, “I don’t write romances any more, so wouldn’t know where to start.” And no sooner had I hit SEND on the email, then I got an IDEA. Punchline: I wrote a foodie romance and Julia included it in the anthology. Heh.

My main job with the anthology was producing the ebook. Producing an anthology, even a large one, is not that much different than doing a novel. Consistency and file size control are the biggest issues. I’ve discussed the importance of those before, so won’t bore you with a repeat.

I WILL bore you with the necessity of proofreading ebooks. With this anthology, each writer was responsible for proofreading her own story. That meant I had to provide the ebook and a markup document to each of them.

Proofreading is a Big Deal to me, not because I particularly enjoy proofreading, but because I’m a heavy reader. Nothing irritates me more than realizing the publisher skipped proofreading. I can’t tolerate slobs. When I get a new client, I always encourage proofreading. Sometimes I even do it myself. Because it’s so important to me, I’m always looking for ways to make proofreading easier for the writers I work with.

Proofreading an ebook is not brain surgery or even rocket science. (ooh! Bunny trail–Have you read Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN? Engineer porn–yum.) When I proofread an ebook, I load the ebook on my Kindle and go through it word by word. If I discover a mistake, I make the correction in the html file. Because I do so much of this work it’s easy for me.

It’s not so easy for many of the writers I work with. They can’t make corrections in the ebook itself, and the fact that it looks so different from their original document just throws them. Last year I had a writer who just could not make the mental leap between the markup doc and the ebook, so painstakingly went through the markup document and meticulously styled it to make it look like the ebook. Hurt my head AND my heart. The worst part is, when a writer is that distracted by how something looks, it’s easy for them to miss important things like typos and misplaced punctuation which is the whole point of proofreading in the first place.

Then I made an interesting discovery. There is a program called Sigil. It’s an epub editor. It has some features I find useful, namely being able to root out html goofs quickly and easily. I discovered that if I copy/paste the text into a Word doc, Word will do its best to retain the formatting.

Proof Blog 1The translation isn’t perfect. Images and fonts don’t transfer and Word has a problem with italics (tends to squish them) but overall this creates a pretty close approximation to what the ebook looks like. Real benefit is, the text AND layout are exactly the same. For writer/publishers who are not comfortable with proofreading on a device or with an online previewer such as Calibre or the Kindle Previewer, they can proofread the Word doc (turn on Track Changes and go to town). If they have a concern about the formatting, they can look at the actual ebook. The Word doc can be printed (for those who prefer proofreading with red pencil in hand). For those who hire out proofreading, they can check the styling and formatting in the ebook themselves, then send the Word doc to the proofreader.

How difficult is Sigil? Not very. It has a learning curve, but for this purpose, all you have to do is open your epub in the program then put it in book view. Copy/Paste the sections/chapters into a Word doc and that’s it. You have a markup document that closely resembles your actual ebook. Given that Sigil is a free program, it doesn’t cost you any cash to give it a try.

For those doing anthologies or box sets with multiple writers, it’s a quick and easy way to make individual-specific markup docs for each writer.

What about the rest of the you? Any tips or tricks for making proofreading ebooks easier and/or more efficient?

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8 thoughts on “Using Sigil as a Proofreading Tool for Ebooks

  1. Just so’s ya know, I love Jaye’s story! Glad she put her little fingers on the keyboard again. Not to mention her genius at formatting. So she’s both a contributor and a creator. She saved me much time and effort. I was not responsible for proofing every story I included in the anthology. Foodie porn is the best porn. 🙂
    I have no issue correcting documents, but Sigil does look interesting.

    • Aw, you’re making me blush, Julia.

      But yeah, getting over the visual hump is difficult. I’ve worked on so many ebooks it’s not an issue with me anymore. Thinking back to the beginning, it was a struggle for me, too. Any tool that helps bridge the What You See Is Not Necessarily What You Get gap is a good one.

  2. My best proofreading trick so far is to load the ePub onto my tablet and have it read out loud to me. My tablet is older and reads in a monotone robot voice (think a GPS circa 2003). I follow along with the computer. It takes forever and is boring, but it works! For one thing, the tablet reads very slowly, so you’re forced to pay attention to every word. Also, it catches those typos in the middle of the word that your eye skips. For example, I misspelled “minister” as “minster.” I wouldn’t have noticed the missing letter i, but the tablet pronounced it wrong, so I found the typo.

    Using this method, I have found typos after three other people had proofread the manuscript. From now on, I’m never going to call a book “finished” until the monotone robot has read it to me.

    • Nice. I can see how it would be especially helpful for writers working on their own stories. The mind is soooo good about “seeing” what is supposed to be there instead of what is actually there.

    • I do the same and convert my Word document to PDF and put on a set of headphones to listen to the ‘read out loud’ version. The only thing is, the computerized voice doesn’t differentiate same sounding words like, ‘were’ and ‘where’ but usually I spot them as I’m following along.

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