Monday, October 10, 2011

Self-Publishing an Ebook, Part 1: An Overview of the Programs

This is the first installment of the posts I am planning to do on self-publishing an ebook.  In this section, I will provide a short description and introduction to the programs I have used thus far to create my ebooks.

I have mostly used three programs during my indie publishing efforts.  These three programs are Sigil, Calibre, and GIMP.  All three programs are available for free online, and are open source projects.  For all of the author types out there who are not familiar with the term "open source", it means that these programs were created by independent programmers for use by anyone, and along the way, other programmers have volunteered their time and talent to improve the program for free.  You can read a more in-depth definition of open source by clicking here; let's all be grateful for the bored, philanthropic programmers of the world, shall we?

(Note:  Some programmers are starving artists, just like many writers I know.  If you happen to not be starving, please consider supporting the cause of open source projects that you use by giving a small donation if one is requested.)


Sigil is the program I use to make and edit .epub files.  "EPUB" is short for "electronic publication", and is frequently written as ".epub" (with the dot at the start) because files will have the extension written that way, the very same as .doc, .docx, .jpg, .wav, etc.  The file extension defines for the computer what programs can open and edit the file; for example, Word can create and edit a file with a .doc or .docx extension, the same way that Sigil can create and edit a file with an .epub extension.  Read more about .epub by clicking here.

Sigil is a WYSIWYG editor.  "WYSIWYG" is short for "what you see is what you get".  WYSIWYG editors have earned this name because they present an interface with a screen that shows you what your final text will look like, instead of showing you all of the convoluted markup and computer language formatting that goes on to make your text look that way.  You want your text to be bold?  Just highlight it and click the "Bold" button--there's no need for you to isolate the text in all of the code and put bold code tags around it.  Of course, if you feel the need to add some specialized coding, this is no issue--you can switch over from the WYSIWYG screen to the code screen, and make changes there, too.

You can go to the Sigil website and read about Sigil by clicking here.

You can download Sigil by clicking here.  You will need to select the download next to the operating system your computer uses.  For example, if you computer uses Windows, then select the Windows download.  If you accidentally pick the wrong download, don't worry--your computer should tell you that it can't run the program, and you'll just need to pick the correct download and try again.  : )


Calibre is the program I use to convert some file formats to other file formats.  As the explanation above details, only certain programs can open and edit certain file extensions.  Because of this, there is a need to convert some files to other extensions so that other programs can use the file.  I most frequently use Calibre to convert my .epub files (created in Sigil) to .mobi files (which I can upload to Kindle Direct Publishing).

You can go to the Calibre website and read about Calibre by clicking here.

You can download Calibre by clicking here.  Again, you will need to select the download associated with the operating system running on your computer.  And again, if you accidentally select the wrong one, no worries--it just won't work on your machine, and you'll need to try again by selecting the right download for your computer.


GIMP is the program I use to make cover art and images.  GIMP is great for image editing because it saves files as layers, instead of as one flat image as a program like Paint does.  This concept can be difficult for individuals who have never used a program like this to understand.  Try to imagine it this way: when you edit a picture in Paint, it's like actually painting on that image in real life.  When your paint dries, there is no removing the paint from the picture--it's all fixed and unmovable.  But when you edit an image in GIMP, it's more like you're scrap-booking: you can come back later and move all the little bits and bobs on your picture, the frame that the picture is in, the look and feel of your overall composure, etc.--none of it is fixed and dry like paint, so you can wipe the changes away from you image one by one if you want to change something later without clearing all of your other changes.

GIMP is sort of like the free, open source version of programs like Adobe InDesign or Photoshop.  GIMP does not have all of the same features, and the user interface is generally not as user friendly as paid programs, but for the price of FREE I have found that it's easy enough to get used to the good (not great) interface and the powerful features offered.

If you're curious, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Project.  GNU is a recursive acronym that stands for "GNU's Not Unix"--programmers and techie types like to do quirky naming things like this.  Don't ask why; they're just cool that way.  To read more about GNU, click here.

You can go to the GIMP website and read about GIMP by clicking here.

You can download GIMP by clicking here.

This concludes the introduction to the programs I have used to make my ebooks thus far.  Check back soon for a detailed introduction to each program!


Continue on to Part 2 here!

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