How to Easily Write and Publish eBooks With Sigil

With the growing popularity of ebook readers like the Kindle and iPad, more and more people are reading on a screen rather than from printed books. And more and more authors are getting into the act. Why not you?

Maybe you’re a budding author who wants to self publish. Or maybe you’re a software developer who wants to distribute documentation in a slightly different way. You could be a blogger who wants to collect a bunch of their best posts into an ebook.

There are several ways to do that. You could fire up your favorite word processor, start typing, and then create a PDF file. Or you could go straight to a format that just about every electronic device can handle. The easiest way to do that is to write an publish using Sigil

Sigil is an Open Source WYSIWYG ebook editor that produces ebooks in the popular epub format. You can read books in epub format using just about any dedicated ebook reader, on most smartphones and tablets, and even on desktop or laptop computers.

Let’s take a look at how to use Sigil to write and publish an ebook.

Installing the Software

Sigil can run on Linux, Mac OS, and Windows. You can download installers for each operating system from Sigil project’s website. If you’re in the mood to embrace your inner geek, you can also download the source code.

Once you’ve downloaded the installer, just run it. Sigil installs on your computer, and adds an icon to your Start or application menu. For example, you can launch Sigil under Ubuntu by selecting Applications -> Sigil -> Sigil.

Main Sigil window

Time to Get Writing

Sigil is WYSIWYG, which means working in it is a lot like working in a word processor. To get going, just start typing.

The main difference between Sigil and a word processor is that you don’t get all that much formatting. You can add:

  • Headings
  • Bold, italics, underline, and strikethrough
  • Bullets and numbers
  • Images

You can also justify and indent text. All of that is literally a click away on the toolbar. To apply formatting, just highlight the text and click one of the buttons on the toolbar.

Writing the ebook

Chances are that you’ll have more than just a bit of text. And chances are that you’ll want to break that text up into chapters. To do that, click to the left of the heading that you want to make a chapter title and the select Insert -> Chapter Break.

You’ll notice that something interesting happens in the left portion of the Sigil window. The new chapter is added to the Book Browser.

Book Browser

The Book Browser lists the chapters in your ebook. Out of the box, the chapters are named Section000x.xhtml, where x is a number starting at 1. You can change the name of the chapters by right clicking on them, selecting Rename from the menu that appears, and then typing a new name for the chapter.

You can also click and drag chapters in the Book Browser to rearrange them.

Once you’re finished, save the book. You can open the epub file whenever you want to edit it.

What If I Already Have Content?

A book in epub format is essentially a collection of XHTML files. So if you have content that’s already written in HTML or XHTML format, you can copy and paste that content into Sigil. To do that, open the HTML file in a text editor and copy it. Then, in Sigil, select View -> Code View.

Code view

Paste your HTML code into editing window then select View -> Book View to return to WYSIWYG mode. You’ll probably have to add chapter breaks, which was explained a few paragraphs ago.

Viewing Your ebook

Once you’ve got a draft completed, you’ll probably want to see what the product looks like. Obviously, the best way to do that is to view the epub on as many ebook readers (and other devices) as you can. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. The next best thing to do is use the Calibre ebook management software.

After downloading and installing Calibre, use it to open your epub file. Then, click View on the Calibre toolbar. In the viewer window that opens, you can navigate through your ebook, change the size of the fonts, and see any formatting problems.

Viewing an ebook in Calibre


If you need a quick and easy way to write and publish an ebook, then you should give Sigil a look. It can actually do a bit more than what was described in this article, and once you get the hang of the software you’ll be able to create some very nice looking ebooks.

Photo credit: super

Scott Nesbitt

Scott is a writer of various things -- documentation, articles, essays, and reviews -- based in Toronto, Canada. He loves to play with tech, and to write about it too. Scott hasn't snagged that elusive book contract. Yet.

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