How to Organise and Convert Your Ebooks with Calibre

If you’re reading this blog then you’ve probably got an interest in ebooks. If you do, then you may have already heard about Calibre. Calibre is a free, open source, cross-platform (Windows, Mac and Linux) ebook reader, organiser and converter. If you’ve ever listened to music you downloaded from the internet, then you’ll probably be familiar with iTunes. Calibre is just like iTunes, but for ebooks, and not owned, locked in and operated by Apple. Did I mention it’s free? Download it here.

It’s a pretty big download, so it might take a while. Also, if you’re trying to install it on your work computer, you’ll probably want to get in touch with your IT department, because you need admin privileges to install it. If you’re at home, then fire away.

 

Installed? Great. The first step you’ll be confronted with once Calibre is installed and you open it for the first time is the wizard.

This is not the wizard you’re looking for.

This is the wizard

You’ll be asked to find a place on your computer to store your ebook files, and to determine what kind of e-reader device you use. Calibre supports a broad variety of e-readers, including the Kindle, Sony and iPad. If you use more than one kind of device, then don’t worry – Calibre supports more than one.

Look! It’s John Birmingham’s latest book: After America

The next window should be relatively familiar to anyone who has used iTunes. It has a library where you can filter your ebooks by author, title, series, publisher or rating. You can also search for keywords. All of those search functions will be pretty useless to you right now, though, because you haven’t added any books.

To add a book, hit the ‘add’ button, and find your ebook file. Calibre supports virtually every format you can imagine for an ebook, though you should keep in mind that if you bought that ebook from a store (like Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or even Booku) it’s likely it will be protected by DRM (digital rights management), which will stop you messing around with it. Never fear, though! Calibre still allows you to import books with DRM, organise them and load them quickly and easily onto your ebook reader (you just can’t convert it to another format or read it from within Calibre).

Also, strangely, Calibre does not support Microsoft Word format – so if you want to read something you only have as a Word file, open that sucker up in Word first and save it as RTF. Then add it.

There are plenty of places you can buy ebooks from that don’t have DRM, and there are plenty of places you can download ebooks from for free as well. You can find a few of them in the resources at Booku. For those ebooks, Calibre really comes into its own.

Calibre can automatically download the cover, publisher, publication date and blurb for your ebooks from the internet. You can save ratings and tag your books for easier searching.

Calibre will also convert your non-DRM ebooks from one format to another. Say you have a free ePub book, but you want to read it on your Kindle. By hitting ‘convert e-books’ in Calibre, you can easily and automatically convert your ebooks from ePub to Kindle’s Mobi format. Then to send it to your Kindle, all you need to do is hit ‘Send to Device’, and Calibre will automatically email the file to your Kindle (though you will need to tell Calibre your Kindle’s email address in ‘Settings’ first). If you want to send a book to your Sony reader, just plug it in and Calibre will automatically copy the book you select onto your reader. Calibre will even send your book via iTunes (or email) to your iPad or iPhone. It’s very versatile, and once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy to use.

Calibre can do a lot more than convert and organise your ebooks. It can automatically download news from your favourite blogs and news outlets, package them up and send them to your e-reader. If you’re a self-published author trying to convert your own ebook, it can pull apart ebook files so you can iron out the bugs. And it can do much much more. But those are topics for another blog post, and you don’t need to be interested in any of that to get some use out of Calibre. If you have any questions about Calibre, or any of the topics raised in this post, feel free to post them below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

How To: Edit on an iPad

The iPad has been hailed as a boon to readers of books, newspapers and the web since its release at the beginning of the year. And it’s a great device for passive consumption of multimedia content and for sharing – but what about working? Well, having tried to use it for writing, I’d say its potential for writers is limited. But what about for editing?

Unlike editing on a traditional computer, the iPad provides a more paper-like electronic editing experience. It’s still not perfect, but for less mark-up heavy edits (like proofreads, light copyedits and report-based structural edits), it’s excellent.

iAnnotate

I’ve tried a bunch of different PDF editing apps on the iPad, but the standout is iAnnotate by Aji. It sells in the App Store for about $12.99, which is a bit pricey for an iPad app. However, if you’re an editor and you already have an iPad, it’s definitely worth it. You might also want to invest in a stylus for the iPad if you foresee using it for editing on a regular basis. Although the device is optimised for a finger (and in fact doesn’t work with a normal touchscreen stylus), for fine-level work and writing freehand it’s easier to use a stylus. Aji has a deal with a company called brvsh to provide discounts, so it’s worth checking it out (under the help menu after purchasing iAnnotate).

Mark-up

The easiest way to load a PDF into iAnnotate is by email. Email yourself the PDF you want to edit, and you can easily open it up in iAnnotate. The app takes a little while to index the PDF, making it possible to search and annotate the text. If email doesn’t suit you, or the PDF to be used is too big to email, you can also load PDFs into the app via iTunes or by downloading a PDF from a website directly.

There are a bunch of different ways to mark up the PDF itself, but the main ones – crossing out text, underlining, highlighting, commenting and so on can be accessed on the customisable right-hand side palette. There is a similar toolbar at the bottom of the page used for navigating the document – searching, flipping pages, going to a particular page number or accessing and jumping straight to existing annotations.

One useful tip for editors is the ‘stamp’ function. Using this tool, you can save any single piece of mark-up (such as the delete mark, as above – click to enlarge) as a stamp, which can then be accessed on the palette. This means you don’t have to physically draw each piece of repetitive mark-up, it can be inserted into the document at the tap of a finger.

All mark-up, once inserted, can easily be moved around, deleted or changed. The page can be zoomed in (using the iPad’s pinch to zoom multitouch movement) so any fine editing can be easily done on spacing or punctuation (without straining your eyes).

Exporting

When you’ve finished editing and the time comes to get your document back onto your computer (or directly to the author or typesetter), there are a few options. Using iAnnotate’s sharing feature, you can choose to email the entire PDF, a textual summary of the corrections or both. If you choose to send the PDF itself, you can send just the pages that have mark-up, or the entire PDF. You also have the option (shown above) of exporting the annotations in full (so they can be edited using Adobe Acrobat software on a computer by the author or another editor), as flattened mark-up(which means the annotations can’t be modified, but can be viewed with any computer or printed instantly) or the unedited, unannotated version of the PDF (which iAnnotate preserves). This gives you lots of options to send corrections to the typesetter or back to an author to check.

What’s Missing?

Although iAnnotate is the most full featured PDF editor on the iPad, there are still a few annoyances. Chief among these is the search function, which doesn’t seem to recognise spaces. This means you can search for individual words in a document, but if you’re looking for a few words or a phrase – too bad. Another missing feature is the ability to use the keyboard to write in-line notes directly onto the PDF (like the Typewriter feature on Adobe Acrobat). However, these are small annoyances, and it’s likely Aji will address these in future updates.

Questions?

Editing is a big subject, and using the iPad is another big one – so if there’s anything I haven’t covered (or haven’t been clear about), please let me know in the comments below and I will update this post.

How I Cracked The Slap And Lived To Tell About It

One of the first Australian ebooks I ever purchased legitimately through an Australian e-tailer was The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. And in order to read it I had to crack the DRM. DRM (digital rights management) is the extra bit of software attached to ebooks to stop people from copying digital products as they like. It’s a divisive issue, but it is at the centre of publishing ebooks in Australia.

At the time it was the only place I could find this book electronically (legitimately – there were plenty of pirated copies floating about). I was about to travel overseas with my Kindle and wanted to bring it with me without carrying the whole book. The book was sold as PDF with DRM by Adobe. Before I bought the book I googled whether it would be possible to crack the DRM, as I knew my iPhone and Kindle were not capable of reading the DRM on a PDF. There are thousands of people around the world interested in this kind of thing, so it took only a few minutes before I’d downloaded the software, downloaded the book and had cracked it using the software. These kinds of cracking programs pop up with different software authors every few months before getting shut down and then reopening somewhere else. They’re very difficult to stop, and I believe that as long as there is DRM there will be people willing to spend time and effort cracking it and making it available on the internet. From what I’ve read there is not a single major type of DRM that has not been cracked (the DRM used on the iPad is the only one that I haven’t seen a crack for – but I’m sure the situation is temporary).

All in all this is not something the average internet user would be bothered doing. Instead, they just wouldn’t buy the book at all. The current crop of people who read ebooks in Australia don’t significantly overlap with readers of paper books. If I want a book electronically, I either get it electronically or not at all.

The cracking process wasn’t difficult, but it helped to know a bit about the ins and outs of ebook formats and computers in general. However, the longer ebooks are available, and the more ubiquitous ebook readers become, the more readily available and easy-to-use these types of software packages will become. DRM generally makes early adopters pretty angry with publishers and record labels, because it makes the process unnecessarily difficult for legitimate purchasers. In general it is far easier to download a pre-cracked pirated version of a book than it is to crack the DRM on a legitimate purchase. DRM tends to push early adopters towards the easiest option – which in this case happens to be illegal.

I prefer to buy legitimate copies of books, because they tend to be formatted and typeset properly, unlike the scanned and digitised copies you are likely to see on pirate book websites. The care and attention given to them is (or should be) equal to a published book, and it pays off while you’re reading. However, I’m increasingly frustrated by DRM. Most of the people I know reading ebooks are doing so on their iPhone, their Kindle or their Sony Reader. Out of these three dominant readers (likely to be followed by the iPad shortly), very few Australian publishers support files readable on any of these devices. This type of scattered support is very frustrating for readers of ebooks – no publisher is ever going to be capable of covering every version of ebook format with DRM that can be read by every type of ebook reader. However, if books were sold without DRM in the first place, legitimate buyers of ebooks would be able to easily convert the book to the format of their choice – with the added benefit that the book would be ‘future proof’ (most types of current DRM will eventually become defunct and render reading of the copy-proof versions impossible).

Australian ebooks are currently sold at the same price as their paper counterparts. This is an economic decision I understand, but when you take into account how crippled the formats that are sold actually are, it is little wonder legitimate ebooks are selling so slowly.

What do you think? Have you ever cracked the DRM on an ebook? Does DRM turn you off purchasing ebooks? Are you willing to break the law in order to truly own a book you have paid for?