Viewing and testing ebooks with Calibre
If you have any ebooks on your computer, you’ve probably heard of and maybe even used calibre to read those books. While far too many people think of it solely as a desktop ebook reader, it’s actually a powerful tool for managing your ebooks.
Having said that, calibre’s viewing features are better than pretty good. And since I’ve started writing and publishing ebooks, I’ve been taking advantage of those features to view how the EPUB editions of my books look and work.
Let’s take a look at using calibre to view and test ebooks.
Why use calibre?
It’s a very powerful and flexible tool for working with ebooks. And if you’re writing and publishing ebooks – especially in the EPUB format – you’ll want to test your books before releasing them – that can give you a good idea of how your ebook will look when people read it. In a perfect world, you’d have access to one of every device on which people read electronic books – ebook readers, tablets, and smartphones. Sadly, it’s not a perfect world.
So, what do you do? You can use the devices that you have. But that may be only a couple or three. On the other hand, you can use calibre to fake (to a certain degree) various screen sizes.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, calibre does have a solid ebook reading feature. To get started, load your ebook into calibre. You can learn how to do that by reading this post. Then, select the book in your library and click the View button on the toolbar. Here’s what one of my ebooks looks like in calibre’s e-reader window:
You can maneuver around the book using the controls on the left side of the e-reader window. Besides moving backwards and forwards in the book, you can also open its table of contents (assuming it has one) and add bookmarks.
That’s all well and good, but how does that help you test your ebooks?
Testing your ebooks
One sneaky trick you can use is to resize calibre’s e-reader window to simulate how your ebook will look on screens of various sizes. Just grab a corner of the window with your mouse and drag to shrink or increase the size of the window. Here’s a view that simulates what my book looks like on the a smartphone:
Notice that the toolbar on the left side of the window is missing? You can undock it by dragging it out of the window to make the view more realistic and less cluttered. Admittedly, this is a quick and dirty solution. But it gives you a good (though not perfect) approximation of what your book will look like on various screen sizes.
In most ebook readers – whether dedicated or on a device like a smartphone, media player, or tablet – you move through the content as you would in a physical book: page by page. Some ebook readers give you the option to continuously scroll through a book in the same way that you would a web page in a web browser. And there are some people who like reading books that way. To simulate that, you can click the Switch to paged mode button in the top-right corner of the e-reader window.
So what happens if you, during testing, see something wrong with your ebook? Something, for example, like some formatting that’s a bit off or a mis-spelled word? I usually just open the EPUB file in Sigil. But if you don’t use Sigil, but have some knowledge of HTML and CSS, calibre can help.
How? By breaking apart your ebook into its individual files, which you can open in a text editor. To do that, right click on the book in the calibre library and click Tweak Book.
Click the Explode Book button to break the book apart. On Linux Mint, calibre broke the book up into a directory under the folder /tmp and opened that folder in Nautilus. I’m sure it does the same thing in other distros. After you break apart the book, don’t shut calibre down.
The chapters of your book are in the folder OEBPS/Text and the Cascading Stylesheet (which controls the look and feel of the book) is in the folder OEBPS/Styles. Just open the file or files that you need to change in a text editor and tweak away.
When it comes time to reassemble the book, go back to calibre. You didn’t shut it down, did you? I didn’t think so. You can do either of the following:
- Click the Preview Book button to check your changes.
- Click the Rebuild Book button to reassemble it.
Reassembling your book takes only a few seconds (or less, depending on the size of your book). In the example below, I changed one of the words in the title of the chapter to italics:
As you can see, calibre is a powerful and flexible tool for not only managing your ebook library, but also viewing and testing any ebooks you’ve written. Best of all, its developer is adding more useful features to calibre which should add to its power and flexibility.
Photo credit: super