Ebooks and Ereaders

Ebook geekery of the week: footnotes in EPUBs

So as per my last post I’ve been amusing myself with throwing together an ebook edition of The Starblade of Radmynn, one of the first two novels I ever wrote. (Specifically, the later one of that name, which was actually set chronologically earlier.) One of the things I’m doing with this file is adding footnotes to the text, calling out things like “this character is an early edition of a character that showed up later in the Rebels of Adalonia” or “this nation actually had its name changed because of X and Y” and such.

But in the course of dealing with this, I discovered to my vexation EPUB has erratic support for footnotes.

I’ve seen them in ebooks I have in my own library–the ebook edition of The Lord of the Rings, for example, is packing a whole hell of a lot of ’em. But they’re all stuck at the end of the ebook file, and you have to tap on the footnote to go to it and then try to get back to where you were previously in the text. If the ebook isn’t set up smoothly enough, this can be problematic.

EPUB3 has better support–it actually includes support for popup notes, so that if you see a footnote marker on something, you can just tap on it and a little bubble will pop up and show you the note. Then you can dismiss it.

I’ve seen contradictory references, though, as to whether the major ebook vendors are actually properly supporting this. iBooks is referenced a lot as doing so, but I’m not seeing anything definitive re: whether the Nook or Kobo does. Complicating the matter is that a) I’m also seeing data that suggests that Smashwords only supports EPUB2, and b) right now, the tool I have available to me for generating EPUBs, i.e., Calibre, doesn’t talk EPUB3 either. Calibre’s creator is on record as saying he’s not particularly interested in developing EPUB3 support, although he’s held the door open for other devs to do so.

So now, I’m thinking I need to figure out if I want to play further with EPUB3, just for the sake of teaching myself something. In which case I’ll need a tool capable of generating an EPUB3 file. And I’ll need to figure out whether it’s possible to do footnotes in a way that’s backward compatible with readers that don’t talk EPUB3. This will be interesting to explore!

I know a lot of writers swear by Scrivener, and Scrivener has EPUB support. But I’m not convinced I want to bring in a tool of its magnitude just to solve a single problem. I also know a handful of authors who use InDesign to generate their books, but again, not entirely convinced I want to jump to a tool of that magnitude. More likely, I will be investigating reports that Sigil has woken up again–it’s the EPUB editor that Calibre slurped into its own code base. And there’s an EPUB3 plugin for Sigil.

More data on this as events warrant. Any indie authors care to comment on what tools you use to build your books?

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