Web/Tech Writing

Revising on the Remarkable tablet … an update

I wrote here recently about the Remarkable 2 tablet, an unusual device that I bought for revising a manuscript, a replacement for those 300-page printouts I used to use for going through drafts of a book.

Now I’m a long way through the process so I thought I’d bring you news on how it’s going. In short… wonderfully, with one reservation. This is turning out to be everything I’d hoped, though there are some tweaks required to make it perfect as I’ll explain.

The best part? The fact this thing does so little. You can tuck yourself away in a corner and be guaranteed you’ll want to do nothing but read and scribble away with annotations. Remarkable doesn’t do apps or online social media. You load up your book, you write on it, then, when you’re ready, you go back to your desktop and laptop and deal with the corrections. Perfect…

Here’s the workflow I’ve come up with. First, you need an epub file of your book. I write in Word so that means converting the file in the popular free ebook app Calibre.

Then you upload your epub to your Remarkable, either through the web interface (easy) or the Connect app if you’ve signed up for a Connect subscription. The book will then appear on your Remarkable looking like a proper ebook.

Next you tweak the font, size and page layout to the design you want. And after that you can start going through it page by page and scribbling your notes. As I mentioned before, it’s important to set the format before you start annotating. Change that later and the annotations won’t be in the right place.

After that you bury yourself away somewhere — a corner, the garden since this works outside — and scribble away. You could revise the whole book then go back to the manuscript and handle the edits. I prefer to do it chapter by chapter. I think I might lose a few threads if I tried to handle the work — all three hundred and sixty odd pages of it — all in one go.

Now how do you handle the business of matching the scribbles on your Remarkable with the Word file (in my case) on the PC? Here’s where it gets interesting.

You could simply park the Remarkable on a stand next to your computer and go through it like that. But the Remarkable is a mono device. I like seeing revision marks in red. It’s easy enough to set up the Remarkable to produce these but in order to see them you need to view them through a colour screen.

The obvious way to do this is through the Connect app that comes with a Remarkable subscription. You can have this in half the window with your Word file in the other half. Or pull up the revise through Connect on an iPad or Android tablet.

Here is where the only glitch in the system I found appeared. After thirty pages so I opened up a new revised chapter ready for the rewrite only to notice some marks were missing on the Connect view of the Remarkable script. They were there on the Remarkable, gone on Connect. This was sporadic and quite unpredictable. If I went back to the pages again and scribbled on them the new marks would then appear, but still not the old ones. Which is pretty useless for the job in hand.

I talked to Remarkable’s support who had no solution to offer. Epub files, it seems, are temperamental and not a fixed format, which may or may not be a problem. I’ve no idea but it’s clear the Connect apps, on Windows, Android and iPad, cannot be relied upon to reproduce all your edit marks reliably from an epub document.

Happily there’s a simple fix. Use pdf for the markup instead of epub. So my new routine is this. Import the epub into the Remarkable and get it into the font, layout and general format I want. Then export that to pdf and import the resulting document into the Remarkable for markup. It looks just the same as the epub — like a book — and the marks you make will come through very reliably either in Connect or another pdf app on your computer.

You could, I’m sure, manage all this without paying for a Connect subscription by emailing the pdf export to yourself and importing that back into the Remarkable.

It’s an extra step and I really think the Connect app should be more reliable for people paying for a monthly subscription. Perhaps a future update will fix this. But the pdf trick works perfectly and I’m still, I have to say, absolutely delighted with this printer replacement for tweaking my book.