Publishing print-books and e-books using Scrivener

In a recent blog, ‘Indie Publishing on a Shoestring’, I wrote about how you can use Scrivener to create mobi, epub, and pdf files for publishing on Amazon,  Createspace, and other e-distributors, such as BookBaby, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital. The reason I wrote the blog was to convince new indie authors that it wasn’t that difficult to create these files using Scrivener and upload these files to the websites for publication. And that there was nothing to fear from technical aspects of creating these files. You don’t need to be a technical geek, or have a knowledge of hmtl to do so.

Scrivener is indeed an amazing piece of software, and it is difficult for me today to think how I could live without it. As a writer you might only use 10% of its functionality and it’s still a much better tool for writing novels than most other word processors on the market. And I have used quite a few, including Microsoft Word for most of my business career.

However, if you want to get the most out of Scrivener, you need to invest some time in learning about its capabilities. For example, formatting a pdf file for a print-book can be quite complex if you’re not familiar with  print-book design. You need to set different gutter and outer margins, force chapters to begin on a right side page, turn off printing headers and page numbering on pages with chapter starts, indent paragraphs (except the first paragraph of a chapter), turn off page numbering for the front matter content of the book  etc.

If you hunt around on the Internet you find out how to do this using Scrivener. Just google ‘Createspace and Scrivener’. The Scrivener Manual and various published Scrivener guides will also help. But it will take time.

Recently I bought e-book, “How to Format Your Novel for Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords, & CreateSpace in One Afternoon’ by Ed Ditto. I nearly didn’t. It has a rather naff self-made cover that almost put me off buying it (Sorry Ed, but it does). But the content  is brilliant. It’s a recipe for any author to publish their e-book and print-book. All they need is a copy of Scrivener to do it.  It is a step by step guide that takes you through the process. I only wish I had bought it months ago. Before I bought it I was familiar with about 85% of the content of the guide (having already gone through the publishing process myself). But it was still worth the buy just for the 15% that was new to me. If you are an author starting from scratch, and you have Scrivener, you will find this eBook amazing.

I would add that I have no connection to either Ed Ditto, or Literature & Latte, the software company that makes Scrivener.

Of course, Scrivener is not the only way to create mobi, epub and pdf files for publication. I just think it’s probably the most efficient. If you are wedded to Word then the alternatives would seem to be to convert your files using Jutoh, or Sigil (of which the latter requires a working knowledge of hmtl). Another recent product that has appeared on the Internet is KDPublishing Pro, which creates files for Amazon. Unfortunately I don’t have any direct experience of these products and can’t comment further. But feel free to comment on this blog if you are a big fan of these products.

Indie Publishing on a shoestring

When I started writing my first novel, I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for. During my career as an accountant, I had published a number of books albeit of a technical nature. I knew it took perseverance to produce the first draft of any book. But it doesn’t stop there. It can take as long again to edit and re-write the manuscript until you know that the book’s structure works, and then there’s the checking of the formatting, consistency, and accuracy of the galley proofs until you have something worthy of publication. In those days, I had the benefit of professional editors and a host of technical people and resources I could turn to for help. On your own it’s a whole new ball-game.

I also knew that to publish a novel through a traditional publisher, I would need an agent and a publishing contract, which could perhaps take another two or three years if I was successful at all. And that the likelihood of being published first time was about as likely as winning the lottery. Even great writers, like Stephen King, spent years of receiving rejection notices before being accepted. I wasn’t prepared to wait that long.

The alternative was to self-publish. I did my research. There were lots of companies offering to help authors publish novels, but at the cost of thousands of dollars. Fortunately for me, I ignored them all; I wasn’t prepared to make that kind of investment for the kind of support they were offering, most of which related to activities I could do myself, or outsource for a fraction of that cost. I decided I would initially self-publish an e-book on Amazon, and would perhaps think of a print edition at a later point.

I realised I would need to outsource the preparation of the e-book cover to a graphics designer; but most of everything else I could do myself with a little bit of help from my wife on the editing front. The cost of preparing a reasonable e-book cover can range from $30-$3000. I was lucky I found an excellent designer through Fiverr on the internet for $55 and was very happy with her design.

The next issue was formatting the file for Amazon submission. This was something I thought would be technically difficult, but proved to be just the opposite. You don’t need to be a technical wiz kid to publish an e-book on Amazon. There are different ways of doing it, but I chose to use a software tool that I used to produce by manuscript, called Scrivener. It’s an amazing piece of software designed for authors. And it has the ability to ‘compile’ your manuscript into a variety of different formats, including mobi, e-pub, pdf , as well as Word and rtf files.

To ensure you are using the latest Amazon software you have to download a free file from Kindlepublishing called Kindlegen and tell Scrivener where the file is on your computer system. Then all you have to do is pull the graphics file for your cover into Scrivener and select compile function. The result is a mobi file that you can test out on your own Kindle, or on the PC or Mac using the free Kindle software for your Mac or PC.

The first time I tested the file on my Kindle I was elated. Once you’re happy with the file then it’s time to upload it onto Amazon. The whole process of setting up your account and uploading the file will probably only take 30 minutes, most of which is simple account administration.

Amazon has about 85% of the E-book market. To reach the other 15% I decided to use an aggregator: a company that deals with the retailers such as Barnes & Noble. My choice was BookBaby. Again I used Scrivener to compile this time an Epub file. I then used Calibre, a free open source e-book library management application, to check the Epub file worked as expected. Then it was a simple process to open an account with BookBaby and upload the file. Simple.

The last step on my the road to becoming an Indie author was to produce a print book of my first novel. Initially, I never expected to delve into print books at all. But this month I released the print version of my novel, “Collision – A Sci-Fi Romance” on Amazon and other retail outlets using CreateSpace, Amazon’s own print on demand company. The only additional cost in this process was to commission my graphics designer to produce a front/spine/back cover and the cost of a proof book.

The process is a little more complex than producing an e-book. Broadly, I used Scrivener to produce a PDF file with the right paperback size and margins as required by CreateSpace. And then uploaded the PDF of the content and a PDF of the cover onto CreateSpace system. The whole process took about two days to get the formatting absolutely right in Scrivener. Chapters have to start on an odd page numbers, and this means including blank pages where necessary in the Scrivener file. Page numbering and headers have to be turned off on pages containing front-matter, chapter starts and blank pages; and getting the gutter and outer margins right can be fiddly. I found a number of clips on YouTube dealing with Scrivener and CreateSpace that will walk you through the process, and CreateSpace’s own guidance on their website is also very helpful, particularly on margins and cover specifications for different numbers of pages.

Once the PDFs are uploaded they can be reviewed on CreateSpace’s online galley proof, which shows how the book will be printed. A number of iterations may be necessary before you get the formatting just right. Then you can order a proof copy of the book from CreateSpace to see what the final product looks like.

To sum up, the hardest part of becoming an Indie author is actually writing and editing a good novel to a professionally high standard. Good editing is important and it’s difficult to edit your own material entirely on your own. Fortunately, I have a very patient wife with a good eye for finding mistakes. A good cover design is also a must. The technical aspects of E-book and print book production by comparison are not daunting. It is simply a matter of working through the process. After you’ve done it once you’ll realise that actually it’s quite easy. The hard bit is writing your opus.

Authors’ software

As a newbie author, I’m always on the lookout for new software that might make the task of writing easier. I have always wondered if there was that killer application lurking out there that would make life simpler, if only I could just find it. Other newbie authors might be thinking the same way. Therefore I thought it would be helpful to run-down of the software that I find useful. It’s not necessarily the best, but it’s what works for me.

Firstly, it is important not to forget that many great authors in the last century managed to publish their great works of fiction without much more than pen, ink and paper. The most important ingredient is therefore, and will always be, that piece of software between your two ears. But it would be silly not to recognise the power of personal computers, laptops, pads and even phones to make life easier.

The most obvious application is of course the word processor, and I have seen quite a few during the course of my business career. Today Microsoft Word clearly dominates the business market and has become virtually a de facto standard both in the business and publishing worlds. I have used it for over two decades and it is still my word processor of choice for general word-processing , spellchecking and editing. But it is not what I use for drafting or publishing fiction.

For most of my business career I was a Windows user. When I retired two years ago, I was looking for something new to do and I took a look at the Apple Mac. I had also heard great things about an application called Scrivener that then ran only on the Mac (A version is now available on Windows, but lacks some of the functionality of its Mac counterpart). I purchased a MacBookPro and Scrivener and started to write. I used Scrivener to write and publish my first book ‘Collision – a Sci-Fi Romance’. Scrivener is an amazing piece of software, so much more than a word processor that it’s difficult to describe. It allows you to write scenes and chapters in any order you like, move them about without cutting and pasting; and you can visualise the structure in either an outline format or as cards on a corkboard. And you can review your notes while writing on a split screen. It also allows you to compile your manuscript into a variety of formats including DOC, RTF, EPUB and Amazon’s MOBI and more. For an excellent review of the software see http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/02/04/scrivener/ or go to Literature and Latte’s site at http://literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

The other software I tend to use is a mixture of tools some of which run on the Mac others are Windows. For outlining before I start a project I tend to use OmniOutliner. This is a simple outliner for the Mac, which I use to map out the scene structure. It’s quick and efficient. You can also export files from to Scrivener into OmniOutliner and import OmniOuliner reports into Scrivener.

When I am developing ideas I sometimes use mind maps. There are many free applications available on the Internet. The one I used recently was MindMeister, which does pretty much everything I need. More recently, I have used the beta version of Scapple from Literature and Latte. It’s not really a mind map, but an application that mimics a large whiteboard. It’s great for putting down ideas in free-form as though you were using a big whiteboard. When it appears in the Apple Store I will be one of the first to buy it.

I use Microsoft Excel for analysing scene structure and all kinds of analysis. This might seem strange for an author, but for someone that has used spread sheets in the business world for over two decades it is the most obvious software for me to use. I’m simply used to it. If you don’t already have Excel, for other reasons, then I would suggest a simpler spreadsheet would suffice. There are many available on the internet, some of which are open source and free.

For general note taking, I find Microsoft’s OneNote is the best for jotting down ideas and thoughts. I’ve looked at Mac note taking software, but haven’t yet found anything quite as powerful as OneNote. However, for project specific notes, outlines, character sketches and the like I put directly into one of my Scrivener folders for access when I am writing.

There are also a variety of software products that claim to provide authors with a framework or structure for novel building. Some are very structured – a kind of novel building by numbers. This type of software doesn’t interest me. Others like StoryWeaver, Novel Writer and Contour have some merit as structured learning tools, but have limited value to me personally. The remainder seem to duplicate some of the functionality of Scrivener. The one exception I came across was StorybookPro. This is a story boarding application that has some useful visual features for viewing the different strands of a plot and for tracking the time line. I found its Book Summary and Character List reports useful. In my case I exported the reports as RTF files and imported them into a Scrivener folder for access for when I am writing.

Lastly, there are lots of software products that are aimed at helping the author with the editing, and grammar checking process . Most of this software seems to me to be over-hyped and expensive and the ones I’ve looked at didn’t provide any noticeable improvement over Microsoft Word’s own spellchecker and grammar checker, which I already use. Personally, I think it is impossible to produce a grammar checker that is totally reliable, because of the complexity of English grammar. Accordingly this type of software will always produce ‘false-positives’ to confuse the author. A writer needs to have a good grasp of grammar. And if he/she doesn’t then they’re in the wrong business.

There is one exception I would make to editing software and that is software that analyses word count and over-used words in your work. I use a software product called MasterEdit (Windows) which is simple and efficient and inexpensive. And if you’re interesting in analysing your writing style you might like to look at the free online sites http://prowritingaid.com/free-editing-software.aspx and http://editminion.com/

You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any software relating to social media. This is because when it comes to social media I am a bit of dinosaur. For example, I only use my cell phone for telephoning and I have never sent a text in my life. But perhaps I’ll summon up the courage to dip into the social media in the near future. I never thought I would blog; and here I am.

That’s it. This was never intended to be a comprehensive review of all the software available to an author; only a list of those software products that work for me. If anyone out there believes, there is a killer-application that I have missed please let me know.