Create Your Ebook For Free

I know Jonathan Moeller from his (excellent) fiction and the fact that he is a frequent commenter on this blog. It was during one exchange in the comments that the idea for this guest post was born. Jonathan mentioned that he had written and published a book entirely using free software and he’d done so to prove a point. Being a curious sort, I wanted to know more and I asked him if he would write up his process. He very kindly agreed. So without any further ado, here’s Jonathan…

This is how I wound up writing my newest novel SILENT ORDER: ECLIPSE HAND on a Ubuntu Linux computer.

I do have quite a bit of professional experience with Ubuntu. I used to administer several Ubuntu servers that supported some web applications, and I used Ubuntu servers here and there as I needed them for various jobs. That said, while I’ve written and published over 60 fantasy novels, I did most of them in Windows with Microsoft Word. In the 2010s, I wrote a couple of novels in the earlier versions of OpenOffice, but once I started self-publishing regularly, I switched to Office 365 for ease of compatibility.

Then in October of 2016, I decided I wanted to try something different and write a science fiction series. I planned for four books, which I would release one week at a time in summer or fall 2017. I had nearly finished the fourth and final book in late August 2017 when I read an article complaining about Windows 10 S, which is a new version of Windows that can only install new apps from the Windows Store (which since the time of this writing is going to get renamed the Microsoft Store). The idea is that this makes the computer more secure and is better for schools, public kiosk computers and so forth, but in practice, it limits the computer considerably since all the best Windows apps tend not to be in the Windows Store. The article noted that this won’t actually work for most users, and then suggested a list of four alternatives, and claimed that it would be easier to do real work on an iPad Pro than on a Linux desktop computer.

I disagreed strongly with this. The iPad’s great for consumption, but if you want to actually do something – like write & publish a book, or to build a website, or to develop an application, or to do a graphic design – you’re better off with a Linux desktop. (Mr King also mentioned the ergonomic problems of doing serious work on an iPad Pro, which I admit I hadn’t even considered. It would be much easier and cheaper to set up an ergonomic workstation with Ubuntu than an iPad Pro.)

A MacBook Pro or an iPad Pro are lovely tools, and I don’t have anything against them, but they’re expensive. Like, really, really expensive. The base-level iPad Pro is $649, and the keyboard (not included) is another $159. By contrast, a brand new $200 PC desktop will have more than enough juice to run Ubuntu and all the software I listed above. Even a used desktop computer from 2010 onward will have enough power to run all that software.

Perhaps this is romantic of me, but I really like the idea that someone using a low-cost desktop and free software running on free Ubuntu Linux can write, prepare, and publish a book. I like the idea that publishing has become democratized – in the old days, only governments and large companies had access to a publishing infrastructure, but now everyone does. Anyone with a low-cost computer, free software, and an Internet connection can publish a book.

So that made up my mind. I would write, edit, format, prepare the cover art, and publish the new book entirely using Ubuntu Linux and software programs included with Ubuntu.

-I would write and edit the ebook using LibreOffice Writer.

-I would do the layout of the ebook using Sigil EPUB Editor.

-I would convert it to Amazon MOBI format using Calibre.

-I would make the cover using stock photos and The GIMP image editor.

So how did it turn out?

-Ubuntu itself (specifically 16.04 Xenial Xerus) was rock-solid and gave me no trouble whatsoever. It was quick and efficient. And like everyone else in the world, I use DropBox for quick backups while working, and DropBox works just fine on Ubuntu. (In fact, I think it’s the only cloud storage provider that works flawlessly on Linux – neither Google Drive nor OneDrive nor iCloud have Linux clients.)

-LibreOffice Writer was pleasant to use as well. The layout, of course, is quite different from Microsoft Word, more reminiscent of the pre-2007 menu UI rather than the Ribbon UI that Office started using in 2007 onward. That said, the help files are good, so it isn’t a big deal.

The biggest problem I had was that I use so many made-up and custom words (a common peril of fantasy and science fiction writers) that I had to add them all manually to LibreOffice’s spell-checker. Fortunately, that is easily accomplished with a right-click.

-Unfortunately, when it comes to editing, LibreOffice Writer isn’t so good. I typically use Word’s Track Changes feature to edit books, and the equivalent in LibreOffice just isn’t as functional. Also, I use the Grammarly plugin for Word, and there’s no equivalent for LibreOffice. That said, Grammarly does have a web editor, so I just copied and pasted individual chapters into that.

-I used Sigil to prepare the EPUB file, and it worked smoothly on Ubuntu. (If you want to learn how to lay out ebooks, you could do much worse than to open an EPUB file in Sigil and look at the underlying HTML code.)

-I used Calibre to convert the EPUB file into MOBI for Amazon. Calibre is a vital tool for any ebook reader or publisher. For instance, if a book is only available on Amazon, you can download the file from the Manage My Kindle page, convert it into EPUB in Calibre, and then sideload it onto a Nook or Kindle or iPad.

-I used The GIMP to create the cover for the book, using stock images licensed from Dreamstime.com. The GIMP has a learning curve like the Matterhorn, and it can’t do quite as many advanced things as Photoshop. But it’s free, which means you don’t have to deal with Adobe’s crazy Creative Cloud licensing scheme (and Photoshop also has a learning curve like the Matterhorn).

So, is it possible to write and publish a book using just free software? And it is possible to write and publish a book without spending a lot of money?

I think it is safe to say that it is. Clearly, the iPad Pro is not a better productivity tool than Ubuntu Linux.

That said, of course, you do have to spend some money. Ubuntu is free, and all the programs I listed above are free, but I the computer I ran them on wasn’t free. I had to spend some money to license the stock photos from Dreamstime.com. Also, I pay for my Internet connection, electricity to run it all, the apartment in which I live, etc. Learning how to use free software can be a time expense as well. I knew all this stuff already from previous IT jobs, but someone dropped into a Ubuntu desktop would have to spend some time getting their bearings.

And it’s a good idea to use the tools that work best for you. If you like writing on an iPad Pro (and you have $900 to drop on an iPad Pro, keyboard, and protective case) and you’re physically comfortable doing so, well, more power to you. But if you can do the job with a $200 Ubuntu desktop, there’s no reason not to use it instead of a far more expensive tool.

The big question: would I do this again?

Definitely. In fact, I’ve started work on the sixth SILENT ORDER book, and I’m writing it entirely on Ubuntu Linux. If all goes well, it will be published in January or February 2018. Until then, if you’re curious about the SILENT ORDER series, the first book SILENT ORDER: IRON HAND is $0.99 USD on the ebook stores.

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:

Amazon AU:

Barnes & Noble:

Kobo:

iTunes:

Google Play:

Smashwords:

I would just like to thank Jonathan for the guest post and mention the fact that I have read and greatly enjoyed Silent Order, Iron Hand. My review will appear in my next mailshot. If you’re interested in hearing more, you can sign up using the link below.


If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

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Comments

  1. Wel… i’m a wordsmith myself and this is a wonderful thing to know! So… thanks for this. And btw, sorry for not being an active commenter. English isn’t my birrth language and i have still a lot to learn.

  2. Thanks for letting me write the guest post! Writing ECLIPSE HAND using free software was a good experience, and hopefully other indie publishers might find something to use in it.

  3. William Duckett says:

    While it’s not my field of expertise, this package sounds like it could be really useful for aspiring authors in developing countries.

    • Hey there, William. I think open source software could be useful to aspiring authors almost anywhere who are a bit short of cash. As I certainly was back in my long gone youth :). And to be fair, Linux is genuinely useful even if you are not short of cash. I have used it as my main OS during various periods of my life, most recently when my concerns about privacy got foregrounded. I would be using it still were it not for my ongoing fascination with the Chromebook.

  4. maggie hover says:

    I love the “developing countries.” I’m a reader, and love the possibilities for good writers not otherwise published.

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