How to Format Your Novel For Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords and CreateSpace in One Afternoon

Way back in the summer on Kindleboards and in other places I kept reading about people laying out their print books for CreateSpace using Scrivener. Long term readers of this blog will know that I can’t praise Scrivener enough. It is the single best program for long form writing I know. Now it seemed Scrivener’s utility had expanded into an entirely new arena. I knew it could create ebooks easily and well, but print books? I have always used Word, or if the need arose, InDesign for that. 

Being the sort of man that I am, I thought I should investigate the possibilities. I set myself to writing a template that would automagically lay out my own indie books such as Stealer of Flesh. It took me three days but I managed it. By the end of that time, I had a template that I could load a Word file into and 10 minutes later have a print ready PDF. There were a few hiccups along the way, the usual problems that arise when you’re doing anything on a computer for the first time but I got it done.

I wish I had read indie writer Ed Ditto’s ebook, How to Format Your Novel For Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords and CreateSpace in One Afternoon, before I turned my hand to that project. It would have saved me an awful lot of time. That title is a bit of a mouthful and its a big claim. It’s also true.

Ed lays out everything you need to know not just about how to lay out print books but nicely formatted ebooks, and,hallelujah, a way to get a properly formatted file for uploading to Smashwords, including the annoying copyright declaration Smashwords insists on. Not only that, he shows you to do it all from one file, with the push of a button (well OK, the adjustment of a pulldown menu). That’s right, you can take your Scrivener file and within 5 minutes export a mobi file for Amazon, epub for the other retailers, a doc file for Smashwords and a properly formatted print PDF as well. He does this simply, clearly, in words a total novice can understand.

Granted you’ll need to put in a few hours of setup before Scrivener can work its compiling magic but once the grunt work is done you will have a template into which you can load all your future work, ready for export. That’s the afternoon Ed is talking about. Once the work is done, you’ll never need to do it again– barring awful hard-drive accidents. Put in that afternoon’s work and you can look forward to laying out all your indie writing projects in five to ten minutes flat for as long as you are a Scrivener user.

Does this mean you can run your workflow entirely within Scrivener from start to finish, from writing a manuscript to publishing a book? Well, yes and no. You could if you wanted to but only if you can convince any external editors you use to work on Scrivener as well. As usual, editing remains the final frontier for Scrivener users. You will still most likely have to use Word and its track changes function for editing. That said Scrivener can easily reimport Word files. With a couple of minutes of tidying stuff up you should be good to go. 

At the moment, Ed’s book only covers the Mac version of Scrivener and sadly he has recently announced that he won’t be doing a Windows version, but should you have a Mac and any interest in creating your own ebooks and print books, I can’t recommend How to Format Your Novel For Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords and CreateSpace in One Afternoon highly enough. You can find it on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.


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.

Workflow 2013

I’m currently working on The Fall of Macharius and, since I am right in the middle of a new novel, now seems like a good time to talk about the tools I use and my workflow. It’s on my mind and a nice easy subject to write a blog post about and, hey, I’m all about taking the easy way out whenever possible.

I am constantly trying to optimise my use of time. I’ve streamlined my working process a little since the last time I discussed it so here are my current methods.

I still use Evernote to gather ideas, information, and bits of stuff. It is basically my notebook, journal and store for pretty much everything I clip from the web. It works cross-platform, even on my Galaxy S3 smartphone, so I have access to all the information everywhere I go. I even keep pictures and PDF print outs of tickets and receipts in it. Pretty much anything I might need to remember goes into Evernote along with pretty much anything I think I might need to remember. 

It’s best to think of Evernote as the primordial ooze from which all of the ideas for my books emerge. (I think I am borrowing this image from Rachel Aaron’s book on writing but I am not sure and as ever I am too lazy to go and check.) Everything is in there somewhere, tagged, sorted into different notebooks and easily available from a quick search. Some of the ideas will sit there for years before bubbling to the surface, some may never be used at all, but at least I can find them if the need arises.

Once I get started on the actual writing itself, it probably comes as no surprise to you that I still use Scrivener. This still provides the best development environment for writing a novel I know. (As an aside I write these blog posts in Scrivener as well and then export them as HTML.)

I start with the outline and then when I have reached the stage of a chapter by chapter or scene by scene breakdown, I transfer each section to an individual card so that I can refer to it as I write. I put character sketches, location descriptions and any other relevant information in the Research folder.

Where an outline is required by an editor, such as when working with Black Library, I simply export it from Scrivener, and reimport the modified outline as needed. My main change in working methods now is that I store my Scrivener file in Dropbox so I can access it from all my machines— OSX, Windows or even Linux. This lets me use whatever machine is handy and fully charged.

In the past I was reluctant to do this, fearing corruption of my working files, but I have been following Literature & Latte’s best practises and have not had any problems in over a year now. To be on the safe side, I keep zipped backups in Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon’s S3 cloud. I also regularly compile the document into an RTF file and export it to Dropbox and Google Drive just in case. I know all this sounds hideously complex, but in practise it takes only a few seconds for every backup.

I basically stick with Scrivener until I am happy with the manuscript, however many rewrites that may take. Once I have reached a more or less final stage I export it to Microsoft Word. In the case of my work for Black Library, it goes off to Nottingham. In the case of my indie work, it goes off to my test readers and then my copyeditor. At some point the manuscript returns and I go over it for the last few times in Word, taking advantage of the track changes feature.

At this stage, the Black Library work is simply emailed in. For my indie productions, I clean up the text and prepare the ebook file. These days I do this in Jutoh. For indie print books I stay in Word and use the templates I talked about here.

Although it is perfectly possible to produce an ebook in Scrivener, I find I prefer to separate the production side of things completely. It just seems to work better for me. Jutoh is a very nice ebook program that allows you to produce MOBI and EPUB files simultaneously at the touch of a button. I confess that these days though I mostly just upload my Word files to Draft2Digital and let them create the EPUB files.

That’s it. I use a grand total of 4 programs to produce all my work these days. Of course, my workflow is simplified by the fact that I no longer do my own covers. If it were not for the requirements of editing, I could quite easily do pretty much everything inside Scrivener.

MacHeist 4

While I am talking about software I may as well recommend the MacHeist Bundle. At $29 this is a real bargain, a bundle of 17 apps that includes Scrivener and a 15 month sub to Evernote Premium– two of the most useful programs ever for writers. (As ever, I shall just take a moment to plug Scrivener— the best app ever for the working writer.) Either one of these things alone cost more than 29 bucks. The rest of the bundle has some nice software– I particularly like Radium, a really cute internet Radio App, and Mariner Software’s MacGourmet– a recipe collection program which scans the internet for recipes you want and imports them into its own rather attractive database.

As a bonus, 25% of the money you pay goes to charity. What’s not to love?

If you own a Mac and don’t yet own Scrivener, check MacHeist out here. The deal has two days left to run.

How To Write 10000 Words a Day and Other Recommendations

I am finally tying up Angel of Fire. I’ve had one of those rewrites where changing one thing led to changing another which led to changing another and on and on. I’ve simply not had time to keep up to date with the blog over the past couple of weeks. In a pitiful attempt to actually post something this week, here are a few things I can recommend.

First up is Rachel Aaron’s guide to writing 10,000 words a day. Yes, you read that right, that’s how to write 10K a day, not a week, which is what I aim for. I’ve looked at this and I have to say that it all seems sound and sensible. I have written 10K a day in my time before old age and RSI took their toll and I recognise the good sense in what Rachel is saying. I don’t see myself writing 10K a day again any time soon but the basic techniques she writes about will certainly increase my productivity. Yours too if you read them!

Second up, for those of you who want a Windows version of the very wonderful TextExpander, which I have used for many years on the Mac, I can recommend Phrase Express. This does pretty much what TextExpander does and it is free for non-professional use. Now all you have to do is type in abbreviations such ty for Tyrion and it will be expanded into the complete word or phrase wherever you go on your PC. This saves a surprising amount of time with words and phrases that get repeated often.

I would also like to mention the people at Literature and Latte who are responsible for my favourite piece of writing software Scrivener. I had a small problem with installing Scrivener for Windows on my second PC. I wrote to them after midnight last night. I had a response and a solution when I woke up this morning. You can’t beat that for customer service.

Lastly, I finally got around to installing Lion on my MacBook Pro. My basic response is that I like it. I’ll probably inflict more of my thoughts on you real soon now.

Software For Writers

As I have said before I am a sucker for any piece of software that threatens to increase my productivity and I have tried out most of them. However there are some that I have used constantly for years now and I really recommend.

Scrivener

I’ve doubtless gone on about Scrivener until you’re sick of hearing it. So I’ll just say this. It is the best tool for writing novels that I know of. It used to be that Scrivener was only available on OSX. This was my main reason for sticking with the Mac. As of a few days ago, it is available for Windows and even Linux. I can move my work from Mac to PC and back as I feel like it and I am very happy about this. Scrivener is available here. David Hewson has an interesting comparison between the OSX and Windows versions here.

Evernote

Evernote acts like a huge collection of scrapbooks and notebooks you can store in the cloud. You install the client on your computers and it keeps all your notes in sync across the web as long as you have an internet connection. It has several very useful extensions that let you clip interesting web pages directly into your notebook. You can tag and sort the notes you make in all sorts of different ways. If you get really stuck you can access your notes directly from your own personal web page on the Evernote site.

Evernote is not quite the best clipping and/or journaling software I have ever used, it just happens to be the most flexible and useful on multiple platforms. MacJournal is my favourite software for keeping a journal but unfortunately it works only on OSX and I use multiple platforms these days. OneNote, part of Microsoft’s Office 2010 Suite, is the best clipping program I know and is pretty cool for journaling as well but it only works on Windows. Evernote works on all the platforms I use including my phone and my android tablet. (You can use it on Linux via WINE or via a Java based client called NeverNote.) It gives me access to my notes everywhere and I can even make them on my phone and store my photos there too. This is the giant notebook in which I store all my story ideas, random thoughts, ramblings and even my diary. The basic version is free and available here.

Dragon Naturally Speaking

I suffer from an interesting collection of RSI ailments, a legacy of almost 25 years as a professional writer and a youth in which I sometimes pounded out ten thousand words in a day. When the RSI flares up Dragon NaturallySpeaking can be a lifesaver. The accuracy of the latest version is astonishing. The makers, Nuance, claim that the program is up to 3 times faster than typing. It responds with 99% accuracy most of the time, which is considerably better than I can manage on a keyboard. Dragon’s spelling is better than mine as well. If it’s so good why don’t I use it all the time?

Well, using a speech recognition program is a very different way of working from typing for me. Despite the claims of the makers you can’t really write any faster because you still think and construct sentences at the same speed as you always do and you’ve probably already established your writing habits. If you write fast, you probably won’t have any problems but I’ve always been a 40 words a minute typist and that’s the speed I seem to write at. There is some increase in the speed of getting the words down but nothing like triple.

You’ll probably find, particularly in the early stages, that you are slowed down by making corrections, which are an absolutely essential part of training the program, so that Dragon NaturallySpeaking learns from its mistakes. This will speed up eventually because the program DOES learn.

There is also the fact that the program uses a predictive model to understand what you say. This means it looks for recognisable patterns in the words. This means that the closer you come to speaking all in boilerplate and cliché the more accurate it is. This is fine for dictating a business letter but if you use a striking, vivid and non-standard phrase (which is what you want to do when writing fiction) you will probably end up having to make corrections for these.

I also find that work that has been dictated tends to need a lot more editing because my dictation is sloppier than my typing. I talk in a much more discursive manner than I write. With all of that said, it really does work, and getting some work done is better than getting none. I still do most of my work at the keyboard. You can pick it up at Amazon or direct from the makers.

Microsoft Word

Hated by many people because it’s bloated, buggy and created by Micro$oft, Word also happens to be the industry standard for publishing and if you are a professional writer you will end up encountering its ubiquitous file format at some point. I also have to say that I have never had much of a problem with Word and I have written 15 novels on it. It has crashed once in a blue moon. If I don’t want to use a feature, I don’t. Microsoft has never sent a man round to my house to put a gun to my head and make me use those extra features either. I also have to say that the current version is very fast on all the Windows computers I own and is a superb word-processor in its own right. If I had to, I could still quite easily write a novel on it alone.

Dropbox

I’ve talked about Dropbox before but I just want to mention it again here. This is a very simple piece of software that you can install on almost any machine and OS. It puts a folder on your desktop. Anything you copy or save into that folder is uploaded into the cloud and synced across all your machines. It had always worked really well for me and it has revolutionised the way I work. It means I can just grab any laptop that is charged when I go out and my work is there waiting for me. It means I always have a backup of my work stored in the cloud as well. You can pick it up here.

Magic Bullets

When it comes to technology, some writers like to believe in the magic bullet — the operating system, the computer, the piece of software that will make all the difference. If only they can find this wondrous thing, it will transform their productivity. I’ve spent as much time as anybody else in pursuit of this particular Grail. I’ve probably tried most pieces of software aimed at writers and most of the common operating systems. It’s never really made a lot of difference. I have found one piece of software I really like (Scrivener) and one that does make a difference but not perhaps for the reasons I would like (Dragon NaturallySpeaking.)

Scrivener makes a lot of stuff easier but it does not make me hugely more productive. I write pretty much the same amount as I normally would, it’s just that what I write is better organized. The software itself is a pleasure to work with. It gives me a lot of control over the structure of a story. I am perfectly happy to write a scene or an extended piece of prose in almost any word processor. If it’s for a novel, I usually end up cutting and pasting it into Scrivener because Scrivener gives me a very clear view of the structure of a large story and let’s me rearrange things with the greatest of ease. It lets me view all the scenes from the point of view of one character say, or set in one location, should I ever need to check such things. It makes tracking daily word count targets and making backups a breeze as well. Does it really make me more productive though? Yes, but probably not by as much as I would like to think.

I have found in some ways Scrivener multiplies the work. It’s not the fault of the software. It’s the fault of me. I will often spend time tagging and viewing stuff because I can and because it’s a way of skiving off from actually writing. And the mosaic way of writing that Scrivener encourages is not without it’s own problems, at least for me. I find that books written in discontinuous sections and scenes require more editing and carefully linking up of those scenes in the final draft. It’s very easy to let things become disjointed when using Scrivener.

Dragon does actually make me more productive for one simple reason. It lets me write on days when my RSI would otherwise make it impossible for me to do so. It is a speech recognition program which transforms talk into words right on the screen. You can dictate 160 words a minute according to the adverts. It’s true too, but you would be wise to take that particular claim with a pinch of salt.

The truth is that if you write fiction you probably already write at a fixed speed. You are in the habit of thinking things up and putting them down at a certain rate. Composition does not happen a great deal quicker because you are talking rather than typing. It takes me roughly about the same time to come up with the words. There is maybe a slight speed gain in terms of not having to do the typing but I certainly can’t dictate fiction at anything like 160 words a minute.

You have to make corrections in order to teach the program to understand your speech. This takes a surprising amount of time. You need to do it less as the program learns but at the beginning you may well find dictating is actually slower than typing. There’s another hidden speed bump that most people don’t notice but you will if you are writing fiction. Speech recognition programs work by relating word orders within sentences and phrases together. Mathematical values are assigned to the most likely words to appear next in a given phrase. This means that the closer your speech is to cliché, the more accurate the program is. As a writer, you tend to be looking for the striking phrase and these, by their nature, are the ones that will be most difficult for the program to understand. You will spend a lot of time correcting your most striking sentences, which increases the temptation to use boilerplate.

I would imagine that speech recognition works well for fiction set in the real world that sticks close to everyday language. It is not without its problems when you are writing SF or fantasy. Because the words I dictate tend to be sloppier than the words I type – I tend to ramble– they take more editing. In the end, I probably end up with just about the same amount of work done if I use Dragon. I prefer to use a keyboard because I feel like my prose is a bit more precise and let’s face it– it’s habit. I’ve been doing it for a quarter of a century. Still, for those days when the RSI is bad, using Dragon beats not getting any work done at all.

Recently I have taken to using any word processor that happens to be available on the machine I am working on (usually OpenOffice Writer or Word in various forms) and dropping the results in Dropbox. I am sure you will not be surprised to learn that I managed about the same amount as I normally would. Like I said I put the words into Scrivener for editing at the end of the day but I will use anything at hand to get a scene written. Making the commitment to write and using whatever is available will increase your productivity far more than any operating system or piece of software ever will. In terms of getting writing done, there is no magic bullet. The most effective way is simply to sit down and write in whatever method suits you with whatever you can afford and is available.


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.