Scrivener and the Ebook

I heard about the Scrivener writing program last year. I followed a link to Literature and Latte, roamed the site and got interested. What finally hooked me was the promise of a new way to organize a writing project. So in January I purchased the program. (Why so long? Because I’m scared of hardware. Go ahead and laugh, the old man does. Then again he’s a mechanical genius and never worries about the damned things eating him while he sleeps. When he starts fiddling with things, I have to leave the room, freaked out about him pissing off the machines. Because I’m convinced my computer is just waiting for me to do something stupid, it takes me forever to work up the nerve to install new programs. Now you know.)

As a novelist I’m not exactly tidy. My process involves notebooks, Post-it notes, scraps of envelopes, colored pens and pencils, sketch pads, clippings, piles of reference books bristling with place markers and file folders. Rolls of butcher paper, colored Sharpies, white boards and reams of printed manuscript also play a role. Clutter is part of my process. I need to see it, need to have it where I can put my hands on it. That’s what Scrivener does. It digitizes my clutter. Instead of having it scattered on my desk top, it’s on the screen, available with a click of the mouse.

Scrivener is not a word processor. It’s a writing program. It’s not for generating printed documents, it’s for generating files. (You can use it to create printed documents, but using Scrivener to write a letter to your mom would be like using a bulldozer to dig a post hole.) It very easily and quickly generates lots of different types of files, including PDF, RTF, Word, epub and mobi (Kindle) files.

Me, being me, I got ideas. Once I got interested in self-published ebooks, I had to try it for myself. I’m always interested in how things are made. Since I read almost exclusively on my Kindle now, I see a wide range of quality in ebook production. When I see a problem, I try to figure out the source of the problem. If you’re a regular reader, you have seen my obsession with em dashes and spacing issues and ways to exploit the ereader vehicle. To me, the two biggest concerns for any ebook formatter should be: Readability and easy navigation.

There are many ebook formatters who are familiar with programming, coding and HTML. I’m not one of them. I have no idea what goes on behind the screen. Because of the limitations of MS Word and the often interesting glitches that occur when converting Word files, learning ebook production increased my vocabulary (children, cover your ears). I also had problems organizing layouts. Every change made in Word offers the program new chances to screw things up. So I was figuring out HTML and basic programming, but slowly.

Then came Scrivener. It speaks my language and doesn’t require me to memorize codes and commands. With its organizational capabilities, I saw a way to make more than a simple ebook. I could make beautiful ebooks. It took me a few tries to figure out the possibilities until I achieved something that came close to matching my vision. You can see my latest creation here.

I also discovered a few quirks and limitations. BUT, by using Word’s powerhouse Find and Replace feature to take care of spacing issues and oddball punctuation, then stripping the file in a text editor, I can produce a squeaky clean file ready for layout in Scrivener. (And yeah, I know, it’s not particularly efficient, but I can do it very quickly and it makes sense to my peculiar way of thinking.) Scrivener’s special character map is far better than Word’s, too. So while I’m proofreading it is very easy to make a little cheat sheet off to the side for any special characters needed, then a simple search and replace takes care of those. Also, Scrivener’s formatting is basic, without all the desktop publishing features of Word (full of cute little traps that can make a total mess of an ebook). Since ebook formatting (for fiction) is quite basic, too, Scrivener’s simple design is perfect. I created a template so all I have to do is break up the main file, then move sections around to get the layout I want. I can send an RTF or PDF file to the writer for their approval, and if they want things changed around, no problem at all. Minimal risk of screwing up the formatting.

Graphics are a breeze with Scrivener, too. I’m not talking about covers. I’ve tried my hand at making ebook covers, with decidedly mixed results, but that’s a whole other project I’m working on. I’m talking about such things as fancy font chapter heads, scene break indicators and illustrations. Graphics open up a whole new world of possibilities to make an ebook visually appealing. I have only dabbled in graphics thus far, but I can see the potential and have several interesting experiments in mind.

Granted, not every indie author is interested in learning how to format their ebooks. Formatting isn’t difficult at all, but there is a learning curve and a million and one little details to track. If you want to focus on the writing and hire out the production jobs, that’s fine. Formatting isn’t terribly expensive and won’t break any writer’s bank. If, however, you’re a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, but you aren’t adept at programming and coding, Scrivener is an excellent way to go.

If anyone who uses Scrivener has tips and tricks for ebook production, or would like to know exactly how I created Beauty and the Feast, leave a note in the comments. I can write another blog post.

 

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14 thoughts on “Scrivener and the Ebook

    • I’m lousy at following other peoples’ instructions and get bored with tutorials (though Scrivener’s is VERY good), so it took me a while to learn its language. Worth it, though. I can’t claim my desk top is clean now, but at least the piles aren’t high enough to tempt the cats. Plus, Scrivener is fun. It has tons of nifty features.

  1. Another blog post, please. I’d like to get a bit fancier with my Scrivener formatting, but haven’t plunged into that time-sinkhole yet. I’d rather let you do the hard work, and then show us how.

  2. Lily, unless the program you’re using now has features that you really need, and that Scrivener doesn’t offer, why not drop it altogether? I’d say the same to Jaye. Scrivener is my writing program. Period. I’ve noticed a tendency for Word users to have trouble letting go, even though it keeps them hopping to correct its behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

  3. Catana, now that I’ve found out that the Word (doc) files Scrivener produces translate nicely into Smashwords, I, personally, don’t need Word. Unless I’m writing a short something I need to print. Then Word is best. BUT, since I work with other writers and they send me all kinds of files, I find Word invaluable for spacing and character issues. Even with a full-length novel, by using Word’s Find and Replace I can produce a squeaky clean file in less than thirty minutes, then zip it over to Scrivener for the formatting and layout. I suspect with some more fiddling around I can figure out the best way to do the clean-up in Scrivener. Then Word will end up as my jot off a quick letter program and rtf reader. I look forward to the day (every time I open Word now, it looks so… primitive 😉 )

  4. This is exactly the thing I’m thinking about. I don’t mind paying a formatter to handle my full-length novels, but it’s not cost-effective to use pro formatters for short stories. I’d like to learn to do them myself in Scrivener. I’m so glad to hear it’s working for you and I hope it works for me, too.

  5. Yes, I’m a control freak/DIYer when it comes to formatting (only for Kindle at the moment). I’ve been struggling with HTML to get the results I want, and I have heard of Scrivener before now, highly recommended. After reading this post I may well take the plunge. Loved the screenshots of the kindle novel.

    • Thanks, Ken. I can make a nice, basic, clean ebook for Kindle using Word and MobiPocket Creator. But Scrivener is proving to be far more versatile, and for big, complicated layouts (lots of back matter) it’s a powerhouse. I’ve barely tapped its potential and can’t recommend it highly enough.

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