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.


Adventures In Self-Publishing: Making ereader Navigation Easier For Readers

It started with a head’s up post from PG over on The Passive Voice blog leading to dbasch’s blog where he talks about how Amazon has drastically changed the way he reads book. (very interesting post, though I disagree vehemently with his justification for piracy. Theft is theft, folks, no matter how badly you want something.) Anyhow, at PG’s blog I left a comment about how the Kindle and Amazon has turned me from a voracious reader into an outright glutton. I also made an off the cuff comment about Tables of Contents:

My biggest weakness is short fiction. .99 cent stories are better than chocolate. I am falling in love with short stories all over again and discovering a lot of really good writers to boot. My only gripe is that I wish authors of collections would do a better job across the board of clickable Tables of Contents. There is also plenty of room for a short description of the stories along with the title to help those of us with minds like steel colanders to find a favorite again.

To my surprise quite a few people chimed in about the subject, which was actually kind of off topic, so I thought I’d address it here.

If you own an ereader you’ve probably noticed that navigating an ebook isn’t as easy as paging through a printed book. Sure, there’s a search function and on a Kindle you can make notes and leave bookmarks. I’m actually learning how to use those nifty functions. What often happens is this. I’m reading along, engrossed in a story, finish it, set it aside, then later realize I want to share something with someone. Or there was an interesting passage or quote I would like to copy or post in a blog or reference in a review. That’s when I have to use my memory (which is fabulous when it comes to useless facts and trivia, worthless for dates, names and titles).

Here’s how it works with a printed book. Can’t recall the title, but know it’s a red book–oh yeah, that one! Loved it. And the passage was in the last third of the book, near the beginning of the chapter. Flip flip flip. Found it.

Here’s how it works on my Kindle. Okay, stuff is organized by categories. It’s a novel. Fantasy… Okay, is that the one? Right. That’s it. The desired quote is somewhere around the middle of the book. No bookmark, damn it. Page, page, page ad nauseum yawn page page. What was that quote? Didn’t it have an unusual word in it? It might have, but what was it? Shit. Page page page. GO TO: Chapter Fifteen. Ah ha, middle of the book, and I remember this scene. Go back a few pages. Page page page. Damn it! Why didn’t I remember to use the bookmark! Ah ha! There is it. Found it at last.

It gets even harder when it’s a short story collection or an anthology. Some time might pass before I want to reread a story or share it with a friend or family member. Then I have to remember which collection it was in and then find the story again. That can take a while.

I don’t expect authors to accommodate my flaky memory. I’m working on making a Kindle bookshelf to hang on my wall (color printer? Should I invest in a color laser printer? Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely… I digress). There is, however, one thing authors can do that would add a bit of extra value to their ebooks and all it would cost would be a little time.

A Table of Contents that makes navigating the book easier. That means clickable links.

What I know for a fact is that if you use Word, clickable links are very easy to create. The Smashwords formatting guide (Smashwords Style Guide, free to download from Amazon) gives easy to follow instructions for doing it. Then when you upload your book to Smashwords, it mostly works though it might take some hair-pulling and tweaking as it goes through the Meatgrinder. If you use Word and convert using MobiPocket for Amazon, the internal links convert pretty well, too. I’m sure other word processing programs and HTML have the same capabilities. It’s all doable and if a non-nerd like me can learn how to do it, so can you.

The great thing about DIY is that you can take advantage of the programs’ capabilities and you don’t have to worry about extra costs in your P&L. With that in mind, you can turn your Table of Contents into a truly useful navigation tool.

For novels: Go beyond Chapter 1; Chapter 2; etc. Go for chapter titles, too. I’ve always had mixed feelings about chapter titles or headings. They often struck me as silly little affectations. As a navigation tool, they can serve as memory prompts to readers. I might see: “Chapter 12–Where our intrepid hero learns the real truth about his twin.” I can click the link and easily find that cool factoid about DNA or that funny bit of dialogue to quote in a review.

For short story collections: Again, go beyond story titles. Put a log line or even a short blurb about each story in the Table of Contents. Than I, Ms Holey Memory, can spot right off the story I want to read to the old man or push on a friend or talk about in a blog post.

For multi-author anthologies or short story collections: You can have two Table of Contents. Easy peasy. At the front, do a regular ToC. At the end, in the author bios, you can also link back to the individual stories.

create link from ToC——->STORY TITLE

create link from author bio—–>AUTHOR NAME

A little bit of effort in making your book easier to navigate on an ereader can pay off big in reader appreciation. Anything you, the author, can do to make your work more memorable can pay off in future sales, too.