Format an Ebook with Sigil

Sigil logo

by C. K. MacLeod

@CKMacleodwriter

Updated July 24, 2016: Sigil's newest version has a different interface from the one you'll see in this post. While Sigil is a great tool for the right price, I've begun to use Jutoh instead. Jutoh is better supported, and it allows me to create epubs and mobis.

It's possible to build an ebook that's straight fiction with a tool that many writers already have: Microsoft Word. But for more complex books with headings, endnotes, pictures, and other advanced style features, there's a better way.

Sigil.

Sigil is a free, open-source epub editor that allows you to create an epub file that you can upload to most distributors (all but Amazon, actually). It's surprisingly easy to use and if you're at all interested in having more control over how your ebook looks, Sigil allows you to do a bit of tweaking under the hood.

Here's how to get your book from Word into Sigil:

Quick Steps

  1. Open your book in Word (I use Word 2010). Go to File, Save As, and save your file as Plain Text (.txt). Select "Other coding" and choose UTF-8 encoding (you'll need to scroll down in the menu), Click OK.
  2. Now that you've saved your document in a form that Sigil can read, copy and paste it from Word into the middle window in Sigil's Book View.

You'll find more information about how to begin with Sigil at the Beyond Paper blog.

Dictating a Book? Tips for Editing the First Draft

Megaphone with words "speak up"

Originally published at The Book Designer.

Written by Corina Koch MacLeod

Edited by Carla Douglas

Dictation has become a popular method for laying down a first draft. Barbara Cartland and Voltaire did it, James Patterson and Dan Brown are doing it, and popular self-publishing author Joanna Penn is determined to try it. In fact, Cindy Grigg (The Productive Author’s Guide to Dictation) and Monica Leonelle (Dictate Your Book) have written books on the subject so you can try it, too.

Reasons to Try Dictation

There are many reasons to try dictation:

  • dictation software has improved
  • it eases the strain on your wrists
  • you can get words down faster than with typing
  • it can separate writing from editing, which can do wonders for procrastination and writer’s block
  • it gets you away from your desk, and out for a walk if you have a dictation set-up to support that
  • it’s not hard, and it doesn’t have to cost you a cent

Not convinced? That’s okay. I've been there, and on some days I am there. If you change your mind and give dictation a try, come back to this post to figure out what to do with that dictated first draft.

Needs Must

I'll admit it. I’ve come to the idea of dictation with a lot of skepticism. I've learned to think and write through my fingers, first with a pen, then with a keyboard. Could I learn to use talking as a vehicle for thinking? I remember the awkwardness I felt when I was first learning how to type. I survived those first fumbling attempts, and my typing-to-thinking pathway is now firmly established.

Fast forward several gazillion words and 11 books later. My brain seems to be holding up, but my wrists, sadly, are not. It’s time to build another writing pathway.

Writing Differences

It's not difficult to get words onto a page with dictation. What's difficult is figuring out which ones to keep. Or how to manage that sea of words. If you’ve tried dictation, you may discover that your first draft reads differently than a typed first draft. It may be looser, less organized, and wordy. As a result, your approach to editing may need to be different. Or you may find that you’ll need to spend more time at the editing stage of the writing process. A lot more.


Pre-Editing Tips Before and During Dictation

If you’ve decided to give voice dictation a try, you’ll need a pre-editing strategy so that the process is less unwieldy. Below are a few suggestions for managing dictation so the editing stage is easier:

Know What You Want to Write

Monica Leonelle recommends creating an outline before you begin dictation. Similarly, though she doesn’t use dictation to increase writing productivity, in 2k to 10k Rachel Aaron recommends taking five minutes to sketch out notes for each scene in a notebook before you write it. This is excellent advice.

Because words can come so quickly when you’re dictating, it’s possible to create volumes of text that go off topic or off plot. Having an outline or notes to speak by can help you stay on task and prevent plot holes. You can, of course, dictate an outline or scene notes, but it’s okay to use a pen or a keyboard to outline your writing, too.

Factor in Error Rates

Most dictation software is now 95–98 percent accurate. Off the top, you can count on fixing two to five words in every hundred you speak. What words will you have to fix? Those that your dictation software didn’t understand.

Depending on your spoken dialect and your skill as a typist, this may or may not be equal to the number of typos you make in every hundred words. Keep in mind, though, that dictation software can make creative (and sometimes hilarious) “typos” that you may not be able to decipher later. Be sure to read over your words often to correct any errors while what you intended to say is fresh in your mind.

Pause for Effect

Your mother was right: think before you speak. Monica Leonelle recommends pausing to gather your thoughts before you speak a sentence. This is the single best piece of advice when learning to dictate your writing. There’s no need to hurry. Hurrying can encourage muddled thinking, which can result in bloated and disorganized writing. Bloated writing requires more attention at the editing stage, which is fine if you’ve budgeted lots of time for editing. Lots.

Editing Tips for after Dictation

Once you’ve completed your first-draft dictation, you’ll need a plan for revising and editing it.

Take it in Layers

As with typewritten text, it’s best to approach revisions and edits in layers. Go through the four levels of editing, beginning with a big-picture edit and ending with word-level details.

For example, you’ll need to make sure

  • your writing has an overall flow
  • your plot lines are well-paced
  • scenes or sections are evenly weighted
  • paragraphs are shortened if you forgot to instruct the dictation software to create a new paragraph (ahem)
  • paragraphs and sentences proceed in a logical way (especially if you had trouble sticking to your outline)
  • sentences are trimmed of wordiness
  • your sentences are correctly punctuated (you need to speak out punctuation, and this takes getting used to)

I’ve noticed that my current abilities with dictation cause me to produce 40-word sentences. Twenty-word sentences are better for comprehension. I need more than the usual work at the paragraph level. You may find that, too.

Use Revision Tools

Revision and editing tools can help you address each layer of editing. Below are a few of my favourite problem-solvers, as they pertain to the pitfalls of dictation:

For Structural Issues

If you’ve gotten off track with the structure of your book, consider using Scrivener to help you analyze and reorganize your writing. Scrivener’s Binder and Split Screen can help you to rearrange sections of your book. The Word Count column in the Outliner can help you discover potential pacing problems at a glance. Labels will allow you to visually separate plot lines to see if they flow and intersect where they need to.

Scrivener’s Word Count feature in the Outliner

For Filler Words

A spoken first draft can be different from a written first draft. You may use filler words, such as “really,” “just,” and “even” in dictation — words that are often used in spoken language for emphasis. These words work fine in spoken language, but depending on what you’re writing, filler words can muddy the meaning of a sentence.  The NeedlessWords macro can help you spot filler words so you can remove them. The Overused Words check in ProWriting Aid will help you see where you need to add variety to your writing.

For Long Sentences

Your sentences may be longer and more complex when you dictate your writing. That’s okay when you’re speaking, because your intonation can help listeners group words into meaningful chunks. There’s no intonation in writing, so be sure to shorten sentences or punctuate them so that they’re easier for readers to navigate. The long sentence highlighter in the Hemingway Editor can help you shorten long sentences. So can the Sticky Sentences check and the Long Sentences check in ProWriting Aid.

For Readability

Sometimes it’s okay to strut your vocabulary. In some kinds of nonfiction, it’s more important to remove every possible barrier to understanding — including ten-dollar words. To help you choose simpler words and improve readability, use the Hemingway Editor, the PlainLanguage macro, Paul Beverley’s Find and Replace macro with a supporting plain language words list, or the Diction check in ProWriting Aid.

Conclusion

Did I dictate this article? Some of it. And that’s my final tip: you don’t have to use dictation exclusivelyespecially when you’re learning this new skill. If you’re a visual learner whose thinking is guided by the words you see or a kinesthetic learner who works out your thoughts by penning or keyboarding them, it might not make sense to dictate all your writing. (Hat tip to Russell Blake for this observation in an interview with Joanna Penn). Besides, Rachel Aaron, who has written over 20 books, has proven that it’s possible to be productive without voice dictation.

Don’t be afraid to dictate part of an article or book, or begin with dictating text and email messages. If you build your capacity for dictation slowly, you’ll be less likely to abandon it and more likely to find a place for it in your writing process. Instead of an all-or-nothing proposition, think of dictation as one of many tools in your writing toolkit.

Editor’s note: Corina and I have been editing each other’s writing for 14 years. After a first read-through of this piece, I noticed that something was different. Was it voice? Tone? Organization? Yes to all of these and more, and I wondered what was up. This didn’t sound like Corina — it was looser and less precise than what I’ve come to expect. Then it dawned on me: she’d been dictating!

This is a topic I find fascinating, and recent research supports my hunch that “written and spoken language can exist separately in the brain.” This doesn’t mean that dication isn’t a drafting method worth exploring. I’m curious to learn whether a dictated first draft is much different from one that’s been brain-dumped into a word processor.  

I also have a hunch that dictating will be easier for some than for others, and that if you persist, you’ll get better with practice. You might even find your voice where you least expect it. 🙂

Image by Howard Lake

Why Writers Love Scrivener (and Why Editors Will, Too!)

by C.K. MacLeod

Planning map

 

Scrivener has become wildly popular with writers—plotters and pantsers alike—who are working on book-length writing projects. Little know fact: it's a great tool for developmental editors, too.

Scrivener is useful for

  •  planning and writing a novel (especially if you're a "pantser" and you need to do a little reverse planning)
  •  writing and organizing a thesis
  •  planning and writing an online course
  •  planning and writing curriculum
  •  setting and achieving writing targets
  •  writing and organizing blog posts
  •  planning a book marketing strategy
  •  publishing simple, text-only ebooks in mobi and epub formats
  •  developmental editing

Each of the items in the list above involves some planning or organizing. Scrivener is, in fact, the ultimate planning and organizing tool for anyone who works with words.

Scrivener helps you set goals, plan, and organize your writing with

  • virtual note cards
  • a built-in Binder feature that allows you to see each part of your book at a glance
  • symbols and coloured labels 
  • margin notes
  • Project Targets/ word count calculator
  • an Outliner, which can help you see the pacing of your writing
Scrivener Labels
Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener

Scrivener is for Editors, too!

If you’re a developmental editor who works with writers to develop a writing project, Scrivener can help you (and your writers) to see a book’s structure visually:

Scrivener notecards
Scrivener notecards

And it can allow you to how a book is paced, whether points-of-view are balanced, and alternating time structures:

Scrivener point-of-view labels

Scrivener isn't the best tool for all kinds of editing (Word is still the best tool for copyediting), but it's definitely worth considering at the developmental editing stage of the writing process.

Scrivener Supports

There’s great support for Scrivener, too. Scrivener comes with a 319-page user manual and a walk-through tutorial.

For those who like self-paced online courses, I highly recommend Joseph Michael’s Learn Scrivener Fast video course.

I've created a free downloadable Scrivener Cheatsheet for some of the more common "moves" that writers want to make in Scrivener when they first begin using it.

Scrivener has a free trial for 30 uses, and it’s less expensive than traditional word processing software. See the Literature & Latte site for details.

It’s fun to think about how tools can make some aspects of writing and editing easier—especially planning and organizing.

Image by Sacha Chua

6 Ways to Set Up Scrivener for Writing

Out of the boxby C.K MacLeod

Out of the box, Scrivener comes with features turned off or on. Some of these features are helpful, but others drive me crazy and prevent me from being efficient.

You can customize Scrivener to work with your writing preferences. Below are six things I do to write more efficiently in Scrivener.

Note: I write mostly nonfiction. If you write fiction, tweak your settings to support your writing preferences.

1. Remove or change automatic paragraph indenting.

Go to Tools, Options, Editor, and move the tab slider to the left.

Tab slider Scrivener

2. Turn off automatic capitalization and autocompletion.

I find it distracting when a word processor automatically capitalizes words, or tries to guess and complete words for me. To turn off these features, go to Tools, Options, Corrections, and uncheck Fix capitalization of sentences and Suggest completions as you type.

Turn off autocompletion and capitalization

3. Change the font type and size.

I like to work in Times New Roman. Boring, but effective (it has a complete character set for special symbols. Go to Tools, Options, Editor, and click on the blue A button in the top left.

Change font Scrivener

4. Add a keyboard shortcut for a word or phrase you don’t want to keep retyping. I use .ip to indicate a placeholder for inserting a picture later.

Go to Tools, Options, Corrections, check the Enable Substitutions box, and click on Edit Substitutions. Click on the plus button to add your keyboard shortcut.

Substitutions shortcuts Scrivener

5. Select your dictionary.
I am a Canadian, so I like my dictionary to remind me to spell colour and honour with a "u." Go to Tools, Options, Corrections, select your dictionary, click OK, and then click Apply.

If you don’t see your dictionary in the list of options, click the Download button to see if there’s one available.

6. Customize the toolbar.
Go to Tools, Customize toolbars and add or remove toolbar buttons. Here are the buttons like like to add:

  • Show Invisibles
  • Inline Annotation
  • Comment buttons

You can also rearrange the order of the buttons by clicking on the down and up arrows.
You don’t need to tolerate the out-of-the-box version of Scrivener.  Set up Scrivener so it better matches your way of working.

Image by Kool Cats Photography

4 Tips and 4 Tools for Tightening Your Prose

by C.K. MacLeod

Tighten by hand only

Want to tighten your prose and make your writing easier to understand? Here are four ways and four tools to help you do that — all for free!

1. Omit needless phrases.

Authors sometimes use phrases such as "owing to the fact that" or "in order to" like condiments. Often, your meaning won't change if you trim these phrases. For example, “owing to the fact that” can become “because,” and "in order to" can become "to."

Refer to this list of offenders and some solutions for fixing them. Use the search and replace function in your word processing software to find these phrases in your writing.

2. Omit needless words.

Authors tend to pepper their prose with filler words. If you use Microsoft Word, you can run the NeedlessWords macro, and the macro will highlight potentially unnecessary words. In this macros for beginners post, Carla Douglas offers suggestions for what to do with those highlighted words.

Never used a macro before? This 20-Minute Macro Course will have you up and running with Macros in no time.

If macros scare you, or you don’t have Microsoft Word, try the Hemingway Editor. It’ll help you to hunt down adverbs, another kind of needless word.

3. Shorten your sentences.

Long sentences make sentences harder to read. The solution? Create two short sentences from the long one, when it makes sense to do so.
The Hemingway Editor will spot long sentences by identifying them as “hard to read” and “very hard to read.” It also provides you with readability statistics on your writing. You can buy the downloadable version of the Hemingway Editor for under $10 USD. Try the online version for free.

Very hard-to-read sentences are highlighted in red
Very hard-to-read sentences are highlighted in red

4. Use easy-to-understand words.

You can use the PlainLanguage macro to identify hard-to-understand words so you can swap them out with a reader-friendly word. The Hemingway Editor will also highlight words that are difficult for many readers to understand, and it will suggest a replacement!

There are many ways to make your writing more readable. A handful of tools will help you to accomplish this task quickly.

Adapted from a post from Beyond Paper Editing.

Image by Joshua Crauswell

DIY Design with Canva

Design is the lighting up on an ideaby C.K. MacLeod

If you’re engaged in social media tasks to promote your writing or editing business, you’ll know that visual design is essential to helping your message stand out.

Do you have a blog? You need a banner.

Just wrote a book? You need a cover.

Going to a conference? You need a business card.

So, what do you do when your currency is words, and making a message visual isn’t your thing? Hire a graphic designer? Sure. But if that’s not in your budget, try Canva.

Canva is a free, online graphic design tool that you can use to create book covers, business cards, social media banners, and yes, even digital holiday cards. I created this holiday card in under one minute:

“But I’m not a graphic designer!” you say.

The folks at Canva know that. Which is why Canva contains correctly-sized templates and predesigned drag-and-drop elements in an easy-to-use interface that nondesigners can use. Building a business card, for example, is as difficult as building a tower with wooden blocks with a two-year-old. If you’re still not convinced, Canva offers free step-by-step design tutorials that will take you through the design process.

Canva has a nice selection of free professional-looking, pre-designed elements, so you can try designing something without spending a cent. If you decide to spring for paid elements, they’re inexpensive, at only about a dollar each.
Still unsure? Why not take a page from the pros? Self-publishing author Joanna Penn announced on The Creative Penn Podcast (episode 245) that she used Canva to create a simple book cover for Destroyer of Worlds, a book she’s released on pre-order on iBooks.The cover will be placeholder until she has the final version professionally designed by her graphic designer.

The online world is a visual place. Canva ensures that word people can now join in on the fun.
Image by David Joyce

Most Popular Writing Tech Posts of 2015

Top 10by C.K. MacLeod

Here are the top 10 Posts on Tech Tools for Writers in 2015.

  1. Hemingway Editor: A Proofreading Tool for Writers
  2. Self-Editing Tools
  3. Retrieving a Back-Up File in Scrivener
  4. How to Create a Keyboard Shortcut for the Snipping Tool
  5. 20-Minute Macro Course
  6. Improve Your Writing with Macros
  7. A 5-Minute Guide to Evernote
  8. 5 Ways to Create an Em Dash
  9. Proofreading Tool: PerfectIt Pro
  10. Consistency Checker: A Free Proofreading Tool

Which tool will you try in 2016? Which tool would you like me to write about?

Stay posted for more exciting writing and editing tools in 2016.

Image by Sam Churchill.

The Fastest Way to Build an Online Home

Yurt

by C.K. MacLeod

Do you have an online home? You really should.

Recently, a managing editor contacted me to see if I was interested in doing some work for his publisher. The timing wasn’t great for me, but I didn’t want to leave the publisher high and dry. With the managing editor's permission I contacted my editing group and ask interested editors to contact me. I got seven email responses in the first hour.

When I make a referral, I want to know something about the person I’m referring, but I couldn’t find out anything about these editors other than what they told me in their email messages. They didn’t appear to have online homes.

I get it. Setting up a website and keeping up with social media is a lot of work. But may I suggest that you do one small thing? Set up an About.me page. I learned about this site through personal branding expert Sidneyeve Matrix.

About.me is the equivalent of a digital business card, or a mini one-page website. It’s free for a basic account, it’ll take you less than an hour to set up, and then you can link to it in your email signature. Here's my About.me page:

Corina' s About.me page
My About.me page

If you’re providing services, or you have something to sell, you don’t need to buy an online mansion. You can take up residence in a tiny online yurt.

Image by Prashant Ram

Print to Digital: Cleaning Up Your Word File

This week's post is by Carla Douglas from Beyond Paper Editing.

Adapted. Originally posted at Beyond Paper Editing in August 2014.

If you have a print document that you’d like to self-publish, you can turn it into a digital file and convert it to an ebook.

The first step is to get it into MS Word using OCR software. Note that MS Word is your best friend right now. Editors use Word for a few reasons, and efficient cleanup and editing are high on that list.

Here’s what the file I’m working with looks like as a pdf (produced on a Macintosh Classic and dot matrix printer):

The manuscript has been marked up with pencil, and these marks are picked up by the OCR software, sometimes in unexpected ways. Here’s what the Word file looks like:

Two Kinds of Cleanup

There’s junk in the file—the stuff you can see, and the stuff you can’t. Sometimes, what’s hidden behind the scene in Word is the cause of the junk you can see—things like garbled text and wonky formatting. Also, the pencil marks that haven’t been converted to text remain in the document as pictures, and will have to be deleted. Some random characters appear, too, and the text is all boldface. These are just a few of the things you can see.

To clean up this file, will a spritz of vinegar and water do, or will you need industrial-strength degreaser? The answer depends on what you plan to do with the file next. If you’re going to revise or edit the text, clean it up enough to continue working on it, and save the heavy-duty cleanup for later.

For Initial Cleanup

The story I’m working with here is just over 4,000 words, and it won’t be converted to an ebook any time soon. I’m going to do an initial cleanup using FileCleaner from Jack Lyon’s Editorium. (Wiley Publishing  has a free Word add-in with many similar features.)

FileCleaner is about US$30, but there’s a generous 45-day free trial available. It runs as a Word plug-in. Follow the directions on the site to download and install it. It will appear on the Add-ins pane in your Word ribbon. Here’s what it will do (you can select/unselect features):

Running FileCleaner cleaned up most of the junk in my story file—it’s now in a format I can continue to edit without too many distractions. Here’s what it looks like post-FileCleaner:

As you can see, FileCleaner didn’t catch the text that had been marked up with pencil. After trying a few ways to clean this up—including selecting the text and applying Normal style to it—I ended up having to repair it manually by deleting the picture and re-keying the sentence that’s squished together. Because my document is short, this wasn’t a problem, but in a longer document it could present a significant inconvenience. Here’s a last look at the cleaned-up text:

Other Cleanup Tips

At times, Word can be frustrating to work in—with extra page breaks and hidden formatting, it will do things you don’t want it to. For now, I’ve cleaned my file up well enough to do further editing.

If your Word document is really acting up, there are a few of things to try. I’ve found that the best place to start is by using the show/hide feature on the Word ribbon.  How to Find the Hidden Formatting That Will Mess Up Your Ebook, shows you how.

Image by atomicjeep

6 Tips for Dictating Your Writing

Blue Snowball mic

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated.

Dictation has become increasingly popular with writers who want to improve their writing productivity. As a writer and editor, I struggle with achy wrists from too much typing, tapping, and mousing. I know I'm not alone. To save my wrists, I've decided to take dictation for a spin. Here a few tips for using dictation, if you decide to give it a try:

Try it with short-form writing first.

Email is a great way to begin. Email a trusted friend who will forgive you for any fumbling and inexplicable wordiness. When I first dictated this article, it was a beast of a thing. Before I took out my editing hatchet, that is.

Work from an outline.

Take three minutes to plan what you want to say. A short, point-form list should do the trick. If you understand where you're going, you're less likely to wander into a verbal thicket.

Remember to speak out punctuation.

Say “comma,” or “period” when you want to insert punctuation. To start a new paragraph, say “new line.” It feels awkward to speak out punctuation, but it gets easier with time.

Think before you speak.

Your mom was right. Thinking before you speak is not only wise, but it makes for more accurate voice dictation. Monica Leonelle, author of Dictate Your Book: How to Write Your Book Faster, Better, and Smarter, recommends pausing while dictating, and then speaking in phrases instead of word by word. For some reason, speak recognition engines record phrases more accurately than individual words. So take time to gather your thoughts. With voice diction, awkward pauses are okay!

Get ready to edit.

If your dictation is wordy or disorganized, you will spend more time than usual editing your writing. Because speaking and keyboarding involve different neural pathways, and may engage different areas of the brain, your writing and speaking styles may differ.

When I first learned to write, I needed to conserve my words—in other words, to not write like I speak. Now, in learning dictation, I need to learn to speak more like I write!

Use editing tools.

Dictation may help you get more words on the page, but you’ll need some objectivity to help you decide which words should stay there. Revision and proofreading tools can show you where your writing needs pruning.

Final Thoughts

I've found that dictation works best as a first-draft exercise for getting first thoughts on a page. Once those thoughts are there, I can use my keyboard to make them intelligible. So, add dictation to your repertoire of tools, but don’t feel it has to replace the keyboard.

There are lots of options for trying dictation. I've written about Windows Speech Recognition  and Google's Voice Typing on this blog. Keep checking back for more reports on my adventures with dictation.

Image by Vincent Diamente