3 Essential Tools for Publishing

By C. K. MacLeod Number three

Self-publishing authors are doing everything that traditional publishers once did: writing, editing, and designing and formatting books. These tasks require authors to be more tech aware than ever before.

Tech tools can help with tasks once handled by traditional publishers. Below, I'll share with you the three tech tools that I use for my self-publishing workflow.

Criteria for Choosing Tools

These are my criteria for choosing the tools I'll use...

A tool must

  • have the right features for the task
  • make a task more efficient
  • be inexpensive, from a cost-per-use standpoint
  • not take too much time to learn (there is only so much time for steep learning curves when you're a jack-of-all-trades)
  • have adequate support in the way of tutorials, videos, guides, forums, or someone to answer questions, if necessary

The tools I describe below meet all of these criteria.

Sure, it'd be wonderful if one tool could do it all, but I haven't found that tool (let me know if you have). No tool is designed to do everything, and using some tools for editing, for example, is akin to using a spoon to dig a hole to plant a tree. The smartest thing you can do is choose the best tool for the job.

These three tools are the best tools for the jobs I do...

Scrivener

For writing book-length works, I haven't found a tool that beats Scrivener. Scrivener shines in the way it allows writers to arrange and manipulate sections of a book. If you're a plotter, panster or tweener, you can begin writing your book from the beginning or middle because you can arrange your book's sections with ease later.

Scrivener will let you store your book alongside research notes and pictures, and it has nifty colour coded labels that can help you to indicate your progress on a section of writing. You can also set word count targets, which can help you reach your daily or weekly writing goals.

Scrivener Labels
Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener

This handy Scrivener cheat sheet will get you started.

While Scrivener has track changes and comments features, it isn't my favourite tool for editing my writing. As a professional editor, I know that there are ways to automate editing tasks, which helps with efficiency, but more importantly, helps me to catch errors I'd otherwise miss.

Microsoft Word / WPS Writer

My tool of choice for automated editing tasks is Microsoft Word. Most professional editors use Word for editing, and with good reason. If Word isn't in your budget, try WPS Writer(part of the WPS Office suite). The free version mirrors many of Word's powerful features. Upgrading to the Pro version ($60) will allow you to run macros—tiny programs that automate hours-long editing tasks with a few clicks. If you can cut and paste, you can learn to use a macro. This free 20-Minute Macro Course will teach you how.

For the record: while I do everything to make my writing as polished as it can be, I know that I'm not the best person to copyedit my own writing. I have my editor do that. If you hire a copyeditor, your copyeditor will most likely work in Word (and if she doesn't, and she charges by the hour, you may pay more for editing than you should).

Jutoh

After the editing stage, you'll likely format your book for e-reading devices. Word is notoriously finicky for formatting ebooks, and Scrivener creates ebook files with unsightly gaps between words. So, while you can format ebooks with Scrivener or Word, they aren't the best tools for the job.

To format ebooks, I prefer Jutoh for a more reliable outcome. You can export an edited Word document into Jutoh easily, and if you've had the foresight to style your paragraphs and headings in Word, those styles will transfer, too. Jutoh will then create an epub or a mobi.

Having the right tools for the right tasks will help you produce better books, faster. While the tools I recommend aren't the only tools to get the job done, they are the best tools I've found to date.

Image by Hubert Figuière

Most Popular Tech Posts of 2014

Top 10by C.K. MacLeod

Here are the top 10 Posts on Tech Tools for Writers in 2014.

  1. 20-Minute Macro Course (free)
  2. Retrieving a Backup File in Scrivener
  3. Improve Your Writing with Macros
  4. Scrivener Cheat Sheet (Downloadable)
  5. How to Make Word Behave Like Scrivener
  6. A Self-Editing Toolkit
  7. New Tool for Writing and Editing: WPS Writer
  8. Creating and Checking Your Epub in Sigil
  9. How to Add a Macro to Word
  10. A Macro for Commonly Confused Words

Which tool will you try in 2015?

Image by Sam Churchill.

Blogging in Markdown—Without a Plug-in

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by C.K. MacLeod

Writing in markdown can make your blogging process more efficient. If you've been blogging in WordPress, until now, you've been able to use a markdown plug-in, such as Markdown Quicktags, to convert markdown to HTML for reliably formatted blog posts.

Unfortunately, Markdown Quicktags no longer works with WordPress 4.0, and the developers have no plans to update the plug-in (thanks to Nina Amir for this information). What's a blogger to do? Until better options become apparent to me, it's time for a temporary workaround.

A Workaround

This workaround involves a few extra steps, but it'll work.

  1. Write your blog post in markdown, in a word processor of your choice.

  2. Copy and paste your post into the left pane of the Jon Combe markdown editor.

Text written in markdown is on the left; the formatted version is on the right

 

 

  1. Download the HTML file generated by the Jon Combe markdown editor by clicking on the button with the angle brackets (highlighted in yellow).

Jon Combe HTML button

 

  1. Open the HTML file in a code editor like Notepad++ (free). Open the code editor first, then open the file from within the code editor. Note how you're now able to see the HTML tags in blue.

HTML in Notepad++

  1. Select the text with HTML tags and paste it into the Text tab in WordPress' editor.

This workaround works for Blogger, too. In Blogger, you'll paste the text with HTML tags into the HTML tab.

Do you write in markdown? Have you discovered a new markdown plug-in that works with  Wordpress 4.0? Do you have another workaround?

Image by Taber Andrew Bain

Using Labels in Scrivener

3749662498_7c29433b82_z by C.K. MacLeod

@CKmacleodwriter

A book in progress can be an unwieldy beast, and sometimes it's difficult to keep track of all the parts and the status of each part.

Scrivener's labels can help you to get your head around your writing project.

You can colour code each chapter of your book to determine where you are with that chapter. For example, here are the colours I used for a book I'm writing:

  • Yellow—Notes
  • Blue—First draft
  • Turquoise—Revised draft
  • Pink—Final draft

After I work on a chapter, I assign it a label so that the next time I open Scrivener, I can tell, at a glance, which chapters need attention and what kind of attention they need.

Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener
Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener

Here's how you can apply labels to your writing project in Scrivener:

Labels in Scrivener Quick Steps

  1. Adjust your settings in Scrivener. Go to View, Use Label Color In, and select Binder. This will ensure that colour is applied not just to your cue cards, but in your Binder as well.
  2. Click on a file in Scrivener's Binder. That's the file the label will be added to.
  3. Open the Inspector Pane by clicking on the i button in the top right.
  4. Click on the triangle in the General Meta-Data area.
  5. Click on the down arrow in the Label area.
  6. Add an existing label to your Scrivener file, or create a new label by clicking on Edit, Label tab+button. To change a label's colour, click on the coloured box next to the label and choose a new colour.

Add colour to your book's chapters, so you can quickly tell what kind of attention those chapters need.

Image by albastrica mititica

Retrieving a Backup File in Scrivener

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by C.K. MacLeod

Can't open your Scrivener book file?

Not all is lost. Here's how to troubleshoot this problem.

Check for Updates

Lots of tech glitches can be solved by ensuring that your software is up to date. I use Scrivener for Windows, so to check for updates I go to Help, Check for Updates. Update your software and see if you can open your Scrivener file now. If you can't, it's possible that your file is corrupted, which means you'll need to retrieve a backup of that file.

Where's my backup file?

Scrivener can be set up to automatically back up your file to a location of your choice. I have Scrivener set to back up to Dropbox (which is in the cloud), but I can just as easily have it set to back up to a folder on my computer's hard drive, or to an external hard drive or memory stick.

If you have Scrivener set to automatic backup, your file will exist somewhere. Your first job will be to find out where your backup files are being stored.

Here’s how:

For the Windows version of Scrivener, go to Tools, Options, Backup. For Mac, go to Scrivener, Preference, Backup. You should see the directory in which your files are being saved:

Scriv backup

You can see that my files are set to back up to Dropbox. Once you know where your file is being stored, you can follow the path to retrieve it.

Open Your Backup File

Your next step is to open your backup file.

Note: Scrivener backup files are often saved as .zip files, which means they've been compressed to save space. You'll need to unzip that file before you can open it.

In Windows, I can right-click on a .zip file and then click on Extract All. For a Mac, you'll need to download software that will unzip your file. Mac user and Scrivener Coach Joseph Michael recommends Unarchiver.

Once the file is unzipped, I find the file with the .scriv extension and then double click on it to open it in Scrivener. You're now ready to resume writing.

Not being able to open a book file that you've worked hard on is a terrifying thing. Scrivener's automatic backup feature can offer you some extra insurance.

Image by Carlos Luz

How to Make Word Behave Like Scrivener

2775952906_5ba8ce091f_mby C. K. MacLeod

@CKmacleodwriter

There's been much to-do about Scrivener lately. And for good reason. Scrivener appears to be able to solve some problems that traditional word processing software hasn't been able to adequately address.

One of Scrivener's strengths, its Binder feature, allows writers to manage and keep track of sections of a book-length work rather easily.

ScrivenerBinderWhat many writers don't know is that Microsoft Word 2010 has a similar feature: the Navigation Pane.

Word's Nav Pane isn't ready-to-use when you first open Word, but a few simple tweaks can get it working for you:

Quick Steps

  1. Open Word. Sketch out your book outline by listing chapter titles, scenes, plot points, or story beats.
  2. Using Word's Style menu, apply a heading style to each item in your outline.

Word 2010 Styles menu3. Open the Navigation Pane in Word by using the keyboard shortcut CTRL + F and clicking on the left tab in the Nav Pane. This is Word's answer to Scrivener's Binder.

WordNavigationpane4. Click on entries in the Nav Pane to navigate the document, and when you're feeling wild and crazy, move them around. Moving entries in the Nav Pane results in moving sections around in your running document.

In sum, by setting up the Nav Pane, you've essentially set up Word to behave like Scrivener’s Binder.

There are ways to tweak Word so that it serves you better. Learning how to use the Navigation Pane will make book-length works easier to manage.

For further discussion on setting up Word's Nav Pane, read more at the Beyond Paper blog.

Scrivener Cheat Sheet (Downloadable)

Scrivener

by C.K. MacLeod

@CKmacleodwriter

Scrivener is a wonderful tool for writing and producing book-length works. It allows you to

  • move chunks of text around with ease
  • organize research notes, references, and even notes to yourself—in the same project file
  • convert your book to ebook, web, and print formats

Help for Beginners

When you first open the program, though, it can seem a little confusing. This downloadable cheat sheet will help you to begin using Scrivener right now. Print it and stick it on the wall next to your computer.

You'll notice that I've listed the commands associated with the more common "writing moves" and grouped items by stages of the writing process.

Did I miss a Scrivener move in my cheat sheet? Feel free to leave a comment below.

A version of this post was originally posted at the Beyond Paper blog.

Image by Alan Reyes