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

How to Write a Quality Book Fast

Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated. Originally posted at Beyond Paper Editing.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? If so, you've tasked yourself to write a book in four weeks. How will you do it?

Writing a book can happen fairly quickly, particularly if you know how to create an efficient writing and publishing workflow. I wrote the first draft of the book on the left in about 10 hours and completed the rest of the process in nine weeks. Here's how:

1. Have a System 

To get a book to publication quickly, it helps to know the essential steps in the idea-to-ebook process. As both an author and editor, I’ve discovered a few efficiencies that can save time in the writing and publishing process.

Here are the steps as I follow them:

  • Collaborate (optional)
  • Brainstorm
  • Research
  • Organize
  • Draft
  • Revise
  • Edit
  • Add Images (optional)
  • Clean Up
  • Format
  • Proofread
  • Create a Cover
  • Publish

You don't always have to follow these steps in order, but if your steps are orderly and logical, it'll help you to be more efficient.

2. Use Efficiency Tools

You'll be more efficient at writing books if you use the right tools for the job. Scrivener, for example, is a wonderful drafting tool that can help you organize a potentially unwieldy book.

Trust me, it's never good news to discover at the editing stage that your book's structure isn't working. If you use an organization tool like Scrivener early in the process, you can sort out any structural issues at the beginning, long before the editing stage (where they can become costly). Scrivener can benefit writers in other ways, too. (See Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast for more details).

It's also worth noting that Microsoft Word is currently the best tool for the editing stage of your publishing process (I'm hoping that the creators of Scrivener will remedy that). You may not agree with me, but in Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast, I think I make a pretty good case for why you might want to have Word in your writer's toolkit.

I also recommend over 30 free and inexpensive tools that writers can use to create quality books efficiently.

A Caveat

It’s one thing to publish quickly, and quite another to publish well. Quality matters, and it’s important that you don’t sacrifice quality for speed. Your readers won’t care how long it took you to produce your book—but they will care whether your book is good.

I believe that creating a quality book fast is within every author’s reach. Your “fast” might not be my “fast,” but there are ways to create better books faster.

Want to know more about how to create a quality book efficiently? Curious about how Scrivener and other tools can help you do that? Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast is a quick read, and you'll find it on Amazon for $0.99 during NaNoWriMo. 

Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

By C.K. MacLeod and Carla Douglas

This post first appeared on June 17, 2015 at The Book Designer and on July 15, 2015 at Beyond Paper Editing.

In the tongue-in-cheek post How to Write a Book Even Faster, the author suggests that writers are not editing their writing. That can’t be true! (Right?) How do you edit your writing? Perhaps you use one of these self-editing approaches...

Approaches to Self-Editing

There are many ways to improve your writing. You can

  • set your writing aside for a month or two and tackle it again from a renewed perspective
  • get structured feedback from beta readers
  • hire an editor to assess your first draft and suggest improvements
  • run editing tools on your writing

Let’s look at each of these self-editing approaches.

DIY Feedback

You may be exhausted from your first-draft efforts. Setting your writing aside for a spell may give you the time you need to recharge and become excited about your book project again. It may also afford you the perspective you need to see where your writing needs fixing. This approach to self-editing is most effective if there aren’t time constraints, and if you’re able to see what needs improving.

External Feedback

The remaining items on the list above are different from the first item in one important way: they offer feedback on your writing from an external source — from someone, or something, other than you. Because it’s difficult to be objective about your own writing, external feedback can alert you to your writing blind spots.

Not everyone responds well to feedback from beta readers and editors. Writers need to be able to develop resilience for receiving feedback, but this takes time and practice. If you’re still working on developing your resilience, we have another “external” self-editing option for you: editing tools.

Editing Tools

Many editors use automated editing tools to efficiently find problems in a piece of writing. If writers want to learn how these tools work, they can use them to diagnose their own writing!

Below is a list of some our favourite editing tools, linked to articles that describe how to use them. We’ve organized them into the four levels of editing that every manuscript should go through.

Not all tools are diagnostic and automated.* Some of them, such as the paragraph-level and big-picture tools, will help you when it’s time to fix your writing. We’ve selected tools that we think will be most helpful to writers, but there are many more tools that you can explore and try.

Self-Editing Tools for Writers

Tool Word-level Sentence-level Paragraph-level Big-picture level
Consistency Checker* x x
Hemingway app* x x
PerfectIt Pro* x
Self-Editing macros* x
Scrivener’s Binder+ x x
Word’s Navigation Pane+ x x
Split-screen feature in Scrivener+ x x
Split-screen feature in Word+ x x

 

*Diagnostic tools: these tools will check for one or more potential writing problems with the click of a button.

+Fixing tools: these tools will help you fix writing problems, once they are identified.

As far as we know, there aren’t automated diagnostic tools that will point out paragraph-level and big-picture problems. At least not yet. For now, you’ll need to educate yourself about common paragraph-level and big-picture problems, or get some direction from beta readers and editors. You can use the paragraph-level and big-picture tools in the table above to efficiently fix problems, once you know what they are.

Advantages of Editing Tools

Editing tools have a few distinct advantages over the other self-editing methods mentioned at the beginning of this article:

  • They aren’t people, which means that writers probably won’t respond to feedback emotionally, or take feedback personally. A tool also won’t roll its eyes because you’ve forgotten to close quotations and parentheses 54 times in a 300-page book. It’ll point out these errors, without judgment. And we could all use a little less judgement.
  • If you consider what these tools are telling you about your writing, you will sharpen your self-editing skills.
  • You can use diagnostic editing tools five minutes after you’ve typed the period on the last sentence of your first draft. This makes editing tools brilliant for on-demand writing.
  • These tools are widely available, and some of them are cheap or free. (Editors are widely available, but they’re not cheap or free.)
  • If you plan to use tools for self-editing, and later decide to hire an editor, your editor may have less to do, and that can save on editing costs.

Can these tools help you to become a better writer? We’re still gathering data on that. From what we’ve seen — with authors who’ve been willing to act on the information suggested by diagnostic editing tools — it does seem possible.

For example, if a tool suggests that you’ve included needless words in your writing, after deleting 103 needless words in the first 50 pages of your manuscript, there’s a good chance that you’ll include fewer of them in your writing in future!

Limitations of Editing Tools

Editing tools will not do it all. They have limitations that are important to understand. They will not write your book, cook your breakfast, or collect your kids from school. And they also won’t do these three things:

Won’t Think for You

An editing tool can alert you to potential problems with your writing. You need to decide when to address a highlighted instance and when to ignore it.

For example, the Hemingway app will highlight adverbs in blue, so you can, presumably, obliterate them. Why? Adverbs can clutter your writing and indicate instances of telling instead of showing. (Show, don’t tell!)

But does that mean you need to excise every adverb in sight? No. Depending on what you’re writing, you may choose to sprinkle adverbs as you would expensive fleur de sel.

Won’t Fix It for You

Editing tools are not designed to fix your writing for you. They identify problems, or help you fix problems efficiently. You have to do the heavy lifting.

For example, if your tool has highlighted a sentence that’s too long, you will need to divide that unwieldy beast into two shorter sentences. Your tool won’t do that for you.

Won’t Do the Footwork for You

If a solution to a writing problem isn’t obvious to you, you may need to dig around in writing craft books or style guides for help with interpreting what a tool is telling you.

Consider the example below. PerfectIt Pro 3 is asking the author to check the use of a hyphen in this instance. Has the author used the hyphen correctly?

Looking things up isn’t a waste of your time. The more you know why something might need fixing, the better your writing will be. If you let them, editing tools will show you where you quirks are, teach you what to pay attention to, and inspire (or provoke) you to make adjustments.

How to Use Editing Tools

As with any kind of learning, you need to go slowly or you could become overwhelmed. Here are some tips for keeping things manageable:

  1. Remember to begin with big-picture editing fixes and work your way down to word-level fixes. Editing order matters.
  2. Run diagnostic tools, one chapter at a time, until you become familiar with how these tools work. Exceptions: Run Consistency Checker and PerfectIt Pro on your entire book. Why? They’re designed to check for consistency across an entire manuscript.
  3. Run one tool at a time. Don’t run several tools at once. You’ll have too many things to pay attention to. The key is to remain focused and to improve your writing by degrees.
  4. Be strategic. You don’t need to run every tool on your writing, every time. Once you’re familiar with the tools we recommend, you’ll know which ones best address your most persistent writing quirks.
  5. Consult self-editing books for solutions to the writing problems your tools uncover.

Editing tools can help you to become aware of your writing blind spots and sharpen your self-editing skills. They may even help you become better at writing.

If, however, you’ve decided that learning how to use these tools is not for you, and you prefer to have writing problems fixed for you, we have yet another solution. Hire an editor! (You had to know we were going to say that.)

Note: We used the Hemingway app and PerfectIt Pro 3 to edit this article.

Image by Steve Snodgrass

Scrivener for PC Wish List

Wish here

Scrivener is a popular piece of writing software used by many self-publishing authors. For good reason. It’s designed to help you organize and manage a book-length project. It’s available for Macs, PCs, and Linux, but the features are different across platforms. In fact, it’s a well-known fact that the PC version is missing many of the features lauded by Mac users.

Make Your Wish!

Instead of grumbling about the missing features in the PC version on Scrivener forums, I’ve decided to try and be constructive. I’ve created a Scrivener wish list for PC users. If there’s a feature you’d like the PC version to have, document your wish in this interactive document. I will invite the creators of Scrivener to view this list.

I can only begin to imagine how much work it’d be to keep on top of version parity. PC users: Let’s do our part to help the fine folks at Literature & Latte fine tune the software we love.

To be fair, there may be good reasons why Literature & Latte hasn’t addressed some of the features that PC users are pining for. Let's find out what they are.

I’ve gotten things off to a start. Be sure to have a look!

Image by Matt E

Using Split Screen for Editing

4260085353_5c0efc3f39_oby C. K. MacLeod

Word and Scrivener's split-screen functions are handy for editing long documents. At some point in the editing process, you may need to compare facts or details in one section of your book with facts and details in another section. Scrolling back and forth through pages and pages of writing can be frustrating, but with the split-screen function, you don't have to.

Here's how it works in Word and in Scrivener:

Split Screen in Word 2010

  1. In the Home tab, go to View and in the Window area, click on the Split button.
Word split screen button
Access Word's split screen in the View tab

A horizontal rule, or line, will show up across your document. Click anywhere in your document to anchor the rule. You can move the rule up or down at any time.

Note the horizontal rule in Word's split-screen view
Note the horizontal rule in Word's split-screen view
  1. In the split-screen view, the Split button has changed to the Remove Split button.To return to a single pane, go to View, Window area, Remove Split.

Split Screen in Scrivener

  1. Click on the Horizontal Split button in the top right of Scrivener's middle pane.
Horizontal split button
Scrivener split-screen view

The button will immediately change to the No Split button and Scrivener's horizontal split- screen view looks like this:

Scrivener's split-screen view
Scrivener's split-screen view

If you prefer to see your split screens side-by-side instead of stacked on top of one another, you can click on the Vertical Split button to the left of the Horizontal Split button.

  1. Click on the No Split button to return to single-pane view.

The next time you're working with a long document, and you're having to check facts, cross-references, or even write a concluding paragraph, consider using the split-screen function in Word or Scrivener to make the job easier.

Image by Nina Matthews

 

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.

How to Create an Ebook With Sigil

by C.K. MacLeod

Ebook distributors make it possible for authors to upload a Microsoft Word document for publishing an ebook. Because many authors use Microsoft Word, this is an attractive option. If your ebook is mostly text and you've done a good job of cleaning it up in Word, the end result can be quite acceptable.

Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes, though, a distributor's conversion software doesn't do what you expect. For example, the Lulu and Kindle converters tend to indent paragraphs, even if you've applied block paragraph styling in Word (block paragraphs are generally the preferred style for nonfiction books).

While there is a way to trick the conversion software's annoying tendency to indent automatically, the results aren't always pleasing. Similar quirks occur in Scrivener, as well.

Block-style paragraph styling in Word
Paragraph styling is indented after it's converted by Lulu conversion software

Enter Sigil. Sigil is a free, open source epub editor that allows you to create an epub file that you can upload to most distributors. It can help you to prevent some of these quirks. 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.

How Sigil Works

Sigil has two views: "Book View" and "Code view" (don't worry about Code View for now). Sigil's Book View operates like a simple Word processor. I would never have believed it if I hadn't tried it myself. Look at the buttons on the toolbar. I'll bet you can guess what some of them do...

Sigil's Book View works like a Word processor

Help Sigil Read Your File

Your first obstacle to using Sigil is to figure out how to get your ebook from Word into Sigil. Why? Sigil doesn't read .doc or .docx files, it only reads HTML, epub and .txt files. Here's what you need to do (I learned this trick from Paul Salvette's excellent tutorial, How to Make an Ebook with Sigil):

1. Open your ebook in Word (I use Word 2010). Go to File, Save As, and save your file as Plain Text (.txt). This option strips your Word file of unnecessary code that can mess up your ebook in the conversion process.

Save as plain text (.txt)

2. A message box like this will pop up:

Select UTF-8 encoding

Select "Other coding" and choose UTF-8 encoding (you'll need to scroll down in the menu), Click OK.

3. 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.

Paste your ebook file in the middle window

Because you copied your ebook from a plain text file, you will have lost a lot of your formatting, so you'll need to reapply some of that formatting in Sigil. But here's the good news: if you click on the Code View (the button to the right of Book View), your ebook will have been cleared of a lot of unnecessary code that can give you undesirable results later on. This point will become more meaningful in a future post.

An aside: The Sigil User Guide suggests that you can also save your Word files as Web Page, Filtered. This will leave your formatting mostly in tact, but your book will look like a dog's breakfast in places in Code View. So, while it's possible to save your Word file as Web Page, Filtered, saving it as plain text might be a better option. Don't take my word for it, though. You can save your file in both formats, copy them to Sigil and decide for yourself.

4. Your next step in producing an epub is to style your ebook in Sigil, using Sigil's toolbar. For now, don't be afraid to play around a little. I will discuss the ins and outs of styling an ebook in Sigil in a future post.

(If the suspense is killing you, check out How to Make an Ebook with Sigil, by Paul Salvette. You don't have to be a tech wizard to create an ebook in Sigil. It truly is a lot easier than you think.

Updated. Originally posted at beyondpaperediting.com.

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