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 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:
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.
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.
Proofreading tools are an easy way to help you see and fix potential problem areas in your writing. Recently, I discovered the Hemingway Editor created by Adam and Ben Long. It’s a standalone program that costs $20 US, and you can download it to a PC or a Mac computer. You can also try the free online version. It’s most helpful if your aim is to make your writing clear.
How it Works
The Hemingway Editor highlights common problems that can get in the way of clear writing:
Complex words or phrases
Too many adverbs
Too many instances of passive voice
It colour codes each potential error type, so you can address them one at a time. You can see an explanation of each error type here.
The app won’t tell you
how to fix long sentences (shorten them),
what to do with adverbs (delete most of them), or
how to handle too many instances of passive voice (rewrite the sentence in the active voice—sometimes), but...
...it will suggest simple words for complex ones.
The Hemingway Editor (and other revision tools like it), will give you something to correct in your first draft, just minutes after you’ve written it. This makes it a terrific tool for on-demand writing with tight deadlines.
To use the Hemingway Editor, copy your text from your word processor and paste it into the text editor. Click on the Edit view to see areas that may need your attention.
Alternatively, you can write right in the app, in the Write view.
You can make corrections in the Hemingway Editor, and copy and paste your corrected text back into your word processor. Or, you can go back to your original text in your word processor and make changes there.
The newest version of Hemingway (2.0) will now allow you to add heading and paragraph styles, and if you decide to save the file as a Word doc, the heading and paragraph styles will show up in Word. You can also export your file in markdown.
Note: I use the PC version of the Hemingway Editor, and I’ve found that it works well for articles, newsletters, and blog posts. The design team is working on some improvements, which means it may soon handle longer texts, such as book chapters.
Keep in mind, the Hemingway Editor is a simple text editor with proofreading features. Hyperlinks, bulleted lists, and images will not transfer as-is. You will lose some of the formatting.
The Hemingway Editor is an excellent tool, especially for the price. If you don’t want to use a separate program to revise your writing, and you already use Microsoft Word for editing and proofreading, try some of the revision macros on this blog. They’re free, and so is the 20-Minute macro course that will teach you how to use them.
Have you discovered the Google Docs library of Add-ons? They work like plug-ins and they can perform a variety of useful tasks.
Consistency Checker,by PerfectIt, is a lite version of one of my favourite proofreading tools. It will scan your document for:
abbreviations in two forms (US vs. U.S.)
common typos (teh vs. the)
contractions (contractions aren’t used in all kinds of writing)
hyphenation of words (in-line vs. in line)
numbers in sentences (spelled out or numerals?)
spelling variations (colour or color)
These are some of the items a copyeditor or proofreader will typically check in a manuscript.
Where to Get Consistency Checker
If you have a gmail account, you can get Consistency Checker through Google Docs:
Click on the Add-ons tab in Google Docs, click on Get add-ons and search for the Consistency Checker by PerfectIt. Download the add-on.
Open the Consistency Checker by once again clicking on the Add-ons tab in Google Docs. The Consistency Checker should now be listed.
Click Open and then click Scan.
Interpreting Consistency Checker's results takes a bit of practice and may require you to look up a few things in a style guide, but once you have the hang of it, you can use this proofreading tool before you share your writing with the world.
For more information about Consistency Checker and other useful editing tools, see this post at the Beyond Paper blog.
Most writers are familiar with the adage, show, don't tell. But sometimes it's tricky to determine when those telling instances have crept into your writing.
Editor Janice Hardy of Fiction University explains how telling happens and offers advice for how to turn telling into showing. She and Valerie Comer of To Write a Story suggest lists of words you should avoid to prevent instances of telling.
I've inserted some of Valerie Comer's and Janice Hardy's telling words into the macro script below so you can identify them in your own writing. I've also included some words of my own.
Copy the TellingWords* macro, below, from Sub to End Sub and paste it into Word's Visual Basic Application (VBA). When you run the macro, it will hunt down and highlight those telling words so you can tell them, I mean, show them who's boss.
' Highlights telling words
' Written by Roger Mortis, revised by Subcortical, adapted by Jami Gold and tweaked by C.K. MacLeod; word list by Valerie Comer and Janice Hardy
Dim range As range
Dim i As Long
TargetList = Array("was", "were", "when", "as", "the sound of", "could see", "saw", "notice", "noticed", "noticing", "consider", "considered", "considering", "smell", "smelled", "heard", "felt", "tasted", "knew", "realize", "realized", "realizing", "think", "thought", "thinking", "believe", "believed", "believing", "wonder", "wondered", "wondering", "recognize", "recognized", "recognizing", "hope", "hoped", "hoping", "supposed", "pray", "prayed", "praying", "angrily")
For i = 0 To UBound(TargetList)
Set range = ActiveDocument.range
.Text = TargetList(i)
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = True
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
range.HighlightColorIndex = wdPink
Note: You need to use judgement with the results of any macro. This macro will highlight the telling words, but only you can decide if it's an instance of telling.
To figure out what to do with the words the macro highlights, refer to Janice Hardy's excellent show vs. tell posts. Also, this macro is a work in progress. Are there words I should include? Omit? Let me know in the comments section below.
*Karen Woodward calls this macro the AddWords macro because you can add any list of words that you want the macro to find. The first version of this macro was written by Roger Mortis, revised by Subcortical, appropriated for writing by Karen Woodward, tweaked byJami Gold, and further tweaked by me, making it a true community effort.
Macros can help you to identify areas in your writing that need improving. You can also use macros for formatting and editing tasks. In a previous post, I listed some free writing macros you can try, and in this post, I explained how to add a macro to Word 2010. This post will explain how to run a macro:
Open a document in Word.
Go to the View tab, and click on Macros in the Window area. Select a macro from the list and click on Run. The macro will work its magic on your document.
Where to learn more
For further instructions on how to use macros, see Macros for Authors and Editors, in which Paul Beverley offers detailed instructions for understanding and running macros in various versions of Word.
One of the easiest ways to format an ebook is to begin with the tool you probably already have—Microsoft Word.
I know, I know. HTML & CSS enthusiasts and InDesign evangelists everywhere have just engaged in a collective shudder.
But hear me out. Not all self-pubs have access to expensive design software or the time or interest for the required learning curve. Many of them do have access to Microsoft Word, though. Why not begin where they're at? That's what Joel Friedlander and Aaron Shepard have done. You're welcome to take it up with them. wink
So, having gotten that out of the way, if your manuscript is in Microsoft Word, there are several things you can do to ensure a smoother transition from Word to ebook. Your first step is to clean up your book in Word. Here's what you need to do:
Remove headers, footers, and page numbers.
Remove underlining in headings.
Remove two spaces after end punctuation.
Remove manual tabs and spaces.
Remove text boxes.
Remove tables formatted in Word. Reinsert them as images instead.
Avoid using the list buttons on the ribbon to create bulleted and numbered lists.
If you want to publish an ebook, you should probably read ebooks. This post will get you started.
Set up an account with an ebook distributor or retailer if you don’t already have one. Accounts are free. Some options are
Barnes & Noble
2. Choose how you will read your ebook. You can read your ebook on a
designated e-reading device (Kindle, Nook, Kobo)
hand-held device (iPod/iPhone, Android phone)
tablet (iPad, Android)
Choose a book to read. Each of the distribution sites listed above will have free ebooks. Authors will often offer the first book in a series for free as a way of building a readership.
Download your book. You have a few options here. If you’re reading on a designated e-reading device, you can download the book to your computer and transfer it to your e-reading device with the USB cable that came with it. Or, you can simply download the ebook directly to your device if you have wifi and your device is wifi enabled. If you’re reading on anything other than a designated e-reading device, go to Step 5 and download an e-reading app.
Download an e-reading app. Use the table below to help you decide if your e-reader needs an app. Search your ebook distributor site to find the app you need.
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.
What 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:
Open Word. Sketch out your book outline by listing chapter titles, scenes, plot points, or story beats.
3. 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.
4. 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 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.