Tuesday 1 September 2015

Why You Shouldn't Use Scrivener to Compile your eBook

Scrivener is a powerful writing tool. It feels like pro equipment, it helps organise, save and protect my writing in a way that MS Word never did. But when I compiled my first ebook and I discovered that it is a tool that can fool you into believing it will take up more of your slack than it can.

I have read extensively on compiling eBooks and despite what I read I was convinced that scrivener could do the job well enough.

I read David Gaughran’s Let’s get digital, which is a fantastic book for anyone wanting to get their work out there. In one chapter he goes into compiling and formatting for e-publishing. He looks to Guido Henkel as the definitive master of formatting and I read his guide with starry eyes. Basically, eBooks are HTML and I've done quite a bit of that with my sites and blogs but still did’t feel fluent enough, so I got seduced by the plethora of articles on compiling the easy way with scrivener.

Once I’d got around the settings in the program I compiled and marvelled at the result. Maybe David and Guido were being a little too fastidious? Then I noticed some ticks in the indents and fonts. I went back to scrivener and rectified them, super! Then, I tried to tidy up the contents page, which I was less than happy with. As the day progressed, I compiled, recompiled and again. Because my chapters are blog posts, I wanted them to have the date at the top before the title. Eventually I managed to enter these manually. Great! By the end of the day I had an epub and mobi file and began testing.

The epub went quite well on my andoid phone playbooks (my favourite eBook reader), iPad iBooks and the kindle app. Then I put it into the kindle previewer on my laptop… a whole day down the drain! The contents were still wrong, the spacing was inconsistent and then the final blow. I put it on 'night mode' on my android playbooks, something that I use quite a lot, and entire paragraphs disappeared.

I went back to Guido and read again. I downloaded Calibre and jEdit (they are both free and highly recommended). First, I opened the epub file in jEdit and then I had a drink, it was very intimidating. Not just because it simply shows the code but as I later discovered, Scrivener had put so much extraneous code that I could not see my words for the code. Then I opened it in calibre which was a little more intuitive, it puts the code and text side by side so you can see what each change does. What I discovered is what scrivener does with the file. It has style sheets named ‘scrivener 1,2,3’ and so on and you cannot see what each of them does. I managed to make enough sense of them to rectify the problems that but all the while my deadlines were passing.

I slowly realised to my consternation that I should have listened to David and Guido and not followed every link to ‘easy’ ebook formatting with Scrivener or MS Word. The point that Guido makes is that unlike a web site or blog where you want as much control over your formatting as you possible, in order to render you pages and articles exactly as you want them, with ebooks you need to relinquish that control. Ebook readers and apps have a plethora of different screen sizes and resolutions. They have different default fonts and line spacings, different modes and colour settings and when you try to impose your will on them through HTML code there is no telling how a device will interpret that code. You only need a handful of readers to have a difficult experience with your book and you’ve lost them and everyone they may have spoken to.

I’m not going to add a howto here, it would simply add to the noise. I will, however link to people who you really should listen to. I’m not saying that there aren’t some very good tutorials out there giving reliable advice on how to get the job done well, what I will say is that they are all very reliant on the fact that your copy is consistently formatted and that you haven’t used a different method to indent your paragraphs or space your lines or that the program you are using is using code that all ebook readers will interpret in the same way.

When you SUBSCRIBE I will send you a copy of my book and you can look for yourself. Does it render well? Is it easy on the eye? I guarantee that someone will find some glitch somewhere and if you do I will send you the whole series as it goes up on Amazon, coded the ‘GUIDO’ way, of course!

This is a short list and I strongly recommend reading it in this order.

The Creative Penn: This will get you in the right frame of mind to think ahead and save so much work in the future.

David Gaughran: David doesn't mince his words and for good reason.

Guido Henkel: Formatting guru. He obviously has passion for his art but the word Laconic is not in his lexicon, so persevere, you won't regret it!

I hope my mistakes will benefit you and save you the time I wasted. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch, today, you dine on me!

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