Going from thought to print required a lot of steps, and I will save you some time now; There is no end-to-end, one-stop shop for indie writers. You will need a myriad of software unless you are paying someone else to do all the dirty work for you. I have seen many ebooks, and print book for that matter, that seem to have be designed by an individual that either didn’t care, or didn’t have the knowledge to make it look good. Not only would I be damned before I released anything that looked like those bad examples, I wanted to help those who felt the same way.
First thing off-the-hop, don’t waste time looking for the perfect writing program. This is a fantastic little time-waster that you will convince yourself is important – it isn’t. What I told myself I wanted, was a distraction-free tool that would help me focus on writing and keep everything else at bay. I found it, it’s called a typewriter. If you are using a computer, there is no point – you will always be interrupted by something. Be it an anti-virus update request, or your simple need to check your social media, you will be distracted. Worry instead about how to get back on track because research is important, and typewriters don’t support http requests.
Instead of one, I needed a small contingent of programs, each supporting a stage of the writing process. I am not endorsing these titles, nor am I a paid shill, but detailed here is what I used to make my book happen.
My first draft was completed with a donationware program called yWriter by SpaceJock Software. It is written by a man who writes novels for a living, so it is tailored specifically for this task. It supports character, location, and item databases, and non-destructively colorizes their use within the document. It became an additional spell check option that I relied on, and I miss it when it’s not there. The biggest boon this software brought to me was the chapter and scene separation. Having the ability to move either one up and down the time line as necessary was handy, but thinking in terms of scenes helped with my feeling of progression. Something that is important when the light at the end of the tunnel seems so far away. The program also contains many author-based tools such as word goals, reports and progress logs – none of which I used, but your needs may differ.
Next, I exported my story, and loaded it into LibreOffice Writer. By default, it finds many errors that I somehow missed, but adding the Language Tool plugin showed me how blind I really am. Here, I separated chapters and scenes with breaks and generally prettied-up the document. There was no point to getting elaborate yet, anything may change after proofing. With this done, I made my first editing pass. Reading the entire book though and fixing my many errors.
Off to Google Docs. Instead of importing the document, I created a new one and pasted my first edit into the online writer. Expect to wait a minute or so with a long document, don’t get impatient and paste a second time. With that done, I go through my second full edit of the story. Google Docs managed to find even more errors that myself and LibreOffice missed, and I further question my eyesight when I see them.
Now, I put this on Google Docs for more than its ability to spot errors, it’s there so my editor can begin his magic and I can forge ahead with my third editing pass while he does so. Getting real-time critique on issues allows me to change things quickly, giving him a chance to read over my adjustments and chiming in when necessary.
After my editor has finished his job, I load up a commercial program called Scrivener. I want a ebook on Amazon, and Scrivener is made for this very job. It has the ability to use templates for its design and many are available, some even commercially, but I opt to build my own. Once I have my story transferred, I compile it to EPUB and ferry a copy to my e-reader using Calibre so I can make a polishing pass. While my i’s may be dotted and my t’s may be crossed, there is still work to do.
For me, the e-reader is the magnifying glass, where I seem to be extra critical on everything I write. Coincidentally, it’s also the slowest process. I sit in front of my computer, e-reader in hand, and make changes to my story as I read. Once this is completed, I make the changes to all finalized copies of my story so there is no discrepancies.
Despite the template I built in Scrivener, I want to make more advanced changes to my finished EPUB. For this, I use Sigil, which can edit them directly. Here, I make style changes, line up and fix the table of contents, add chapter spaces, and generally tidy up the format. I also add my book cover, which I have meticulously created using the Gimp and an image that I have licensed, more on that shortly.
You can upload an EPUB to Amazon and hope for the best, but I wasn’t about to let some unknown algorithm deface all my hard work. Instead, I downloaded KindleGen and Kindle Previewer, tools to do the work yourself. KindleGen is a simple console program that will convert EPUB to MOBI – the native format for Kindle books. Kindle Previewer is exactly what it sounds like – it shows you what your book will look like on the Kindle Fire.
Now that my ebook was ready, it was time to move on to the print version.