Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why Scrivener?

I will admit right off that I've been using Microsoft Word since I was in high school, and if you want to count, that was roughly ten years ago. I was typing away on an old Windows machine in the basement, writing Harry Potter fanfiction every night. If only I could be so productive now with my own stuff! But I digress...

The argument I'm going to make here is that it's hard to jump ship on a typing program and learn a completely new piece of software if you're looking just at the act of typing words on the screen. I heard about Scrivener last year, and the free trial has sat on my laptop since then, barely used. Originally I was trying to use it to write a few screenplays, but never really got into the nuts and bolts of the software with that usage alone.

Fast forward to a month ago.

Nearing the end of my first draft of my manuscript, I decided to try my hand at formatting for Kindle, my end goal format for self publishing. I thought it would be easy. After all, with every Kindle that I've purchased (I own a Kindle 2 - purchased in 2009, the original Kindle Fire, and now my beloved Kindle Paperwhite) Amazon has provided a free eBook that goes over the process of publishing on Amazon. This step-by-step guide insists that I use Microsoft Word, so I was thrilled that I already had my hands on the program and was doing all my typing in it.

However, when I actually got into the nitty gritty of formatting, I wasted at least three hours on trying to get my tabs to work (I had already stripped out the manual tabs like it told me to do and replaced those with the auto formatting of first-line indent x percentage). After all that time, I still had tabs that were off kilter and looked like a mess! Now, you have to understand that I worked for two years as a graphic designer for the University Of Southern Maine's music department where my entire job consisted of making sure that all the text of their music programs was lined up precisely and all the italics were where they should be. Seeing my manuscript, a 50,000+ word novel just thrown together with me being helpless to figure out what was going wrong - I was ready to cry or drink a very large glass of red wine!

I did enjoy the wine regardless, but it wasn't until I re-discovered Scrivener through the Self Publishing Podcast that I found a solution to all of my formatting woes. (If you haven't checked out that podcast on iTunes, I highly recommend it). You see, the main roadblock to my using Scrivener was simply that I didn't want to learn a new, fancy interface in order to do something that was so simple up until now: type words on a screen and print them later. But, with the advent of self-publishing as eBooks, I found that I wasn't printing my words any more, rather, I was going to be exporting them as a digital book that is not unlike a website. The table of contents is a list of links, and the image insertion is exactly like a web page. I didn't finish my only HTML course in high school with flying colors, but I knew the basics and was easily frustrated when the codes didn't do what I wanted, or I forgot how to type some random tag.

Scrivener takes all the headache out of this export process with some very cool presets for Kindle (.mobi) and other major eBooks (.epub). I found some excellent blogs about formatting my document for the best possible .mobi output and went to town. There are way too many things to type right here, but if I get a chance, I will try to document some specific revelations that I found while formatting with custom fonts and cover images. In a matter of three hours in Scrivener, I had a beautiful Kindle book that I loaded onto my Paperwhite and enjoyed like a kid in a candy store. Why would you ever try the headache of Microsoft Word when you can get better results with complete customization options in Scrivener? I don't know.

What I do know is that I can't imagine using any other writing software moving forward. With all the different things you can do, from drafting to completed Kindle export, Scrivener is a dream. Definitely check out the free trial if you are struggling to get your work out to eBook stores like I was. There's a great peace of mind that settles over me once the technical aspect of constructing the eBook product is finished and I can focus completely on what really matters to my creative brain: my story.