Fortunate Finds: Scrivener

Ode to my precious novel-scribbling tool

Originally I never planned on including a piece of software among my “Fortunate Finds” posts, as I only intended to babble about music I love and books I may want to mention, recommend or “review”. However, as I continue plodding along as an “indie” author, I keep discussing things with other authors – either those I happen to meet online or those I had already known before I’d actually started feeling like one as well. One of the issues that has already come up quite a few times during various discussions is the traditional, recurring leitmotif along the lines of “Woe is me, for M$ Word is driving me insane“.

I know the sentiment. I’ve worked in Word for decades, first as a student; for a while, eons ago, even as a part-time typesetter (even back then, as a teenager, I was aware that Word wasn’t really a proper text formatting or desktop publishing tool, but I did not have any other means of doing it; besides, the texts I worked on were relatively simple and scarcely contained any graphics); and then for almost twenty years as a professional translator, with and without computer-assisted translation tools. So, knowing almost everything there is to know about Word (except for advanced macro programming and various bloatware options I’ve never used), I also wrote my first two novels in Word. Due to my diligence or even obsession with keeping (several redundant) backups I’ve never had any serious problems with it (though I’ve heard many horror stories). However, as most people trying to work on anything serious and complex in Word will surely know, Word can drive you insane. I will not go into details here, they are very well-known, even infamous, and this is not a Word-bashing blog post: it’s a “Lookie here, a great tool for writers!” post.

When I started working on my third novel it soon became apparent that Word would make the project very difficult. First of all, the novel will be quite long, full of strange names and foreign words, so the spell checker would sooner or later come up with the completely nonsensical message I’ve grown to absolutely detest over the years: “Too many spelling and grammar errors”, after which the spell checker would take the liberty of turning itself off and not displaying any typos anymore. I mean, pardon my French, but what the fuck? Word 2016 doesn’t seem to be able to digest any more spelling “errors” as the one back in the 1990s? I mean, really?! What, am I still working on an Intel 286 computer with 1024 KB of RAM and storing my book on a 5,25″ floppy disk?

Furthermore, the structure of the novel I’m currently working on will definitely keep changing as I type away – and it’ll change A LOT, at that: the envisioned ‘masterpiece’ will consist of an intertwining puzzle of two main story lines taking place at two separate locations roughly half a year apart, digressions into a teenage “novel” attempt written 30 years before and rediscovered at the time of the narration in one of the story lines, as well as some folk tales, rumours, hearsay and perhaps even excerpts from a long-lost journal as well… So making all of this click together into a fluent narrative of interchanging scenes in Word would have been an utter and insurmountable nightmare.

win-showcase-scrivener_headerCue in Scrivener. This baby was brought to my attention by other writers on various forums, so I decided to give it a whirl before I started pulling my hair out due to all the horrors involved in continuously editing and restructuring a 120.000-word (or possibly more, who knows where I end up?) chunk of text in Word. To make a long story short, I downloaded the trial version, got acquainted with it through the simple and clear tutorial that comes with it, and was typing away merrily the very next day. Just one day after that I “shelled out” the radically sensible amount of $ 40 for a licensed copy, and I’ll never write a piece of literature in Word ever again, period.

A few highlights – the main reasons why I love working in Scrivener:

  1. You can hide everything with a press of a button and just be left alone with your text, and you can set up gentle colours that don’t seem bent on poking your eyes out;
  2. While you’re in this “writing view”, the text can optionally scroll typewriter-style, so that you don’t have to keep staring at the bottom of your screen;
  3. You keep separate parts of your book in separate “sub-documents” that can be thrown around however you see fit without any danger of losing or screwing up anything;
  4. The folders/sub-documents make the whole structure of your masterpiece extremely visual and obvious: no more rummaging through hundreds of pages to figure it out, and no more manual outlining (you can use virtual index cards and corkboard if you’re so inclined, or a very clear “outliner”);
  5. You can “virtually stitch together” various sub-documents and see how they fit together, without jumping around the text or cut-and-pasting anything;
  6. The application is very secure; it keeps backups and “snapshots” that you can make before engaging in any in-depth editing, so you can store an endless number of “work-in-progress” versions (snapshots) of chapters/documents at various stages of development;
  7. You can store your research, notes, documents, files, even audio, in Scrivener without ever having to rummage around your hard drive to locate it;
  8. The spell checker doesn’t simply die on you because it’s “spent”;
  9. Project targets – yay! – so you always know (in real time, as you type) how far away from your daily “quota” and overall target you are (there is something extremely satisfying about that “progress bar” creeping along towards the “green”, which might motivate you to keep writing even when everything else might fail);
  10. The exported completed texts are tidy and clean, making further formatting a breeze;
  11. Last but certainly not least, it’s extremely sensibly priced, AND they offer a trial version, to boot.

So, what’s not to like? To find out more, head over to the Scrivener homepage.

Fortunate Finds: Guido Henkel

Guido Henkel’s Zen of eBook Marketing still free today!

A few months ago, after I finished the first draft of my second novel, I started considering the possibility of joining the ranks of self-published, indie authors. I was thoroughly dissatisfied with the (non)strategy and unresponsiveness of the small U.K. e-book publisher who had released my first novel, Cynicism Management, as well as frustrated because of my lack of control over that release. Therefore I decided to educate myself in the matter of indie publishing, which I had previously consciously avoided, primarily due to two concerns: problems involved in e-book formatting; and my inability to promote my own work in any effective way (I have a long but infamously anonymous career as a composer, musician and producer behind me, spanning back more than 20 years with extraordinarily limited success, to prove that).

I decided to approach both issues the way I usually do: by reading about them. My ultimate decision to go ahead and self-publish was based on the most helpful works of two authors: David Gaughran and Guido Henkel. From Gaughran’s books (I intend to make a separate “Fortunate Finds” post about him and his work in the near future) I have gleaned a wealth of invaluable information about contemporary self-publishing in general, more than enough for me to decide this was indeed what I wanted; but they only touch upon the subject of e-book formatting briefly. However, as far as that pressing issue was concerned, Gaughran pointed me in the direction of Henkel.

Now, I know enough about IT and coding to have been seriously worried about how to even approach e-book formatting properly. I knew enough not to trust any ZenFautomatic conversion processes, and it turned out I was right. However, due to financial constraints (i.e., zero budget) I wanted to tackle this issue myself. The feat would have been impossible without Guido Henkel’s Zen of eBook Formatting, which has been, for me, the definite go-to e-book formatting compendium, and it hasn’t let me down once. To boot, Mr. Henkel is a very generous and plain old “nice” guy, who will not shy away from any questions one might have. With the aid of his thorough instructions I was able to overcome my fear of formatting my e-books myself… And I can now do so with conviction that they’ll display well on all sorts of e-readers, phones and tablets.

For this reason I was very happy when I recently found out that Henkel was about to publish a new Zen book – Zen of eBook Marketing – this time focusing on e-book promotion, which remains a seemingly insurmountable problem for me. First of all, I dread most kinds of self-promotion and abhor marketing. I find most of it nauseating and utterly incompatible with my personal philosophy, especially as I tend to be an annoyingly compulsive cynic, even with regard to my own work. Thus I’ve always found any self-help books on marketing shady, suspecting them of mainly promoting themselves – you know, in the vein of get-rich-quick books: why would one write such a book if one knew how to get rich quickly? Unless writing a get-rich-quick book is a way of getting rich quickly?

ZenMHowever, by that time I had already been very grateful to Mr. Henkel for his book on formatting, so in spite of my inherent skepticism I will quite shamelessly say this: it is my opinion that Guido Henkel does it primarily because he likes to help people (no matter how cheesy that statement sounds); and if he makes a thoroughly honest living while doing it, that’s fine with me. If you disagree, check his instructions on eBook formatting: he could have taken this freely accessible information down when he wrote a book about it, right?

If you’re looking for get-rich-quick schemes, you won’t find any in Henkel’s book. Instead he approaches the subject of e-book marketing realistically and wittily, providing a treasure cove of information on everything every indie author should know: from editing, proofreading, beta readers, formatting, importance of cover design, keywords and metadata… all the way to reviews, online presence, social media and promo ideas. You’re free to pursue whatever you like, and ignore whatever it might be you don’t. Henkel will not tell you to do this or do that in order to achieve overnight success: he provides a comprehensive overview of everything you can do, topping it all off with an exhaustive and invaluable collection of links and resources, and then it’s up to you. It’s a book every indie author should grab – and you can do so without any risk whatsoever, because Henkel is still offering it for free until the end of today.