My mother used to say,

“You can do anything in life if you have the right tools.”

 — KERRIE REDGATE

My mother was absolutely correct, of course. And I now feel liberated as a writer, as I have a tool that has not only boosted my productivity (and allows me to set real-time targets), but will also help me format my books for all the various self-publishing platforms. Read on …

Rescued by Scrivener

Joanna Penn (left) & myself — Feb 2017 at her writers’ seminar in Brisbane Australia

For decades, I had been frustrated with the writing apps available for professional writers. I tried one after the other, but felt constrained by each one of them, including MSWord’s “master document” feature (ugh!). I have since learned that I was not alone!

One of the miraculous changes that occurred for me in recent years has been my discovery of the fabulous writing and authoring software, Scrivener, created by the good people at Literature & Latte. (I use their Scapple app on the Mac, as well, for creating ‘mind-maps’ for StrategyTransits reports.)

I had downloaded the free 30-days-of-use trial of Scrivener in 2012 (or 2013?), but at first sight it looked complicated and ugly! I’d had no idea then that it could be completely customized, design-wise, for your preferred work environment. It’s magic!

It was not until 2015 that I discovered Joanna Penn, arguably the queen of indie author publishing! Her non-fiction book series and The Creative Penn podcast are indispensable for writers. And apart from the treasure trove of wisdom she shares for us indie authors (as also a successful indie fiction author), Joanna’s podcasts and videos inspired me to try Scrivener again.

Most professional writers and authors use Scrivener as the software of choice (for MacOS, iOS, or Windows). It’s not simply a writing app, but an entire research environment for your work. It can hold all of your research data — including offline web pages, videos, images, documents — that you need for your writing project, all in one place! 

Back in the ’90s, I used to print out long chapters I’d written in MSWord, slice up little sections with scissors, lay them out on the floor to get the overall picture, and then sticky tape them to where I thought they should go in the chapter! Then I had to do the same virtual cut-&-paste in MSWord itself!!

Scissors and tape

With Scrivener, you can create smaller sub-documents within a document or chapter and just slide their icons up and down in the sidebar “Binder”, placing them where they would fit best in the project. Plus corkboards for synopses, character traits, etc, etc. Progress tracking, formatting for writing, as well as formatting for publishing in various formats. Easy! And that is only the beginning.

And it didn’t stop there for me, as I needed help for just understanding what Scrivener was capable of doing, and how to do it. And that’s when I found Karen Prince, now known as Kazz Prince, who has produced excellent, comprehensive, and affordable online courses for working with Scrivener. Here’s a brief introduction, below, from Karen Prince’s YouTube channel:

by Karen ‘Kazz’ Prince

Scrivener: By writers, for writers.

Internal Book Design

Vellum
Adobe InDesign
Affinity Publisher

One of the big advantages of indie-author publishing is that you get full control over the look and ‘feel’ of your book. You get to create, choose, or commission the cover to your liking. (In some cases this can be a bit of a curse for those authors who haven’t put in the time to study their genre and basic design principles.) But a lesser concern for most authors has been the interior of the book. Yet, it’s the interior where your reader spends most of his/her time. 

There are at least two decisions you have to make about the inside design of your book: one is for the ebook digital market, and the other is for the print-on-demand paper book market.

And we can also split the digital version into two categories: fixed format and flowable format.

Hopefully, you’ll have many fans of your work reading on a Kindle or Kobo device (and their free apps for desktop computers, tablets, and phones). Books for these devices are best displayed in the flowable format, as readers can choose their favourite font family, font size, and page margins that your book must accommodate. So, your book’s internal formatting must be able to flow and spill over on to the next page, if required, which means page numbers are irrelevant.

However, especially if you are adding images to your book, it may be more beneficial to create a fixed format with pages numbers, so that each page design is fixed in place and can’t be altered in any significant way.

Fixed format types of books are not suitable for small reading devices like Amazon’s and Kobo’s real ink devices. But they do work well on iPads.

But for paper printed books and especially larger colour devices (iPads, tablets, Kindle Fire, etc), you will need tools to help you design beautiful book interiors that are fixed in place…

Vellum

for Mac only

There are tools that have been around for a while, such as Vellum, only for Mac, which specializes in providing templates for elegant ebook and print book interiors. Although these templates are customizable (to a degree), they do not offer you the ability to design fully from scratch.

Vellum is a popular option for Mac-user authors who are not designers. Though, the license price tag is a bit high as there are two fees, one for print books (Vellum Press) and one for ebooks (Vellum Ebooks). But this is a lifetime license. See the Vellum website for details.

Adobe InDesign

Subscription Only

For many years, there was no alternative to Adobe InDesign, if you wanted an ebook that looked as if it was actually deliberately designed.

However, InDesign was cumbersome to learn (and you usually had to pay an expert to design your book interiors) and was initially extremely expensive (10 years ago, it was around AU$1,000). These days a license to use InDesign is sold via monthly or yearly subscription. 

Affinity Publisher

For Mac & Windows computers

Award-winning apps!
One-time purchase price,
lifetime license with free updates (apart from major new release upgrades, which are not so far in the works)

SAVED! This is my recommendation if you are a fairly artistic type and would like to have full control over the design of the interiors of your books, both structurally and creatively. With Affinity Publisher, you can produce a file for any professional printer, with bleed areas defined, including the print-on-demand distribution services.

Yes, there is a learning curve with this, as with all great software, but Serif (Europe) in the UK have created Affinity Publisher as part of their design suite of apps that more than rival Adobe’s InDesign, Illustrator, and PhotoShop; and there are videos and resources on their website and YouTube channel, plus myriads of How-To videos uploaded to YouTube by enthusiastic designers using Affinity apps.

And if you are really into design, all three apps, Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer, and Affinity Publisher, integrate seamlessly together for any single project. Perfect for cover design as well as the interiors of your books.

A big advantage, apart from the cutting edge in book design software, is the once-only lifetime license price for each of these apps, which is very affordable — check for their fabulous discounts and free trial periods which are available from time to time (still available in early April 2021 as I write).

Lots of information on the site for Affinity Publisher.
And their Affinity Publisher YouTube channel.

The Demise of Apple’s
iBooks Author

Just NUTS. Apple’s iBooks Author was the biggest innovation in digital publishing since the invention of the ebook. So, what happened?

In 2020, Apple announced the end of the iBooks Author app. Had you heard of it? Had you ever tried using it? Or have you actually published an Apple ebook designed with this app? I have spoken to many published authors, and would-be authors, and NONE of them had ever heard of this app!

It was magical. You could add video and audio files to your digital book pages; it had widgets that would open small photos (such as treasure maps in kid’s books) into full zoomable pages; it had text bubbles that would open with a tap on an image.

Seth Godin described these multi-media digital products as Vooks, and published his own as a revised edition of Unleashing the Super Ideavirus: Ideas that Spread, Win (Enhanced version). It contained 18 Ideavirus videos.

So, was it an Apple PR fail? Apple is not exactly the best when it comes to advertising the qualities and attributes of their own software — it’s more like a secret society.

Yes, the books created with iBooks Author could only be sold on Apple’s platforms, and only for display on iPads and (practically) larger iPhones, perhaps. This is a tech issue.

But that’s not a bad thing! Amazon Kindle books are written in Amazon’s formatting language and can’t be read on anything other than an Amazon app or device. That’s just business. And Amazon made the real-ink Kindle a go-to device in many countries, arguably with Kindle apps for every type of computer device and smartphone, making Kindle books available across all platforms.

Apple are currently adding more features to their Pages desktop publishing app to fill the gap, but we don’t know how far they will go with this in replacing iBooks Author’s features. And I feel sad about this. I had an entire book series I wanted to roll out with a co-author (photographer) on the iBooks Author platform, with interactive features.

But I am super-happy I have all three of the Affinity Apps, especially Publisher, so I can explore more possibilities there, and also look forward to Serif’s further updates and features that I’m sure they are working on right now! 

This is a seriously great time to be an author!