Month: July 2020

Writing & publishing a novel with Scrivener®

Once you try Scrivener®, you will erase Microsoft Word from your life. Give it to the dog to eat, along with your homework. My young adult novel, Ben was created entirely in Scrivener®, from first draft to published eBook and paperback. Scrivener is not so much a word processor designed for writers (which it is) as a creative writing environment that you live in while you are working. There’s no need to move outside it to organise your work or to worry about formats, fonts, or page payouts until it is time to publish your book.

This is not a ‘how to use Scrivener’ blog: there are any number of well-produced, helpful, hand-holding videos on the Literature & Latte web site as well as lots of hints and tricks from users on innumerable blogs. This is more of a ‘thank you’ to Keith and the team who put this amazing application together and now support it. (BTW, the developers will respond to your questions in the User Forums!)

I use Scrivener for writing screenplays, stage plays and, most recently, novels. This is just about my experience with writing a novel in Scrivener.

At first glance, the Scrivener desktop looks a tad intimidating, but think about it as a real desktop and the comforting things you like to have around you when you’re writing: notepad, index cards, research folders, character sketches, maps, photos, useful web pages, dictionary, coffee, teddy bear… (Maybe not the coffee). You can push it around and arrange it how you like. Have a look at Figure 1, below, which is the (pretty standard) layout of my desktop. The basic unit is a text file and you can have as many of them as you like, whatever size you like. You can visualise these units as parts, chapters, scenes, character sketches, insights, or whatever takes your fancy; you can display them as blocks of text or library cards, if that’s the way you like to write, and rearrange the cards as scenes or chapters or even paragraphs, or you can view it as an Outline; or string all your units together and read it like a continuous document; while Scrivener keeps track of your writing targets, counts your words, makes automatic backups. checks the spelling and the thousand things that we writers like to do to keep ourselves on the ball. Scrivener can manage multiple drafts for you, put versions side by side for comparison, maintain a library of images and other resources; you can even drag lumps of text, images and whole web pages into a Research folder.

There are a million ways of using the Scrivener toolbox, and you will doubtless settle on a desktop lay-out and a way of working that suits your style. Hint: if you tell Scrivener to keep the backup folder in Dropbox, you’re safe even if a passing steamroller flattens your laptop.

Fig 1: Scrivener working page layout (for compiled version see Fig 3)

Here’s a screen capture of Chapter 1 from my manuscript. I’ve put the “Binder” column (with all my text files) on the left; the Text in the centre and the Synopsis and Notes column on the right. In the Binder, the Folder “Neighbours” contains text files that will eventually become the chapters that make up Part 1. Ben has four narrators—each one of them only knows part of the story—so the most obvious strategy for keeping track of who is telling the story at any time was to colour-code the chapters.

If I wanted to experiment with changing the order of the chapters, it’s as simple as dragging the text files up and down in the Binder, or I could look at my chapters as library cards with synopses, pinned onto a corkboard. This is particularly handy if you’re writing a script rather than narrative prose (Fig 2).

Fig 2: Scrivener “Corkboard” layout

When I’ve finished writing and I’m satisfied with everything, Scrivener gives me a number of ways to compile and output my novel. If I’m sending it to a publisher or agent, they will want a double spaced manuscript in 12 point Times Roman with my details, word count, date, etc. on the cover page. Scrivener provides all this metadata and formats it professionally. If it’s a film script, the producer will want it formatted precisely for Hollywood in 12 point Courier (the poor darlings don’t know how to read a script in a more adventurous format).

But back to my novel. At the “Compile” stage I told Scrivener to number each of the text files as Chapters and use the titles in the binder as Chapter Headings. I also decided to add an image of the narrator at the top of each chapter so the reader won’t get confused about who is speaking. Rather than pasting each image in and formatting it, I put the portraits of my four narrators into an “Images” folder and added a line of HTML-style code at the top of each chapter: <$img:Biff;w=100> (see Figure 1). The code is pretty self-explanatory, it means “Insert the image file “Biff” from my Images folder and make it 100 pixels wide). This is what Scrivener did with Figure 1 when I compiled it as a PDF for printing as a 6×9 paperback.

Fig 3: Compiled page, justified and formatted for paperback, PDF (See Fig 1)

I decided to submit Ben to both Amazon and Smashwords for sale as an eBook and a paperback. This meant formatting it for Kindle (.mobi), eBook (.epub) and a 6×9 paperback (.pdf). Amazon/Smashwords have software that can handle the eBook conversion for you from a Word file, but you’ll probably need to re-submit several times until you get it right. Alternatively, Scrivener can compile it for you on our desktop and you can play around with it until it looks the way you’d like it. Then you simply upload the appropriate file to Amazon, etc. I have never been asked to re-submit—the Scrivener .mobi, .epub and .pdf files were correct every time.

Scrivener can also include the cover art in your compiled file, or you can upload it separately with your eBook file. Just check with the publisher what size and proportions they require. For physical paperbacks, it is important use a high-resolution image and add bleed to the edges—if you don’t know what that means, ask a friendly graphic designer to help you.

Submitting my manuscript into the hands of the AI programs at Amazon and Smashwords was the easy bit, thanks to Scrivener. Selling your book to actual paying customers is another story entirely. I’ll discuss the trials and vicissitudes of self-publishing in a later blog.

[Scrivener® can be downloaded from the Mac App store or purchased from Literature & Latte ]