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Using Scrivener to Write and Publish an eBook

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This post is part of a series called Profiting with Business eBooks.
How to Format an eBook for Kindle

So you want to write and publish an ebook? Good for you! With the writing tools and online publishing platforms available today, there's never been a better time to write a book.

Whatever kind of freelancer you are, publishing an ebook can only be good for your business. It shows you're a thought-leader in your field. You wrote the book, clients will reason, so you must know what you're doing. It boosts the visibility of your business, making every reader a potential lead. Finally, it provides a source of passive income. Once it's written, the work is done.

Knowing how to write a book can be intimidating. Of course, if you feel unsure about your writing skills, you can work with a ghostwriter or editor to make sure your book reflects the high quality of work you do for your clients.

That said, I highly recommend giving writing a go yourself. You'll find it hard to go wrong if you give Scrivener a try.

What's so great about Scrivener? Scrivener makes writing a breeze. As well as providing one of the best writing experiences, it helps with the heavy lifting of giving your ebook a solid structure, and it will format your ebook ready for self-publishing.

Tutorial Assets

To complete this tutorial, you will need the following assets:

  • A computer.
  • A copy of Scrivener. At the time of writing, a full license costs around $45. You can download a free trial version for OS X and Windows here and Linux (beta) here.
  • An idea.

Note: This tutorial is for the Mac version of Scrivener, so some of the instructions may be slightly different for a PC. Scrivener is a very powerful writing tool, and this tutorial only covers the basics.

1: Choose a Template

When you open Scrivener, you're given a choice of templates for your document. The best choice for a non-fiction ebook is "Non-Fiction (with Sub-heads)". Subheadings are handy for you as a writer, because they provide a simple way to structure your ebook. They're also good for your readers, as subheadings provide landmarks for them to navigate through your book. This is the template we'll be using for this tutorial.

2: Create Your Document

Once you've chosen your template, you'll be asked to name your ebook. Give it a name, click "create", and you're ready to go.

You'll now be inside Scrivener. It can look grand and intimidating at first, but don't panic, you'll quickly get used to it.

3: Jot Down Your Ideas

The left hand column of Scrivener is called the Binder, which gives an overview of your book as well as space for ideas and research.

Click on "Ideas" to open the ideas section in the central column, called the editor. Here, you can note down your ideas for your ebook.

You may want to divide your ideas into several sections of text. If this is the case, Control-click Ideas and select Add > New Text.

The default name for new sections is "Untitled", so you'll want to give it a more suitable name.

If you struggle to come up with ideas, you're probably trying to be too clever. You're not trying to be the 21st century's Shakespeare. You're just trying to help people solve a problem. What common problems do your clients face? What do you bring to the table that helps them solve their problems?

Remember, very few ideas are completely original. What will make your book unique is unlikely to be a groundbreaking idea, but rather how you bring together the ideas and experiences you've absorbed and benefitted from in your life.

4: Collect Your Research

Once you've got your idea - or even an inkling of what you plan to write about, you can start your research.

As well as being a writing tool, Scrivener provides a space for you to gather your research. You can import screenshots, images, video files, text documents, web pages and pdfs. That means when you're ready to write, everything is there for you. What's more, you can turn off the Internet to minimize distractions.

To add a file to your research folder, simply drag and drop from your desktop or file manager onto the Research folder. To add a webpage, drag and drop from the address bar or your web browser.

Research often leads to new ideas. If you're still nurturing new ideas, don't be afraid to read other books or blogs in your niche to get the ideas flowing. If you use or quote someone else's idea in your book, always give credit.

5: Turn Your Idea and Research into a Structure

Now your research is finished, you're ready to outline your book. This won't be the perfect outline, and it's unlikely to be the ideal outline, but it's a vital step to writing a book, and Scrivener makes outlining lots of fun.

Start your outline with chapters. In the "Manuscript" section of the Binder, add a new folder for each chapter of your book.

Control-click Manuscript, then click Add > New Folder. Rename the folder as the chapter title. Scrivener will use these folder names as chapter titles when it compiles your document.

Here's a basic outline that works well for nonfiction ebooks:

  • Introduction.
  • Chapters 1-3: Identify common problems faced by your clients, and show you understand, that you know what they're going through.
  • Chapters 3-7: Provide a range of solutions to the problem, ones that you know work.
  • Chapters 8-9: Show how the solutions work in practice.
  • Chapter 10: Summarize and encourage readers to implement your advice.
  • Conclusion.

Once you've outlined your chapters, you can break these down into sections and subsections by adding new text sections to the chapter folders. As with chapter titles, the names you give these will be the subheadings Scrivener uses when it compiles your ebook.

Remember, the plan you make now isn't set in stone. Scrivener makes it easy to juggle things around, and chances are your book will evolve as you write.

6: Try Out the Corkboard

If you want to see how easy it is to move things around right now, select "Manuscript" in the binder, and select corkboard view in the top menu (to the left of the search bar).

Here, you can easily drag and drop the index cards to reorder the chapters.

You can also reorder sections and subsections within chapters by selecting the chapter folder from the Binder while in corkboard view.

7: Start Writing!

You've laid the foundations of your book, now you're ready to start writing. This step will likely take the longest of all.

Scrivener isn't only useful for structuring documents. It also provides handy tools for the writing process, including Composition Mode, and Split Screen writing.

Composition Mode provides a distraction free writing experience. This allows you to focus on getting words onto the page. It's just you, a keyboard, and a sheet of paper on the screen.

To enter Composition Mode, in the taskbar menu select View > Enter Composition Mode. This is what Composition Mode looks like:

Split screen writing allows you to have your research open next to your document, so you don't have to keep switching back and forth between them. Alternatively, you can have two different sections of your ebook open at once.

To view a split screen, in the taskbar menu select View > Layout > Split Vertically. You can also split horizontally. This is what a vertical split looks like:

8: Keep Track of New Ideas as You Write

As you start writing, you'll find new ideas pop into your head.

Scrivener's got this covered, too. The right hand column in Scrivener is called the Inspector. In the Inspector, you can add document notes to every section of your document. This is great for noting down the perfect-for-later ideas that pop into your mind as you're writing.

You can also use it to make notes on sections you need to research further, or ideas for new sections to add to your book.

Top tip: The Inspector is Scrivener's Swiss Army knife. In addition to notes it allows you to add references, keywords, and comments to your document.

9: Edit and Restructure

After you've finished your first draft, the real work begins. Editing isn't only about proofreading for spelling and grammar, though that's important. It's also about how your document is structured, how it flows from section to section, how your arguments and ideas develop through your book. This is where you'll be most grateful for Scrivener's superpowers. Instead of fiddling around with copy and paste, you can drag and drop chapters, sections and subsections in corkboard view (see Step 6).

10: Compile Your Book for Publishing

Your book is finished and ready to be published. Congratulations!

Formatting word processed manuscripts into ebooks can be a nightmare, but Scrivener makes it a doddle.

In the taskbar menu, select File > Compile. You'll be given options for how you want to compile your book.

Use the following to create an ebook:

  • Format as: E-book.
  • Compile: Manuscript.
  • Leave Add front matter unselected.
  • Your title is the name of your Scrivener project. If you want to change the title, go back to Scrivener and "Save As" with the title you want.
  • Select Generate HTML table of contents and Remove comments and annotations.
  • You can choose a cover image from any image within your document. If you have a cover image prepared, drag and drop it into your research before you compile, so you can select it here.
  • The Compile for option you select depends on where you plan to publish your ebook. Amazon uses .mobi files. All other major online stores use .epub files.

Click Compile.

That's it. Congratulations! Your book is ready to be published.


Graphic Credit: Iconochki Set by Brave. 475 Vector Icons by talrevivo.

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