Book Writing and Formatting Programs: the Love-Hate

Since I self-published my own book, to the present day in which I format books professionally, I have used a number of programs, including these:

  1. MS Word
  2. Libreoffice
  3. Scrivener
  4. Scribus
  5. InDesign
  6. Sigil
  7. Calibre.

I began formatting with MS Word because most of the instruction guides were for that program rather than for Libreoffice, which is what I’ve used to write my books. I had to use our family computer for MS Word, which had an older copy. I despise MS Word. That said, with the instruction manuals and the help of a liquid diet, I figured it out (by liquid diet, I mean raw milk and coffee, as I couldn’t tear myself away from my project long enough to eat real food). From there, I proceeded to convert to pdf for print and an HTML file for ebook; I knew of no other way.

At that time, on my own little netbook I took everywhere, I had a Linux base and Libreoffice. Libreoffice is one of the best (IMO) word processors available. I still use it as my primary writing program. These days, it has some fancy elements such as word-tracking and dropcaps, but its best feature for formatting is the system of styles, whereby you can create your front matter, first-chapter pages for left vs right, and back matter. Documents export to pdf looking very professional. Of course, you can get a reasonably professional looking document with MS Word as well. I prefer Libreoffice because it’s logical in the way it’s set up.

Scrivener is a program mainly used for organizing and writing a first draft of a novel. It has some good features, such as “sticky notes”. Some writers love it, some hate it — I’m in between. It’s not a great program for formatting, at least not the version I have (I haven’t recently updated).

However, I would no longer recommend using any word processor for either ebook or print book development. Desktop publishers are much better to work with for print because word-tracking, glyph size, etc. are manually controlled. It’s much easier to eradicate gaps in the text, short end-of-chapter pages, and orphans. Orphans are the lonely lines or stray words at the end of a paragraph that have been pushed to the top of a new page. Additionally, you can use entire font families in desktop publishers (e.g. italics, bold, smallcaps) instead of forcing these styles onto the regular font.

After learning Scribus, the opensource desktop publisher, I decided to go on the Cloud and rent InDesign for a year. InDesign is what professionals use, and it has a handful of sexy fonts. Okay, I’m just going to be honest. I hate InDesign. It was as if it was created for the creative mind rather than the orderly one — a right brain vs a left brain problem? I don’t know. Perhaps opensource programs, not being for the general market, are just a little more plain and orderly. Scribus makes sense to me, so after a number of months of automatic payments to the Adobe beast, I still prefer Scribus.

For ebooks, there is really nothing to compare Sigil to. You can create a decent ebook with Calibre, but why, when there is Sigil? I am, in fact, a little in love with Sigil. Desktop publishers are fairly tedious no matter what program you use. This is because typography is tedious. Building ebooks is fun. It’s relaxing. I love to make stylesheets and build chapters from the ground-up with no dirty background formatting. I would build ebooks for a fun hobby, except that I prefer to be paid.

You didn’t ask for it, and yet I gave it to you anyway! My (now, as of about a year ago!) professional opinion on formatting. To reiterate, the programs I love after all this time are these:

  1. Sigil
  2. Libreoffice (mainly for writing)
  3. Scribus.

If you would like any more unsolicited opinions, let me know. Er, except then they’d be solicited.


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