I’ve tried a bunch of different programs, techniques, and styles over my writing career. Some have been marginally useful, some not useful, and some downright counterproductive. When I started dealing with e-books, the formatting issues were honestly enough to get me foaming at the mouth and nearly throwing my computer. I’m not a meticulous person by nature, and in general when I write things can get a bit loose and creative, so it was with absolute, abject horror that I saw my first attempts at e-books jump from single to double spacing, skip whole pages, and randomly indent – despite my word file showing no evidence of this capricious formatting!
What made this worse (and all the more frustrating) was that I’m not, and never have been, bad with computers. Hell, I even do some coding (C++/Java, but still…). I get how compilers work and I realize that you have to play consistently by the rules to get cooperation from your machines. And, to be fair, if I worked hard enough on a document and turned on the ‘show formatting’ option, I can usually get my manuscripts through the Smashwords meatgrinder no problem. But…it’s annoying, laborious, and takes the fun out of finishing a book.
Which is why I’ve found Scrivener to be so awesome. It’s not a panacea for the ills of variable formatting (you still have to minimize the degree of variation in your text styles as much as possible, and trouble-shoot some issues), but it has several enormous advantages over sweating it out against Microsoft Word’s best efforts at sabotage:
1. It’s easy to use. For the most part, what you see is what you get. Better yet, you can ensure that it is by checking the ‘As Is’ box when you compile your project, although of course this may also preserve other errors in your formatting.
2. You can use it for a while to get the hang of it before deciding to buy. The trial version gives you 30 days of use – not 30 days from when you crack the seal, 30 days of actually opening the program and using the full version. If you compare this to other programs I’ve used (such as Final Draft or Photoshop), that’s a tremendous value-add.
3. The interface is great and hugely supportive of the writing process. While so far I have predominantly just copied and pasted word docs into the program to compile them for .epub and .mobi formats, there is a wealth of functionality available, from summary view to storyboarding (i.e. the digital equivalent of pinning index cards to a corkboard with thumbtacks), so you can see your story develop and work on it within the Scrivener program.
4. Tech support is terrific, and I do mean really great. They are fairly quick to respond (quick at least as far as typical tech support goes, they get back within 24 hours without fail), they are courteous, they are thorough, and they recognize that their program isn’t perfect. This last one I find especially important, as, over the course of my learning how to use the program, there were a few issues (such as not being able to include footnotes in an .epub) which proved really annoying. The responder I worked with acknowledged this limitation and helped me troubleshoot ways around it. Other times, of course, the issue was, as they say ‘ten inches in front of the monitor’, but they didn’t dismiss my issues or make me feel incompetent about it. In other words, great sales job, but I’m also very comfortable knowing that if something comes up that just doesn’t make sense to me, they’ll help me through it.
5. Ability to experiment with unique styles. Because of its straightforward interface and strong user support, the program gives authors the opportunity to experiment and innovate without having to worry about completely and irrevocably messing up the format of their book. This is awesome because, in the end, what author doesn’t want the chance to make their writing look interesting, different, and even artistic?
As aforementioned, it’s not a perfect program – there are minor issues (footnotes), some things aren’t as intuitive as they might be (i.e. you have to look in a different place for ‘contents’ and the ‘create table of contents’ settings), but all in all, Scrivener has been the best find of my indie publishing career. And, at $45, it’s pretty damn cheap.