Ebook workflow and maintenance

I recently self-published my first ebook, Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo, and I wanted to walk through my workflow. I probably made a lot of newbie errors, and I wonder if you have any ideas for producing my next book with less tooth-grinding. Some of this is not directly Scrivener-related, but I think it’s germane.

Here’s how I made my book.

I wrote the book in Scrivener using rich text, not MMD. I exported to DOCX, verified that the document looked okay in Pages, and sent it to the copy editor.

The copy editor sent the manuscript back with edits using Track Changes. I went through and accepted/rejected/rewrote the edits with Pages.

Then I tagged the document with paragraph and character styles in Pages. (The copy editor scolded me for not doing this before sending it to her; sorry!) I split the document up manually into chapters and exported each chapter to DOC.

Now, on to InDesign. I created an InDesign template for the book. For each chapter, I created a new document based on the template and placed the corresponding DOC file into the InDesign document. Then I collected the chapter files into an InDesign book (INDB) file, added additional files for the front and back, matter, and generated a TOC.

For the PDF version, I exported directly from InDesign and it was ready to go. For the EPUB version, I exported from InDesign, and then the real work began in Sigil. I had to edit a bunch of wonky CSS, manually embed an unencrypted open-source font. I exported the CSS file and told InDesign to use it as custom CSS for future exports, but the EPUB file still requires manually (or via a script) adding the embedded font after export from InDesign, plus InDesign has a bad bug involving export of bulleted and numbered lists that has to be fixed post-export via a script.

Maintaining both the PDF and EPUB/MOBI versions is just too much trouble, so I’m planning to end support for the PDF version and just use the EPUB file (edited in Sigil as necessary) as the master version.

Here are the biggest workflow issues I ran into while producing the book:

  1. Styling the document in Pages was a big pain. It would have been great to have a way to specify styles in Scrivener. I know that’s not a feature at this point, so it’s probably unavoidable. I’m particularly talking about things like tagging the first paragraph of a chapter with a “first-paragraph” style for special formatting, and tagging spans of foreign language text or text that I want to render in small caps. Should I have written the book in MMD and thrown in some raw HTML, at least for the character styles?

  2. InDesign is a real beast. For producing a beautiful printed book, there’s nothing better, but since I ended up not offering this book in paper, it was probably overkill. Furthermore, its EPUB export, while better than most, still needs work. But I’m not sure how I’d bypass InDesign next time. Export EPUB from Pages? It seems like I can’t take Pages (or Word) out of the workflow because that’s what copy editors use, and Track Changes really is the best way to work through edits.

  3. For those of you who design and maintain both a print on demand and ebook version of your book, how do you keep them in sync? Manually edit both versions? Export to EPUB each time from InDesign or another tool?

I know there isn’t one right way to do this, but I’d love to hear your tips for a smoother workflow from Scrivener to copy editing to EPUB, and on through maintenance and updates. Thanks very much.

This is a tip I learned about stylesheets in Scrivener.

Since Scriv uses the mac basic text utilities, it is impossible to have named styles or to control them, really. It is however possible to enforce a standard, small set of style sheets in Scriv using Script mode. So I have customized the script mode settings (really well explained in the manual) and then I can use the keyboard shortcuts to reformat paragraphs as well as having paragraphs flow based on simply hitting Return. (For instance, a chapter title will lead to a First Paragraph with no indentation, which will lead into a Body Paragraph that has indentation, and so on.)

I deal in simple fiction so have few styles in general to deal with. Nonfiction, especially technical work, might have too many styles for this method to be manageable.

From Scrivener I go not to Pages (which still uses mac core text utilities, I believe) but to LibreOffice. Once in LO I can search and replace by styles, and I know that what the mac utilities has chosen to name ‘.p1’ is a chapter title, then .p2 is a First Paragraph, and .p3 is a Body Paragraph. I do still have to mess around a bit with manual changes, but a quick proofread catches them.

I presume that LO’s track changes code will work with your editor’s software.

The finalized LibreOffice document I save as html, so that (again with some manual tweaks) I have a basic file that Sigil will accept, with my own named styles - though LibreOffice will insist on changing the names of the files to add the ‘western’ designation to all my classes, and I must remove them with a text editor. Importing my own stylesheet in Sigil brings things to the way I want the book to appear, then I break it up into chapters.

For PDF versions, I duplicate the final .epub file and then merge all the chapters inside Sigil, exporting to plain xhtml. This then forms the basis of a LaTeX file with about half an hour of manual search and replace, and the headless (sans preamble) LaTeX file I include in a LyX file for output to PDF. I find the Lyx control of page size and margins and fonts easier than doing the TeX commands myself, though with standardization all you would need is a basic formatting file to Input.

Ah, if only Steve Jobs had insisted on structured writing! (Though there is speculation that as a price of Microsoft maintaining Office for Mac, Apple kept their own word processors as mere tools for flyers and picnic announcements.)


Thanks, asotir. This is very helpful. I will play around with Script mode in Scrivener, and I haven’t tried LibreOffice in ages. Downloading now.

A workflow that includes Scrivener, Word, Pages, InDesign, Sigil and hand-editing CSS? There ought to be a medal for a writer who does all that.

My developing workflow is much simpler:

  1. I write in Scrivener until I like the content. And yes, like you, I’d be delighted if I could tag content within Scrivener. At present, all I do is mark text with these characters: « and » — and InDesign GREP script can turn a single pair into italics, a double pair into bold and a triple pair into bold-italic. It’s not really L&L’s fault that Scrivener doesn’t do that. Word has had paragraph and character styles since the late 1980s. Apple should have built it into its text features long ago.

  2. Once I like the content, I bring it into InDesign and do all the formatting there. Rather than fuss with anything else, I’ve simply stubbornly decided that what I do has to be output from it. For now, that means that the fancy stuff I used to do with ID, I’m not doing. I’m sticking with books that can handle the simple formatting that’s all current digital readers can display.

My first try at that was Hospital Gowns and Other Other Embarrassments, which came out in early December. The print version, sent to Lightning Source and Amazon’s CreateSpace went without a hitch. Oh how I love PDF!

After a bit of tweaking, ID’s ePub 3 output was accepted by Apple and looks fine on my iPad. The Kindle plug-in for ID was also accepted by Amazon, as it should since it is their plug-in. But it doesn’t look as good.

For the other ebook distributors, I intended to rely on Smashwords. At the time, it did not accept epub, so I gritted my teeth, cutting and pasting from ID into Word (which retains some of the formatting). After a bit of fussing with their rules about the title page and copyright statement, it was accepted by Smashwords.

The result was, releasing it in early December, virtually every print and digital outlet had it available for sale by mid-December with the exception of B&N, which didn’t bother to download the file from Smashwords until early January.

At the very end of 2012, Smashwords announced that it was now accepting ePub 2.0 files, so I tried the same process with two William Morris books I called Tolkien Warriors, given that Tolkien got some of his ideas for tales from Morris. This time I tried sending Smashwords an ePub 2.0 version generated by ID. It failed and I complained to them that, if Apple was happy with an ePub 3.0 file from ID, their software should take a much simpler ePub 2.0 generated the same way.

More recently, I decided that Hospital Gowns needed a revision and, since its target audience is teen girls, that revision should include pictures. I bought some excellent photos at a reasonable price from Bigstockphoto and created a new version.

This time around, for the print version, I placed those images as small b&w frames that the ID text wrapped around. I had to do that because, to avoid creating a confusing second edition, I wanted to keep the page count the same.

For the digital version, I knew wrap-around images wouldn’t work. Images would simply break the text and sometimes the page wherever they appeared. I got around that problem by breaking to a new page with each chapter and, since the page count didn’t matter, inserted a full-sized image just beneath the title.

I used ID to export to ePub 3.0 for the iBookstore and that went without a hitch. I used it with the Kindle plug-in for Amazon, with the same result, although one hickup with the upload needing to be repeated. Amazon had stripped out the images without giving any sort of error message. And this time around Smashwords accepted that ePub 2 file.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the results though.

In iBooks, the book looks great, with a full-sized color image correctly placed. If you want the book in digital, get that version.

Amazon’s results were a bag of worms. On my iPad, the start-of-chapter image is so small on that large screen it looks awful. On my iPhone that small image is about right. Oddly, on my ePaper Kindle 3 it looks the best because, although it is B&W, it fills the full width of the screen.

Smashwords was the worst of all. As best I can tell from my downloads, it simply stripped out all the images without giving me any sort of error message. That defeats the primary purpose of this update and puts Smashwords into the ‘do I really want to release through these people’ category.

This time around, I used two ID documents, one for wrap-around images for the printed edition and one with start-of-chapter images for digital books. The next time around, I think I’ll use start-of-chapter images for both. That fits with my intention to alter my print editions to the point that the same ID file can be used for both.

Much of what you do about ID in your workflow depends on whether your budget can support Adobe’s move to Creative Cloud. I like the fact that it means InDesign updates every few weeks, as well as access to Muse (for my website), and the latest versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, and perhaps Dreamweaver. Some suspect that soon Adobe will tweak DW so it can be used to edit ePub file without hand coding. That’d be great.

If that’s a bit much for your budget, you might want to look into a Scrivener-only workflow, learning its export intricacies. I don’t know what to say if you need to work with an editor who insists on Word, other than to suggest you look for a different editor. Publishing really needs to get away from Word.

Those who’d like to know more about digital workflows might want to listened to the AdobeMAX presentation linked from here:

indesignsecrets.com/print-indesi … ession.php

David Blatner gives the pros and cons of the formats and software.

–Mike Perry, Seattle

Those who use InDesign to layout print books might enjoy an excellent presentation given at the 2013 Adobe Max conference:


Look under “Design and Creativity” for the presentation: “Beautiful Typography with InDesign”

There are many, many excellent tips on how to make your book look better.