Examples of great design

Are there any examples or references for designing a highly graphic oriented (layout only) ebook for pdf, mobi and epub using just Scrivener?

For example, say I wanted to create a cover and chapter headers like this abookapart.com/products/mobile-first.

Apple Pages works very well for PDF layouts but I’d like to consolidate workflow into one app. I haven’t tried to create the graphic style shown above for mobi or epub. I’m not familiar with how to do that and looking for references that can help (for Scrivener).

Compared to real page layout software, Scrivener’s layout tools are primitive at best. It might be possible to create a design like that, say by forcing the chapter headings into a table and applying a background color, but it would hurt. A lot.

In contrast, creating a layout like that would be trivially easy for even low end design software.

So you’ll probably be much happier letting Scrivener do the things it does well, and finding a different tool for the design piece.


Thanks Katherine.

I’m not sure how you use one app for design (Pages/InDesign) and another for content (Scrivener). I see design and content as one thing. It would be a very difficult task to try and fit one into the other after the fact.

If you see design and content as one thing, then you are stilling thinking in terms of WYSIWYG software. Scrivener is meant for those who (1) are able to make the conceptual distinction between design and content and (2) are interested in creating the content without having to think about the presentation at the same time. So, either use some WYSWIG software, or else try this:

  1. Create a document that is designed just as you wish in your page layout software, but do so using only lorem ipsum placeholder text. Tweak this document as much as you wish. When you are satisfied, save it and congratulate yourself on having successfully designed a stunning document without needing to worry about the content at all.
  2. Open Scrivener, and proceed to compose your scintillating prose. As you do, feel the freedom that comes from knowing your document will end up aesthetically stunning, no matter what you do in Scrivener. When your composition process is complete, export it as plain text, or RTF, or Word DOC, or ODF, or whatever suits you. Congratulate yourself on having successfully written beautiful and brilliant thoughts without needing to worry about the presentation at all.
  3. Now open your page layout document once more and import your text, replacing the placeholder text with the true content. Bask in the glory of your document. Congratulate yourself for having come to understand the distinction between form and content and why it is beneficial to separate these tasks from one another.

Well, I would argue there is a valid role for combining the two. There are many instances where design is content, and WYSIWYG is a good approach to that, but anyone will tell you that Scrivener is most firmly not pointed at the production of that kind of stuff, and if anything is a counter-attack at the notion that authors should be using design environments to write books in. It’s for the larger segment of the production community where content and design are hardly ever mixed at all (to the point where the content author likely doesn’t even know who the end product designer even is). Or, if not that, products where design is a predictable component that can be lightly modified to produce unique designs. Publishing novels out of Scrivener to Amazon or CreateSpace, for example—it’s good at that.

As for tool suggestions: I’m not aware of anything that provides an all-in-one professional level approach. That’s a bit of an oxymoron. The more a tool is aimed at the professional production market, the more narrow its scope becomes because much more effort must be placed into that narrow band. InDesign is a good example. It’s a huge program with a ton of scope, but only a very rare author would consider writing a novel in it. Even for most design pros, InDesign is only going to be one component of their skill set. Scrivener is another example, it has a narrow market aimed at content authors of long works. For that goal it has a deep set of tools for making the task of going from 0 to +100,000 words (or 97 minutes, or whatever) as easy as possible.

For e-book design, there has yet to emerge a strong contender in the professional design realm. Apple’s iBook Author is an attempt, but they have crippled that program by reducing its publication scope to a singular vendor and a minority market of devices (large though that minority may be). Adobe is certainly working on the problem, and there are existing tools that get you a long way toward the goal of making a well designed e-book, mainly thanks to the fact that e-book design is essentially indistinguishable from web design. An e-book is like a self-contained web site, really.

The best advice I can give you then is, if you want to make beautifully crafted e-books, learn how to do web design with a focus on CSS and HTML. These are the core technologies in e-book design, and a mastery of them will allow you to do nearly whatever you want (especially with the newer e-book formats). Right now that’s the best option. I would submit that Scrivener is still an excellent starting platform for that, for producing the 100,000 words—but if that is not what you are doing—if what you are doing is more along the lines of a poetry+photo book or anything else where design-is-content, then you might as well just jump straight into the design technology itself and do your writing there. Sigil might be a good place to start.

Scrivener is likely overkill for me since I’m not writing a 100,000 word novel. Most of what I ever write will be less than 50,000.

I did take a look at a Sigil demo. It seems very basic. None of the great Scrivener meta stuff for writing are there.

I’m tempted to buy InDesign for layout. I don’t think it outputs to mobi as easily as Scrivener. But the layout abilities look to be unparalled.

My workflow will likely be something like this:

1.) Write book in Scrivener
2.) Create layout in other program
3.) Paste text in from scrivener.

I don’t know how well #3 will work since layout is likely to collide with text and text formatting from Scrivener will blow up once graphics are mixed in. All of that will need to be readjusted, which will be lots of work. That’s why I’d really like to do them in one program at the same time.

Maybe InDesign can do that. If so, it will eliminate the huge bottle of #3. It’s worth buying at that point.

Your proposed workflow will produce a good result I think. I’m not as familiar with the e-publishing route out of InDesign. For print work it is unparalleled these days, it’s like Photoshop, there aren’t any other tools commonly used in the industry. One thing to note is that one needn’t create a Mobi file directly. Getting an ePub file is good enough (which is why Sigil can still be used to work on Kindle files), because opening an ePub file in Kindle Previewer will create the necessary .mobi file for you. You should find more resources for InDesign->ePub that ->Mobi.

I’d also say that Scrivener is just fine for a 50,000 word project. Just because it can be used to create an epic doesn’t mean it is unsuitable for shorter works, and even 50k isn’t that short. We’ve got people using it for much less; magazine articles and the like.

As for Sigil: I wouldn’t consider writing in it, as you point out it isn’t really an authoring platform. What it does give you is easy technical access to the component files that make up an .epub file, allowing for complex design to be done—so long as one is skilled enough in web design. It’s more like Dreamweaver for e-books, though less complicated.

You will have to expect a certain level of design once transferring the text over, that is true. The advantage of using a strong layout platform is less in how easy the conversion is, and more in what all you can do with it once it is there.

Back when I was working for a print magazine, the designers always told me to give them text with as little formatting as possible. Let them figure out image placement, how to flow copy, and all the rest. I would say that’s still true when the author and the designer are combined in a single person: do only very basic formatting in Scrivener and let the design software do the heavy lifting.

As Ioa said, the idea that writers should create text directly in design tools is very new. It’s not necessarily a better or more efficient way of doing things, just a way for word processor vendors to expand their served markets.

Incidentally, I use and recommend Scrivener for anything bigger than a grocery list. I most recently used it for a pair of columns, each less than a thousand words long. It absolutely is not overkill for shorter works.


I don’t see any reason to use two programs when one can do just as well.

Sure. When you find a single program that handles writing as well as Scrivener, and design as well as InDesign, by all means buy it.


iBooks Author might more closely suit the OP’s needs…


I don’t think iBooks Author can export to mobi. Not sure if it has any of the grid layout features of InDesign.

If the OP or anyone else does find a program that organizes like Scrivener, has word processing tools like Microsoft Word, and lays out and designs a book like InDesign, please do let the rest of us know.

That is like the Holy Grail of writers. I would love to hear of any candidates.

I think InDesign is the best you’ll find. It is missing mobi output but that can be done with Calibre and the KinGen.

Holy Grail for some, poor choice for others. “Jack of all trades, master of none,” as they say. When you combine design, word processing, and content management… you get Microsoft Word.

By comparison, Microsoft Word and InDesign are not even in the same universe.

I’d like to qualify that I’m referring to InDesign when layout and graphics have a heavy emphasis. Or a technical book, such as one that uses software code examples.

If you’re just writing a novel, Scrivener is perfect. A novel is just words. The management of content with such a large tomb will be the key tool. No need to get involved with grids, typography, and graphics.

About iBooks Author:
I have started using it and it is very smooth and user friendly.
BUT: according to the Terms of Use, in case you do not intend to publish your book in iBooks store or “sell” it away for free anywhere else, you have the right only to your content and you must use another software for the book’s format.

Can anyone recommend a book editing and designing software that gives the user permission to both content and format?

The greatest issue with inDesign is the obscene price. $20 usd per month is a ridiculous price. Affinity Publisher (one time buy) can export PDF amongst other non-ebook formats. Calibre can convert to mobi etc. ePub output from Pages and Apple iBooks Author (both free) can also be converted by Calibre.

That is incorrect. The license states that if you intend to sell iBooks format output it can only be sold through Apple. It clearly states ’

In other word, if you export to ePub you can sell it anywhere and convert to any other format to sell.