How to structure the writing of a three-book set with similar content?


Any tips for efficient writing and mental clarity please?..because I am in writer’s block over this before I’ve even begun!

I need to write a set of three books for publication at the same time:

  • The themes are closely related.
  • Their broad structures will be the same,
  • Some content is very similar.
  • Some content is different.

What is the most efficient way to structure the writing process for these in Scrivener?

As a simplified example, imagine these three titles (not the real topics, which are more complex):
How To Train A Dog To… Guard Your Property | Herd Sheep | Be A Great Family Pet

Each has sections with very similar (but non-identical) content like these:

  • Foreword
  • How to use this book
  • Choosing a puppy
  • Puppy training basics
  • The health of your dog

Then there are some sections with very different content (yet still part of a matching overall structure) like these:

  • Title
  • Contents
  • Legal considerations when training a dog to guard
  • Introducing your puppy to the farm environment
  • Teaching your dog to be gentle with children

I am a fine-tuner. I will edit and edit. If I edit one version of Choosing A Puppy, I will want to edit the other two versions of Choosing A Puppy in a similar way. If I keep the books as separate files, this will be a pain, no? Opening and closing.

I can’t see myself writing one book all the way through, then starting the next afresh (which will give me ideas for improving the first one, and I’ll have to go back and repeat the edits), then the last one (which will give me ideas for improving the other two, and I’ll have to go back and repeat the edits x 2).

But if I bundle all three books into one file for easy viewing, there’ll be Contents and compilation issues at the end…or will there? e.g. Can I individually select which elements go into each book’s Contents page (there’ll be three in the file) and compile that way also?

Any tips for pain-free de-tangling greatly appreciated!

This post by Ioa in a previous thread may have some useful links for you to check.

‘There wouldn’t really be much for the documentation to cover, since all of this would be more of a personal convention that you develop in your project. There isn’t a universal “right way” to work on multiple volumes in a single project (and in fact some people do not even prefer to keep them together in the same project, and will create a new project for each volume, with a separate project for all of the collective research).

Here are a few resources to get you started:

We have a case study feature Monica McCarty on serial novels—not quite a box set, but a good number of the concepts should be applicable:
Here are a few threads found on the forum:
Can Scrivener handle multiple projects at once.
Writing a Book Series.
Multiple books in one Scrivener.
Single vs. Multiple Scrivener Files (general discussion on the theory of keeping things together or apart).
Multiple related books in same binder.
And that is just one search for “multiple books”. You may find more with some different search terms (I don’t recall the phrase “box set” being used very often however).‘

Hope that helps.

Thank you so much, I will look those up.

My brain is insisting this is a good reason to stall all progress, so I must convince it otherwise!

Personally, I would take the simple approach. Create a new blank project, create three folders in it (one for each book) and proceed from there. By using the split screen in Scrivener you could have chapter 1 from two different books side by side if you want to compare them. What you wrote in your first post seems a pretty good outline already, so why not follow it? In my own case I always use mind maps for overall structure, because I’ve been doing it that way since the 1970s, and I like the visual presentation (iThoughts is my choice at the moment, but there are many others).

Thank you mb, I like that. Having two versions of a chapter visible side by side will be very handy indeed. I hadn’t noticed that capability.

Have a look at p.24 of the manual, which shows the main project window, and how it splits to show two documents (the split can be vertical or horizontal).

In my opinion, one of the main strengths of Scrivener is that it facilitates working on small chunks of writing while also being able to have an overview of the whole work. (That is not really an adequate description – it is perhaps easier to understand when you have tried it.) In my case I will quite happily have documents that only consist of a single paragraph, or even only a single sentence, because I know that I can combine see the whole flow of what I am writing by using Scrivenings view, and I can combine everything later when I compile the finished work. Having each document consisting of only a single paragraph is something I find particularly strong for non-fiction work, when it is often crucial to present ideas in a particular order, either to build an argument, or to facilitate understanding. Switching around single sentences or paragraphs is very easy to do in Scrivener, and is one of the main reasons why I use it.

In your case, I suspect that keeping what you write in very small chunks could be very useful. You could have a document that consists of a single sentence, copy that document into the second book in your project, create a second document in your first book that consists of a single sentence, but realise that it also applies to the third book but not the second, copy the document to the third book, and so forth. Others may have better or more sophisticated ways of working, but that is what I would do to start off with.

I’m with @mbbntu on keeping your text chunks small, and in your case you can take better advantage of this to solve your problem of repeated text in the different books. Version 3 has a new placeholder … from the list under the Help menu:

So if you put all the text that you will need to repeat in different volumes or in different places within any volume, set up as a separate documents not within the Draft/Manuscript folder, have each of your volumes as separate parts under the Draft/Manuscript, and then wherever you need one of your snippets/paragraphs just use the <$include…> tag.

If you want to make each book a separate project, you can use the <$include…> tag to point to an external document, which I think could be in a “series bible” project, though perhaps someone from Lit&Lat can confirm.

The advantage of doing it this way is that if you decide to edit or change the wording of those snippets/paragraphs, you only have to do it in the source document, not everywhere they occur in each of your books.

Disclaimer [1] I have never tried it, so it’s up to you to experiment.


Disclaimer [2] Nothing to do with Lit& Lat, just a very long-term Scrivener user.

Edited once.