Some Pointers Regarding Tools

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As you know, the first thing you need to write a book is a good word processor, one that is simple enough to allow concentration on your ideas and not the struggle with software.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter at an early stage which word processor you choose. At a later date, you will be able to export the text  to a more comprehensive and complex environment.

Bad habits are hard to break, but I’ll name a few that you would be wise to overcome while writing.  Never use tabs to format your text. They will give you problems later. Same with spaces.  I always struggle with the temptation to add two, sometimes three spaces after a period.  To me, it just looks better.  But they are hard to deal with later, so take my advice and avoid overuse of spaces.  You should learn to use the style sheet concept to set your text in the position you want.  You can rename the styles or create your own, but, whatever you do, be consistent from book to book.  If you use style names that are easily remembered, you will find the conversion to HTML a breeze. Don’t get carried away with chapter numbers or names during the early phases of writing your book, and postpone formatting for style and font until the last. It’s much easier later, and since you will be more consistent after the book is complete, it will lead to fewer errors.

After many years of using Windows, I switched to the Mac.  I love Apple products and wouldn’t go back for gold, but Pages has limitations.  You will find that you require a fully featured word processor as you near completion of your manuscript. An example is the use of headers and footers which differ on odd and even pages. That, of course, doesn’t apply to an e-book format which cannot use headers or footers.  Converting your document to an HTML file requires functions that Pages doesn’t supply.  On the advice of some very enthusiastic supporters of free software, I tried two alternatives: LibreOffice and OpenOffice.  Both are fully featured and free, but I just couldn’t get comfortable with either one of them. Against my inner instinct, I paid for a version of MS Word for my Mac. It crashes frequently for no reason, has a long list of quirks, is overly complex and exasperatingly poorly written for a product so long on the market.  Nevertheless, it works and, with patience and some insight, will produce a flawless copy of your book for print and make the transition to HTML possible.

My advice is to not use the feature Word offers of conversion to HTML.  It includes more text than you want to deal with and produces a file of ponderous size.  You simply want to go from a word processor file to a text file in HTML format.  Bringing in your work with styles already imbedded saves a tremendous effort later. My workflow  had been reduced to the following simplified overview:

1. Replace all double quotation marks with “.  Sounds ridiculous but the step will find errors that you didn’t know you have.  It turns out that there are three characters which look like quotation marks and are hard to detect when in a text file.  Same thing for single quotation  marks.

2. Remove any tab characters.

3. Remove spaces, except for single spaces.

3. Using the search and replace functions in Word,  bracket the text marked with a certain style with the name of the style (more later on this).

4. Using the advanced search and replace, bracket each paragraph with the HTML code <p>your text here</p>.  The same goes for italics. More on this later also.

4. Select the entire document and copy and paste it into a text processor. I suggest TextMate.

Now you are done with your word processor, but be sure and save any changes into a separate file for possible later corrections.

As you can see, so far the process is not challenging.  The next steps are more complex, however, but you are well on your way to the creation of an e-book.  Congratulations!  To be continued….

Alexander Francis

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