Scrivener: Becoming a Compile Power User.

In part one of this blog I discussed why I love Scrivener for version control. This time we are going to discuss compiling and formatting both ebooks and print books straight from Scrivener. It seems like a long process when you read this, but once your book’s details are set it’s really fast and easy.

Compiling in Scrivener

There’s an old saying, the devil is in the details. That saying pretty much sums up compiling in scrivener. It’s straightforward but there are details that have to be minded in order to have the finished product turn out the way you want. Setting aside a little time to go over your book’s details will save you a lot of time later. Don’t fret the time, once the details are right the rest of the formatting will be taken care of by Scrivener itself.

Some Basics

There are some basic issues that need to be addressed before you get ready to compile. These issues cover both ebook and print so they will be done together.

Cover art

You can insert your own cover into the finished ebook easily with Scrivener, but it first must be in the scrivener project in the right place. You need to drag your cover art into the sample output folder in the research area. Don’t try to insert it in the title page under front matter and don’t ask me to explain the logic of placing it in research. If it’s in the sample output folder it will be available in the compile menu and scrivener will do the rest.


Front and Back Matter

One of the great things about compiling from scrivener is front and back matter. These have to be done differently between print and ebook and often between different ebook retailers.

For example, you will have different ISBN’s for print and ebook versions. You might want to craft a different copyright page and dedication for each edition. It’s common to abbreviate the front matter on ebooks, ereaders want to open an ebook and go right to the story.

Scrivener recognizes this and has separate folders for print and ebooks. The bad news is that you have to fill out each folder separately. The good news is that Scrivener will keep the information separate from there on, so you don’t accidentally insert the wrong ISBN or front matter.

The back matter “About the Author” page is a great tool for selling the next book. If a reader just finished your book and enjoyed it, make it easy for them to grab the next book in the series by including a link to it. However, most retailers have picky rules about links in ebooks. They won’t let your book link to a competitor for example. So you want the link in the Kindle version to direct to the Amazon page for book two, but you want the Apple iBook to direct to Apple’s store. With Scrivener it’s easy to create three different About the Author pages with the same basic information, but one with Amazon links for the kindle version, one with Apple links for the epub and another with no links for the print version. I create these in their own folder in the front matter tab of the binder. You can click and drag the correct version into the back of the document before compiling.


The dollar sign inside of brackets is code. Anywhere you see these, Scrivener will automatically import some piece of information into that document when it compiles. Most of the time that’s exactly what you want, but there are occasions when you need to take control, and you can.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 3.11.27 AM

One is the author name. It will import the name of the person who registered the software, just as Word does. However you might use a pen name or the Scrivener program you use might “belong” to a spouse or parent. No problem. You can simply highlight $authorname and replace it with whatever you want.

The same might be true of the copyright year if you are republishing something from a previous year. $year on the copyright page can be changed to whatever year you need.


Making these changes ahead of time will shorten formatting later on and help troubleshoot some of the most common problems.

Kindle books

For ebooks we are going to concentrate on Kindle files. Scrivener will handle epub as well and the same basic rules apply. The very first step to using Scrivener to make kindle books is to download Kindlegen from Amazon.

Kindlegen is Amazon’s own ebook creation tool. I don’t know many writers who use it, because on it’s own it’s not much to look at. It works but it requires some technical skill to fine tune. With Scrivener you can do that fine tuning with Scrivener and get really good results.

When you choose the kindle (mobi) option under the compile menu it will add a tab for kindlegen. The first time you use it you will have browse for kindlegen and tell Scrivener where the program is located in your computer. (Usually under applications, unless you put it somewhere else.) Once you’ve done this it will remember for the future.


Each tab on the left side of the compile menu brings up a different dialog box and each has it’s uses and foibles.


Allows you to select what goes into your book. Typically you want to include everything in the manuscript folder and that’s Scrivener default setting. However you can use this dialog box to change that.

One foible to watch for is the front matter check box at the bottom. Different options (print, manuscript, ebook) will have it automatically selected to its own default. If you have special front matter, this is where you can tell Scrivener to use that instead.



The separators menu allows you to customize how you create scene breaks, chapter breaks, etc. The average user doesn’t need this on most projects, but some writers might use this. The drop down menu allows you to select an empty line, single return or section break. Or you can choose custom and enter what you want in the right hand box.


Allows you to select any image in the sample output folder.


Scrivener uses a hierarchical formatting system. That means there are different levels and each level is treated differently. There’s a neat little trick to working with this system. When you select a level on the compile menu, everything on that level will be highlighted in the binder. This can be very useful when troubleshooting problems.

formatting levels

The average writer will only have/need two levels, chapters and text. Notice at the top there are a number of check boxes. For final formatting only title and text are important but if you were creating a proof for an editor you might want to play around with including meta data or synopses.

For today, we will only use title and text. Notice that in the screenshot level one, which if the folder level, is selected. Down below we see an editor screen with Chapter one: Title in it. This is a preview of what you will see when you compile. If you’ve named each folder with a pithy chapter title, all is well. If you’ve simply numbered your chapter, your final book will come out with Chapter One:Chapter One, etc. Or worse still you might end up with Chapter One: New Folder. If this is your case, uncheck the title checkbox for that level. The result will be that Scrivener will simply provide the chapter numbers with no chapter titles. “Section layout” will give you more options to change how the title will be displayed. The internal help dialog does a good job of explaining the options.

formatting menu

Title Adjustments

For those really wanting to fine control the chapter titles, you can read up in the manual about the title adjustment dialogue, but it’s not necessary for creating a good ebook, in my opinion.


For ebooks, there isn’t a lot of fine tuning needed for layout. However I would check this page over. Scrivener should default to checking the “generate HTML table of contents” which is what you want. That will create a navigation file that will let readers easily find the table of contents and the chapter they want.


There are a handful of features under transformations that allow you automatically change portions of the text. I rarely use these myself and there is one huge foible to watch out for. For reasons that are beyond me, Scrivener by default checks the box “Convert Italics to Underlines.” I have no idea why anyone would want to convert every instance of italics into underlines, but it’s there and it’s checked. I always uncheck that box.

HTML settings, replacements, statistics and tables

None of these tabs should have anything you need for book formatting. For proofing you might want to include some statistics and non fiction writers might have tables to work with, but for our purposes these tabs can be safely ignored.


Metadata is information about your book that isn’t included in the actual book. It includes titles, a description and keywords. Scrivener always you to customize the metadata you include with your books files.

One important foible to note here is author name. If you are writing under a pen name, be sure you check this tab and correct the information.


That’s it, folks. It’s time to compile. When you hit the compile button you will be prompted to choose a destination file and Scrivener will do the rest. When you are done you can open the file with a Kindle app or share it to your favorite reading device.


Print Compiling

The basics of compiling for print are almost identical to ebooks. In fact if you’ve followed along with the above description of ebook compiling there are only three foibles we really have to deal with for print.

Compile for PDF, not Print

When you select compile for a print format, Scrivener will want to default to compile for print at the bottom. This will lead to no end to troubles. You want to compile for PDF. Why? Its the same issue I have ran into time and again with Word as well. When you compile for print it always wants to default to a standard 8 by 11 1/2 inch sheet of paper, which is what a standard printer uses. Createspace or other print on demand publishers will reject your pages, because each page will be a 5×8 printed page centered on an 8X11 sheet.

Instead you want to compile for PDF, which will create a correctly sized PDF, once we’ve handle the second foible.

Page Settings

Under the page settings tab you want to select the page setup button in the right corner. It will be set by default to 8×11 and you will need to change it to whatever trim size you plan on using for your book.

page setup page setup 2


A final foible to consider, if you are publishing under a pseudonym, is in the layout section. Scrivener will automatically create headers with the novel name on one side and your last name on the other. You can tweak that if you need to for a specific project.
That should be it. Run through the tabs, checking that you have the right About the Author at the back of the book, that the chapter headings are the way you want them and then compile.

Yeah, Scrivener, Part One

The more I use scrivener, the more I love it. There are so many reasons for the love, I can hardly count them.

Scrivener logo

I got my final clean version of Children of a New Earth back from my editor last week. I spend the rest of my writing time that day, nearly two and a half hour, re-importing it scene by scene into Scrivener and making sure all the scene breaks and other formatting stuff was correct.

Why spend that much time on it? One reason is version control. The other is that I spent another two hours or so doing formatting, and created both the ebook and paperback in that time. For those of you who have created ebooks manually using a word processor, or fought to get Word to create a proper print ready pdf, you know how much time I am saving.

Version Control

For both prolific writers and avid rewriters, version control soon becomes a major challenge. I learned this early on in my writing career when I was writing articles for a local LGBT paper. I had the editor take me to task for numerous errors in one submission. I couldn’t see the errors on my side. I later discovered I had accidently submitted a rougher version of the same article.

My issues with version control stem from three sources and each carries its own liabilities an solutions.


Back up your computer! If you haven’t had this drilled into your head, all it takes is a couple of major data losses and it will be. I’ve been through dozens of backup methods over the years. I used to print hard copies of everything. I still have stacks of moldy paper in my basement with crappy stories I thought were gold once upon a time. Then I saved things to floppy disks (yes, I am that old) and USB drives.

The problem with all these backups is they aren’t the same. Twelve different versions of the same story might be secure, but it’s also confusing. Trying to find the one you are currently working on can drive you nuts and lead to mistakes, like submitting the wrong version of an article. If you backed up an early version of your novel, it will be there after you lose the current version but you still lose hours of editing.

The solution: I now use an automatic cloud storage. I’m on a Mac right now, so I use time machine, synced to a personal cloud device. The device cost me a hundred and fifty dollars but it was money well spent. It sits next to my router, uses the same wifi network and acts just like an external hard drive except I don’t have to worry about backing things up, it does it automatically. It also re-saves the most recent version of every document, so I don’t have to worry about old versions floating around.


As a younger more hesitant writer, I had to save a version of everything before editing. I had novel A draft one, Novel A draft two, etc. I was worried that I would regret rewriting and want the old version back. Then I started getting involved in writers group. So now I have Novel A draft eight with x person’s comments. It got so I each novel had it’s own folder and even then those folders were packed with extraneous files.

Now I am more confident. If I change something, its because the change will improve the novel. I don’t care so much about keeping older versions. In fact I’ve gone to the other extreme. I hate having older versions of my writing around. It fill up your hard drive. And it’s drivel. I hate to be blunt, but it’s true. Do you really want an early draft of your novel with seven thousand typos floating around? And no, ten pages of run on sentences isn’t “your voice.” It’s bad writing. Clean it up and get rid of the old version.

The solution: Scrivener. I keep all of my writing projects in scrivener these days. I use the snapshots feature to save anything I am going to do a deep rewrite on. If I am moving or getting rid of whole scenes, I drag them out of the manuscript folder but leave them in the project in case I need them later. If I am workshopping something, I either import people’s comments directly into a separate scrivener file or make the suggested changes directly on the scrivener document. The Scrivener manuscript always remains the most recent, cleanest version of that project. And that is a thing of beauty.


The third source of too many versions is simply being an indie writer, though traditional writers may have their own version of this same problem. You get your clean edited manuscript back from your editor and you start formatting. Print formatting and ebook formatting are different beasts, so the first step is to create two new versions of the clean document, one for print and one for ebooks.

Every author, whether indie or trad, knows the horror of seeing your book in print for the first time and spotting a typo. Argh! If you are trad, you complain to your publisher and then grumble in your writers group until they finally get around to fixing it. (And if it’s not POD, don’t expect them to be able to do anything.) If you are indie, you go back and change it yourself. Oh, but did you also change it in the mobi file? the epub? The original document? Personally, I am way too ADHD to get to them all. It’s a struggle.

Traditional authors aren’t immune to this problem. Every publisher/editor/agent has their own set of submission guidelines. By the time you have spent a year and half trying to sell a manuscript, submitting it to dozens of agents, you will have a pile of version, each formatted to this or that person’s taste.

Multiply each of these three issues by several novels and you will see what I am dealing with.

Solution: Become a scrivener power user. This brings us full circle to the original intent of this post, formatting and compiling in scrivener. This post has grown to the point where it might be best broke into two. For now, learning to use Scrivener’s compile feature means that you can create multiple versions, all based off the same document. A year from now when you need to update something, you do it in Scrivener. When you resubmit, you do it from Scrivener. You never have to wonder which version of your novel is the most current, and did you correct those pesky little mistakes in all versions or not? It’s all in one place.

Coming next: Becoming a Scrivener compile power user

Why the “We’re Drowning in Ebooks” Diatribe needs to stop

According to Forbes we’re drowning in Indie books. The blogosphere has taken up this catch phrase, we’re drowning in ebooks and we’re drowning in ebooks. And those are just in the first page of results on my google search. I could easily find a dozen or more references to the idea that we are drowning in ebooks.

Closely related to the drowning in ebooks meme is the catch phrase “discoverability.” Its all the rage right now as well. How are authors going to get discovered in an era where we are drowning in ebooks?

This has to stop. I don’t care if the article is mostly positive about indie publishing or negative, the term itself makes me cringe. Here are five reasons why I cringe whenever I read the term “drowning in ebooks.”

  1. Readers aren’t drowning. If we are experiencing a “sea” of Indie books then our readers are the fish.

Is anyone complaining about cable TV? Remember the good ole days when you had three networks and public television? Anyone pine for those days? Me, neither. Consumers love choice. Readers are no different. In fact, sales figure show that the choices available on ereaders mean consumers are buying more, rather than fewer, ebooks. This is good news for everyone.

Cable TV and, more recently, streaming video, have changed the way we watch TV. But it hasn’t spelled the end of the networks and no one seriously complains about having too much choice. By the same token I never hear this “too many ebooks” line for avid readers.

  1. Sales aren’t a zero sum game

Inherent in this argument is the assumption that book sales are a zero sum game. There are x number of readers who will by x number of books this year. A sale in someone else’s pocket is a lost sales for you.

This is not true. For one thing, readers are not a specific demographic. Women who read trashy romance novels are not the same demographic as men who read historical fiction. The blistering success of the Fifty Shades series is not hurting your five hundred page opus about the Crimean War, because those readerships don’t overlap.

Even within a genre or a demographic its hard to draw any specific conclusions about sales, so arguing that an established romance series is being hurt by a dozen of similar Indie series is a fruitless exercise. The same can be said of free promotions and piracy. People download free ebooks by the hundreds from both legitimate promotions and from pirate sites. But how many would pay for a similar book if it weren’t available for free? No one knows. So stop worrying about it and start worry about things that are under your control, like your own writing.

  1. Crappy products don’t replace good products for long

There are twin illogical assumptions at work in this diatribe. A) most Indie books are poorly written, poorly edited crap and B) most Indie books don’t sell. How exactly do poorly written books that don’t sell hurt the chances of better authors that are selling? Most of the examples of poorly written books you can give, quickly sink to far back pages of Amazon or Smashwords where they have little effect on anyone else’s sales.

The fact that people in the traditional publishing industry are complaining about indie books is telling. If they were really all as bad as critics claim, there would be nothing to fear from the indie revolution.

  1. It’s always been hard to get discovered.

Back in the olden days, and the olden days means anytime before 2010, most writers were struggling to get published through a big publishing company. It was hard and odds were not in your favor. The big publishing houses saw hundreds of submissions every day. Most were put in the “slush pile” and read by poorly paid interns. One bad mark from one intern and the book was in the trash.

Still writers persevered. They went to writer’s workshops and networked with fellow writers. They showed their manuscript to everyone and anyone who was willing to read it. They queried agents and publishers by the hundreds. It was often a vicious cycle, writers desperate to get published, sent out mass queries to anyone and everyone. Publishers, responding to a huge influx of inappropriate submissions, dumped books into the slush pile, outsourced the reading of said pile and sent form rejection letters. Every writer hoped and dreamed of the day when one of those agents, editors or poorly paid interns would read their manuscript, be totally overwhelmed by its greatness and publish them.

Indie ebooks are now the slush pile, or so we are told. Most writers I know have bypassed the years or heartache and toil trying to get the attention of one of the big publishing houses. They self publish and take their books straight to the readers.

And they face the same challenges they did before. Instead of poorly paid interns, its unpaid reviewers/book bloggers. The rejection letter has been replaced with the bad review.  Instead of a publishing contract, it’s slowly rising sales figures until that glorious day when your book goes viral and really takes off.

For many years, getting published meant you had “made it” as an author. Indie publishing and the ebook revolution has made it easier than ever to reach that goal, but it’s also made the goal meaningless. Hitting the publish button is only the first step towards making it. The cold hard truth of Indie publishing is that you are still a nobody. A nobody with a book maybe, but a nobody. It takes months, or even years, to build up a reliable readership. Getting “discovered” is largely a myth perpetuated by readers who don’t see the years of struggle that “overnight successes” have already put in.

  1. It sounds self serving.

The drowning in ebooks diatribe can be found, in one form or another, from all corners of the web. I don’t care if you are a traditionally published novelist, an Indie novelist or a supposedly “unbiased” journalist. Anytime a writer starts in on this subject I hear the same thing. “All those other writers should stop writing so much crap so readers can discover my work.”

So if we are really drowning in ebooks, why not stop writing? Go find something else to do with your life. It’s really the only fair solution. Asking other writers to stop writing so many books so that you can succeed certainly isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to the other writers and it isn’t fair to readers, who would rather have a choice.

And there’s the problem right there. It’s like the scene in virtually every B movie where the good guy and bad guy have guns pointed at each other. Who should put down their gun first? Everyone put down their word processor on the count of three, okay?

As for me, I am going to go right on writing as many books as I can, because it’s what I want to do. Hopefully I can become one of the lucky few that makes a living at it, but even if I can’t, I will still write. It’s part of who I am. And I am going to go right on encouraging my writer friends to do the same because anything else would be hypocritical of me.