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If you could wish, what would the software you use for book writing, editing and layout, be?

What features would it have?
Where would it run? Only computers and laptops, or also tablets and e-ink readers?

Features:
· split screen (or fast tab between views)
· powerful add-ons (grammar check + suggestions, dictionary, synonyms, phrase (including words) frequency, poem tools?
· collaborative editing (with invites that only need a browser to join)
· configurable modes (creating, editing, layout, review, …)
· loose ends (text that has not been positioned in the document yet)
· notes (text that is not part of the final document, but relevant to process of creating it)
· outline (integrated into the text?)
· plain text export (how to convert something into plaintext)
· PDF/A + PDF/X-1a export
COMMENTS:
 
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Back when I was in college doing creative writing courses, I wished for software that would suggest synonyms, highlight the frequency of repeated words and phrases, suggest alliteration and rhyme, and have a great built in dictionary and grammar functions.
And be slick and easy to use, unlike the industrial translation and page layout software.
But instead I went with using whatever was the basic text editor the device had. I was into Linux and ultraportable devices back then, so I would just write in text files any device could use, then spellcheck, format and print in whatever word processing software was available, MS Word or OpenOffice.

The most useful trick I've came across for working with large complex documents in a word processor is the split screen function most have, where you can look at two parts of the same document at once.
 
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I am asking this because I see a niche area that has no suitable software for it.

· LibreOffice is not suited for books. While – in theory – it has all necessary features, in practice they are almost unusable.
· Skribus works for magazines, but not for longer books.
· Inkscape works great for a single page, but would be hopeless at the scale of a book.
· MS office has questionable terms of use and is unpleasant to work with as a developer.
· no idea about the software from Adobe. I have only dealt with PDF and their font formats, and it is quite the mess.
· LaTeX is great, if programming is simple for you.
· collaborative editing is at best an afterthought in most software, if not impossible.

Grady Houger wrote:I wished for software that would suggest synonyms, highlight the frequency of repeated words and phrases, suggest alliteration and rhyme, and have a great built in dictionary and grammar functions.


That would probably best implemented via modules/add-ons analyzing the document in the background.

Grady Houger wrote:The most useful trick I've came across for working with large complex documents in a word processor is the split screen function most have, where you can look at two parts of the same document at once.


I did not know about that one! (Actually, Emacs has it – Emacs has everything.)
 
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There is basically two aspects in my writing: creating and removing.  Each stage flows between the two.  The hardest part is getting stuff down on paper and this is why I need to be as far away from anything I associate with the internet as possible.  I usually use the typewriter or pen and pad to do the creating, then the eliminating and editing are done on the computer.  
 
pollinator
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For writing books Scrivener (non-free) is pretty much "the standard".  I mention it because whatever you create will have to have features roughly on par.

I've also used Celtx for this, which is a good, and 100% cloud-based/collaborative.  It's also become a pay-as-you-go program which may or (likely) may not be a good thing.  Also it does books, but is primarily intended for writing movie scripts so some stuff is a bit weird and irrelevant.  (Managing sets, actors, etc.)

Currently my go-to, however is Manuskript.  It is free/opensource but still has a good, friendly look&feel.  Despite being pre v1.0 software I've never had a problem with it, and it also has most of the key features of Scrivener.

Unfortunately no collaboration though. But it's opensource so you could always contribute.  (Maybe somehow autosave to/from google docs to sync??)
 
Sebastian Köln
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r ranson wrote: There is basically two aspects in my writing: creating and removing.  Each stage flows between the two.  The hardest part is getting stuff down on paper and this is why I need to be as far away from anything I associate with the internet as possible.  I usually use the typewriter or pen and pad to do the creating, then the eliminating and editing are done on the computer.


That sounds like it might be helpful to include a "creating" mode where anything that might distract is removed/disabled. No spell checking and no layout options. Or even like in the new blender 2.8 configurable modes that one can switch between.
 
r ranson
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Sebastian Köln wrote:

r ranson wrote: There is basically two aspects in my writing: creating and removing.  Each stage flows between the two.  The hardest part is getting stuff down on paper and this is why I need to be as far away from anything I associate with the internet as possible.  I usually use the typewriter or pen and pad to do the creating, then the eliminating and editing are done on the computer.


That sounds like it might be helpful to include a "creating" mode where anything that might distract is removed/disabled. No spell checking and no layout options. Or even like in the new blender 2.8 configurable modes that one can switch between.



Yes.  Most of the effort that goes into my writing is in avoiding distractions.  If I can do this, then writing is easy.

Having something fun like a doodle of a fish or the words 'this page is no longer blank' at the top of each paper helps me too.  There's nothing quite so daunting as a blank page.
 
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I like Microsoft Word, but a long time ago I bought a book on how to get the most out of MS Word, so I know a lot of the advanced stuff you can do with it. I like it, but mostly because I can add in pictures, size the pages easily, and get them printed off.

I hear a lot that people dislike Microsoft Word...and I am not defending that product just because I am brand loyal, but I seem to get a lot out of it. I wonder if people just do not know all that is possible with it?
 
Sebastian Köln
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Looking at Scrivener:
· The "add note/part without placing it at a fixed position" sounds interesting. (Also like something that could get out of hand quickly…)
· Formatting – I will get into that in a separate post.
· The outline: I actually have an idea, that merges outline and text into one view.
· notes: These should be standard. Even LibreOffice has good notes!

Please mention important things that I have missed!
 
Sebastian Köln
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Travis Johnson wrote:I like Microsoft Word, but a long time ago I bought a book on how to get the most out of MS Word, so I know a lot of the advanced stuff you can do with it. I like it, but mostly because I can add in pictures, size the pages easily, and get them printed off.
I hear a lot that people dislike Microsoft Word...and I am not defending that product just because I am brand loyal, but I seem to get a lot out of it. I wonder if people just do not know all that is possible with it?


They allow quite a bit … but most of the things are not helpful. For example the default scaling of images does not preserve the aspect ratio. So unless the user makes sure to set it to keep the aspect ratio, images will look odd. It also does not enforce a consistent style (all images the same width with coherent alignment) so documents often end up quite … incoherent?
Way too many fonts! I'd rather offer the user a small set of really good fonts than 100 fonts that are not appropriate for anything.
It does not separate writing from layout and style, so most users get distracted with the style of the text instead of focusing on writing. And changing the style of already written text is quite the task.
The paragraph layout algorithm was quite poor (may have improved since). It would basically require careful checking of every page to make sure there are no big gaps or poorly broken paragraphs. And if you edited something, it needed to be done again.
 
r ranson
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One thing to think about; most of the time when I am writing for someone else like a magazine, they want the text in a specific format or more often, stripped of formatting like 'smart quotes' or the like.  Quite often, I have to take my writing out of a wordprocessor, paste it into notepad and review it to make sure there aren't any funny characters.  Otherwise, you get funny characters in the finished text like "wouldn’t"

Having some sort of prepare for export in plain text would be a good button
 
Sebastian Köln
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r ranson wrote:One thing to think about; most of the time when I am writing for someone else like a magazine, they want the text in a specific format or more often, stripped of formatting like 'smart quotes' or the like.  Quite often, I have to take my writing out of a wordprocessor, paste it into notepad and review it to make sure there aren't any funny characters.  Otherwise, you get funny characters in the finished text like "wouldn’t"

Having some sort of prepare for export in plain text would be a good button


Exporting to other word processors: I don't know. It is definitly possible to do. However when "they" send you a modified version back, it only causes pain. (Do you continue to work in the other format or manually find and transfer the changes?) It also needs regular work to keep up with the latest version of whatever software. Ultimately, maybe not worth it.

A plaintext export should not be too tricky. One would "just" need to specify how a specific style should be transformed into "plaintext".
 
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Sebastian Köln wrote:If you could wish, what would the software you use for book writing, editing and layout, be?


I think it depends, in part, on the kind of writing one does. For eBooks, a standard word processor is popular, because formatting and pictures can be done on it and it can be exported for eBook publishing. I write mostly nonfiction paperbacks, so formatting and interior design are done on a desktop publisher. I prefer to work with as few distractions as possible and find that word processors have too much going on. I don't need formatting options because that's done later. I find things like autocomplete to be distracting. Plus WP documents contain metadata that can be troublesome later on.

r ranson wrote:Quite often, I have to take my writing out of a wordprocessor, paste it into notepad and review it to make sure there aren't any funny characters.  Otherwise, you get funny characters in the finished text like "wouldn’t"


Exactly! So I just skip the word processor altogether. I prefer a simple text editor - one that has spell check and sort to alphabetize the index. That way it's just me and the words.

I tried Focuswriter for a a while. It's described as " a simple, distraction-free writing environment." It's free and open-source. But I went back to the text editor.

For outlines, note taking, and to-do lists I use Zim Desktop Wiki. It's a really useful tool for organizing information and notes. I can keep track of links, citations, add photos, and I love the checkbox feature for my to-do list. It has a split screen, so it could probably be used for the manuscript as well. I may try that next time.

If I were to wish for a feature for writing software, it would be the ability to export in PDF/X-1a. But, since most of my books have been self-published, I do the interior design myself and for that I use a desktop publisher. Scribus 1.5 will export PDF/X-1a, but it's the only thing I know of so far for Linux.

Editing is a whole 'nother ball game. The built-in grammar checkers in most WP only catch a few things. Currently, I'm playing with both Grammarly and ProWritingAid. They are very different and I don't always agree with them, but, that's no different than working with human editors.

Sebastian Köln wrote:(Actually, Emacs has it – Emacs has everything.)


K Eilander wrote: Currently my go-to, however is Manuskript.


I love recommendations! I've installed both of these and will give them a try.

 
Sebastian Köln
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More software:
· Jutoh Ebook Editor
· Vellum
· Sigil Ebook (open source)
 
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If you want to stay within the spirit of community, sharing etc. etc. (i.e. free software), Emacs with LaTex. There is a learning curve to it.
 
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r ranson wrote:There is basically two aspects in my writing: creating and removing.  Each stage flows between the two.  The hardest part is getting stuff down on paper and this is why I need to be as far away from anything I associate with the internet as possible.  I usually use the typewriter or pen and pad to do the creating, then the eliminating and editing are done on the computer.  


I have a similar work flow - a clear separation of creating, editing, and formatting.

For the creating stage, I use a simple editor such as NotePad++ for the text, and for drawings, I use either  pen-and-paper or a whiteboard and then capture an image with a digital camera/smartphone.  For editing, I often stay with NotePad++, unless I need a grammar checker or an integrated thesaurus, in which case I'll use MS Word.  For the formatting, it really depends what the final product needs to be - MS Word for PDFs, VSCode or AsciiDoctor to create Markdown or HTML documents, etc.  I typically use MS Visio ($$$) for final technical drawings, and tools like Inkscape for other graphics.


r ranson wrote:One thing to think about; most of the time when I am writing for someone else like a magazine, they want the text in a specific format or more often, stripped of formatting like 'smart quotes' or the like.  Quite often, I have to take my writing out of a wordprocessor, paste it into notepad and review it to make sure there aren't any funny characters.  Otherwise, you get funny characters in the finished text like "wouldn’t"

Having some sort of prepare for export in plain text would be a good button


Agreed - sometimes the formatting stage is done by someone else, and all you want to deliver is the content in plain text.
 
Sebastian Köln
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Oddo Dassler wrote:If you want to stay within the spirit of community, sharing etc. etc. (i.e. free software), Emacs with LaTex. There is a learning curve to it.


There are a few editors specialized for LaTeX: Kile is one of them.
I never got used to Emacs. And I think "a learning curve" for learning LaTeX is a bit of an understatement… But produces the best quality one can get.
 
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Sebastian Köln wrote: And I think "a learning curve" for learning LaTeX is a bit of an understatement… But produces the best quality one can get.


I use AsciiDoc to convert simple plain text source into multiple output formats: "AsciiDoc is a text document format for writing notes, documentation, articles, books, ebooks, slideshows, web pages, man pages and blogs. AsciiDoc files can be translated to many formats including HTML, PDF, EPUB, man page."

DocBook and LaTex are among the supported output formats. This way you don't need to know LaTex of DocBook at all.
 
Sebastian Köln
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What financial model would you prefer?

If I am going to write this program, then my goal is to make making books more accessible to people who have never written a book before, or are not happy with previous results.
This somewhat eliminates a "buy once, use unlimited" model, as the price would need to be quite high. It also makes it difficult to justify buying the software without knowing if the book will be completed and how well it will sell. On the other hand using inadequate software makes it more difficult to complete, print and sell a book.

One idea would be to allow use of the program without charge, but request some part of the final book price. (1-5%) That way there is no additional financial risk involved for the user if the book isn't finished or doesn't sell.
 
r ranson
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Personally, I don't do well with the subscription model.  I like the style where I buy once (usually for about 2 years worth of subscription) and then pay again when I'm ready to upgrade (maybe at a discount so I don't go looking for something new).   These days they usually have two to four-week free sample for this.

But, if it's going to be a subscription, I find what Grammarly does is an excellent way to get my money.  They offer a huge amount for free, forever, and a very little (but powerful) for a once a year fee.  For regular use, I could easily do everything I need with the free version, but since I use Grammarly for my writing and at my work computer, I go for the paid version.  It's about the only thing I use cloud saving so I can access the text at home and at work.
 
Sebastian Köln
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r ranson wrote:Personally, I don't do well with the subscription model.  I like the style where I buy once (usually for about 2 years worth of subscription) and then pay again when I'm ready to upgrade (maybe at a discount so I don't go looking for something new).   These days they usually have two to four-week free sample for this.

But, if it's going to be a subscription, I find what Grammarly does is an excellent way to get my money.  They offer a huge amount for free, forever, and a very little (but powerful) for a once a year fee.  For regular use, I could easily do everything I need with the free version, but since I use Grammarly for my writing and at my work computer, I go for the paid version.  It's about the only thing I use cloud saving so I can access the text at home and at work.



If I understand the subscription model, then you basically pay per unit of time, independent of how much you use it (and make money with it)?

I am interested in getting people to use the latest software, and not favor using something with bugs that have been fixed already.
And to be honest… i would prefer a donation based payment model as that means I can release the source code and not have to deal with licensing. So it is your software, but you are asked to return a small part of the profit.
 
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Sebastian,

Personally I use OpenOffice.  The setup is a lot like the older version of Microsoft Word, only more user friendly.  Personally, I was fine with the older layout for MS Word, and I really wished that the newer version left a legacy view.

I dumped MS Word back in 2011 after I built my first computer.  The price was starting to get up there and software was the one place I could cut back by going with open license software.  One of the more difficult pieces of software to get was a word processor.  Someone recommended Open Office to me and I have never looked back since.

Hope this helps,

Eric
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