I have been book-creating too much recently. I have used a number of tools to create these books. The tools below have all been used at various points for Future of Access, Spontaneous Access, the forthcoming Elements of Access, and the in-progress A Political Economy of Access.
MS Word – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.
I don’t like MS Word and have issued a ukase against it.
- Everyone else in the world uses it, so it reduces time in migrating text from platform 1 to platform 2.
- Track changes can be useful and doesn’t always crash.
- It can be used to create proper figure and table captions.
- Consistent styles between words, paragraphs, sections chapters. Styles just proliferate, I can’t find a mode that doesn’t limit style proliferation automatically.
- The ability to easily drag and drop sections and chapters. The text is continuous. Dealing with subsections is a pain.
- Stability lacks, still.
Scrivener – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.
I used this when initially setting up the books from blog posts, but eventually migrated out.
- It organizes books into Chapters and Sections, which is useful for reorganizing things without cutting and pasting. Its Storyboarding is the best feature.
- It creates ePubs that can be uploaded to iBooks and Kindle, though I never got this far.
- It doesn’t keep styles consistent between chapters. The book is stylistically a mess, and anytime I bring text in from a new place, I have to fix the styles as well.
- Footnoting/endnoting are not great.
- Referencing is a mess.
- Dealing with Figures and Tables is also not good.
- Dealing with multiple authors (sharing files over DropBox) was a problem and led to version conflicts. Some of this was likely the fault of co-authors who don’t use DropBox carefully, but Scrivener seems not designed for this application.
Pages by Apple – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.
- It’s a simple WYSIWYG writing tool.
- It allows creation of footnotes/endnotes.
- Consistent styles between words, paragraphs, sections, and chapters are hard to achieve.
- The ability to easily drag and drop sections and chapters.
- Referencing is a mess.
- It does not create proper figure captions. You are supposed to use a Text Box and attach it to the figure.
- Each figure needs to be appropriately sized for ePub, it doesn’t do this intelligently.
iBooks Author by Apple – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.
The ePub version of Spontaneous Access was published in this. Later I ported End of Traffic over from Pages because it is easier to reorganize with, and I wanted more consistency with the LaTeX version. I am using it not in the way it was intended to create iBooks, but instead the feature that creates ePubs.
- It creates ePubs that can be uploaded to iBooks and Kindle.
- It also organizes books into Chapters and Sections, which is useful for reorganizing things without cutting and pasting.
- It keeps styles consistent between chapters.
- It doesn’t create proper footnotes (it uses pop-ups instead, which is good on iBooks, terrible for Kindle),
- It doesn’t create proper figure captions, though it is better than Pages in that it has some italic text below the figure. The Gallery feature is better in this regard.
- Referencing is a mess.
- It loses internal hyperlinks when cutting and pasting. Now I understand breaking links when moving if the thing linked to is no longer there, but when the two named things are both moved, the link should be regenerated, as it would be when moving an HTML or LaTeX file. In short the named link should be retained, not an index to that link which can then be lost. This is especially pertinent as the document may need to be rebuilt after a crash.
- In addition to missing features, it is crash-prone. This kills just about everything. I have attempted to port Elements of Access, but get crashes for some reason. I assume there is a problem in the inputs (but somehow it worked before), but it doesn’t tell me what they are. In my limited time on earth, I will not spend more time debugging this document.
LaTeX – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.
- It allows the author to organize books into Chapters and Sections, through use of \includes.
- It keeps styles consistent between words, paragraphs, sections, and chapters.
- It does footnotes well enough, though the raw text becomes a mess to look at, as the footnotes are not separate objects but part of the stream of text.
- Referencing via BibDesk is excellent and allows standardization (aside from capitalization of proper names, which still needs customization). The .bib references can come straight from Google Scholar with a simple cut and paste.
- The end product looks pretty good as PDF or paper. I really like the general look of the Tufte-Latex style.
- It stores text in plain-text files, so it is robust to software evolution.
- What you see is what you mean.
- Creating ePubs. ePubs from PDF look terrible.
- Globally standardizing objects like figures and tables. Each can vary if the author is not careful, there are not systematic styles
- It requires documents to be compiled, so you cannot immediately see your changes in a WYSIWYG manner. (Overleaf does this sort-of, but is laggy).
- It drives the author to thinking like a programmer instead of getting out of the way, but The Overleaf cloud version reduces the pain points somewhat, but bogs down for long documents. Tracking down wayward commands or characters wastes time.
- The learning curve is exceptionally steep
The problem is not writing text per se, it is combining text with images in an elegant way. Writing a book without images would be relatively straight-forward in most of these tools.
In short, my recommendation is to not undertake the creation of books until tools get better. Civilization can wait.
To be fair, I have not tested the Adobe products like InDesign. They look hard to learn (and I have learned LaTeX and program computers), are pricey, and proprietary.
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