Scrivener Quick Tip: Building an eBook Part 1

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This post is part of my Scrivener Quick Tips series

Scrivener LogoMy Scrivener Quick Tips are a weekly series (usually) and take a look at features from the Mac version of Scrivener, v 2.3.1.  If you are using the Windows version of Scrivener, not all of these features are available to you at this time, and the screen shots might look different.  As always, clicking on a screenshot will open it up for a larger view.


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I’ve had some people asking about creating eBooks using Scrivener.  Personally, I find Scrivener’s eBook and ePub Compile to be quite useful, but you have to dig into the settings to truly pull out a quality eBook.  Can you use the defaults?  Yes.  But if you spend a little time playing with the settings, your eBook will benefit and your readers will appreciate the effort as they receive something on par with what publishers are producing.

Since this is something more in-depth than what I normally cover, I’m going to do so in multiple parts over the next few weeks.  This will also keep me from overwhelming you (hopefully) with a massive infodump.   For this series of Quick Tips, I’m going to focus on Fiction.  If you have a Non-Fiction Project, much of this will still apply.

Part 1: Setting up your Scrivener Project

Before you ever jump into Compile to create your eBook, you have to have your Scrivener Project setup correctly.  If you don’t, you aren’t going to be very happy with the file you export.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say you’ll be angry with the file you export.

When I first starting messing around with creating eBooks using the Compile engine in Scrivener, I looked around the web to see what people were saying about it.  There was a lot of frustration with certain controls, or lack thereof, and I came to realize that those frustrations could be minimized just by setting up the project correctly.

Let me explain what I mean.

You have a Project that you’ve completed; it could be a Novel or a Short Story.  If you used Scrivener’s Short Story Template and want to put that out as an eBook/ePub (Kindle single, whatever), I’m going to suggest that you create a Novel Project specifically for your eBook and move the text over.  The Short Story Template doesn’t have the default ‘guts’ necessary to build an eBook.  Could you manually modify it?  Sure.  But I promise you it’ll be quicker to just create a Novel Project and move the text.  If you have a Novel Project already, you can skip down to Part 2 below, or you can stick around and learn about why you should use the Novel Project Template.

The structure of your typical Short Story looks something like this (Fig 1):

Figure 1

Figure 1

Your Binder contains: First Page Header, Story, Scenes, and then Character and Setting sheets, Research, Templates and Trash.  There is no ‘Front Matter’, which Scrivener uses to create eBooks.  Your First Page Header is a Title Sheet that contains your name, address, contact information (pulled from the information you input when you registered the software), project title, by line and word count.  Everything you need if you’re planning to submit/query your Short Story out to editors/publishers.  But not what you need to make a book.  A book has more.  The Short Story template just isn’t meant to be Compiled as an eBook.

As I mentioned above, you could totally modify it and force it to be what you want, but I feel like that’s a lot of work for little reward.  Creating a Novel Project and moving the text gives you a better foundation for building your eBook.

Think about a book, any book.  Think about the structure of that book.  Grab one from your shelf if you want and take a look at how it’s been put together.  You have a Cover, a Title Page, Copyright, Dedication and Acknowledgements.  Depending on the book, you might include a Series Page (showing other books in the series that are available), or a Other Books by this Author page, and a blurb page (where other authors or reviewers say kind things about your writing).  And don’t forget an About the Author page where you say a little something about yourself (short bio) and point to your website and/or social media.  You are going to want most, if not all, of these things in your eBook.  Trust me.

The Short Story in the screen shot above (Fig 1) is called Consumption.  I wrote it in 2012 and decided to release it in 2013 as an eBook.  To do so, I created a new Novel Project called Consumption (Fig 2):

Figure 2

Figure 2

Again, think about how a book is structured; in the screen shot above (Fig 2), you can see that the Manuscript folder contains a Chapter folder and a Scene document.  In a novel, you would have Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and contained within those chapters, the text of your manuscript in sections or Scenes.  The Novel Template sets all of this up for you.  You could Duplicate the Chapter folder out for however many Chapters you’re going to have.  In the case of Consumption, I don’t have Chapters – I only have Scenes.  Ten of them.

Here is the first decision I/we have to make that will effect how the eBook will look later.

Part 2: The Table of Contents

How you setup your Manuscript, is how your Table of Contents will export later.  This is ALMOST the only thing you can do to format/design/layout that ToC.  There is no ToC edit tab on the Compile screen.  No customization to the tune that the rest of Scrivener offers (IMHO).  Your upfront choices are check boxes for:

  • [  ]  Use a flat list of contents in navigation controls (NCX)
  • [  ]  Generate HTML table of contents
  • [  ]  Center body text of HTML table of contents
  • What would you like to call your ToC: [     ]?

That’s it.

When I first started playing with the eBook features in Scrivener, this lack of editing control via Compile struck me as odd.  To an extent, it still does.  You have a lot of control and options for other aspects of the Compile process, so to have such a stark ToC tab feels lackluster.  I get what they are attempting to accomplish – giving people a wide array of tools and options to fit a broad list of scenarios – yet I can’t help but wonder why this particular area was shortchanged.  It’s possible they will expand this area in the future, but only if the developers see it as a benefit for the majority of users.

Back to the Novel Project.  By default, everything located inside the Manuscript folder will be included in your Compile.  You do have the ability to manually pick and choose what is and isn’t compiled, but the default is everything.  The Manuscript has a hierarchical structure that starts (as far as Compile is concerned), with your first Folder.  This means you have a Top Level (Chapter Folder), Sub Level (Scene).  You could have a deeper structure if you wanted, adding more Sub Levels.

When doing a Compile with a ToC, Scrivener looks at your Top Level document to help build that ToC.  Here’s where it gets a little weird (IMHO).  If you’re like me, you structure your Novels like so (Figure 3):

Figure 3

Figure 3

It’s simple, easy to navigate and is structured the way (pretty much) every Novel you’ve ever read is.  Right?

Well, a structure like the one above, results in a default ToC that looks like this upon Compile (Fig 4):

Figure 4

Figure 4

Weird, right?  First time I did this, seeing a ToC like that drove me up the wall!  I knew I had to dig around and figure out what the hell was causing it to do that – which is good for you because, hey – Quick Tip posts?

Compile does this because of a default setting on the Formatting Tab seen here (Fig 5):

Figure 5

Figure 5

Note that I have E-book chosen in the Format As dropdown, and Kindle eBook (.mobi) selected in the Compile For drop down on the top and bottom of Fig 5.  You have a couple of options at this point.

Option 1.  If you don’t want to mess around and just want to use Scrivener’s Defaults without also pulling in your Folder Titles, all you have to do is uncheck the Level 1+ Folder Title box as shown here (Fig 6):

Figure 6

Figure 6

This results in a ToC that looks like this (Fig 7):

Figure 7

Figure 7

Option 2.  Remove Scrivener’s Default setting so your Folder Titles become the content used to build the ToC.  This option has a couple of benefits.  First, you can call your Folders anything at all you want and have that displayed in your ToC.  As an example, and using my own Consumption story to illustrate the point, I didn’t want ‘Chapter’ at all.  I didn’t have Chapters.  I had Scenes.  I decided to go with Roman Numerals.  So I setup my Manuscript like so (Fig 8):

Figure 8

Figure 8

Next, I hit Compile, went to the Formatting tab and with the Level 1 + Folder selected, I clicked the Section Layout Button (Fig 9):

Figure 9

Figure 9

Figure 10

Figure 10

This brings up a window (Fig 10) that includes the Title Prefix and Suffix editor.  Notice the text: Chapter <$t>.  This is where Scrivener is creating that Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. that you saw before.  Delete this string and Scrivener will pull your custom Folder Names to create the ToC (Fig 11):

Figure 11

Figure 11

Option 3.  You can use Scrivener’s auto setting plus your custom Folder names to create something special.  As an example, let’s say that your Chapters have long names.  My mind goes to The Wheel of Time books where each Chapter includes some text.  The first book in the series, titled The Eye of the World, has a ToC that looks like this:

  1. An Empty Road
  2. Strangers
  3. The Peddler
  4. The Gleeman
  5. Winternight
  6. The Westwood

You get the picture.  To get this same result from Scrivener:

1.  Title your Folders in a similar manner (I’m borrowing The Eye of the World titles for expediency) (Fig 12):

Figure 12

Figure 12

2.  Modify the Title and Prefix window like so (Fig 13):

Figure 13

Figure 13

3.  Compile for a ToC that looks like this (Fig 14):

Figure 14

Figure 14

The clever among you will now point out that the ToC above does not match The Eye of the World‘s ToC, which uses numbers, not words – 1 instead of One.  You’re not wrong.  The string used, < $t >, is creating the One, Two, Three, etc.  If you wanted numbers instead, you would change the ‘t’ out for an ‘n’ like so (Fig 15):

 Fig_15

And when you Compile, your ToC will look like this (Fig 16):

Figure 16

Figure 16

Now, if you’re like me, you are seeing all sorts of cool possibilities for custom ToC’s for your books.  And we haven’t even looked at all of the options available to us in that Section Layout screen.

And we won’t today cuz this is the end of Part 1.  Stay tuned next Monday for Part 2 where we’ll delve even deeper into creating eBooks using Scrivener.


If you’re looking to publish some eBooks, but don’t want to mess with learning to do it yourself, please consider hiring me. Details and a sample eBook can be seen by clicking this link.

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