A Question For All You “Tool Guys” (And Gals)

imageBy Kathryn Lilley

I’m in the market for new writing software these days, so I thought I’d seek the advice of my TKZ friends: what software or program do you use for composing and formatting your manuscripts? Preferably, I’m looking for one that can work with Word on IOS to properly format the title page, chapter headings, page counts, etc.

Note: I have tried using Scrivener (multiple times), and I just can’t get the hang of it. (I know that labels me a Luddite, but there it is.) In the past I used ProsePro, but the program no longer works with my new Apple laptop, and I haven’t been able to locate an updated version.

Any help or suggestions are much appreciated!

57 thoughts on “A Question For All You “Tool Guys” (And Gals)

  1. I tried Scrivener – even took a workshop given by the “Scrivener for Dummies” author, but I can’t grasp it. Plus, I’ve been using Word so long, I think I understand most of its quirks. It does everything I need. I’m not changing. But I’ll bet others will be chiming in.

    • Sorry that you had the same problem, but there’s some comfort in not being the only one who had that issue–thanks for your comment, Terry!

  2. I, too, have tried Scrivener multiple times and have given up on it.

    I’ve tested several writing programs but keep coming back to Microsoft Word. It works seamlessly with Jutoh to convert to ePubs and Mobi files.

    Also, used in conjunction with OneNote for research and outlining, etc., it does everything Scrivener does, only better.

    • Ah, I sense the Genesis of a Scrivener refugee population, Tracy! Maybe I just need to figure out how to wrangle Word better. You’re right, I’m sure, about the benefits of its lateral compatibilities. (See, I don’t sound like a Luddite, despite being one!)

  3. Being a dark ages barbarian, I still use Word. It serves my purposes just fine.

    I’m also in the camp of having tried with Scrivener a few times and I WANT to learn to like it because it’s supporters speak of it in such glowing terms. But unfortunately, it has repulsed me each time I made the attempt.

    For me the hardest part isn’t software though–it’s organizing all my data. I still haven’t hit on the perfect system, going back and forth between tons of different folders and having only a few. This would be a problem for me even in Scrivener, because either way, I have to have a way to search the heap of research & information I’ve collected over time. Wish I was a programmer or software developer—I’d invent something specifically for that purpose. Easy to use, retrieve, and organize.

    • Patricia, if you live in LA you could earn money giving lessons! Seems there are quite a few of us who have failed to reach the top of Mt. Scrivener.

    • Lol, me too! One version for my Apple, one for my old Windows laptop. I loved ProsePro years ago, but it created all kinds of problems at the publisher’s end, so I wouldn’t dare use it again.

  4. Oh, good. I feared I was the only writer in America too dumb to catch on to Scrivener. I CAN’T do Scrivener. Can’t do it. Can’t do it.

    And too poor to afford Word. So I have used OpenOffice, but my publisher received my last manuscript on LibreOffice Writer.

      • I purchased Scrivener several years ago, but never used it until now. I like it, however not exactly using it in its entirety. There are some good tutorials on YouTube.
        Of course being a guy, I am prone to adlib and not follow directions. Yeah. That method burns daylight.

  5. Hi, Kathryn,

    I’m intrigued by iAuthor, which is exclusively for Apple machines. I keep tweeting the iAuthor conference that if they ever port it over to the Windows platform I’ll give it a go, even though I’ve had a love-hate relationship with MS Word since 1988.

    Word also runs on Apple machines, and it will do anything you need done to publish a book. Its files convert easily to PDFs, too. (Just Save As…) In my former writing life as a technical writer, we published a 900-page airplane manual with it, complete with charts, illustrations of screens with call-outs, and a multi-level table of contents and index. In 1996.

    Any software will be frustrating to learn and to use, so be prepared to spend time and have patience. I used to advise my self-publishing students, “Take time for tech.”

    Good luck with your quest!

    • Carol, you’ll be surprised to learn that I also had a former life as a technical writer and editor (later called “Information Engineer”). I was spectacularly unqualified for that field, as a non-techie. However, there was a time when I appreciated the steady paycheck, so I somehow survived. Eventually my six-figure salary job got offshored to some four figure drone in China. It was a hit to my bank account, but no loss to the field of user documentation. (I learned one interesting thing about user docs–in Japan, they read every word of the documentation before touching a product. I WROTE user manuals, but I never read them. Which is another reason it’s good I’m not in that job anymore.)

      • p.s. Isn’t technical writing literally the most boring job on earth? No wonder it pays so well (or did, until corporations discovered offshoring). Otherwise, no one would do it!

  6. Gotta extol Scrivener. Most people stop with it because it has so many bells and whistles. That’s too bad, because when you use it simply to compose your book, it’s easy and powerful. See my post:


    You ought to try it just once, Kathryn, to do nothing more than write your book then exporting (what Scrivener calls “compiling”) it as a Word doc.
    It has a basic template for fiction that gives you title page, word count, agent’s name (if applicable), and the rest formatted with header and page number.

    Learning to do that much is no more difficult than setting up a style in Word.

  7. It’s more of a revision tool to help tighten and simplify your writing, but the Hemingway App is decent for the novice writer like myself. I tried it out and provided a before and after comparison. The “before” use of the app is provided as a photo at the end. The app highlights all of the sentences which need work and to the right side of the screen gives a synopsis of what’s wrong. Very simply and easy to use. Once all of your sentences are cleaned up, you can export it to Word format.

    I was skeptical at first, but after trying it I think it’s cool. I wouldn’t find it useful for novel writing or story boarding, but as an editing tool (for $10) I think it’s pretty nifty.


    • That’s a neat tool for making an edit pass, Diane, thanks for sharing that! I could use something like that to check for some of my personal writing tics, like multiple characters who have similar sounding names, blue eyes and blonde hair. ?

  8. First-time contributor. My novel, TIANANMEN ASCENDING, was written in Scrivner but edited in Word. Scrivener was useful in the very rough draft stage because it allowed macro visibility and organization of the project–and in many cases helped me reorganize chapters and sections.

    That said, I have two main quibbles with Scrivener:

    Learning curve. As a prior contributor stated, it has so many bells and whistles, it is its own worst enemy. I am sure that it could be indispensable, were I to take the time to master it. To date, I have taken classes, read books and fiddled with it but am still an amateur, using only its word processing and organization attributes.

    Crashing. I don’t know if anyone else shares this problem, but Scrivener has bitten me, severely, many times. It advertises itself as an organizational masterwork to store MS, research, notes, etc. I attempted to use is in that manner, storing a great deal of research (text and multimedia, MB not GB) and found it crashed too many times for my comfort (resulting in significant lost work and family angst–they had to deal with me, crazed).

    Thanks for the suggestions on iAuthor and the Hemingway app–I’ll check them out.

    • Welcome to the Zone, Britt! I like your idea of using Scrivener as an organizational tool, then Word for the manuscript. I am going to try using it that way. I have also always had a fear of losing files with Scrivener–your experience certainly validates that concern. I read about someone who lost six month’s of work using Scrivener (not including the six month learning curve, I’m assuming). Thanks for joining the discussion today, and come back soon!

    • That’s what I don’t understand. Yes, Scrivener has lots of bells and whistles. But it’s not like it’s the only program in the universe with lots of bells and whistles, yet it, more than any other program I’ve tried, has such a steep learning curve. Obviously Scrivener has very, very loyal supporters, but I just don’t understand why it, apart from other programs, can’t marry ‘easy to use’ with the ‘bells and whistles’.

      If it were just me who found it hard to use, I wouldn’t blink. But so many others do too.

  9. I’ve never tried Scrivener, mostly because I use a PC, and for a long time it was only available for the Mac. I understand it’s now available for the PC, perhaps someday I’ll give it a try.
    I have however tried Liquid Story Binder XE by Black Obelisk. But I find it to to very complicated, much too complicated for my 77 year old brain. It’s like Mr. Bell said, “it because it has so many bells and whistles.” Consequently I keep going back to either Word or LibreOffice.
    For those who might be interested you can find Liquid Story Binder at http://www.blackobelisksoftware.com/

  10. I must be thick as a brick…do you mean help with writing (ie Scrivener) or help in formatting a book for e-publishing? If the former, I stick with Word and a good copy editor (human). Tried Scrivener but it wasn’t worth the effort for my needs. But for the intricacies of formatting for Kindle publishing or other outlets, that’s another can of worms. Kelly and I formatted our own back list titles and got them up on Kindle but it was a long learning curve. Not easy.

    But here is a rub: If you want your PAPER book versions to be readily available to bookstores, it must have a separate ISBN number so the stores can order (and return) through distributors like Ingram. And the formatting process for THIS is different than Kindle. Kelly and I are just getting ready to do this now so we can get our back list placed in stores and are going to hire someone to do it. It’s just too time consuming to learn.

    This is probably more than you wanted to know about hummingbirds…

    • My needs are simple, I want something where you can click a button to create a title page, chapter headings, page numbering, spacing, etc. I have never formatted a book for publication myself, so I’m not even looking for that (although I probably should be). ProsePro was a Word add-on that installed things you could click to get the right format, but it seems to have gone defunct.

      • Yikes…that request is beyond my pay grade, Kathryn. Does such a thing even exist? I know when we were formatting our books for Kindle, it took forever to get all this right — and we STILL, years later, go back in and fix spacing problems and such when readers are nice enough to point them out. Also, Kindle requires that you have a chapter listing with links that go to each chapter and THAT one almost defeated us.

        If you find anything that helps, let me know.

        • In Word, under the Reference tab, click “Insert Table of Contents” and it does all the linking for you. Easy Peasy–obviously, since I figured it out.

        • What if it’s not for an ebook, just a regular old-fashioned manuscript that you’re sending to an agent/editor? (Legacy publishing style).

          • Don’t most agents/editors want standard manuscripts submitted electronically. TNR 12 pt, double spaced, 1 inch margins all around. For those that want other formatting, it should be on their websites/submission guidelines.

            • Yes, but How do you get all that guidelines stuff formatted correctly? When I try to do things like “insert a Chapter Heading,”, and start page numbering on “not the title page”, and create page numbers that reflect “Chapter x, Page y”, things tend to go awry. Probably because I’m such a friggin’ Luddite. ?

              • Just click on H1 under styles and type “Chapter 1” and then go back to normal for the rest of the chapter. Rinse, repeat. Numbering should be consecutive from page 1; don’t renumber chapters.

  11. I tried Scrivener three different times over the years and went right back to Word. Been using it so long it’s in my blood. Just a side note–there’s a little known and somewhat obscure feature in Word called Master Document. You can write your book with separate chapters, then have Master Document build it within seconds to print, see word count, and do a global search and replace. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it to be one of the most powerful features of Word.

    • I use “View”>Document Map in Word 2007 (which I finally switched to after using XP, then 2003 for ages). It will pick up on any H1 style header and list it in the sidebar. You can then hop from chapter to chapter as desired. That way, I can work in my full manuscript (much nicer than going through 25 chapters changing Fords to Chevys), which I save every day with a new filename.

  12. I love Microsoft Word. There are some distractions, but I’m used to them. I looked up Scrivener a few times, but each time, I return to my known reliable:)

    • Thanks, Frances! I am now officially changing my status to: “Another Writer Holding Last Ditch Position in Word”. ?

    • I learned on Word Perfect. (Not counting the programs that came with our first Apple IIc –AppleWorks??), but switched to Word when we (meaning Hubster) got an IBM PC back in the day. I sure do miss Reveal Codes.

        • LOL. When I worked for Universal Studios back in the day, they had their own versions of programs. I called what they had us using “Word Satisfactory.” And then, the spreadsheet program in use was Lotus 1 2 3. I called their version “Lotus 1 2”

  13. I live and breathe in Scrivener. There is a learning curve. I taught myself my watching videos and spending a lot of time in the Literature & Latte forum. There are still a ton of great videos out there as well as some on-line classes. I did some beta work for Learn Scrivener Fast, which is very good. There’s a FB group for Scrivener users, but the one I like the best is on G+.
    I’ve even gone so far as to create a Scrivener novel template based on the amazing James Scott Bell’s Super Structure book.
    I’m such a geek that I LOVE this kind of stuff.
    Okay, Geeky Fan Girl out.

    • Michelle, Thanks for that info! I will look for Learn Scrivener Fast. I suspect that the real problem is that by nature I’m tech phobic. It took me a long time to switch from writing longhand on yellow legal pads to computers, for example.

  14. Kathryn,

    Great discussion yesterday.

    Just found this free online course for beginners on starting to use Scrivener by Michael Joseph, a Scrivener instructor. Here’s the link.


    I love Scrivener for the ability to jump around chapters and scenes instantly, the ability to see the big picture and structure, and the ease of writing scenes out of order and rearranging them. When finished, I export into Word and format to the required specs. I spent one vacation reading Scrivener for Dummies, and it really isn’t that complicated to use just the basics, which is the way most of us use Word.

    Good luck, and thanks for your support of Jodi Renner’s book, Childhood Regained.

    • Steve, I am grateful to you and everyone who contributed to this fun and informative discussion! This is what I love most about the blog–having actual, entertaining conversations about topics of shared interest. Somehow that never happens on Facebook or other social media.

      Jodie’s book Highlights a very important cause, the plight of child refugees. Which reminds me, I need to invite her to drop in to talk about the project here.

  15. Big fan of Scrivener and its ebook output, but formatting for print still requires me to nudge text in Word to start chapters on recto pages, etc. Ulysses looks quite interesting- http://www.ulyssesapp.com I haven’t spent much time with it, but David Hewson thinks quite highly of it.

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