Time, money, and product tradeoffs
We face them in software, and we face them in publishing, too.
For my book about publishing for technical people, I’m still working on the chapter about book interior formatting. My goal with this book is to provide the most actionable advice I can to get you from draft to published as smoothly as possible.
If you decide to go with a traditional publisher, you know what the final book will look like (everything else by that publisher), and you don’t need to spend much time thinking about book design. They’ll tell you what format they want, you hand them the file, and you’re done. Of course, if you already have an audience, this comes at a hefty cost: 50% or more of the book’s earnings.
If you want to indie publish, you can absolutely hire a book designer to take the interior formatting problem away from you. If you want an index, you’ll likely need to hire an indexer as well and make sure the indexer and designer can work together. That adds to your upfront cost and financial risk on the project. I think a lot of indies forgo the index, which is an understandable tradeoff but not great given that many people prefer their non-fiction in print.
What if you’re an indie, want high-quality print and ebook formats with indexes, and don’t want to spend all of that money on professional design and indexing?
I’ve looked at a number of tools. I mentioned Vellum last time. I love Vellum. I’ve been happy with its output for multiple fiction books. Here’s the problem, though: It can’t do tables. Or multi-level bulleted lists. Or properly indent code (a real problem if your code samples are in Python, as mine stress test sample was!). Other formatting tools also failed on different parts of my formatting stress test.
This reinforced my earlier conclusion: AsciiDoc is the best overall choice. With it, you can generate high-quality, full-featured print and ebook formats from one source file and you actually have multiple ways to generate that print format so that you have a ton of control.
While you can hand-roll your ebook (EPUB files are just zipped up HTML with a manifest), and then use Adobe InDesign to make a truly gorgeous print book, you’re then signing up for a lot of time. Maybe that’s how you’d like to spend your time, but I’m guessing that most people would rather be writing more software or more books.
If you’ve got a different formatting toolchain you’ve been happy with, I’d love to hear about it! Just reply to this message or tweet at me.
p.s. I didn’t send out a newsletter last week. I got my shot #2, and my family was doing some last minute college touring and decision-making. Sometimes, the side project just needs to wait a week.