General: Authoring In A Digital World

When I first started writing my first novel, I typed on an old electric typewriter making corrections as I went. There was no spell check, my thesaurus was a hard-back book beside me, and storage was a three-ring binder I put the pages in when they came out of the typewriter. The usual process that was followed with a completed manuscript was to pack it up and mail it off to one of a handful of publishers and hope for acceptance. Acceptance sometimes involved an advance, and the services of an editor, cover artist, and layout designer as part of the deal. There was no internet, and most authors could not afford to publish a book themselves.

Times have changed. In the digital world, bookstores are failing, and those same major publishers are battling with a plethora of digital publishers the likes of CreateSpace, iUniverse, Author House, Lulu, and xLibris who crank out books in print and digital formats as fast as gullible authors throw their money at them. The internet has spawned new online distributors and bookstores such as Amazon, Smashwords, and aLibris. Authors now must supervise or perform the tasks of editor, cover artist, and layout designer themselves, sending most manuscripts by upload to companies who approve a manuscript for publication and distribution as soon as the author pays up. The digital world has become a minefield for authors, and generated a glut of books no reader could read in multiple lifetimes.

The markets and services are still emerging, and the opportunities for savvy authors to tap into these are growing. Prices for digital printing and publishing have dropped markedly. But in reality, the market has gone topsy-turvy. The digital e-book is now the book of choice for many of the "digital generation". The ability to carry a hundred or more books for both recreational and informational/self-improvement reading is considered the norm for most young people. But some aspects of the market are still struggling to catch up.

We have Publishers, Editors, Cover Artists, and Layout Designers who all can work with digital files, transmitted via email or FTP, allowing the author to control the process from concept to market from the comfort of their dining room table. But one aspect of the process that has not moved into the internet-enabled age is the writing of the manuscript. Most tools available to authors today are proprietary software packages with sometimes hefty upfront costs, and encourage stiff annual upgrade fees. These programs are installed on your computer, and while they give you great add on tools like character definition, plot definition, timelines, outlines, and multiple file formats. The programs are only as portable as the computer you install them on.

Enter eBookBurn.com, Writing.com, and Fastpencil.com. You can use their editors to paste in your manuscript chapters, and generate ePub and Kindle files (for a fee) that you can distribute yourself. The editors offer many tools of the software we are used to seeing in today's word processors. The interface is straight-forward, yet designed to take your manuscript specifically to ePub or Mobi files. You must define your own title page, copyright page, any table of contents, or other pages. As an entry level web-interface this site is a reasonable entry to the market place. However, as a central focus of productivity it lacks many of the tools such as spell check, thesaurus, and page layout control that many authors of today might crave from their desktop software.

Now consider a more robust alternative, Weavers of Dreams at www.weaversofdreams.com. Weavers offers an editor, and choice of four file format outputs. But Weavers ups the ante, by offering dedicated areas for your title information, dedication, acknowledgement, forward, and author sections. One great challenge in a desktop software is the need to rearrange chapters without having to scroll through the whole file and cutting the whole chapter and finding the right spot to paste it back in. Weavers allows you to re-order your chapters easily, by simply re-numbering them. Now when you have finished your manuscript, generate one of four file outputs.

  1. Generate a MS Word copy of your manuscript for editing. When done, apply those edits online.
  2. Generate Print-Ready PDF files. You have layout control of page size, orientation, fonts, and which pages/sections to print to the classic printer-ready PDF. You can then take these files and submit them with your cover file, to your printer for your print run.
  3. Generate ePub files, validate them, and submit to Smashwords for distribution worldwide.
  4. Generate Kindle files for distribution to Amazon.

In fact, as a subscription type site, Weavers offers two levels of service for authors. Free for those who are just writing, and $20 per month option for those who want to use the full set of content-creation tools. Best of all, Weavers allows you to not only write books, but create a "title" that is all of your short stories, or a "title" that has all your poetry, articles, term papers, or reports for school. Move from one title or project to another with one or two clicks of the mouse. All these services are available from any computer with internet access.

What's the catch? Internet access. While the site works reasonbly well, even on dial-up, if your connection is the slightest bit unstable, be sure to save often. Weavers is designed to allow you, the author to manage ALL your writing projects, whether a list of story ideas, or production manuscripts. In today's internet, more and more sites-as-services are appearing including backup services which brings into question the wisdom of putting your "baby" into the hands of some distant server. This is the direction the marketplace is going.

I now write all my work on Weavers, so does my publisher, who with the webmaster, is developing a suite of Publisher tools to augment the Weavers offerings. I have developed two more books on Weavers, and even this post was written online using the Weavers editor.

eBookBurn.com, Writing.com, Fastpencil.com, and WeaversOfDreams.com are the new breed of WYSIWYG content creation tools that authors should watch for. Look for those services that actually allow you to perform the tasks you need the most, but also offer flexibility to work into your target market. The digital age is here to stay, and authors must embrace it soon or fall behind the opportunities for productivity that are emerging.


Donald Jacques is the author of several books available on Amazon.com:

  1. Ancestors, a historical fantasy that tells of Atlantis' destruction and the orgin of Druids;
  2. Moonstone, a young adult coming of age story;
  3. The Handyman, a Romantic Suspense;
  4. The Homestead Project: 12 Steps to a Permanent Lunar Settlement (The Lunar Homestead Project)
  5. Earth Seed: Settling Space in This Generation

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