August 14th, 2013 | Back to article list
Updated Sept 2021
A few people have asked me what tools I used to create my books. When I first launched this project I wrote a preson blog post on how I create the books. That personal blog is taking a break so I’ve moved the content here.
In brief (TL;DR)
- I used free and open source software throughout
- I wrote the chapters pretty much sequentially
- I had a few decisions to make regarding tax and publishing as a paperback
- I enjoyed the process immensely
Tools I use
Creative writing probably requires only two things: an idea and something to write it with. So in the simplest terms you can do it with a pencil and paper. Writing something for publication requires a few more things, like a publisher. The choice of publisher will to some extent dictate the format of the file the writing is stored in and will certainly have an impact on how those files are arranged or formatted. As you’ll know I’m an advocate of freedom particularly with regards to software so my choice of tools was also dictated by that also. Here’s what I used:
- Vim – Text editor – I used this to write the unformatted text. I use Vim in my day-to-day work so other options may suit other people but using a plain text editor enabled me to focus on the writing, spelling and grammar and not the formatting.
- Libreoffice – Office software. I used this to compile and format the book and to produce the print-ready PDF required by the print house.
- Inkscape – Vector graphics editor – I used this to create the covers and some other ancillary images used in the book.
- GIMP – Bitmap graphics editor – as my kids did the drawings for the book I used GIMP to clean them up after scanning and convert them to 2-bit (black and white) images at the required resolution.
- Calibre – eBook -management software – I used this to convert my eBook file into various eBook formats – including the kindle mobi format. It’s an excellent piece of software and I highly recommend it for not just converting but reading eBooks.
How I write
I wrote the book a chapter at a time, in order and I wrote each chapter in a separate file. This helped me focus on each chapter by itself and also meant I was able to read each chapter as I progressed to my editing team (i.e. my wife and children – after all they are the target audience 🙂 ). All in all it took me around a year from starting with a bare idea to finishing the epilogue. That’s mostly because I was fitting in the writing around my day job and I wasn’t spending all my spare time on it. This had an interesting side-effect though. I found that leaving it for a few days and coming back made me read back through what I had done previously and thus I became a secondary editor of my own work.
To start with though I wrote a quick half -page synopsis of the storyline and split that into chapters. So each chapter had a sentence about it’s plotline and this gave me something to flesh out when I came to write the chapter. It wasn’t set in stone though and I change aspects of the storyline following feedback from the editorial team. This meant I had to go back and amend some earlier chapters as the story progressed but I found it somewhat easier that way.
Which self-publishing platform I use
When I started, I wanted to keep costs down and, for me, this is a hobby/interest not an income stream. I do not expect my books to be sellers, let alone a best sellers so I’ve never really wanted to go to the bother of a traditional publisher/editor. Never the less I wanted to make a print copy available and also one for Kindle. This is mostly because I had written the first book for my kids and they wanted to see their drawings in a “real book” – indulge me for being a Father trying to encourage his kids’ creativity.
Early on, I looked at a few different options – mostly the main ones: Lulu and Createspace came to the fore. I chose Createspace because being an Amazon company they kept the costs of putting a book on the ubiquitous portal down. Createspace is now the Amazon KDP platform and I still use it for both kindle and paperback sales.
Yes I know all the arguments about Amazon and tax in the UK but I also know that – like many – I complete a tax return every year and claim whatever I can to avoid paying more tax. I can’t blame Amazon for doing similar but would welcome a UK government that stops pointing fingers and start closing loopholes.
As an experience I have found KDP pretty good. The online tools for things like proof-reading and covers well produced and easy to use. The cover creator is a wee bit simple but I produce my own cover images and so it was handy to use a tool that highlighted where things like the barcode or bleed area (e.g. print margins) go.
To publish to non-Amazon ebook platforms (iTunes etc.) I use Smashwords. This enables me to publish to a variety of commonly used platforms from one place. Smashwords allows you to manage kindle publishing as well, but as I already use KDP for paperbacks I stuck with KDP for that bit.
Of course, I also make all my work available to download from this very site in a variety of formats so I get a lot of downloads that way (around 10 – 15,000 a year at last count).
Dealing with the IRS
The major (and as far as I can see the most cost-effective) players are based in the USA. This is fine for US citizens as the platform handles all the tax requirements on your royalties. For those of us outside the US it’s a problem though as the IRS (US Tax office) takes 30% of your royalties before you see a penny. The UK has a tax arrangement with the USA so we should be charged at all but in order to claim this you a UK tax identifier (e.g. your National Insurance number)
need a US tax number called an EIN. They tell you that you need an ITIN which takes an age and a half to acquire but in reality you can phone them and get an EIN instead almost immediately. All perfectly legal and above board and no tax to pay in the US. You’ll have tax to pay at home but I’ll leave that for you to sort out.
I used the guide found here (archive page – the original has gone now) which is really good.
Publishers of any printed works published in the UK must by law send a free copy to the British Library within one month of the publication date. There are five other libraries which are entitled to a free copy within a year but only upon request. You are however legally obliged to send one to the British Library. To be honest I tend to send the six copies and be done with it as , once they find out about your book, they ask anyway.
One of the nice things about using a print on demand service like KDP is that you can order your own books at a much cheaper price. This is because you are not being charged your own royalty. The relevant information for where to send the book can be found here. Copies for the other libraries will be sent to the legal deposit agency. Details of that can be found on the same page as the British Library.