While I’ve already started writing “VS Code Mac”, I kind of look at this time of year as the prep time for that new shiny year to come. So here’s my thinking on how to write a book-length project as of now. Please let me know if you’ve got any better alternatives!

Building and Maintaining the Book Outline

Hands down choice: Workflowy. A non-fiction book needs an outline. Without an outline it’s way too easy to miss entire topics that you should have included and way too hard to maintain continuity as you write. You need that “forest view” so you are comfortable tackling each tree.

Also, expect to rewrite, rearrange and hack apart and reassemble that outline as your perspective on what you’re writing evolves.

That’s why Workflowy is my #1 outliner choice. You can reorganize your outline as fast as you can decide. It’s online so it’s desktop, tablet or mobile (although the mobile app is horrible, but just got an email that is going to be changing). You can theme it in a number of ways.¬† (it’s also my #1 ToDo App as well, but that’s another post.)

What to write in

Markdown. Plainly put, I want a format independent of whatever tool I’m writing in because it’s a sure bet that there will be a better tool out sooner or later. Having written three books in Microsoft Word because of publisher’s tooling, I consider using Word when it’s open sourced or Hell freezes over, whichever comes first.

Unfortunately, there’s markdown, CommonMark, MultiMarkdown, GFM, Pandoc: repeating the same problems writers faced years ago with Word, Word Perfect, etc. etc. For now, I’ll stick with GFM since I use it every day in Github Issues and Pull Requests anyway.

As for what application, app, or online environment to write in, the four contenders were Scrivener, Ulysses, Bear and LightPaper.

  • Scrivener – (the new 3.0 version). I really wanted to embrace the new version, but after drowning in a bottomless pit of details and documentation (the new manual is 842 pages long!) I gave up. If someone writes a “how to write a tech book in¬†Scrivener in markdown” of say 60 pages, I’d pay $30 for it. If they take the time and effort to boil that book down to a clean and lean 40 pages, I’d pay $40 for it.
  • Ulysses – it does a lot, it includes file organization, supports themes, etc. But I don’t want my content stuck inside their app or treated as second-class “imported” content. And I find the hybrid markdown/rich text approach is distracting. I’ll take a preview pane anytime.
  • Bear. I really wanted to use Bear. It’s a cool-looking, well-thought-out app through-and-through. But again, notes are stored within it, and not as separate files. This has one big disadvantage: it’s fine if you want to organize short notes/links though tags, but you lose the ability to organize notes into a hierarchy.
  • LightPaper. True files? Check. Writing and Preview Panes? Yep. Nice themes and the ability to build theme’s for either pane – yes, a very nice feature. For now, I’m happily working in LightPaper. But, unfortunately, the app’s maker seems to have dropped off the gird about a year ago. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad sign – the same thing happened to the creators of Textmate and Sublime Text – and they came back after a spell.

You need Pictures with that text

While it seems every single marketing email and millennial startup just has to have at least three gifs per page to keep their readers entertained, I do think there’s a place in “VS Code Mac” for gifs that demonstrate more than still images. Part of this is that Micosoft’s VS Code docs are loaded with gifs and some of them actually add value.

Doing movies – even if they last six seconds can easily turn into a huge time sink – just ask any founder who tried to produce their own product explainer. To strike the right balance between features and work throughput, I’m liking GIF Brewery or perhaps GIPHY Capture for making the gif and ImageOptin for shrinking those files down. in size.

Outputting to PDF, EPUB and MOBI

Once I write “VS Code Mac”, do a final edit, get it edited by a real editor, get a cover designed, then I need to output the manuscript for general use (PDF), for Amazon Kindle books (MOBI) or Kindle devises and iBooks and various other reader devices (EPUB).

I haven’t decided yet, but I’m favoring Leanpub.com over Scrivener here. While Scrivener supposedly does a good job (and a better job in the new 3.0 version), I cringe at the thought of just how much messing around I’m going to have to do to get what I want done. Leanpub’s value prop is one click outputting – I like that. I also like they’ve built up a reputation as a good place to find up to date/current developer topics and they’re very responsive. And their recent pivot to charging people for outputting $100 a book means they have a real revenue base finally.

One “output” format I do want to include is to the SaaS I’m presently building. I’ve long believed that information without action is at best entertainment, not “real” information. I’ve been waiting for some [other] 1 person self employed developer to take up the challenge, but since it hasn’t happened yet, I’m in the process of building a SaaS that delivers markdown content coupled with actions and reviews. Stay tuned – And if you have suggestions for better alternatives than the ones I’m using above, please comment!