About a month ago I came across the software Storyist for the first time. I was taken by Storyist’s idiosyncratic interface and knew right away that it had to be the work of a single individual. You don’t often get quirky hybrid software from a committee.
The man behind Storyist is Steve Shepard, a high-tech entrepreneur and writer who created it to solve his own dissatisfaction with the software tools for writers that were available.
It’s really an immersive environment, and if you find the Storyist interface to your liking, it will probably become addictive, because no other program I know provides this type of interaction with your writing project.
The complete Storyist set of modules or features includes:
- Word processor
- Page layout
- Manuscript and Screenplay formatting
- Style sheets, style editor, project wide searching, links, etc.
Storyist isn’t only a word processor, it has the ability to track your plot, your characters, even the settings in your book or screenplay. Storyist handles screenplay formatting and straight narrative formatting, producing what it calls “submission-ready” files for output.
However, none of that, even though it’s interesting, is what made me stop and take a second look.
Storyist: ePub Conversion for the Masses?
What really attracted me to Storyist was the announcement a few weeks ago that they had added support for ePub conversion right inside the program. As ePub becomes more prevalent, I think we’ll see more and more consumer level tools with the ability to “Save as” or export files direct to ePub without the need for a separate program, or for an outside contractor.
ePub conversions are notoriously uneven. The format also has critical limitations in its ability to deal with graphics, tables, charts and other non-text elements.
But after watching Shepherd’s video demo of how to create an ePub, I just had to try it. It’s a terrific demo and I really sat up and paid attention when I saw how easy it was.
I’m not going to repeat the steps that Steve Sheperd outlines in the video, I don’t think I could improve on it. But in brief, here’s what I did, and what you can do too.
You’ll have to be the judge of whether it makes sense for you to try to do your own ePub conversions. Depending on how complex your books are, and how good you are at techie stuff, learning how to do this properly is going to take time and energy. Should you work on your writing or marketing instead? Maybe. Having said that, the promise of an ePub export that’s as easy as creating a PDF is pretty enticing. That’s the origin of this story.
Step by Step to the iBookstore (sort of)
I grabbed the first part of a manuscript I’m editing for publication. It’s a lecture from the 1980s and it seemed perfect for ePub because it’s got virtually no formatting, just paragraphs. I might have spruced it up a bit, but I was more interested in whether this super easy ePub conversion could really be as simple as it looked on the demo.
I wanted a Report Cover look to go with the text, since the document was only about 10,000 words, and I wanted to see how the iBooks software would render this style of cover instead of a book cover. I created one in Photoshop and saved it as a JPG file. Here’s what happened next:
- I dropped the text file into Storyist and applied some basic formatting with the Styles dialog. It was easy to edit these styles for a better appearance. Every paragraph has to be styled for best results, so the easiest way is to assign everything the “Body Text” format, then just change the headings as needed.
- Then I dropped the cover file into Storyist.
- After choosing “File/Export” from the menu, I was presented with a series of dialogs which are explained briefly in the demo video and more fully in the Storyist documentation, but there was nothing difficult. You choose your files, make sure they’re in the right order, complete publication information, and add metadata to your file.
I was struck with the complete list of choices you have for assigning metadata. (Checking the documentation, it turns out the metadata fields correspond to the fields specified by the Dublin Core Metadata initiative. Controlling this metadata is critical to self-publishers in the digital space, and bears more discussion than I have room for here.)
- Storyist wrote the book files in ePub format to my drive.
- I dropped the ePub file into iTunes and plugged in my iPad. iTunes, recognizing the ePub format as that used by iBookstore, automatically loaded my brand new eBook into the iBooks Library, ready for reading, as you can see in the screenshot at the top of this article.
Not including the time it took me to work out the Storyist interface, stumble over technical obstacles I simply didn’t understand, email back and forth with Steve Shepard to get help for my newbie questions, create the cover file in Photoshop, this whole process was incredibly fast, well under an hour.
Of course, with all those things, I’ve been working on this about three weeks.
Self-Publishing In the Age of Instant Gratification
Granted, in my process my “book” only ended up in my iBooks library. But this is the file format you need to submit your book to the iBookstore, or to an aggregator for listing on your behalf. It’s the same file type used by Sony Reader, B&N Nook, and other eBook readers. I opened the file without a problem in Calibre as well.
What I was struck by at the end of this experiment was the speed with which you can put a book together and publish it in eBook form. I could sit at my Mac right now and start typing, and when I finished I could have the resulting book, along with a graphic cover, online and potentially available within an hour.
I was amazed at the speed, flexibility and ability to radically reduce the financial risk of publishing you gain from using digital printing and print on demand distribution. But this was a different order of magnitude. This was the closest I had come to feeling like I was Being the Media, publishing a product—not a blog post or a story—so directly and immediately.
I’d like to say what the implications of this are, but I’m curious about you. What do you think of this ability to quickly and easily “publish” right from your desktop? Will it affect you?
Ed. note: Cheryl Anne Gardner points out in the comments that I failed to mention whether the ePub files that I created in Storyist were epubcheck compliant. I created two ePub files when I was preparing this article, and ran them both through the epubcheck software. One passed inspection and one did not. Walt Shiel tells me that this error refers to duplicate entries in one of the ePub files. I have no idea how Storyist would handle more complex formatting, or what percentage of files it produces are epubcheck compliant. To be accepted into the iBookstore, your files will have to pass this same compliance test. I would encourage anyone who wants to make use of this tool for ePub formatting to download the free sample and try it and, if you have problems see whether they can be resolved by Storyist support.
Ed. note number 2: I received a note from Steve Shepard about what likely caused the error on my ePub file that wouldn’t verify. It was a simple fix and turned out to be something I simply forgot when making the file. After correcting it—putting the cover in the proper order in the file list—the resulting ePub passed epubcheck 1.0.5 with no errors. Your mileage may vary.