My Toolchain Using Bookmaker

Ben Wilson, author, discusses how he writes, edits and publishes a novel.

Category: technology

label_outline tag Rubytag Markdowntag LaTeXtag Toolchain

Now that I’m drafing my fourth novel, I wanted to share a bit about my toolchain. That is, the process by which I document the novel and publish it.

In software, a toolchain comprises the tools used to create a product, typically where the output of one is the input of another. This is the Unix Way, of which I adhere but not as strict as perhaps I should. Like any tool geek, I’ve played with many different approaches. I’m finally starting to settle down on one.

My law school required one paper to graduate. I wrote five:

  • Non-Exclusive Transfer of Copyright
  • The Extent of FISA
  • Originalist Interpretation of Treason Law
  • Evolving Standards Doctrine (Capital Punishment)
  • Law & Economic Remedy to Reverse Trademark Infringement

I started using Microsoft® Word, but learned quickly that there was a lot of control lost in the process. When writing a properly formatted legal document, control is paramount. Then I switched to Corel® WordPerfect®, which allowed me to work in the “Reveal Codes” mode, something I’m well aquiainted with. (I started photographic typsetting in 1986, and have been a developer in one fashion or another since 1982.) But, there were still facets of control lost.

Enter LaTeX/Vim/Make (LVM) Toolchain. I wrote my paper on Treason Law over the summer, which gave me time to explore other formatting options. I discovered LaTeX, which has a very rough learning curve. To a large degree, it strips away formatting and lets the author focus on the content. I liked that it allowed me to write in Vim and use text files and Make. I wrote a few macros to properly format my citations, and the high quality of the output, even for a draft, allowed my professors to focus on the content.

Fiction Writing & Scrivener. When I started writing Imbroglio in 2007, I used my LaTeX/Vim/Make toolchain. The approach proved a lot more cumbersome when writing a novel, even though I was able to produce a perfectly formatted PDF suitable for publication. My lack of sophistication in writing and some flaws in the toolchain led me to abandon writing for another couple of years. In 2009, I discovered Scrivener, and it helped me write Scintilla. It’s a fine product, but my experience is that it has some of the same formatting woes of MS Word.

Enter Bookmaker Toolchain (LSR). Being a tool geek, I had to find a better tool. That ultimately led to my development of Bookmaker, which derives from Kitabu but avoids using Prince (IMO, Kitabu violates the Prince license). Kitabu can use Markdown, which I would love to use. (This site uses Markdown.) Bookmaker is fundamentally similar to my earlier LVM toolchain. It’s LaTeX/Sublime Text/Rake (LSR), with the added benefit of producing ePub.

  • Sublime Text is a modern text editor, giving me capabilities that I did not have in Vim. (Note: I think most of it is possible in Vim, but I never got to be that sophisticated.) I created a handful of macros that allow me to markup the text quicker than hand-typing.
  • LaTeX allows for professional formatting of a PDF—suitable for publishing. With its macros, I can quickly index characters in draft mode so that I can more readily find references to them. I can add other data in the comments as well.
  • Bookmaker Most book settings are kept in a configuration file. It provides a Rakefile that provides easy commandline options for Rake that convert the LaTeX files to PDF or ePub, provide statistics, quickly show words in context, etc.

There you go, a brief intro to my toolchain.

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Photo Credit: Rusty chain (aspis7/Flickr under CC BY 2.0.)