Scrivener one-click ebook for busy writers

image of the first two pages of Pride's Children, Book 1, Chapter 1



The proof is in the pudding.

I have:

  • Chapter headings
  • Chapter titles
  • Epigraphs
  • Epigraph attributions
  • Scene descriptor (the point of view character)
  • Date/time/place stamp
  • Left justified first paragraphs
  • The first few words in capitals

Shown below, I also have:

  • the ability to set off text inserts WITHIN scenes (an email message, a scene from a movie, a different format to mark that the text is from an audience WATCHING the scene as a background).
PRIDE'S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 4

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 4

This page shows a pov change within the chapter to a different character, the continuing date/time/place setting to orient the reader (previous scene was in California), and the audience reaction to the TV interview going on (indicated by a set-off italicized text line).

This ‘look’ for my chapters and scenes now happens automatically – which was my goal before editing.

This capability, which takes a bit of learning how to set it up (not hard) in Scrivener, gives me the one-click functionality I was looking for before heading into the final editing round. I can make a change to my source files, click Compile, and in about ten seconds have a completely ready ebook (.epub and .mobi) with NO hand-coding at all.

If I want to have that pesky right indent (so my block quotes are set off nicely on BOTH sides, I will have to go the one extra step I talked about, making a MINOR one or two line change to the CSS, and putting the .epub back together, then using KINDLEGEN or the Kindle Previewer to generate a .mobi from the .epub (really, really simple), I can take the extra time.

What does it take to set up?

The main benefit is that, while I have a LOT of special formatting in Pride’s Children, the changes to the source text were fairly minimal. Here is what my Scrivener Binder looks like:



The ONLY thing I ended up having to change in my original Binder was that each scene is now a folder with the text as a text file in the folder. This allows the Scene FOLDER to have the name of the pov character (which is what appears on the transitions to the next scene), and, within the folder, the date/time/place line.

It still looks pretty normal for a Binder for a novel.

How complicated is this to set up?

Most of all DO NO HARM was my motto. I didn’t want to do ANYTHING which might interfere with the ability of an ereader to flow text in the size and font chosen by the READER.

I am NOT using anything near Scrivener’s full available complexity. Scrivener includes group files (with separate formatting options) in the list of objects in the binder with their own levels, and which can each have separate formatting applied to the Title and Text.

I am including NO images or image placeholders in my ebooks – I am a bit leery of ebooks meant to be viewed easily on what is now hundreds of ‘devices’ from iPhone screens to an app on your desktop. I’m sure it can be done, but I don’t want, for the sake of a cute Chapter heading GIF, to have to evaluate the .epub on all kinds of devices. Not at this point.

Maybe later, if I get better at this.

And certainly for the POD from the accompanying, easy to set up pdf Compile in Scrivener – because with a pdf you can see exactly what you are sending to the printer.

What Scrivener Compile settings do you need to learn about?

  • The settings on the Contents tab
  • Separators between files and folders
  • The settings on the Formatting tab

For the basics, that’s all I used.

What changes were necessary to the source files?

Originally, I had each folder labeled something like ‘Chapter 1’ for the chapter folders, and ‘Scene 1.4’ for the scene text files.

Now I use them a bit differently, and I did all this by experimenting with the ability to take each container (folder, file, or file group) and choose different formatting for its title and its contents (text). The CHAPTER folder now has the TITLE of the chapter as its title, and the SCENE folder now has the NAME of the POV character as its TITLE.

The basic easy trick for headers

So, every time you need a different kind of formatting for a line or lines, make sure that it is the only kind of text in its container.

For each item, you choose to include its title and/or its text – in the Contents tab. So you can choose only the title if all you need is title formatting.

The easy trick for complicated formatting WITHIN the text

Here, if you want to do what I do, and include bits of song lyrics (with different formatting), for example, you need to learn TWO Scrivener features:

  • Formatting menu/Formatting/Preserve formatting
  • Formatting menu/Text/Tabs and indents…

I highly recommend reading the manual until you know exactly how these features interact with each other and with the formatting coming from the Formatting tab.

The trick is that you can set up formatting for the special pieces WITHIN your source file, and pass it through to the final ebook by EXCLUDING it from the normal formatting for that level.

CAUTION: With ebooks, be careful not to try to control the font and fontsize within these pieces, unless you’re willing to make sure the ereaders won’t have a problem with text in a different font from the one selected by the reader. It can be done, obviously, because ereaders usually have at least one serif and on sans serif font withing their available fonts. But handling embedded fonts, and pieces NOT using the automatic font choices is WAY beyond the scope of this post – you’re in for some serious HTML and CSS and font embedding if you want to try to control appearances that closely. Like electric controls on cars, the more things you want to control with electricity, the more little electric motors and control systems you have to potentially go wrong.

 An example of formatting within the scene

See the Scene 4 image above. As I mentioned before, I wanted to be able to indicate that the audience watching the TV interview was reacting to what was being said, but the host and guest would not necessarily react or converse with that audience.

I chose to select the audience reaction bit, italicize it, and prevent the scene formatting from being applied to it. Once I had the formatting the way I wanted it (an extra .25 left indent, italics), I created a Preset so I could do it more easily to the rest of the pieces with the same formatting.

This is how it looks withing my source text:

Scene 4 embedded text with Preserve formatting applied.

Scene 4 embedded text with Preserve formatting applied.

The blue box with the dashed outline shows you exactly which text pieces has Preserve formatting applied, as you normally don’t want to do ANY formatting withing the source text – because this inhibits the main Scrivener ability – to let the writer get the text out anywhichway – and then format it to look pretty in the Compile step.

Note that I also have Invisibles turned on, so you can see where the spaces and returns are – a handy feature.

 Happy formatting

I’m stopping here because the only people interested are those who can see the advantages of having such easy access to formatting your own ebook, and probably already have Scrivener, and these people will want to do their own version.

This was meant to be a taste for us DIY types – it isn’t hard to do what I did, it looks good (and can be made fancier by a LOT if you like), and there was even more information about sources in the previous post. A nod to Ed Ditto, his website, and book again, because it made me aware that it COULD be fast and easy, so I dug into the controls.

And my hat’s off to Scrivener – the whole ability to create an ebook after I set it up with ONE CLICK is built into their amazing program.



19 thoughts on “Scrivener one-click ebook for busy writers

  1. Pingback: More Power to the Do-It-Yourselfers | QA Productions

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I hope the link helps people who use Scrivener – it takes a wee bit of tweaking the source file (mostly, in my case, putting the two lines, character and date/time/place into a separate file), and which can be done with templates in Scrivener, and then from then on creating the next version is, for me, a single click.

      I may have exaggerated the ease: it took me a while to figure out the details I needed in the source, but that’s easily shared if someone likes the ‘look’ of mine (sample page in post), and/or would like to tweak from there.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      IF you get it (fairly inexpensive IIRC), DON’T try to learn it all at once. There is a LOT under the hood.

      Just use its more obvious features, and then, when you need something, look through the manual – and you’ll find it’s there.

      Gwen Hernandez has a For Dummies book and two courses out on it – I’ve done all three, and it’s worth it – but you can get started with much less.

      There is a lot of online guidance in getting started. The manual is exhaustive (again, way too much stuff for beginners).


      1. Alice Audrey

        Since you’re my handy expert, I’ll ask – can I take a book that is already totally done and all in one text file and hope to have an easy time using Scrivener to go to any and all ebook formats?


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Yes. You can put a separator between each two things you want in separate files (like chapters or scenes), hand the whole thing to Scrivener, and tell it to break it up for you, and it is done. I would put the separator all by itself on a line.

          The command is Import and Split, on the File menu. First choose what kind of project it will be (novel, for example), and then give it the file name and the information about the separator. I haven’t done it, but I can’t imagine it would be hard – you already do its work when you tell it which separator you’ve inserted.


        2. Alice Audrey

          So in order to use Scrivener I first have to separate the file, then have it put it all back together? If it’s just adding a page break it should be fine, but seems silly.


        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          You have to tell it where to split the file – if you want it split (which is necessary for ebooks to have chapters, for ex.).

          It doesn’t know where to split unless you tell it.

          Separator could be the word Chapter – if you don’t use that word anywhere else.

          I’m not sure it knows how to split if your separator isn’t all by itself on a line, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it can – the separator just has to be unique.


  2. donnainthesouth

    Now, Alicia, just found out this other guy who’s just started his epic novel has just found Scrivener as well and is loving it too – did you tell me there was a Windows version now?


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Yup. I understand it is almost as good as the Mac version. There are a few things they couldn’t duplicate because they’re built into the Macs, and not available in Windows. should give you all the details.


  3. Circe

    I am so impressed! But it makes my head spin! It is that time of the afternoon, and I just had an ACL reconstruction July 1, so while I am disappointed that I cannot read & comrehend all at this moment, I will try again later. Congratulations! Is your book now finished and available for purchase? I have not been following your posts, in fact, I have not been thinking very well, since a May 1 trip to Burlington ended in a May 4 accident. But I do plan to read another novel or two before returning to my own work. Just finished Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The words spoken by an elder continue to resonate:
    “For whom is it well, for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well.” Indeed. But that is no reason to quit!


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Hi, Circe – long time!

      Pride’s Children is ALMOST available for sale – as soon as I finish the final edit, out it goes.

      If you’re on the mailing list, you’ll find out. If you’d prefer, it’s available here on the blog for free (for now) – There won’t be major changes.

      Sorry to hear about the ACL and the accident. Ouch.



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