Ten rules for evaluating book creation software. 1: Does the tool support effortless writing?

I tell people how they should fix their information products. When I do, I follow some obvious rules, and them some less obvious one. These tips are to enable customers (readers, clients, whatever) to more easily use one’s information product (book, web site, whatever). For example, this farm (where we’re celebrating a family member’s birthday; it’s his big 3.0.!) uses a clunky, slow and inaccessible Flash animation as a banner. That’s one of the biggest no-nos among web developers! But they’re not paying me to tell them that.

How do you decide which of these is the most readable? Go look up “kerning”. 

The tips and tricks that I’ve taught software developers over the years are as just as relevant to people who create publications such as print or digital books. Today, I’m writing specifically for writers.

Writing is complicated, and good writing is hard. When I write, I use dictionaries, thesauruses, search engines and all kinds of tools unrelated to me physically typing or scribbling. Assuming that tools such as these are part of the process of writing, then software should make it natural and effortless to use those tools, too.

Also, we need different tools — mental, physical or digital — for different kinds of writing. Educational consultant Eveline M. Bailey  uses this chart to demonstrate levels of critical writing.  There’s software available for all of this, but is any of it good? We’ll see. 

So how do I decide what software to recommend to writers? My desire to work naturally and effortlessly when writing, is the basis of my list of rules for writing software. My list of ten heuristics will help me evaluate the usability of the software you can use to make books.

So, here’s the first heuristic:

  1. Does the tool support effortless writing*?

More to follow once I actually try out PubCoder. The Windows installer is 168 MB, so we’ll see how this goes on my mobile connection.


Here I go.

* I chose the term effortless instead of the word natural because that leaves space for innovation in writing, such as speech-to-text technology, which might enable me to write while I’m moving around. Dictation-to-text, really. Such novel, unnatural ways of writing are welcome, but their utility shouldn’t make writing an effort.


Making interactive or fixed-layout ebooks? Try PubCoder.

It’s not easy to make ebooks that look and feel exactly like print books. But it is possible if you try tools like PubCoder and know a little about ebook production.

A fixed-layout ebook (right) looks and works like its print counterpart (left)


Unlike other tools (e.g. PressBooks, InDesign) PubCoder focuses on making it easier to create fixed-layout, interactive ebooks. Your book can be an iBook, an Android ebook, a Kindle fixed-layout ebook, or even an HTML5 web app.

screenshot 1

Not Here, by Sophie Natta (illustrator) and Fabrizio Bonaga (animator). Touch the title page to read.

Made with PubCoder, Not Here (Sophie Natta and Fabrizio Bonaga) is “a reading experience that pushes the boundaries between technology, design and visual poetry”

Not Here is interactive in that:

[it] takes full advantage of the multitouch capabilities of the iPad. Listen, touch, pinch, swipe and turn pages…

screenshot 3

Swipe the window to interact with the story.

Not Here is on iBooks and Google Play. If you know how to use ut here’s the .epub file. Remember that iOS-specific functions won’t necessarily work on your non-iOS platform.

I want to write about I found inside the .epub file if there’s enough interest. Expect plenty of screenshots and lots of complaints about platform-specific annoyances.

After a free 30-day trial, PubCoder comes at a price. It’ll cost you99€ – €599 a year (for the enterprise version), so be sure you understand how interactive/fixed-layout EPUB works before licensing the software. Or contact me to learn how!

If you already use InDesign PubCoder can import layouts and assets from Adobe InDesign CC 2015 (11.3) or later, and you’ll need an active Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.

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