Saturday, July 31, 2010

Writing in an open source world

The story of how Icarus Falling is being written and published is almost as interesting as the book itself - that is if you are nerdy kind of writing geek. The book was originally written in MS Word 97. Over the last several years, our computers have been upgraded a few times and my wife migrated permanently to Linux, Ubuntu specifically.

Most self-publishing books describe the process of publishing by utilizing various commercial software packages - MS Office and Adobe InDesign. You may also need Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. And don't forget Adobe Acrobat Pro for PDF creation. These are the packages that print house and publishing firms work with and they want your manuscript done exactly the same way.

BUT, those software packages are very expensive and big, far too much for most of what we needed. And thus we entered the world of open source software. Many software packages have matured and are competitive with their proprietary counterparts. Icarus Falling was prepared almost entirely with open source software.

Open Office
The manuscript had to migrate to a more up-to-date word processor and Open Office was it. When we tried to copy and paste or import from Word 97, funny things happened during the transition. We also keep the books with the spreadsheet Calc.

This package is similar to Adobe InDesign, QuarkXpress or PageMaker (of yesteryear). This program let us create the layout and look of the interior pages and the cover. We used the stable release which still has some bugs, but worked pretty well. The development releases look pretty spiffy and my wife can't wait for them to be released as stable.

One word of warning about Scribus. It will choke on large files, some kind of memory problem. IOW, we couldn't lay out the whole book in one file. We had to break up each chapter into it's own file. Each chapter was then exported as a PDF. Printers require that your book exist as one large PDF. For that you will need a different utility.

This is the open source version of Photoshop. It does nearly everything that Photoshop does except for one important thing. Gimp doesn't have the ability to save your image with a CMYK color profile (I think the developers are working on it). Printers require CMYK in order to print color images. We managed a workaround for one printer. We did the image editing and tweaking in Gimp then pulled the image into Scribus, which was later exported as a PDF. This seemed to work pretty well. The second printer we tried didn't like it. Another possible work around is to custom make the colors in Scribus to compensate, but we still need to play around with this.

We used Inkscape to design and draw the logo of our publishing company and imprint, Parking Orbit Publishing.

PDF Shuffler
This is a smart, little utility that allowed us to pull all of our separate PDF's into one PDF file. If we go back and edit one chapter, we can open this up and replace just the pages we need.

We still have the book trailer to produce and the e-book. Again e-book tutorials show how to prepare your book using proprietary sources. We are working through the process now with open source and perhaps we will create a tutorial when we're done. In any event Amazon makes the process look very simple and it isn't really. At least if you want something that looks good and is easy to read.

And all of this was done on an Ubuntu desktop.


  1. Very cool post. Glad you found out about FOSS software.

    You will be glad to hear that new version of GIMP and Scribus will have all the features you need ;)

  2. This is great to hear! I found your site via a link from an open source blog (I'm an Ubuntu user too) and will certainly be buying the book when it comes out.

  3. I think with GEGL (no idea what it stands for), there's some early-work on CMYK in GIMP happening now.

    For Scribus, a common thing to do is to put pieces into separate files and then have it import them. Then you have a single Scribus file that references a handful of text files that have your actual text.

    PDF Shuffler is *great*. Yay for FOSS :)

  4. You may want to look at using Latex for layout as well. It allows you to focus on structure, it handles the layout for you. This means you can change the layout almost instantly by by changing one setting. It does have a bit of learning curve so I recommend using a Frontend. I personally like Kile it should be Ubuntu's repo.

  5. You should really consider using typesetting tools such as latex with the templates your interested in. Basically a one stop shop for everything other than creating images

  6. I also found txt2tags a pretty interesting concept as a way to create latex.

    I've never actually used it, but it seems like it would be a lot more simple and convenient than writing latex directly. And as an added bonus you might be able to export to something more e-book tool friendly (e.g. xhtml).

  7. This is great, but are you aware that your book can't be obtained from the link on the right sidebar? Lulu tells me, "We're sorry, the item you requested is not available."