A Simple Book in Scrivener

Let’s say we just want to create a simple book, nothing fancy, with Scrivener. We have three chapters named In The Beginning, The Middle, and It End’th.

In the first chapter, we have two scenes, one to get the action going, and a second in which all Hell breaks loose. (It writerly terms, that second scene is called the Inciting Event, but we’re not doing story structure today.) The second chapter has one scene, and the last chapter has a climax (scene) followed by a denouement (scene).

Note: The steps and screenshots that follow are for Scrivener 3.2.2 on a MacBook running MacOS Big Sur 11.2. If you have a different version or platform, some adjustments may be needed.

In Scrivener, the binder might look like this. (By keeping the scenes separate from each other and tucked under the chapters, we have more flexibility should we, for example, decide to move the scenes around.)

For brevity, here’s the outline view of this project.

Notice the two right-hand columns, Section Type and Words.

The Words column specifies the number of words in each item’s “text” area. Notice that the three chapter folders contain 28, 17, and 13 words, respectively. Those are the quotations we want to appear at the beginning of each chapter. They are typed into the text area of the chapter entries in the Binder and are styled (formatted) to Block Quotation for the actual quote, and Attribution for who said or wrote it.

The Section Type column indicates what Scrivener thinks this thing is. Think of the Section Type as a structural element. The beginning of each chapter is set to Chapter Hea[ding] above, and the individual scenes have a Section Type of Scene. These mappings can be set by Scrivener according to the document’s structure as we did in this example, or you can set them by hand.

Here’s the Scrivenings view so you can see the contents (in the editor) of the first chapter with its two scenes, and the beginning of the second chapter.

The quotation from Dr. Oppenheimer is in the text-portion of the “In the Beginning” chapter folder. The words beginning with “Class aptent taciti” are in the “An Innocent Beginning” scene. And, in the Scrivenings view above, the dashed line marks the division before the second “The World Changes” scene. (The dashed line is what’s used in the editor. In the compiled output, however, it might be a different “separator.”)

The second quotation is from Woody Allen and is the text of “The Middle” chapter folder.

Now, let’s say we want to print our book at one of the print-for-hire services. For that, we’ll need a “paperback” output in PDF format.

We click Compile in Scrivener, uncheck the box for Add front matter in the bottom-right corner (simply because we haven’t written it yet), select the Paperback (6″ x 9″) format (bottom-left) and, for the test, the Print setting at the top-center. We leave everything else at its default value.

Here’s page one of the hardcopy.

It tells us this is chapter “1” and is followed by the text of the two scenes.

Note the double-space in the middle of the page: that’s the default separator between the scenes in the paperback format. Also notice that the first paragraph of each scene is not indented. Again, these are from the default style for 6×9″ paperbacks.

But neither the title nor the quotation in the folder were printed! For the paperback Compile Format we chose, they are turned off.

To make them to appear, we need to change a tiny little bit of the Compile Format for paperbacks. But doing so would change all paperbacks we create from then on so, rather than changing the “default” format for paperbacks, we’ll copy it and then make our own changes. In essence, we will then have our own, personalized, format for paperbacks.

This action of copying one Compile Format to act as a starter for a new one is so common that Scrivener makes it extremely easy.

Click Compile to see the list and then double-click the Paperback 6×9 Compile Format. Scrivener will tell us that it’s going to create a copy of this Compile Format, and, in the next screen, it’ll ask us to give it a name. Something like My Paperback (6″ x 9″) might be one suggestion.

FYI: I used DeleteMe2 to remind myself it was created for this web post, and I could safely throw it away later. I use similar names for all my experiments to keep from cluttering up non-experimental works that needs to be saved forever.

Once the new Compile Format is created, double-click it, locate the Chapter Heading line in the right-hand box and checkmark title and text. You’ll see the result below. Check-marking these two boxes tells Scrivener to include the title and text from the chapter folders in the output. (If you clicked Save before adding the check-marks, simply double-click your newly-named compile format to see this screen again.)

What you are looking at is one part of a Compile Format description. It describes which parts of each of your Binder entries will appear (if checkmarked) in the output and, for each, what font, point size, and other formatting attributes should be used.

The other part of a Compile Format is not seen here. It maps the parts of your text to the Section Layouts described below such as Chapter Heading and Section Text. You’ll see that area just after clicking Compile if you then click the Assign Section Layouts button (near the bottom-center). But don’t go there yet.

Notice that only two lines in this area of the Compile Format are in bold-face: Chapter Heading and Section Text. That means that only those two Section Layouts are being used. The first is applied to the chapter items (in the Binder) and the second is applied to the scenes.

If we save this and then compile, page one will now have our chapter quotation and attribution.

Here’s a markup of the correspondence of the Binder to the compiled output.

Here are three important terms you’ll encounter in Scrivener when compiling a book in a specific format.

  • Compile Format is the big category that says, for example, what a 6×9″ standard paperback book looks like. It sets the page size, margins, fonts to be used for titles and text, paragraph indentations, separators between sections, where page breaks should occur, and so on. A different Compile Format will specify how a manuscript should appear: double-spaced, one-inch margins, Courier 10 point font, etc. And another Compile Format would describe a hard cover book for a Harry Potter novel. There would probably be a different Compile Format for the latest thriller from John Sandford. Compile Formats contain many Section Layouts, and they are where the real work takes place.
  • A Section Layout specifies how one particular part of a book should appear. There will be a Section Layout for chapter beginnings and a different Section Layout for the text of a chapter such as we saw in this example. You’ll sometimes also find Section Layout names for Scrivener-unique parts such as Metadata, Synopsis, and Notes. These Section Layouts were created by someone at Literature & Latte, the company that makes Scrivener, and are used in the Compile Formats provided by them if you turn on printing of those parts of your Scrivener work. Section Layouts also specify separators, for example the blank line used to separate scenes, page size and font information, how footnotes and comments should be handled, and also the special “fiddly bits” of PDF versus RTF or HTML or EBooks should be done.
  • A Section Type, the third and final part of this trio of special terms, is tagged to each part of your book. You can apply these by hand to each item in the manuscript (or Draft) portion of your Binder, or you can let Scrivener make the Section Type assignments based on your Binder’s structure. In this example, I let Scrivener do it. Scrivener assigned the chapters to Chapter Heading, and the individual scenes were mapped to Section Text by Scrivener.

When a book is compiled, we choose a Compile Format (6×9 paperback, manuscript, etc.) in addition to the type of output file (docx, PDF, plain text, etc.). The compilation process then takes each part of our book and, according to each item’s Section Type, looks up its Section Layout (in the Compile Format) and includes or excludes it parts (title, text, synopsis, notes, etc.) and formats the output accordingly.

This process of mapping your Section Type to a Section Layout is specified in the Compile Format you select.

Think of the Compile Format and its Section Layout descriptions as the “look and feel” for the finished book. Each part of your text in Scrivener has a Section Type. During the compile, each part of your text is mapped to a layout according to the dictates of the Compile Format.

This a big step up from Microsoft Word’s WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) world. We’ve graduated from letter writing to the world of commercial publishing!

Scrivener’s Compile is a remarkably sophisticated book generator. It contains many dozen options and can format your text for many different purposes. While few, if any, users will master all of these publication features, a little bit of cautious experimentation will show you how to accomplish wonders.

If you submit your book to an agent or a publisher, they will want a “manuscript format” copy. Scrivener provides a couple of “compile formats” for that purpose. Whether or not you insert quotations in the chapter folder as I did or put them in an existing scene and format them to your wishes are completely up to you.

Some agents might want manuscripts in electronic rather than hardcopy format. Microsoft Word (.docx) is a common file format for this and Scrivener provides that option in the Compile for choice. Other agents might want a PDF. That’s a different Compile for selection but uses the same Compile Format.

Or, if you are going to self-publish, you might generate the Paperback 6×9 format output and find a printing company to make the paper books. And, depending on the file format they want, you can Compile for a .docx or PDF or just about anything else they might want.

Do this: Take three books at random off your reading shelf and look at the first page of the first chapter in each.

Odds are each book will look different. Some will have numbered chapters. Some will include chapter names. Others will have quotes. The title fonts and sizes will be different as may be the text as well. In Scrivener terms, each of those books would have its own Compile Format.

Publishers go to great lengths to make each book look different. If that publisher prints a hardcopy and then, a year later, decides to add a paperback edition, (in Scrivener) the paperback would be yet another Compile Format.

If you think of a Compile Format as what a fully-finished book looks like, that’s a very good approximation. Paperbacks look different than hard copies. Web pages and e-books are also different, and yet all four could have the same text content. In Scrivener, that’d be one project compiled in four different ways, by four different Compile Formats.

(In Microsoft Word, you’d have to manually re-format for each of the outputs. That’d take hours and probably need several passes to get everything right. And if you then go back and change one word—remember: there is no last typo!—you’d then have to go and make the same change in every re-formatted copy. But once you have a Compile Format defined in Scrivener, you simply apply it over and over. Fix the typo once and re-compile four times, once for each output format. Easy-peasy!)

Scrivener gives you the ability to generate a book from your text in many formats and styles, from submissions to agents, to hardcovers, paperbacks, e-books, and web pages. In doing so, it also provides a portal to the enormously complex world of book publishing.

Take your time as you begin to explore all that you can do in this incredibly flexible part of Scrivener!

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