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How can I write a book online?
November 26, 2005 12:20 PM   Subscribe

How can I write a book online?

I've got a couple of subjects in mind, and would like to write them or serialize them online. Has anyone else here done this already? Any tips, tricks or techniques? Most blog software I've seen isn't quite what I'm looking for.
posted by atchafalaya to Writing & Language (25 answers total)
 
What features do you have in mind? Strictly speaking, I can't see why several popular blog platforms wouldn't do the job. Can you say more about what you need and why those aren't doing it for you?
posted by scarabic at 12:44 PM on November 26, 2005


I haven't blogged much, so I've probably missed some good ones.

My problem with the blog software I've seen is it doesn't seem to lend itself to a chapter format. If you can point me to some better ones, great!
posted by atchafalaya at 12:59 PM on November 26, 2005


This guy's been doing it for years. His stuff's very entertaining, too.
posted by wsg at 12:59 PM on November 26, 2005


The problem with writing a book is it'll be 90% editing. I'd do the content in something like FrameMaker (or Word, or vim/LaTeX, or whatever), and then just convert it to HTML. Shouldn't be hard with any of them (with the exception of Word, maybe).
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:13 PM on November 26, 2005


My problem with the blog software I've seen is it doesn't seem to lend itself to a chapter format.

Still not sure what you mean.

Perhaps you should tell us what you're imagining. One chapter per (web) page? Oldest first, newest first? How would we move between chapters?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:37 PM on November 26, 2005


Are you looking to just publish finished work online, or are you wanting to actually edit the books/chapters online and let people see work-in-progress versions?

If blogs are too restrictive, a wiki would give you all the flexibility and editability you want. But it might be overkill for this purpose.

I guess the question is, why do you need special software for this? Couldn't you just put up some regular web pages and link them together however you want?
posted by chrismear at 2:09 PM on November 26, 2005


I'm looking for the work-in-progress, to edit online and to let people comment per entry.
posted by atchafalaya at 2:24 PM on November 26, 2005


I guess I don't understand -- all of that is standard blogging cms stuff. What is it about, for instance, WordPress that isn't meeting these requirements?
posted by Hildago at 2:47 PM on November 26, 2005


I've actually considered doing the same thing. I couldn't really find any sort of online software that fit my criteria, which was something that had a layout similar to the folders on my computer--essentially the project folder, then chapter subfolders, and then separate files for different revisions in each subfolder.

The best idea I could come up with was obnoxiously exploiting blogspot's freeness. Make one new blog per chapter, give it a URL such as MyBookTitleChapter1.blogspot.com, and then just have each blog be the different revisions for that chapter. Under the standard links section, you could just link to the separate chapters.
posted by dsword at 2:50 PM on November 26, 2005


ExpressionEngine. It'll let you structure your site however you like and it allows comments and what not. Don't think of as blog software, but rather data container web software
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:01 PM on November 26, 2005


I'm not sure I understand atchafalaya's needs, either, but I've also thought about writing a book in serial form and posting it online. What I dislike about most blogging tools is that they don't make it easy for someone to read the story from the beginning. Not that it's all THAT hard, but it's a little odd to have to go to the earliest archive, scroll to the bottom and then scroll UP to read newer posts. Is there a blogging tool that allows readers to choose latest-first vs. earliest-first?

Personally, though I'm fine with hand-coding and tools like Dreamweaver, I would want an online blogging tool, because I write from all over the place, using many different computers. So I wouldn't want anything I had to install. I like the fact that you can be set up with blogger in about five minutes (and the price is right). Is there a way to allow people to conveniently read a blogger blog in chronological order?

Also, it would be really helpful if the blog autogenerated a table of contents for you. Blogger sort of does this, but as posts get archived, the contents also gets archived -- so you only see the contents for the most-recent posts on the current page. Is there some kind of tool that can go through all your archives and auto-generate a complete table of contents?
posted by grumblebee at 3:31 PM on November 26, 2005


Thank you, grumblebee, for articulately capturing what I was trying to say. This might not bode well for my prospects in writing!
posted by atchafalaya at 3:56 PM on November 26, 2005


You don't need any special tool to make chapters available in descending order.

In Blogger as in every other blog engine, just use the space on the left or right side used to "link to" other blogs or sites. Instead, just give links to your previous chapters (or numbered edited version of each chpater).
posted by bru at 5:29 PM on November 26, 2005


argh.

chapter.
posted by bru at 5:30 PM on November 26, 2005


I built this with Expression Engine in a day. I made it so that I can add 10 page chunks and then they'd be numbered down the sides and people can jump to diff pages.

Will post rest of the book when I have time--got a contract job a week into writing it.
posted by Manhasset at 5:45 PM on November 26, 2005


Is there a blogging tool that allows readers to choose latest-first vs. earliest-first?

Movable Type lets you "select whether you want your posts displayed in ascending (oldest at top) or descending (newest at top) order." You could easily have a table of contents page that listed the chapters in chronological order, with the titles (or whatever) linked to the individual chapters. (And you could have two versions of the page if you wanted to let readers choose between latest-first and earliest-first.)

One way to handle previous versions of chapters would be to use categories, with each chapter its own category. Some pages could display only the most recent version of a chapter, and other pages could display previous versions.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:48 PM on November 26, 2005


Mediawiki is pretty easy to set up and would seem to suit you well.

Pages edits are versioned. Each page has a discussion area. If you do subheadings in a page it will automatically create an outline at the top. You'd have to maintain your own table of contents on the first page, but it would only take you about 10 seconds to add an entry for a new chapter. Up against the challenge of writing an entire book I'd think that would be a tiny issue.

I'm not sure how it does at RSS feeds, but that doesn't sound like a big requirement.
posted by Good Brain at 6:22 PM on November 26, 2005


What I dislike about most blogging tools is that they don't make it easy for someone to read the story from the beginning. Not that it's all THAT hard, but it's a little odd to have to go to the earliest archive, scroll to the bottom and then scroll UP to read newer posts. Is there a blogging tool that allows readers to choose latest-first vs. earliest-first?

The problem you have here is the question of who are you organizing your content for? New visitors, who would appreciate old-to-new, or repeating visitors, who would appreciate new-to-old? If you organize old-to-new, you're assuming that people who may read a couple of paragraphs and lose interest are more important than people who are showing a continuing interest in your story's development.

Personally, I'd compromise, using new-to-old, and in a side column, I'd place a very noticeable banner that reads something like "Reading this story for the first time? Here are the chapters in chronological order" with a link for each chapter in old-to-new order directly below.
posted by planetthoughtful at 8:58 PM on November 26, 2005


I built this with Expression Engine in a day. I made it so that I can add 10 page chunks and then they'd be numbered down the sides and people can jump to diff pages.

Not commenting on the quality of ExpressionEngine, as I don't know much about it, but why pay $150 for the non-commercial license when you can download and install WordPress for free? This is actually a serious question -- is there something about ExpressionEngine that stands out over free blogging tools?
posted by planetthoughtful at 9:01 PM on November 26, 2005


Because sometimes with free stuff, you're getting exactly what you pay for.

ExpressionEngine is more powerful and flexible. In my mind, it's targeted more at "professional" bloggers/CMS systems/community sites. Chiefly, it can do unlimited multiple blogs with a lot of options on who can post, read, edit said multiple blogs, with further control over who can comment, moderate said comments. Plus it has an intergrated gallery and you buy an intergrated forum module that works with its membership system (the member system is also a big plus)

I've worked briefly with Wordpress and EE is much easier to work with.

There's nothing wrong with Wordpress of course and its price is damn sweet :) Just think EE is more elegantly designed to allow the users greater flexibility, power, control, especially in building of templates, while Wordpress is fine for a single person doing personal blogging. It has an excellent support community (they've been answering questions over the holidays, including thanksgiving) also.

Here's a brief review over at About.com

No, I don't want for the company and not it's not perfect. But it's damn nice and worth the money if it fits your current or future needs.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:39 AM on November 27, 2005


The more I think about this, the more I suspect a wiki would be better than a blog, because (some?) wikis allow you to see all edits of a document. And a great deal of following an book's progression online (at least from the point-of-view of the reader), as opposed to reading a finished book in print, is to see the writer's decision-making process, and maybe to comment on it.

So I would set up a wiki and set up the pages so that they can be navigated in chronological order. But, at the top of the first page, I would keep an updated link to the most-recent chapter. It would also be nice if the most-recent page could always keep the same url, so someone could bookmark it and go straight there if they only wanted to read the latest chapter.

I've never set up a wiki before. I'm a programmer, so I'm sure I could do it. But my guess is that atchafalaya isn't all that computer savvy (sorry if this is incorrect). Is there a simple wiki service or an app with a super-simple setup procedure that anyone could recommend?
posted by grumblebee at 5:39 AM on November 27, 2005


grumble, my sentiments exactly (with all comments, not just the latest one).

when i first saw this i invited atchafalaya to signup for a hosted wiki service that's in private beta. i'd link, but i know how we all are with self-linking around these mefi parts ;)
posted by mrplab at 8:29 AM on November 27, 2005


planetthoughtful, I've worked with EE for a long time now (since it came out) and pMachine before that. I like the company and the product. The support is excellent.

Also, I had bought that license for another site a year ago which I recently killed off so the license was "just sitting there".

I'm also a Dreamhost customer which offers free WordPress. I simply don't like the program and I don't like the shady ad bullshit they pulled earlier this year. Regardless of the 'innocence' or 'ignorance' claimed on their part, it's not a business practice I hope to support in any way.

EE simply rocks and continues to get better and better with each release.
posted by Manhasset at 9:48 AM on November 27, 2005


There is a book ("blook") being serialized at hackoff.com, if you're looking for examples.
posted by WestCoaster at 6:06 PM on November 27, 2005


We are self-publishing hackoff.com via blog. I'll gladly answer any questions or share any methods. Please contact me at dotHill Press.
posted by kkevans at 9:55 AM on December 19, 2005


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