How to publish a manuscript from Scrivener to CreateSpace (or any other print-on-demand service that accepts PDFs)

Amazon’s CreateSpace can be an excellent way for independent authors to round out their offerings by reaching out to readers who prefer “real” books.

But to do so you need to generate a PDF rather than a .mobi or .epub file, which can turn into a tedious, time-consuming, and/or frustrating process.  You risk winding up in a time-sink of finagling with Microsoft Word or another word processor, using InDesign ($$$) or other specialized software, or having to hire the job out (potentially $$$^2.)

I don’t mean to knock those three options, but if you’re seeking a fourth that’ll save you time and money, you owe it to yourself to try Literature & Latte’s Scrivener. In just a few steps you can take a plain-text copy of your manuscript and quickly have it ready for publication in a nice clean layout that won’t distract the reader from the material.

What follows is my take on how to do that…but first:

  1. You need to have installed Scrivener (use the free trial version or buy Scrivener from this link for Mac or this link for Windows) and worked with it enough to understand the basics. Don’t be put off by this step if you’re not currently a Scrivener user; Scrivener is inexpensive and a snap to learn.
  2. You need a CreateSpace account.
  3. You’ll need a copy of the body of your manuscript in a plain format. Just the body—we’ll be developing the front matter and back matter as we go.
  4. You need a PDF viewer like Adobe Acrobat
  5. To publish, you’ll ultimately need a cover. (CreateSpace’s requirements are linked here.)
  6. I’ve written an in-depth guide to the quickest way to publish your manuscript to all the major distributors: Kindle, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, Smashwords, and CreateSpace.  You can find it on Amazon here.  If you find this CreateSpace procedure valuable, you’ll love the book — and buying it will help me continue to post free formatting tips like this one.

Also, four disclaimers.

  1. I’m not (as will become obvious) a book designer by trade. I know enough about the subject to get by, but my main purpose here is to demonstrate Scrivener’s PDF publication capabilities using a simple, professional layout that’s based on common design principles. So don’t take what I say about book design as the Lord’s Gospel. (If it’s the Lord’s Gospel you’re after, I’ve found Joel Friedlander’s to be an excellent resource. And if you ARE a book designer and you’d like to offer improvements to what I’ve done here, I’d love to hear from you.)
  2. Scrivener is by nature a writing tool and not a layout tool, so don’t expect sophisticated layout functionality. That said, I’ve found the tradeoff between Scrivener’s ease-of-use and a dedicated layout program’s precision control to be worth swapping for, or at least in projects with simpler layout requirements.
  3. Scrivener is very flexible software. This procedure is only one of many ways to publish from it to CreateSpace. Experimentation will likely be rewarded.
  4. I wrote this process for Scrivener 2.2 on a 2010 MacBook running OSX 10.6.8. I haven’t tested it on any other hardware or OS.  Online reviewers of this process tell me it’s within the Windows version’s capabilities, although there may be small differences in the appearance of specific function windows like page setup, for instance.

And one final note. This process includes a simple workaround to give Mac and Windows users alike control over the point at which Scrivener begins counting page numbers for the purpose of printing them.  (Remember the convention that when printing page numbers, page “1” of a book should be the first page of chapter one instead of the first page the reader encounters when opening the cover.) But Scrivener does offer a more advanced solution to Mac users, and I’ve linked to a discussion of it here.

To get started…

  1. Set up your manuscript
  2. Format and compile your front matter into a first PDF
  3. Format and compile your body material into a second PDF
  4. Format and compile your back matter into a third PDF
  5. Compile your PDFs to a single uploadable file

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