iOS Scrivener Trick – Making an ePub with style

I use Scrivener for all my writing. At any given time I’ll have projects syncing in Dropbox which hold my weekly sermons, my blog posts for the current year, and whatever novels on which I happen to be working. Scrivener is a dream, and my iPad Pro is my writing tool of choice.

There are times, however, when I want to be dealing with a static text instead of an editable one, and that’s when I want to move my writing out of Scrivener. This happens most often when I’m working on slides to accompany a sermon or other presentation. I’ll insert placeholders into my manuscripts which indicate the media I want include in my slides, and a static text works better for paging through what I’ve written than an editable text 1. When people think of static texts, they often envision a PDF, but I prefer to work in ePub. An ePub’s text reflows to fit its display area, meaning I don’t have to deal with print legacies such as margins and fixed font sizes.

Compiling a project to ePub is a breeze in Scrivener on MacOS but, unfortunately, iOS Scrivener doesn’t have the ability to export to ePub from within the app. Over the past few years I’ve been overcoming this limitation by exporting my manuscripts 2 out to a Markdown editor, from which I’d copy the text and add it to an ePub creation app on my iPad. The workflow was OK, but I’ve been on the lookout for something better. Especially since Scrivener now has actual styles 3. It turns out I’ve found a better way to work, and the discovery may lead me to return to writing certain projects in Rich Text instead of Markdown 4.

Here’s how my new process works.

Create a Structured Scrivener Project

Use folders, documents, and sub-documents. Whatever you need is fine. Treat it like a normal Scrivener project, because it is.

Use some style

When I’m writing a long paper, I’ll typically break my sub-points up into separate documents. It’s how Scrivener is designed to work and allows me to use the program’s excellent outline mode. Then, when I’m writing on my MacBook, I’ll switch to scrivenings mode and tell Scrivener to display document titles at the different breaks. This way I can continue to follow my arguments when I switch to composition view.

Unfortunately, iOS Scrivener doesn’t have Scrivenings mode 5, so writing full screen is more difficult when I write with a multi-level document approach. I keep having to open my binder to switch to the next point in my argument.

To compensate for this shortcoming, I’ve begun applying heading styles to the different points of my manuscripts. This allows me to write in full screen while still being able to see the flow of my argument. Headings are all formatted the same, and my default text is also consistent.

Some styled text in Scrivener.

Get it out of there!

Now comes the fun part.

If I want to create an ebook from my entire draft folder I tap the “compile” button

iOS Scrivener Compile Button

Compiling will allow both a File Format and and appearance to be applied to the compiled document 6. For my needs, I choose Word as the File Format and select an appearance I find appealing. After I compile, I open the resulting document in Pages.

iOS Scrivener Compile Dialog

In similar fashion, I can choose to export a single document to another app by tapping the “share” button and selecting “Open in Another App.”

iOS Scrivener Share Button

Again, I select Word as the export type and then open the resulting document in Pages 7.

It’s Pages Time

With the resulting document opened in Pages I tap the ellipsis menu in the upper right, and then select “export.” In the resulting pop up dialog I select ePub as the format.

iOS Pages Export Dialog

In the next dialog I add the appropriate information and then tap “send.” When the process is complete I choose “Copy to iBooks.” iBooks then opens with the static, but reflow-able, text I need!

ePub from iOS Scrivener, via Pages

Some Caveats

This is a great workflow for a quick and dirty eBook, but it pales in comparison to Scrivener 3’s compiler.

The Table of Contents from the Pages export. Chapters are called “section”

A particular thorn is how Pages interprets the titles of folders from the Scrivener project. It correctly identifies them as chapter markers for the ePub’s table of contents, but doesn’t use the text of those titles as the chapter titles. Instead, it lists these as “Section” with a number following. I wish I could figure out an easy way to overcome this, but I’m still flummoxed by it.

So, if you’re compiling an eBook for personal use this workflow is great. But if you’d like to create something for public consumption you’re better off using the power of Scrivener 3.

  1. When the iOS keyboard pops up every other time you touch the screen, it can get a bit annoying. 
  2. Written in Markdown. 
  3. I’m still geeking out about this. 
  4. A prospect which blows my mind. Markdown is so much faster to type. 
  5. This is due to limitations on the platform, not because the developer is mean and wants to make users suffer. In fact, Scrivener’s developer is absolutely amazing. 
  6. An appearance functions like a style sheet. 
  7. While this is a faster way of working if you only need to have a single document in static format, it should be noted that exporting a file this way will not apply an appearance to the resulting file. 
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