With the advent of handheld ebook readers and new venues for self-publishing, authors are no longer dependent upon traditional publishers to get their works into the hands of readers. Of course, circumventing the likes of Random House and Harper Collins means that tasks like formatting and design fall into the laps of writers, who have notoriously low budgets. Fortunately, the free and open source LibreOffice Writer application helps you tackle challenging publishing tasks without forcing you to learn the complexities of an application like LaTeX.
If you’ve had your hand in any publishing waters, you know they can be cold and tricky to navigate, even when you’re using great software, because usually you won’t be the only person to touch the file that represents your work. You’ll have beta readers, editors, and proofreaders, all of whom will use different software to read, edit, and comment on your manuscript.
One of the biggest challenges you will face with your work is bouncing it back and forth between editors and readers who use Microsoft Word. In a perfect world, everyone would use the same tools. But some people can’t justify the cost of Microsoft Office when a free, open source equivalent is available. Although LibreOffice does an outstanding job of working with the competition, the competition isn’t so great in return. Because of this, a manuscript can spiral down into an unsightly, hard-to-use mess.
To avoid this, swallow your open source pride and save your manuscript in Microsoft’s .docx format from the start. Even though LibreOffice’s native OpenDocument format is a much more reliable standard, working with the Microsoft Open Office XML format is still the single best first step to ensuring your publishing process is as painless as possible. Trust me – I’ve had editors send back both .odt and .doc files saying they were unreadable, the formatting was wrong, or (in one case) all text was highlighted and the document continually jumped to the end.
I even go so far as to recommend writers who use LibreOffice use the .docx format as the default. To do this, open LibreOffice Writer and click Tools -> Options. In the Options window, click Load/Save, and under it click General. Click the Document type drop-down and select Text document, and in the “Always save as” drop-down, select Microsoft Word 2007/2010/2013 XML.
While you have the Options screen open, you should set (at least) your first and last name in the User Data section, so that all of your edits don’t show up as having been performed by Unknown Author.
Next, standardize on fonts that are typically available on Window, Linux, and Mac platforms. Installing Microsoft’s TrueType core fonts will help ensure that your LibreOffice fonts are similar enough to those in Word to avoid formatting meltdowns. To install the fonts on CentOS, download the ATRPMS repository file, then open a terminal window. Change to the directory to which you downloaded the file, and run the following commands as root:
rpm -ivh atrpms-repo-6-7.el6.i686.rpm yum install chkfontpath wget http://corefonts.sourceforge.net/msttcorefonts-2.0-1.spec rpmbuild -bb msttcorefonts-2.0-1.spec cd rpmbuild/RPMS/noarch rpm -ivh msttcorefonts-2.0-1.noarch.rpm cd /usr/share/fonts/msttcorefonts mkfontscale mkfontdir
If you’re running on the Ubuntu platform, the whole process takes just a single command:
sudo apt-get install msttcorefonts.
If you had LibreOffice Writer open during the font installation process, close and reopen it. When you write your manuscript, select the newly updated Times New Roman font.
You don’t have to use the core fonts, of course, for the final product. I personally use the Bookman font family for the books I publish; I find it attractive and easy to read. You can download Bookman TrueType fonts from numerous font repositories, and apply it after you’ve gone through the back and forth with your editors. Until that time, keep your fonts standard for ease of clarity and use.
Once you’ve taken care of these tasks, your documents should be better suited to working with editors and readers who insist upon using Microsoft products. Should your editors or readers use Google Docs, however, you’ll find yourself dealing with even more issues – some of which cannot be circumvented. For instance, Google Docs does not, in any way, support Track Changes. You can, in some instances, see comments made from both LibreOffice or Word, but Track Changes is a deal-breaker for Google Docs.
Dealing with editors and readers
Outside of the original draft, the most work you’ll put into the creation of a manuscript comes during the back and forth with editors. Fortunately, the latest release of LibreOffice does a fantastic job of handling Track Changes and Comments. Without these two tools, working with editors and readers is nearly impossible.
To track changes, click on the Edit menu, then click on Changes and select Record. If you want your revisions to be visible while you edit the document, select Show.
As you’re editing a document with changes, you can accept or reject each change by right-clicking on the edit and selecting the appropriate action. You can also take advantage of the handy Accept or Reject Changes window to quickly accept or reject individual changes or all changes at once:
The Accept or Reject Changes window
Comments, meanwhile, are notes added outside of the manuscript text that allow editors, writers, and readers to talk about the text. As an author, you will mostly deal with addressing comments, not writing them. If you open your manuscript after receiving it back and you see no comments, click on View and make sure that Comments is checked. You can click the drop-down associated with each comment and select Reply, Delete Comment, Delete All Comments by XXX (where XXX is a user’s name), or Delete All Comments.
Comments are an invaluable tool for editing your book.
The final steps
After you’ve gone back and forth with everyone and you’re satisfied with the outcome, it’s time to format your manuscript for publishing. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say the endgame is publishing for the Amazon Kindle. To do that, turn to Calibre, which is, hands down, the best software for converting your documents to ePub or Mobipocket format, both of which are widely supported. However, you cannot just take your .doc, .docx, or .odt file, import it into Calibre, and covert it. Yes, you can import it, but the conversion process will fail. Instead, you must first export your manuscript to HTML format by clicking File -> Save As, selecting HTML from the drop-down menu, and clicking Save. Calibre can easily convert the saved file into .epub and .mobi files. You can upload a .mobi file to the Kindle Direct Publishing service – then wait for the accolades and profit to roll in!
Just because your editors and readers work with Microsoft Word doesn’t mean you must forgo an open source equivalent. Following these steps should help you work LibreOffice into your book-writing process.