Friday, 17 April 2015

Indie Publishing and Open Source Software

Over the past year or so, I have found myself embracing open source software a lot more for Indy Publishing. That's probably true of a lot of Indies, to reduce costs if nothing else. But there are other good reasons, and I will get to those in a bit. Anyway, here's an inventory of the open source software we are using.

  • Writer - In fact, I am using it right now. I shift back and forth between this product and Word, depending on the computer that I am using, the purpose, and personal whim.
  • My Surface Tablet's Office 365 stopped working at about day 60, claiming that my license wasn't legit (it was) after numerous buggy Windows 8 updates. Rather than struggle with Microsoft's customer support, I installed LibreOffice on the Surface and now I use that for writing on the Surface.
  • My desktop has Word and LibreOffice, but I tend to use Word on it.
  • My laptop has Word on its Windows partition, and Office Libre on the Linux partition. I mostly use the Linux/LibreOffice combo.
  • To publish on Amazon, I have been using the “zipped Word html” route. But I plan to give LibreOffice a try soon, for the Amazon publishing step.
  • So far, I haven't found going back and forth between LibreOffice Writer and Word with the same document to be a problem.  But you never can tell with a Microsoft product, so no guarantees.  :)
  • A writer on Writer - SFF writer Helena Puumala has now shifted to LibreOffice for The Witches' Stones Book 3, as she thought her version of Word was getting “buggy”. So I suggested she try LibreOffice. Some comments from of her follow.
  • It doesn't seem to be all that different from Word. There is the odd thing I like better, though – it seems to give you more screen real estate for writing, for example.”
  • It is definitely less buggy. Word seemed to change things on its own sometimes, like pagination. Plus, LibreOffice Writer just seems faster on my computer than Word was.”
  • There is a bit of a learning curve, but that's to be expected. Word processors have a lot of options that novelists don't need, anyway.
  • I should note that her computer has the horrible early version of Windows Home Vista. OfficeLibre seems to work better with that than Word 2007 does. Go figure.
  • Calc – I still use Excel more than Calc, but have begun using the latter more often. Complex spreadsheets can be problematic, when moving between the two, I have found, especially pivot tables.

  • Impress – This is the LibreOffice replacement for Powerpoint. I have done documents in either format that have transferred between products without any obvious problems.

Linux Mint

I am a long way from a Linux expert, but I do have it installed on a laptop along with a Windows XP partition. I tend to use the Linux partition most of the time. It just seems a lot faster and cleaner than Windows. Facebook, for example zips along. Uploading ebooks to Amazon goes smoothly from Firefox on the Linux partition. I am inclined to think that the Amazon Kindle emulator (for testing your book before publishing) is faster too.

Also, you can be reasonably sure that you won't suddenly have an “improved” version of your operating system thrust upon you, like Windows does every few years. I give you the horrible early version of Home Vista or the confusing Windows 8 as examples of this. Who knows what is in store for us, with Windows 10. I suppose one could say Linux is actually “Windows Nein”.


I imagine this ebook producer is in many Indie publisher/writer toolkits. It is a great way to prototype your ebooks before putting them on Amazon. For Kobo, you can upload an epub that Calibre produces, directly. And it is great for side-loading mobi and epub files to Kindles or Kobo readers. We do that for our beta readers. One beta reader does sideloads her Kobo herself from files we email to her. It's that easy.


This is the Gnu Image Processing program, basically functionally equivalent to Photoshop. There is a bit of a learning curve, but it is well worth a self-publisher's time to learn. Even if you contract out your covers, it is still useful to get good with Gimp, for prototyping and early development.


In my day job as a data analyst, I often use SPSS, which stands for Statistical Program for the Social Sciences. PSPP is the open source version of this. I realize that most Indie publishers don't so a lot of heavy lifting in the data science department, but if you do, you should check this out. It is still a work in progress, though – not all of your favorite SPSS procedures are there yet.

Python and R

Again, most Indie writer/publishers don't do a lot of coding, but if you do, these are the things to learn, apparently. I haven't done a lot of programming with them yet, but I plan to learn these. Ever since Windows got rid of Quickbasic and Turbo Pascal bit the dust, most of my coding has been in database managers and stats packages. It should be interesting to get back into procedural coding. Plus, all the big data science outfits seem to use Python and R, so it is a good career move for those of us who are data analyst types.

Philosophically, there are a lot of similarities between Indy publishing and Open Source software (disruptive technologies, big corporations vs small players, disintermediation, etc). But I am approaching 1000 words, so I will explore those ideas in a later blog. :)

And here is a cautionary tale about Linux.


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