This is the first in a series explaining how to publish your ebook using Markdown, and create all of the formats necessary to upload to Amazon, iBooks, and others. I’ll provide tips and tools which will help you to quickly and easily create and publish your content.
PART ONE: (this post) How to write your book in Markdown
PART THREE: Creating a Kindle MOBI file from your EPUB file
Are you frustrated the many different file formats out there? How text, when translated from one format to the next, gets messed up in ways that make no sense?
Have you tried writing HTML code? Did you forget a closing tag (
<) and then couldn’t figure out why everything was broken?
And why is it that it feels like sometimes you spend more time on formatting, than writing – and that sometimes the formatting just won’t work the way you want it to?
Enter Markdown, which I think is the best thing to happen to text since the printing press.
What is Markdown?
Markdown was developed by John Gruber in 2004 as a way to write in plain text in an easy to read format, which can also be converted easily to HTML (and other formats).
At first glance, and especially if you have no familiarity with syntax languages, it might feel like ‘code’. But it is easy to learn, and quickly becomes second nature.
I wrote this article (and my book, and most of this blog) in Markdown.
What’s the difference between Markdown and HTML?
HTML (as well as EPUB, MOBI, and DOC) are publishing formats.
Markdown, on the other hand, is a writing format. It gets out of the way and just lets you write, without any heavy editors to bog you down.
And when you’re ready to publish, it will convert easily, to whatever format you wish.
Key features of Markdown
- It’s portable, which means that you can write in any editor you wish. Even Word if you want to (although I wouldn’t recommend that). You can even open Notepad or TextEdit and start typing away. Moving Markdown formatted text from one editor to another is as simple as opening the file, or copying the text.
It’s simple. For most writing all you need are just a few formatting tags, which I’ll outline below. And for some tags you don’t need to ‘close’ the tag – for example when using header tags (more on this and formatting tags in general below).
It converts to any format quickly and easily. Need to convert to HTML? Easy, and many publishing platforms handle Markdown natively. Need to convert to EPUB? There are simple tools which will do this for you in seconds.
It lets you concentrate on the words, and not on the formatting. Personally I find that my writing is more fluid when I’m not worried about formatting. If I need to bold something, or add a chapter, or drop in some lists, it’s really easy and natural.
It’s future-proof. File formats and publishing formats change. What worked 5 years ago may not be readable at all today, at least without some hoops. But plain text is the basis for most file formats today, and is never going to change (well, maybe when our brains are uploaded to the cloud, things will change – but I’m guessing we’ll still need file storage of some kind).
Basic Markdown tags
For most writing, you only need about 6 tags. Magic, right?
This is a **bold** word.
This an *italic* word.
#This is a Heading 1.
##This is a Heading 2.
###This is a Heading 3.
# or Heading 1 tags are also used for chapters page breaks in your ebook.)
- This is the first item in a bulleted list.
- This is the second item in a bulleted list.
1. This is the first item in a numbered list.
2. This is the second item in a numbered list.
[This is the text for a web link.](http://ThisIsTheActualLink.com)
This isn’t exactly a tag, but worth mentioning. Just hit Enter
Once for a normal line break ...
And twice for a paragraph break.
But Ben, what about […]
- Typos? Most text editors have spell check built in. But honestly, why are you so concerned about typos while you’re writing? Just write, and fix the typos later.
Learning syntax? Write the 6 tags on a post it note and put it on your screen, or your keyboard. I promise you it won’t take you more than a day to learn it, and you’ll be faster at formatting than you have ever been before. And you will feel free! Magic.
Text editor? There are many to choose from, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Having said that, my two favorites are Byword (Mac only) and Sublime Text (Mac and PC). Byword is fantastic if you just need something that is simple and totally focused on writing. It has a built in Markdown preview as well. Sublime Text is more powerful and has a ton of plugins. It takes a little longer to learn but is worth it, and also handles HTML and CSS code editing really well if you’re into that.
Converting to HTML, EPUB, etc.? Many publishing platforms will convert Markdown for you automatically. Others (like WordPress) have plugins that will do it. For EPUB, I like using a tool called Pandoc which I’ll explain how to use in a future post.
Syntax reference guides? John Gruber has a great guide over at Daring Fireball. Byword has a solid guide as well, although it is focused on their editor. Adam Pritchard also created a visual cheatsheet which is super useful.
I can’t say it enough, Markdown is fantastic. Try it with your next writing project and you’ll see what I mean. And feel free to hit me up with your experiences (as well as questions!)