How do you combine distraction-free writing with an ebook authoring tool? A distraction-free writing tool is a text editor that occupies the full display. This way the writer is isolated from the operating system and other applications, enabling the writer to fully focus on nothing but writing. Usually there are no toolbars and the resulting file is a simple txt file or pdf. If you don’t need a graphically styled page, if you only use 5% of all the buttons in MS Word or LibreOffice, distraction-free writing might be for you.
But going back to the times of the first text editors has it’s drawbacks. You might need headers. You might want to style certain parts of the text in bold or italics. You might need to insert lists or images. How are you going to do that with toolbars where you can select this?
Eleven years ago, in the time that everyone had a blog, bloggers had a different problem. They wanted an easy way to write blog messages without having to write html tags. They needed a simple text-to-html conversion tool so they could write their blog messages in an easy tor read and easy to write plain text format that could automatically be converted into structurally valid html. So they invented all kinds of markup languages to solve this problem.
The best known and most successful of these markup languages was invented by John Gruber. He called it Markdown and you can read all about it on his site. Since it was launched, more and more distraction-free text editors started using Markdown, since it allowed them to export the written text to structurally valid html.
This is not a blog about the history of markdown and text editors, but a bit of history is necessary to understand the next step. Ebooks. If you have an ebook on your computer chances are that it will have an ePub extension. This is the free and open ebook standard created by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Amazon and Apple use a similar, but proprietary format. I’m not going to delve into what makes a proper ePub file, but what is important is that you know that every ePub file is in fact a little website in a box. ePub is based on html, css style sheets and xml. All those files are organised into folders that are zipped into an ePub file. This is an important thing to remember.
So, when you try to combine a distraction-free writing environment with an ebook authoring tool it is logical to use Markdown. You can use it to create italic and bold text, you can use it for lists, images and links and one of the most used Markdown tags is the heading. With a single # you can mark a bit of text as a heading and in the ebook this will translate into a chapter heading.
How the heading will look like is controlled by stylesheets and this holds true in fact for all Markdown tags. Markdown only tells the system what something is, it doesn’t bother with how it looks. This is great, because while you’re writing you don’t want to think of how it all will look in the end. That’s something people who use MS Word worry about all the time. Oh wait, I forgot to style this one heading, let’s go back…
When I started creating Eboocz it was entirely clear to me that I would use a markup language for structuring the text and the logical choice was Markdown. But I hesitated for a while. Markdown is intended for html and even though ebooks are for a large part html, there are subtle differences. Wouldn’t it be better to create an entirely new markup language targeted towards ebooks? That was a year ago. And while I was thinking about this, someone else thought about it too. I heard about Markua via the Books in Browsers conference that I followed via the Internet. It is an idea of LeanPub and it is a markup language specifically created for ebooks. It was exactly what I was looking for.
Except that it was brand new and not yet quite finished. I also hesitated because it was a lot more elaborate than Markdown and I was afraid it would make Eboocz too complicated for the average user. Would they be willing to learn all those codes? I’m not sure. What’s more, incorporating Markua would have been more difficult than just using Markdown. Complexity means more hours, which means more money for development. So in the end I decided with regret not to incorporate Markua. Perhaps version 2? I would like to hear from users if they would like such a feature? Being able to choose between different markup languages. Would that make you happy?
So for now Eboocz will be using Markdown. You can find the Markdown cheat-sheet in the context column under writing and text tools. It’s really easy. You’ll remember the most important Markdown codes within minutes. For a full description of Markdown see the website of John Gruber.