Category Archives: Writing


Why Knowledge Professionals Should Try iBooks Author Now

Independent Knowledge Professionals benefit greatly from writing eBooks. Writing a book puts you on the map as an expert in one stroke. Since you are a knowledge professional, you can also augment your income by selling knowledge products, especially eBooks. A small eBook purchase can be the starting point for a future full-service client. You’ll be writing non-fiction books, the kind that benefit most from graphics, charts and other engaging elements that old-style eBooks don’t provide.

I Thought iBooks Author Was for Textbooks. Not really. Actually, Apple says it is for lots of other kinds of books too. They are just leading with text books right now. Think reports, of the jaw-dropping variety. If you give one of these eBook reports away, you don’t even have to talk to Apple or give them a percentage.  You can post a link to your website or send it in an email.

Ebook Prep Sucks — Until Now. We’ve been stuck with arcane and limited tools to create eBooks. This patchwork quilt of marginal tools has been perfect for eBook prep specialists, but a nightmare for independent knowledge professionals who can’t spend all their spare time fiddling with unwieldy tech. Writing is hard and time-consuming as it is.

Apple’s new iBooks Author solves these problems. It is easy to use and lets you add tables, graphics and widgets to your eBooks. There is a catch in that the eBooks made by iBooks Author require an iPad for display. I’ll explain why that limitation isn’t something that should stop you.

System Requirements for iBooks Author. First the bad news, you need an iPad to display your eBook while it is in progress and you need a Macintosh running OSX Lion. If you already have an iPad and are running Lion, you are set. Otherwise, read on to see if it would be worth your while to upgrade and/or expand your technology now.

Compelling Reasons to Adopt iBooks Author Now. It’s the only end-user eBook creation tool. There are no other options if you want your eBook to look the least bit good short of spending a lot of money for it to be created in InDesign and even then it won’t look that good in the Kindle Format. There’s a new Kindle Format that is supposed to be good for media-rich eBooks, but there’s no creation tool for it yet. Cross that off your list.

Apple has leapt into the void here. If you are writing novels or non-fiction that doesn’t require illustration, you could scrape by using current tools if you could figure or hire them out. But knowledge professionals need to illustrate ideas with visuals. You can open up iBooks Author and start inserting graphics and more in a few minutes. The output on an iPad will be delightful.

Kindlestore vs. iBookstore. Right now Kindle books are the only game in town you say or may have heard. That’s true up to a point but that point of change is now. Even Amazon has started to abandon the lame eBook format (Mobi) they’ve been using and replaced it with what they are calling Kindle 8 which allows for decent graphics and interactivity (see above). Amazon released the Kindle Fire and broke all their own rules about how e-Ink is the best way to read books.

A lot of people compare the Kindle Fire to the Kindle Touch and like the Fire better for books because of the vivid color and responsiveness. I don’t think things will end well for e-Ink devices. They are niche devices in a world that is filling rapidly with full-featured iPhones, Android and Windows phones and iPads.

Ebooks Won’t Stop at Imitating Paper Books. Paper books are wonderful, but as we move to digital, other possibilities emerge that cannot be ignored. For example, iBooks Author lets you add glossary words in your eBooks. You get the most gorgeous glossary (with search) at the back of the book without any additional effort. And, automatically, the reader gets electronic flash cards that allow them to review and test their recall and comprehension. The eBooks you create for the iPad are truly eBooks. They are apps as well as books without you being a programmer — at all!

But, Shouldn’t You Wait and See? Maybe Apple will fall on its face this time. Don’t bet on it. The cost of waiting is that others will be there before you. Early adopters on this Apple juggernaut will be learning things as the technology rolls out. They will be looking tech savvy with eye-popping eBooks they’ve created themselves — running on the most desirable gadgets of our times.

Some technology is a pain and not worth adopting early. But, iBooks Author is made by Apple and is simple and easy. It is designed to be something anyone can pick up and use. I like blogging software like WordPress and recommend it to independent knowledge professionals, but iBooks Author is much more powerful yet as easy as using Pages or Keynote (Word or Powerpoint).

Resources. There is already a $4.99 eBook available that teaches you how to use iBooks Author. The title is iBooks Author: Publishing Your First eBook. The author is Maria Langer, an established tech writer who has written over 50 books. The moment iBooks Author was announced, Maria spent day and night and wrote, edited and prepared the book over a ten day period.

Even if you don’t have an iPad yet, you can check out Maria’s book or eBook and the materials and videos at This first version of Maria’s book is created with traditional tools to get the book in your hands as quickly as possible. She is working on a fancy iBooks 2 version but I recommend getting in on the ground floor now. Don’t wait for the fancy book. I plan to buy the iBooks 2 version for my iPad when it is available, but this chance to get a jumpstart on a new kind of eBook is too good to pass up.

Writing on the iPad, Part 2 – Rich Text Options

This is part two of my inquiry into the current state of serious writing apps for the iPad. For most iPad-toting knowledge professionals, I would recommend my favorite Dropbox text editors as a good but stopgap option. I explain the advantages in that post. I also mention that rich text is more fun at minimum. If you are so inclined to make something bold as you are writing, you should be able to do that. We’ve come to expect this and for good reason.

Unfortunately, rich text options on the iPad are still limited. The main two places to find some rich text editing on iPad is in Word Processors like Pages and the Word options in Office compatible apps like Documents to Go and in a some Notebook and Note-taking apps. I will cover my favorites.


Just a quick word on Mail. In iOS 5, Mail received the ability to bold, italicize and underline text. Yay for that. A little bit of rich text creeping into the iPhone and iPad. Rich text has a future, it’s just a little slow in rolling out.

Traditional Word Processors

Time is running out for the traditional word processor. We don’t write documents all the time anymore. We don’t write letters. Word Processing was designed for paper communications which are gradually dying out. However, the alternatives that are growing up to take their place are rarely as powerful and full-featured.

This option is especially useful to those who have a predilection for Microsoft Word or Pages on the desktop. It is not uncommon for computer users to use one application for almost everything. You have an application you are comfortable and competent with and tend to look there when attempting to do something with a document. That’s not a bad way to go although sometimes you’ll be trying to use your tool of choice on projects that don’t fit very well…

Pages is available on the iPad and there are several Office compatible apps that include Word-a-like functionality. Let’s take a look. All of these will give you rich text capabilities.

Pages ($10 – #3 Top Grossing iPad app). If you are already using Pages on your Mac, Pages on the iPad is the first place you should look for a word processor. Pages for iPad is much less powerful than Pages on Mac but it is more powerful than any dropbox text editor by a country mile. And it looks good and feels good to use. If you haven’t already bought Pages, look and see if it has the power you are seeking. The main drawback to Pages for iPad is that it doesn’t support Dropbox or other options besides iCloud. If you have gotten up and running with iCloud, this is your best bet.

The promise of iCloud is transparent syncing from Mac to iPad and back. I haven’t read enough manuals yet to be assured that iCloud is safe yet. If you have MobileMe, multiple Apple IDs and generally are dragging your feet regarding the still largely unproven iCloud, you will be stuck using iTunes to get documents from Mac to iPad and back. It works but is clumsy compared to Dropbox options. When iCloud just works, it will reign supreme.

Office-a-likes. There are three leading Office-compatible apps on the iPad with variations: Documents to Go Premium ($19 – Word 2007, 2010 only #18 on Top Grossing iPad app), QuickOffice Pro HD ($20 – Doc & Docx #13 on Top Grossing iPad app) with Office2 HD ($8 – Doc & Docx) lagging behind. These are a little more expensive and I have not purchased any of these so I will bottom line what I’ve garnered in my research online. Documents to Go is the most Office-compatible but probably the least Mac-like. QuickOffice has the best user interface among these but slips down a notch in compatibility. Office2 HD is somewhere in between.

This is a bit of a pick your poison situation. If you must be compatible you are least likely to get an unpleasant surprise with Documents to Go which has a special capability that carefully preserves your desktop Office documents in full. QOPHD and O2HD sacrifice a little in compatibility for other virtues. Pages also opens and saves to Word format but will omit features in Word that it doesn’t understand. Don’t use Pages, QO or OHD2 to edit any but the most basic Word document created on the desktop that will get distributed as a Word doc.

Notebook & Note-taking Apps with Rich Text

Since we’ve already run out of options for word processors that can do rich text, the next stop is Notebook apps that can do Rich Text. I’m going to limit our discussion to notebook apps that are oriented towards allowing you to write something that resembles a document as opposed to putting in text boxes when you want to type (these are more like working in page layout mode – better for notes than more serious writing projects I think). These notebooks will flow the text and assume that text reigns above and beyond other objects which might be inserted.

OK. We are are simply writing here anyway, so does it matter whether you write in a word processor? Maybe it is OK to write in your notebook where you’ve put everything about this topic including images, web clips, your random notes, outlines, the works.

Keep in mind that you need to be able to get that writing back out of your notebook when you publish or distribute it in some way or other.

Evernote (Free). Just recently, Evernote for iPad has added the ability to edit notes and use rich text fairly extensively including bold, italic, strikethru, underline and the unexpected: highlight! You also get numbered lists and checkboxes. And Headings, Subheads, Paragraphs and Blockquotes. These are web-oriented but the web is a big piece of the action these days. Kindle’s new eBook format for the Kindle fire is HTML-based and ePub docs are full of HTML as well.

Evernote allows multiple notebooks and can be used free with lots of storage possible. Freemium  is done right. You are induced to upgrade with extra features, but the free version works really well on its own.

I did find some difficulty getting my rich text out of Evernote on the iPad. I found that if I synced the formatted text note to the cloud and opened the note on my Mac, I could copy and paste it into textedit and get rich text just fine with the exception that checkboxes for to do items did not come over. However, I couldn’t get rich text to paste into the iPad version of Pages.

I’m overall impressed and see Evernote for iPad as a viable rich text writing app. Evernote has gotten a huge amount of funding this year and looks like a really nice product with a great future. It is awesome for notes and support of multiple devices plus any web browser.

Circus Ponies Notebook ($30). Notebook supports rich text and has from the beginning. It is an alternative that has more bells and whistles than evernote including diagramming, scribbling, audio recording and outlining and colored text (actually, I like Evernote’s highlighting better but that’s a personal preference).

Circus Ponies Notebook is just beginning to hit its stride. It’s such a powerful app that it needs a lot of work to make all that functionality user-friendly by touch. At the price of free, Evernote is easier to like and recommend. On the other hand if you love the Mac version of Circus Ponies Notebook, you’ll be really happy to be able to bring your amazing notebooks with you on the road and around town.

All Purpose Writing Tools

Scrivener. This is a small category right now. I love Scrivener for Mac as an all purpose writing tool. It has outlining, index cards, rich text, supports markdown and much more. Unfortunately, Scrivener isn’t available on the iPhone or iPad. However, the makers of Scrivener, Literature & Latte have just announced a new project to bring Scrivener to iPad and iPhone in 2012.

Storyist ($10). In the meantime, a similar product dedicated to fiction writing does exist for iPad. It has outlining, index cards and rich text right now. Storyist has a Mac counterpart as well and really does best when used with the Mac counterpart which has more power. As a specialized writing app, Storyist is impressive. I bought it and hoped to twist it a bit to work for non-fiction. I’m sure it can be done but it looked to be difficult.

If you write fiction check out Storyist as an option and keep an eye out for Scrivener. I would guess it will be the latter half of 2012 before it shows up.

Writing, Branding and Mining for eBook Gold

If you are an up and coming independent knowledge professional or an old-timer at the INKNOP game, you have good reason to be creating, giving away and selling information products of various kinds.

The new information product on the scene is the eBook. It used to be that you would write a book about something and invent yourself as the expert in your field. I’m not sure what percentage of independent knowledge professionals actually write traditional books, but it’s probably a significant chunk. It’s a bear to write a book though, especially one of any quality that would reflect well on you. Getting it published aint easy either.

But, that problem just went away. We now have eBooks, eReaders like the Kindle for $79 and millions of iPads, iPhones and other smart phones that are hungry for content.

Almost overnight, there’s a rush of eReaders and Amazon is selling more eBooks than they are paper books.  The times they are a changin’ and we are lucky to be here now to take advantage of this white hot phenomenon.

I Bet You Have an eBook in You. If you are one of the vast numbers of people who think you might have a book in you, you certainly do. Right now, while ebooks are still in short supply and eBook readers are the rage, is the time to get your foot in the door.

Books vs. eBooks. The key distinction between eBooks and Books is that (1) there’s no publisher gatekeeper at the door and (2) eBooks can be short as in the 10 to 50 pages you may have written in school! You already know how to write something of this length and no one is stopping you.

You need to start writing and publishing them so that you can create a name for yourself, show people what you know and how you think about things. You might even make a couple nickels to rub together, but I’m not sure about that. You’ll have to be in the right place at the right time to do that – not impossible.

I’m thinking of this ebook writing operation as a means to an end. It’s writing. It’s creating content. It’s creating programs. Knowledge that can then be delivered in lots of ways, some of them in person as consulting, training and other more expensive kinds of services.

But, who am I to talk? I have created some little trial-run eBooks but am still learning how to create them. Meanwhile, the explosion of eReaders, eBooks continues and more and more people are getting comfortable reading digitally. I consider my blogging here at Independent Knowledge Professional a content development effort that is a precursor to some related eBooks.

eBooks are Changing Right Now. The only thing holding me up so far is this jumbled stage we are in relative to eBook formats. The ePub and Kindle formats are clearly of some importance with Amazon behind the Kindle format and Apple, Barnes and Noble and others using ePub. I’m not crazy about the options we have right now because ePub and Kindle formats are so primitive from an aesthetic point of view. There has to be a better way! PDFs at least give you a way to make a document look great if you know what size it needs to be.

eBook Formats. In some ways eBook formats make tons of sense as we read on our computers, our tablets and our phones interchangeably. But Amazon has declared a new format for its Kindle Fire that bears little resemblance to the previous Kindle standard. I expect to see a rush of different formats and hopefully decent end-user formatting tools over the next year.

DIY. As an INKNOP, I want to be able to format my own books just like I’ve been formatting letters and reports over the years. Why should I suddenly have a big learning curve hurdle and hassle to simply get a digital report called an eBook out the door?

If you want a new career and identify as someone who likes to write, you could be one of the new experts in this eBook creation field. We need you now! I know lots of people who are ready to write something if the hassle of formatting the eBook and getting it into the Kindle store could be made to go away. The only warning here may be that when a decent end-user eBook creator tool shows up, INKNOPs may go back to DIY.

The last thing you should be right now, though, is discouraged. We need to persevere and do eBooks, it’s just too logical for independent knowledge professionals to show off and trade on their specialized knowledge. The eBook can be of just about any length which means you can make one quick.  If you aren’t attached to being in the Kindle store (something worth doing when you can), you can make PDFs today and give them away as an incentive to your prospective customers to sign up for your eNewsletter or subscribe to your blog. Just like blogging, writing eBooks is good writing practice and helps you clarify your thoughts. And, once written, these digital items can be repurposed and reconfigured as handouts for presentations or other eProducts.

I work every week with another INKNOP, Mike Van Horn, on cracking this eBook world open so that it takes us both where we want to go on our way to INKNOP success. We explore this space, identify people with skills to help us and brainstorm to learn what we need to know.

Writing on the iPad – Top Dropbox Text Editors

If you have been following along in this series, you know that I’m on a quest to see how the iPad can be best used as a tool for the knowledge professional. Aspiring professionals such as students should consider themselves included. I want to focus on writing in the next few posts. This post includes my detailed comparison chart for the top 4 dropbox text editors for iPad.

Why Would You Use a Dropbox Text Editor on iPad?

Dropbox. As any iPad owner knows or learns quickly, Dropbox is an essential tool in getting files on and off one’s iPad. There are alternatives to Dropbox, but it’s become the gold standard for allowing you to access the same files from both your computer(s) and your mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone. The Dropbox part of Dropbox Text Editors refers to this common trait of my top contenders here.

Plain Text vs. Rich Text. If plain text is not your thing, don’t worry, a future post will look at rich text options which unfortunately are few. The reason we have all these plain text apps on iPhone and iPad is that iOS doesn’t have a rich text feature baked in for third party developers. Apple rolled its own rich text when making Pages and has now added some minimal rich text in its latest version of Mail for iPad. We’ve grown up using rich text and many of us like and prefer rich text. I myself prefer rich text and would use it on the iPad if all apps on iPad and Mac also used rich text. But that’s not the case. Plain text is spartan but has its virtues.

Text Editors. The iPad apps I’ve chosen to look at today share a limitation that can be viewed as a strength: they all work with plain text only. In this multi-device world we find ourselves in, plain text is the lingua franca that allows you to copy and paste and use your written words in multiple apps on multiple devices without worrying about file formats and conversions. Loss of formatting is repaid in hassle-reduction and focus. The group of iPad apps I look at today all have distraction-free modes that let you focus on the words and sentences and delay formatting considerations for later.

Writing App Evaluation Criteria

I may do a blog post about the criteria themselves but for now, I’m just going to tell you what I think are important and what I’ve used here.

  • Key Features for the task: Searching, Sorting and Saving
  • Workspace Customization Options: Text and background color, Font choices and other tweaking possible to get your writing environment the way you want it.
  • Export Options: Some apps can only email the document as part of the email, others can create PDFs for you on the fly, create attachments and more. These extra options can save you time and trouble.
  • Design. How simple and beautiful are the controls and workspace?
  • Documentation. Most iPad apps have little to no documentation. None of my favorites have as much documentation built in as I would like but there are differences.
  • Checkbox features. There are many features that all of these apps have and I’ve listed those as √. If an app adds something special, I’ve given them a √+.
  • Reliability. This is a tough one to evaluate and probably changes over time. Something you should consider and be concerned about. Luckily, dropbox has its own snapshot backups so, you should be able to save yourself if one of these writing apps erases or copies over your document in its attempt to keep your documents in sync.
  • Wonderful Extras. At the top of this list is an optional extra keyboard row for the on-screen keyboard. Two of the 4 apps here have really strong implementations. Elements has a great Scratchpad feature. Link detection can be a nice touch so that phone numbers, addresses and URLs are hot and thus allow you to navigate or dial with them.
  • Markdown Support. Markdown is a simplified way to add HTML features to plain text without making your writing look like HTML code. It allows you to create headings, subheads, bold and italics and other formatting. You don’t see the formatting live, but these apps let you preview your work to see what it will look like in HTML. If you never blog (I hope you do if you are a knowledge professional), you won’t care about this.
  • iTunes Stats. We just as well see what has occurred on iTunes in terms of ratings and numbers of reviews. These stats can be gamed, so reading the actual reviews is often more useful. I’ve done some of this in addition to reading reviews elsewhere on the web.

Top 4 Contenders Rated in Detail

Right this minute, I would say the top four contenders in the dropbox text editor category are Nebulous Notes, Writeroom, Elements and Notesy. There are probably 30 apps in this category but these stand out. Keep your eye on Writing Kit and Notely as dark horse candidates. They are newer entrants that might compete with any of my favorites. I’ve illustrated my detailed comparison below. Pay particular attention to high ratings and missing features. I’ve made some high, low or missing features red to draw your attention. After this chart I summarize strengths and weaknesses in writing.

Strengths and Weaknesses Summary

Nebulous Notes. The Dropbox Text Editor crown goes to Nebulous Notes in this round. But your mileage may vary. The app store likes this app best. It’s customizability and feature breadth are unparalleled. When you make an app really powerful, your problem is going to be making it all look nice. As a minimalist, Steve Jobs would not have preferred this app. The UI is not as sleek or stylish but has moved from really geeky to adequate. I give the Nebulous team credit for delivering so much functionality and finding ways to make it manageable and quickly accessible. Best feature besides the incredible and optional scrolling, customizable extra keyboard row is file management in dropbox. You can do things in dropbox that can’t be done in the dropbox iPad app itself. View in iTunes

Writeroom. Finally in August, Hog Bay Software (Jesse Grosjean) released Writeroom for iPad. And it is a killer app! Writeroom for iPad is a universal app and does some great things to deliver a ton of customizability and features while maintaining a simple interface. There’s a really full-featured Advanced settings page that hides all the options away so they can be set and forgotten. The reason Writeroom is not my top pick is that it completely lacks Markdown support (which you may not care about) and doesn’t have as powerful file management as Nebulous Notes. View in iTunes

Elements. This is the first of the two more stylish plain text writing apps. If style trumps function, one of these may be your favorite. However, in the case of Elements it has one killer feature that you may decide trumps the more comprehensive functionality of Nebulous Notes and Writeroom: the Scratchpad! You can keep extras or reference material here. Elements is one of the underdogs that we want to stick around so if you like it, use it! Elements has a great icon, a clean look and a dedicated developer who keeps the upgrades coming. View in iTunes

Notesy. The other stylish text editor in our review today. Notesy has minimal documentation which is a sore point for me that I’m sure will eventually be corrected. It looks great and is a really nice writing app. You get lots of options to customize your workspace to your liking. Excellent search of files and inside files including support of regular expressions which is a technical way to search that is like what you can do in Google searches matching patterns. Notesy also gives you a lot of flexibility in how Markdown is handled and can automatically convert Markdown to HTML. View in iTunes

Dark Horse Contenders to Watch

Writing Kit. My favorite alternative has a built-in web browser to facilitate research. If you often do research when writing on your iPad, you may especially appreciate this app. It has a fantastic extra keyboard row for Markdown formatting. The author has written a browser app so kindly just built it into Writing Kit. It also supports outline navigation to some degree. If you aren’t a Markdown fan, though, you probably don’t want to go here. And, this is a pretty new app so some caution is advised – there may be a kink here and there that could affect reliability as the app refinements and additions are rolled out. Update: Writing Kit has moved up to #1 in my estimation as of April 2012 – see my post on Writing Kit for details. View in iTunes

Notely. This is another stylish app which hits all the checkboxes. So, a little more feature coverage than Elements and Notesy with just as much or more style. This again is a newer app so a little caution is advised but also watch this dark horse. It is on the rise. View in iTunes

Next time out we’ll look at the rich text writing apps.

If you haven’t seen my Writing on Mac, iPad, iPhone – Best Apps post dated May 14 2012, you will find some additional write app recommendations and thoughts there.