33 thoughts on “Writing a Novel Using Markdown: Part One”

  1. If people are comfortable using markdown and want to skip a step or two, it is also worth checking out leanpub.com – they use markdown files to directly create PDF, MOBI and ePub files that they can host (for a small cut, of course), but that you are free to also use at Smashwords, Amazon, etc. They also have some nice website widget code to display the book on your website.
    I used them to publish my new novella and found the whole process very slick.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mick. I did come across LeanPub in my travels, but I thought it was a command line tool. Maybe that was a different ‘leanpub’. The site you mention looks pretty awesome. If it could be used to produce a well-formatted PDF via Latex I’d definitely be interested. Right now, the PDF I can generate from my Markdown files needs tweaking and I’m not entirely sure how to go about it (since Latex seems to be a realm unto itself). Thanks for the heads-up.

  3. I love the idea of using Markdown, but the thing I can’t figure out is the spaces between paragraphs. Since you aren’t indenting, you need to double-space between paragraphs. That works great for blog posts, but wouldn’t work for prose format. When you finally compile the book, are those extra spaces taken out?

  4. Hi Jesse

    The indenting (or block style, depending on what you want in the final book) is all handled by the style sheet, which specifies what to do with paragraph presentation. All the Markdown does is convert plaintext blocks of text into HTML-compliant blocks that are marked by

    tags. Does that make sense?


  5. Thanks for the reply, Ian. My experience with HTML is a limited, but I think that makes sense. So if in the final book I wanted no spaces between paragraphs, is there a way to remove them and indent? Would that be a software option in something like Scrivener? I guess I’m mainly wondering if there is an automated way to change the block style, instead of manually deleting each space and indenting each first line.

    And don’t feel like you have to go into detail. I’m just wondering if it’s possible. If it is, I can do the research to figure out how.

  6. You might be interested in this tool: http://johnmacfarlane.net/pandoc/ it can convert markdown to a myriad of other formats. Useful if you deal with publishers that can’t deal with html files.

    I’ve had good luck using it to convert directly into epub.

    I’ve also been using StackEdit to give me a live preview of what I am writing – it also syncs with google docs (and a bunch of other services) so that I don’t need to worry about where I am writing anymore.

  7. Thanks, er, ‘Ape’, I did indeed come across pandoc. In fact, I’ve tried using it to produce PDFs from Markdown (unfortunately, it’s limited to one standard Latex template and it crashes out of the PDFLatex command when passed certain images, which is, of course, quite irritating; I’ll try to chase down the problem when I have the time). Stackedit looks sweet. I don’t really need to see a preview alongside, but I do like the idea of having the document accessible via any computer. Right now I’m doing some similar by using vim to edit on a server over SSH, with the file itself in a DropBox folder.

  8. Hi, we need more and more experience on using lightweight markup languages as markdown in non-tecnical writing (there’s btw fountain (http://fountain.io/), a “markdown for screenwriting”, but totally incompatible and not really popular).
    I have just a question: how do you threat dialogues format?
    “- ” is a bulleted list element,
    “” is al free html link in most dialects (github)
    “>” is for quotes
    and there’s no “<>”.

  9. Hi Netalix

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t actually mark dialogue. I keep the quotes as-is, then put it through a ‘smarty pants’ filter of some kind that tweaks them for the final document. I use > for blockquotes, though… What’s <>?



  10. Hi Annie

    I have only limited experience with Pandoc, I’m afraid. The best thing to do would be check out their support forums, if you haven’t done so already.

    With best wishes


  11. Hi Ian,

    Great article. I’m currently trying to get a workflow together for using md for my essay and report writing.

    Another fantastic advantage of using plain text md files is that you can incorporate a version control system (such as `git`) with it.

    There is a bit of a learning curve with implementing a VCS, but it means you’ll never lose any of your work. It also can help a lot with your revisions and edits.

    Cheers, Ian

  12. Thanks, Ian! Yes, I had a go with version control myself a little while back, but couldn’t get to grips with it. The other issue is that this all goes out the window once a publisher needs to more on it; all drafts after that are funnelled through Word, worst luck.

  13. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each
    time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from
    that service? Thank you!

  14. Hmm, that’s not something that seems obvious to me from the WordPress back end. When you come to the site, do you see the ‘notify’ box at the end of the post checked? If so, unchecking that should solve it. If not, let me know and I’ll try to change settings…

  15. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for posting. What process do you use when converting from .md to .docx? I love writing in markdown, but converting to Word and then formatting into manuscript format is a bit of a pain.

    My process today is a rather convoluted .md -> .rtf using Pandoc, followed by Save As to .docx in Word.

  16. Hi Jeff

    Thanks for your comment. I haven’t actually gone the .docx route, and wouldn’t know what to recommend… I have a feeling that Scrivener might do the trick, however…

    With best wishes


  17. Hi Sashan

    Thanks for your comment. You’re right that a good manuscript-style production tool would be a good idea. My preferred option at the moment is to drop the Markdown into an app like Scrivener, and then use the compile options to produce a manuscript format. Staying to a more pure approach, you could use an app like Marked, which has a manuscript CSS output option. Otherwise, you could create your own manuscript CSS.



  18. Thanks, Aaron. Leanpub is something I looked at a few years ago and it didn’t offer quite the control I was looking for. Things might be a little different now, of course.

  19. Hi, I’m using markdown with leanpub to publish a 100,000 word thriller and the split screen (how the book should look) has crashed and will not restore. Can you suggest anything?
    Many thanks.

  20. Not a cry for help – just a belated (I realize this comment is for a post that is two+ years old now) thanks for writing both these posts. I found them handy references while setting up my own workflow (though I still haven’t quite figured out the magic of getting my css file to be read for formatting, but I’ll get there). Anywho, thanks for taking the time to write these up!

  21. Hi Ian,
    I realize I’m late to this party, but if you are still checking comments on this, I have a question for you.
    I’m a big fan of using markdown for everything. I hate writing in Scrivener; much prefer various text editors on both tablet and PC. But here’s the issue I run into:
    I write, as you seem to, each chapter in separate text files. How do you keep them in order? For example, if I write “Chapter1.txt” and “Chapter2.txt”, and then I decide to add another chapter in between, how do I add it without having to manually re-number everything that comes after? In Scrivener it’s as easy as moving index cards around. With text files… I just don’t know how to manage it. It gets messy very quickly.

    Any suggestions?

  22. Hi Doug

    Thanks for your comment. It’s a tricky one because I don’t actually use this method any more (I’ll write up my new method just as soon as it’s polished!); but I think the only way to go about it is assign a ‘draft order’ using numbers and then renumber at a later stage. Not ideal, I know.



  23. After I originally left a commesnt I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me
    when new comments are added- chefkbox and now each time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment.
    Is there a means you cann remove mme from that service?

  24. Just tried to send you an email but it bounced… I don’t seem to have a central list of people subscribed to comments on my blog. Is there any option for turning off notifications when you go back to the page?

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