Nisus Writer Pro, the Professional Word Processor for Macs


As a writer and publisher, I take word processing software very seriously. You can, at a pinch, use a word processor for the whole publishing process. I know people who have done that, but it is not something that I would want to do. Word processing should be a process unencumbered by the niceties of presentation and, with the exception of Apple’s Pages, word processing programs rightly put more emphasis on presenting the author with his material in a form which is easy for him to manage, not in a form suitable for other readers. Pages, as I have said, is the exception and, in my opinion, is the worse for it.

There are word processors which go to the other extreme from Pages, emphasising content over form. Of these, I like Scrivener and Ulysses, particularly the latter with its ‘semantic text editing’. However, for continuous hard slog and the organisation (and re-organisation) of complex information, there is only one program. Microsoft Word? Pah – too gimmicky, too slow and too bossy (it always thinks it knows better than I do)! No, the answer is Nisus Writer Pro. It’s not the prettiest program I’ve ever seen (not that it’s ugly), but it’s very fast and it has all the really useful features for a serious writer.

Above is a screen shot from the draft manuscript of Beware of the Feast: The History of Robt. Jowitt & Sons, a 352-page book which I published last year. On the left is the table of contents which allows one to navigate easily between chapters and sections. And look at the text itself; I’ve highlighted an endnote marker and you’ll see that it shows me the text of that note. If I right-click on the marker, it will give me the option of going to the note (it will also let me do other things, such as convert it to a footnote). When I go to the note, I can right-click on the number to take me back to the relevant piece of text. With a thousand notes, this save a lot of time.

I’m now writing a crime novel called Isleworth Madonna in Nisus Writer Pro. It’s a pleasure to use, even in a crowded Starbucks with wonky tables which spill my triple-shot Americano worryingly close to my MacBook Air. I’ve spent years writing this novel but I notice it’s going much quicker since I changed to Nisus Writer Pro!
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The Ultimate Portable Reading Device

The ultimate (or so it seemed at the time) portable reading device was invented in about 1450 – the printed book. The Aldine books of the late fifteenth century were fine examples of the ability to cram large quantities of text into small and portable objects, aided by Griffo’s compact but elegant italics and Aldus Manutius’s fine presswork. Later, pocket Bibles printed on India paper achieved even greater compactness.

When Penguin appeared on the scene in 1935, not quite inventing the mass-market paperback but certainly raising it to new heights, the portability of their books was a major attraction. This continued even onto the sixties and seventies, with the typical whodunnit seldom exceeding a spine width of 2cm and often much nearer 1cm. Slowly, though, spine widths started to increase, led, it must be said, by publishers other than Penguin. The increasing bulk was not caused by longer books, although there were some authors around whose logorrhoea was in inverse proportion to their skill. Rather, the bulk was increased by publishers using thicker and thicker paper. Where once they might have used an 70gsm vol. 12 paper, giving a book of 240pp a spine of about 10mm, they might use a bloated 80gsm vol. 18 with a spine width of more than 17mm. Increase the extent (number of pages, if you’re a layman) and the volume of the paper further and you are looking at a book which is 5 or 6 cm thick. I have a 5cm-thick life of Prince Potemkin beside me as I write. This may fit in your handbag as long as you leave your purse behind; it won’t fit in your jacket or coat pocket, so a book which would have been an ideal read on a long train journey will be left behind and perhaps never read.

Roll on the age of the ebook reader and people are saying, ‘Wow this is so slim, much slimmer than the paperback I’ve been lugging around in my extra large briefcase!’ And the sad truth is that they’re right. The publishers have shot themselves in the foot, almost literally, because not only can you not cram most modern paperbacks in your pocket, you cannot fit many on a foot of bookshelf. This must have a disastrous effect on the profitability of bookshops which are already suffering from the competition from Amazon and the rise of the ebook reader. You could quite literally halve the floor space of the average bookshop if you halved the thickness of the paper, without any reduction in the stock held. Think of the savings in rent and business rates!

It is probably too late to save the printed book, but, please, fellow publishers, go back to printing on thinner paper!
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Peter Victor Danckwerts – Brave, Shy, Brilliant

Although it is quite near to publication (anticipated Spring 2012), Peter Varey’s book on my uncle, P. V. Danckwerts, is still evolving and the subtitle has changed from ‘The Blitz, bomb disposal and beyond’ to ‘brave, shy, brilliant’. I have read an early draft of this book and think it is fascinating. How many people’s lives combine bomb disposal with an academic career as a Cambridge professor? Peter was, I believe, the only Fellow of the Royal Society to be awarded the George Cross.
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Professor P. V. Danckwerts

A book on my uncle, Professor Peter Danckwerts, will be published in 2012. Details are available here.

Write a Novel in a Month - More

This course is taking an interesting turn. I find that the very pressure of writing nearly two thousand words a day is changing my writing style for the better. Instead of trying to plan the plot in advance, it is making me write more about the characters, and they are driving the plot. That, I think, is the way it should be. It is like creating a race of autonomous beings and watching to see what they do. Fascinating.

Write a Novel in a Month

I started a ‘Write a Novel in a Month’ course... Read More...

General Gunning

Among the books which Tiger of the Stripe has in the pipeline is An Apology for the Life of Major General Gunning. I (under the name Gerrish Gray) started on this after publishing Elizabeth Gunning's translation of Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds. I don’t want to give anything away but there really are some interesting revelations, especially about Miss Gunning and the ‘Gunning Mystery’.

It's Not easy being a publisher (4)

Before Christmas, I sent out quite a few books to Bertram Books. I was slightly concerned that they might be caught up with the demise of Woolworth, but I wasn’t going to refuse to supply them. My trust was rewarded and they paid me promptly as they always have before and since. In fact, they and the other big UK book wholesaler, Gardner’s, are a pleasure to deal with. On the other hand, I supplied a bookshop in one of London’s swankiest neighbourhoods with books on 2 and 9 December and they still have not sent me a cheque. Grrr! I wonder if I should name and shame them.

By contrast, again, I invoiced Heffer’s, the famous Cambridge bookshop, for some books on 6 March and they’ve already sent me a cheque. Well done!


Professor Fathi Habashi in Canada has sent me flyers for three new books. One is for a book called Gold: History, Metallurgy, Culture. It sounds very interesting (the flyer is here) and I only wish I could afford it. I also wish I knew how to sell a 256pp. book for $60. This is not sour grapes; I’d genuinely like to know, and I wish him every success.

It's not easy being a publisher (3)

I mentioned the other day that the paperback of Bibliomania didn’t seem to be available from Amazon UK. Well, it is again, rather emphasising Amazon’s unpredictable nature.

It's not easy being a publisher (2)

Many of our books are based on earlier editions which we scan in. Unfortunately, buying books off the internet unseen is a risky business, as the following shots indicate. The first book, if I remember correctly, was described as having ‘some light pencil annotation’. The biblioclast left her name on the fly leaf, and I say to her, ‘Madam, I know your name.’ The description of the latter made no mention of the scribbling, but, fortunately, as it was in blue ink, it was possible to filter it out.
scribbles 1scribbles 2

There is a good chance that some comments on these books will find their way into Enemies of Books.

Books on books

Tiger of the Stripe has only published one book about books, an annotated edition of Thomas Frognall Dibdin’s The Bibliomania, or Book-Madness, but we have plans for several more. The first will be William Blades’s Enemies of Books, followed by Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon. Later in the year, there’ll be a new edition of Richard Atkyns’s Original and Growth of Printing, together with his Vindication.

Meanwhile, my friend Margaret Willes has written Reading Matters: Five Centuries of Discovering Books (Yale, £19.99). I’ll be reviewing it in due course, meanwhile, here is some information from the publisher.

A book on bicycles

Michael Harvey's Bicycles
Every now and then a truly original book appears on my desk. Such a book is Bicycles: Objects of Grace, Charm and Utility by Michael Harvey. Michael, as well as being a world-class type designer, is a very keen cyclist and a very talented photographer.

This 56-page colour book consists of photographs of bicycles which Michael has noticed on the street. Fascinating, eh? Well, actually, it is. What really makes it is the careful observation and the great photographs. Here’s a typical caption:

The rear triangle’s horizontal track ends, and short wheelbase show this fixed-gear Bianchi was built for the track. As a shopping bike, it has a front carrier, sprung leather saddle, no breaks.

Michael has also published a book on hydrant signs. Another winner!

Neither of these books is easy to get hold of, but Michael is setting up a website which will accept PayPal. When he does, I’ll post the details here.

It's not easy being a publisher

Being a book publisher is a very hard way to make a living. The biggest problem is the size of the discounts you have to give. Now, I can understand that booksellers have rent and rates to cover, but some of the big chains expect 55% or 60%. I won’t give it to them, so they don’t stock my books. I don’t think they would anyway, but even if they did it wouldn’t be worth it.

Let’s look at an example. I can’t afford to print and bind thousands of copies and then warehouse them so I use print-on-demand. A copy of Schoelcher’s Life of Handel in hardback costs me £9.40 a copy, plus delivery charges. I sell it for £25 which is what I think the market will bear. If I give a bookshop 55%, I receive £11.25. Postage on that book is probably at least £3, so I’ve already made a loss before allowing for the costs of research, design, typesetting, sourcing illustrations.

I sell most of my books through Amazon on so-called ‘short discounts’ (i.e. less than 55% discount) but if I had to sell through Amazon’s Advantage programme, I’d have to give them 55%. The Advantage, I have to say, is all Amazon’s. Not that I’m knocking Amazon. Without them I’d have no business at all. However, I have to say that the lack of competition in the online bookselling business is very bad.

The other major online bookseller is ABE Books (go here in the UK, here in the US). They’re great for out-of-print books. They also sell a lot of new books but I find that most of the new books I buy from them take an age to arrive (many are shipped from the States) and often cost more than they would from Amazon.

A slight frustration I have with Amazon is that I don’t really have a direct relationship with them. My relationship is with my printers, Lightning Source. They supply Amazon directly, which is great for me. The downside, though, is that my books don’t always appear on Amazon and there’s little I can do about it. For instance, why is my paperback edition of Bibliomania available from Amazon in the US but not the UK?

By the same post

Handel by W. H. Cumming
By the same post, I received copies of Tiger of the stripe’sThe Life of Handel by Victor Schoelcher. It’s a much more substantial book (440 pages) than the Anecdotes. It’s a bit of a relief to receive the paperbacks because the printing on the hardback edition of the same book was a bit light. The paperbacks are a bit darker. We have a third Handel book in the pipeline, one by William H. Cummings who used to be the Principal of the Guildhall School of Music.

After that, we’ll give music a rest and publish a new edition of Enemies of Books by William Blades. I’m making a few new enemies, if you know what I mean. It’s a very amusing book.

Latest from Tiger of the Stripe

It’s the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death this year and Tiger of the Stripe is doing its bit to mark the occasion. We have published two books on the great composer so far and we have a third in the pipeline. Go here for further details.