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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Why I Hate Adobe InDesign

There is a lot to like about InDesign. In my opinion it is the best DTP program on the market, but that isn’t saying much when the only real competition is Quark XPress. The trouble with both these programs is that, despite many changes of version numbers, they have evolved very, very slowly.

What few improvements have been made are mostly aimed at the more gimmicky end of multimedia and epublishing. Not that I don’t want to generate ebooks, but I want to produce them properly and InDesign makes that very hard to do. One of my long-standing complaints about InDesign is that it doesn’t support endnotes – there is a ludicrous work-around using hyperlinks which I won’t bother to discuss. As a result, one has to use InFnote, a third-party plug-in from Virginia Systems. If one exports to PDF or ePub, the links to endnotes don’t function. At least the Index links work, but index links aren’t particularly important in fully-searchable ebooks. Compare this with LaTeX (which is free) which supports footnotes, endnotes and wingnotes (and, as you reflow the text, the wingnotes will move with it). Using the Hyperref package for LaTeX, endnote hyperlinks can be generated automatically in PDFs. Even better, the links are bidirectional: click on a link in the text and it will take you to the note; click on the note number and it will take you back to the relevant piece of text. Similar functionality can be created in ePub files.

TeX and LaTeX are very old programs. When they were created, PostScript had not been invented. Over the years, various packages have been added to LaTeX to allow it to cope with the modern world – creating PDFs, using OpenType fonts, etc. It is crazy that after all these years LaTeX is still superior to InDesign and Quark in so many ways. Admittedly, it is rather harder to use, but the pay-off is that it does things the right way. In LaTeX, text is tagged according to function rather than form, as it is in XML and XHTML. This makes it incredibly flexible. Imagine a 400-page book with wingnotes (OK, perhaps you don’t like them but I do and, in any case, the same would apply for illustrations) and you’ve laid it out laboriously in InDesign for a royal 8vo page. That was for the hardback. Then you decide to produce a B format paperback. The margins need altering, the text area needs altering and, worst of all, every wingnote and illustrations needs repositioning. How long do you think it would take you to rework the book? It could take weeks and you’d have to check it all very carefully when you’d finished. In LaTeX it might take five minutes.
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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.

LaTeX to ePub

I had almost convinced myself that LaTeX was a better way to produce printed books... Read More...

eBook Covers

One important consideration when producing an ePub or Kindle eBook is the cover… Read More...


I’ve been rather hard on InDesign…

My First Kindle Book

I managed to create an ePub...

Two Monopolies – Google and Amazon

I have no axe to grind with either Google or Amazon... Read More...

ePub Horrors Continue

I have nearly turned my edition of Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds into an ePub... Read More...


I’ve said before that ePub is pretty awful...

Beware of the Feast

Beware of the Feast: The History of Robt. Jowitt & Sons is finally out. It has taken me well over 18 months to write and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. It was great to have an excuse to revisit the University of Leeds which I left in 1980 after completing an MA in Bibliography & Textual Criticism. I spent a lot of time in the Special Collections of the Brotherton Library which holds a large collection of Robt. Jowitt & Sons archive material.

Apple iPad

Apple’s much-anticipated tablet computer, the iPad, has arrived. It looks great, but there are two problems from my point of view. I’d love to be able to use all my Mac software on it, but it doesn’t run the full OS X, just the iPhone OS. No great surprise - the iPhone OS is designed for keyboardless portable devices and has been developed to run on low-power, high-performance ARM processors. Also, Apple don’t want to sell the iPad at the expense of their laptops.

The other problem is that the ebook format they will be supporting on the iBookstore is ePub. This makes sense for simple books and possibly newspapers but it’s no good for my books. ePub is a reflowable format based on XHTML. This just won’t work for most of my books. The Bibliomania or Book-Madness, for instance, has end-notes to the footnotes. Try doing that in ePub format.

Hollywood Beckons

Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds
Like many a young person, I dreamed of being an actor in my youth. I loved the rush I felt on stage in school plays. However, I don’t think I was much good.

Now Hollywood Beckons
I was just preparing the supper last night when the call came in from Warner Brothers. An acting part? Sadly not. They want to use my edition of Bernard de Fontenelle’s Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds as set dressing for a forthcoming film. Still, it’s a big-name production. I do hope the book will be clearly visible - it could boost sales considerably. Better still, I have an associated book, An Apology for the Life of Major General Gunning, coming out later this year. The Major General in question, an absolute rotter who fought at Bunker Hill, was the father of the translator of Conversations, the lovely Elizabeth who was not all she seemed. Perhaps if I sell enough copies, I could take acting classes like my niece Caroline...

Book Design

Yesterday I mentioned a particularly badly designed book I’d seen over Christmas. I shan’t name it as we all produce things we’re not proud of, but it’s a book which seems to have sold very well and my father-in-law received two copies for Christmas.

The production is quite decent but the design leaves a lot to be desired. For a start, the page is almost square. This can work sometimes but is usually a mistake. Also, the spine and fore edge margins are the same. As even the most inexperienced designer knows, this makes the back margin look too wide, because you see the back margins of facing pages as one block of space. In this case, the fore edge margins are really rather mean. It is set, I think, in 10/14 pt Garamond Premier Pro (why, oh why doesn’t the designer take advantage of the oldstyle numerals?). The generous leading suggests that the designer (if we may use the term loosely) wasn’t desperate to cram the text into as small a space as possible, and yet the line is 33 picas wide. The result is a line of about 90 characters (about 15 words). It has been accepted for centuries that readability suffers when lines exceed about 60 characters and, with the waning attention spans and literacy of the texting generation, this should probably be adjusted downwards. One can forgive many things in book design, but poor readability is not one of them.

Has the ‘designer’ never picked up a book? I ask this not so much because of the 90-character lines or the mean fore edge margins, but because the imprint information - ISBN, copyright, printer etc. - is placed on a separate recto after the title page. Of course, the publisher can have this information wherever he or she wishes, but surely it would have been better in the normal position on the title verso? Apart from anything else, it would have allowed the dedication to appear on a recto rather than being relegated to the verso of the imprint page.

Book Design

When I started in book publishing, many, many years ago, books weren’t designed by graphic designers. They weren’t designed by people who called themselves book designers or typographers much either. I’m talking about the UK, here. In the US they have long employed specialist book designers, much to the detriment of their books. If your only job is to design books, there is a strong temptation to make your books stand out and this is generally a bad thing for at least two reasons: (1) the traditions of book design have grown up for good reasons to do with convenience and readability - to ignore them is to risk compromising these benefits; (2) good typography is a subtle and modest art, more blushing bride than Braggadocio. To this day, it is hard to find even a simple crime novel designed in the US which is not a monument to typographical ignorance and personal vanity. No unnecessary quirk or gimmick is left unattempted.

In the UK, in days of old, most books were designed by production managers and their minions, people who breathed lead, antimony and tin, bathed in printer’s ink and drank dragon’s blood. Not all were great designers, of course, but a surprising number of them were. They understood type, its history and subtleties. As book design was freed from the physical restraints of metal type, a new breed of book designers grew up. Often they came from a graphic design background and understood nothing about type and they embraced the very worst of the new photosetting faces - Souvenir and ITC Garamond to name but two.

This Christmas I have come across three books which suggest that things are getting even worse. I shall need more time to discuss these, or at least the worst of them, so, until another day...


The internet is awash with scams. Every batch of emails brings new spam, phishing scams, etc. I don’t very often read them these days because my external spam filters exclude most of them and my internal spam filters catch most of the rest.

Scam 1:

I only noticed one purporting to come from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the British equivalent of the US’s Internal Revenue Service, because (although it went straight into my spam folder) it happened to flash up on the screen - my spam filter uses Growl notification. It was a typically unsophisticated effort, although I won’t go into all the give-aways as I don’t want to help them improve their scam! The text of the message said: ‘You have 1 new ALERT message. Please login to your Online Account and go to Messages section in order to read the message. To Login, please click the link below: Online Account Login’. I was pretty sure it was a scam but an examination of the link showed that it took you to I have reported this to HMRC and the ISP which hosts the dodgy site.

Scam 2:

This one wasn’t picked up by my spam filters, but it will be next time! It purported to be from Drago Store Pty in Australia. Again, I won’t discuss the many clues which indicated that it was fraudulent, although I will say that I treat all emails from gmail addresses as suspect. As far as I can see, Google don’t have any proper abuse-reporting procedure. Gmail is certainly every fraudster’s favourite email service. The message read: ‘Greetings from Drago Store Pty. My name is Douglas Patti the CEO of the company. i will like to place order on some products in your company,but i would like to know if you ship to Australia and also do you accept Visa or Master card as method of payment? Please do not forget to include your web page in your replying back to my message and get back to me as fast as possible so that i can let you know the product i would like to order. Please email me back with the current price list on the products if you website is not updated. Thank you.... Yours Sincerely, Douglas Patti.’

I googled one or two items in the message and immediately found this site reporting a scam related to a similar email.