I was fortunate enough to learn about Jutoh from a fellow author just before I published my first book. It’s a game-changing software program for self-published authors that creates ebooks for Epub-using platforms and Kindle, in a re-flowable format. Along with Scriven, this is the one other author tool I could not imagine living without.
Re-flowable – what’s that? Re-flowable means that no matter whether your readers use Kindles, iPads, iPhones, Android tablets, phones, Macs or PCs, your work will always “reshape” itself to fit the screen of the device they prefer (as opposed to having to scroll around from side to side to see each page).
Jutoh also enables authors to publish a high quality product on any ebook distribution site, including Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iBooks, Google Play and Kobo. And it creates PDFs suitable for sending to print-on-demand services. What’s not to like?
Julian Smart, co-author of Jutoh and the tech genius behind it, kindly agreed to answer a few questions about this software.
Welcome, Julian and thanks for joining us. You have a degree in computer science, a PhD in Artificial Intelligence and have developed software for many different kinds of applications, including a sonar navigation system for autonomous underwater vehicles – how did you find your way to developing software for authors? What made you think of this application in particular?
My main inspiration has been my wife, Harriet Smart, who writes historical novels. In 2002 I was made redundant by the Linux company Red Hat UK, at which point Harriet and I designed our first writing tool, Writer’s Café, which had been brewing in our minds for some years.
Writer’s Café focused on early parts of the writing process, with tools for planning stories and exercising the writing muscle. As the ebook became a practical and commercial possibility thanks to Amazon and others, we realised that there was a gap in the market for a tool to easily create ebooks for self-publication, without resorting to writing HTML and CSS code.
There was plenty of scope to offer alternatives to word processors, that offered ebook-specific tools, optimisations and structuring that conventional word processors don’t cater for. Harriet’s writing needs have definitely driven and shaped the tools I’ve been writing for the last 14 years, and I’m glad to say she’s still an enthusiastic user of Writer’s Café and Jutoh, planning in the former and writing all her novels in the latter.
Simplicity and flexibility are two major considerations, often tricky to keep in balance. Jutoh is used by a wide range of people, from authors who know just enough word processing to get by, to publishing houses with demanding expectations of how Jutoh will fit into their existing workflow. So Jutoh must neither overwhelm nor limit.
I try to keep advanced settings hidden until needed, notably with the ‘configurations’ concept which allows the user to control more esoteric facilities such as conditional inclusion of content according to distributor or format.
One of the features of digital publishing is the large number of pitfalls and ‘gotchas’ due to variations in the way e-readers handle content, limitations of HTML and CSS compared with word processors, display size differences and so on.
So Jutoh has an extensive warning and error system to help the user identify problems in their books, and there is also a help system with instant keyword search for the manual and a 200-article ‘knowledge base’ comprising short answers to specific technical questions. So this way Jutoh tries to clear some of the fog surrounding the mysteries of ebook creation, and Jutoh’s own behaviour.
How long did it take for you to develop Jutoh?
I can’t remember exactly when I started working on Jutoh, but probably a year or so before the first release in 2010. However, I had a big leg-up reusing code from some of my other tools, including Writer’s Café. Complex software is never really finished, and I have been improving Jutoh and adding features since version 1, so another answer to the question is ‘the last 7 years’.
All the names we tried to come up with that had writing connotations sounded horribly cheesy, so we opted for an arbitrary word made up of the first letters of our names: Julian, Toni (our daughter) and Harriet. This had the advantage of being an available domain name.
What was the most difficult part of designing this software? The easiest?
Hardest: tables! Jutoh’s text editor is written from scratch, and implementing all the parts of table layout, import, export, and editing with all the required property dialogs, was a massive job. During much of this I was bedridden for 9 months and as a distraction I worked feverishly on table support for Jutoh 2.
Easiest: probably the tab-based document management system, since much of it had been written for Writer’s Café.
Are there any famous authors using it?
Most conventionally-published authors will leave ebook creation to the publisher, but there are many quietly successful ‘indie’ authors using Jutoh who will be familiar within particular genres, such as Stephanie Bond, Ruth Harris, Freda Lightfoot, Holly Lisle and Barbara Freethy. Other notable users include the publishing guru Jane Friedman, and ‘Early Edition’ TV series creator Vik Rubenfeld.
What should authors think about before deciding if this product is right for them? Is it more useful for fiction or non-fiction?
I would encourage authors to consider if they are happy giving control of the editing process to a third party, who charge per book and make it harder for you to make corrections and changes later; and whether they want a high-quality result compared with a simple-minded document conversion.
If retaining control appeals, and the author doesn’t mind a little work in getting to know new software, then Jutoh should fit the bill. Since a demo is available, authors can determine whether it suits their way of working before purchasing.
Jutoh can be used for both fiction and non-fiction; although most users are probably novelists, users have also created highly technical, large books with Jutoh, making use of features such as bibliography tools, indexing, footnotes, cross-references, pictures, and tables.
It has been used to create interactive Epub 3 tutorials, children’s books, memoirs, cookery books, photography books, travel guides, self-help books, manuals, and medical textbooks. Jutoh is of course used to create the Jutoh user guide!
Are any special skills required? Do most users have a technical background?
Knowing how to use a word processor is a good start, together with a little patience for where Jutoh diverges from a conventional word processor. Formatting for digital publishing requires a little more precision and care than day-to-day word processing, and therefore good habits may need to be learned, such as using named styles consistently.
Most users aren’t particularly ‘technical’, if by technical you refer to programmers or web site designers. But obviously there is some skill in using any reasonably interesting piece of software.
Jutoh comes with lots of documentation to help get the user up to speed on what formats are supported, how to use Jutoh, troubleshooting problems, and so on, and of course we are very happy to help users if they get stuck.
Have you created any other tools for authors? Or do you have any new products planned for the future?
I’ve mentioned Writer’s Café; my other software has been mainly for programmers, such as DialogBlocks (for creating user interfaces) and HelpBlocks (for creating manuals). Right now I’m temporarily reducing my focus on the nuts and bolts of software development to think about the next phase.
I’m interested in the use of digital books by the visually impaired, and am looking into support for DAISY digital talking books. Jutoh can already be used to create MP3 files using text-to-speech, with features that allow you to improve speech quality and also preview audio for all or parts of the project.
The sample file Patient Advice Speech Sample demonstrates a medical information leaflet with speech optimisations that can create files for Epub, Kindle, ODT in normal and large-print versions, and MP3 speech. I’d like explore how authors can deliver their books to visually impaired readers more easily – the current self-publishing infrastructure, such as Amazon’s Kindle platform, is not yet adapted to this, and bolt-on audio hardware for Kindles is only a stop-gap measure.
There needs to be a better route for authors to add custom pronunciations and specific content for people listening via text-to-speech readers. Epub 3 has been rather a damp squib as an update to the DAISY format, with few devices or applications taking advantage of speech markup features offered by Epub 3. So there’s much scope for improvement in this area, and I will be looking at how Jutoh can help.
I enjoy playing ball with my cat, prowling around antique shops with my wife, renovating old properties, and checking out interesting architecture. I watch far too much TV drama – there’s so much quality stuff these days, it’s hard to keep up. My wife calls it ‘research’, so she has an excuse.
Who are your favourite authors? What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?
I confess I spend more time reading articles online than reading books; I tend to consume stories in TV and movie form, but I’m a big fan of the Northminster Mysteries by one Harriet Smart.
I’m also promising myself the time to read William Morris’ sci-fi novel News From Nowhere as Morris is a significant part of our decorative schemes.
And my all-time favourite questions: If you had a supernatural power, what would it be? If you were a super hero, what would your name be? What costume would you wear?
I would be Sash-Man, sporting astragalled specs, a white sash and the ability to instantly transform plastic windows into traditional wooden windows (sash-and-case where appropriate). The UK housing stock has been comprehensively ruined by tricksters selling ugly plastic windows that rip the soul out of old buildings, and only a superhero – or a benevolent dictator – could fix this mammoth scandal.
Julian Smart was born in Nottingham, UK, and has degrees from the universities of St Andrews and Dundee. While working for the University of Edinburgh, he created the open source cross-platform GUI toolkit wxWidgets, used for nearly a quarter of century by individuals and organisations all over the world, and the bedrock of Anthemion Software’s applications. Julian has also worked for Red Hat UK, and the Scottish Crop Research Institute.
In 1996, Julian and Harriet founded Anthemion Software to create tools for programmers and writers, including the productivity software Writer’s Café and the ebook editor Jutoh. Julian is based in Edinburgh with wife Harriet, daughter Antonia, and cat Alfie.
Note: Just in case you are wondering – I (Ben) have not received any compensation for highlighting this product here. It’s a great tool for writers that I have found useful and am happy to share it as one of my favorite finds.