Showcase: Writing a book - HelpNDoc or Microsoft Word ?

How Mitch Barnett, a software engineer, achieved his dream of becoming an international author using HelpNDoc.

Executive Summary: Mitch Barnett is an Author and Software Architect. After 20 years as a professional software engineer, he wanted to write and publish his own book. After trying various professional tools, he realized HelpNDoc was the best one for the job.

Who is Mitch ?

Mitch Barnett spent 10 years as a professional mixing and recording engineer. When the market changed, Mitch went back to school to become a software engineer. However, his passion for all things music and audio continued. Recently, Mitch took a 6 months sabbatical to write a book titled Accurate Sound Reproduction Using DSP, which he wrote entirely using HelpNDoc.

His motivations

So why did Mitch decide to write a book?

“One part is sharing the results of 5 years of experience using various audio DSP correction software. It was also an opportunity to be first to market with a book on this subject area. Having been in the market space for 40 years and understanding a bit about technology adoption, Audio DSP is in the process of being widely adopted in the consumer market and already has in the Pro audio market for years,” he says.

Key challenges Mitch had to deal with while writing

Mitch started writing with Microsoft Word. But he soon ran into problems when he realized that managing topics in Microsoft Word is hard and error-prone. The big issue was that Microsoft Word doesn’t have a topic management tool, meaning something that keeps related topics together or allows global updates to a topic from one place. The closest option in Microsoft Word would be to use the cut and paste function, and as we’ve all experienced, it’s a great way to make big mistakes while losing a lot of valuable time.
Mitch needed a writing tool that was smarter about managing topics and while searching for such a tool on the web, he discovered HelpNDoc. He learned how to move topics around using the built in table of contents. He ended up using HelpNDoc for writing his book from start to finish.

So what did Mitch think of HelpNDoc’s topic management tool?

“Seriously, rearranging topics in HelpNDoc is so easy. Whereas, I would have never been able to easily do it in MS Word,” he explained.”

While simple writing is easy on Microsoft Word, formatting books or other complex documents like user manuals and other technical documentations isn’t, as Mitch goes on to demonstrate.

“HelpNDoc’s visual hierarchal authoring model is an easier paradigm for my mind to work with than MS Word. Simplicity really has a lot to do with it. The most common word authoring tools are easily located and applied in HelpNDoc. I spend more time writing and less time figuring out how the heck I do x in MS Word. I am way more efficient in structuring my thoughts and getting them down using HelpNDoc than MS Word,” he said.

Why HelpNDoc

There are several benefits of using a specialized authoring software like HelpNDoc, as Mitch was quick to point out. Topic management was only the first problem he had which HelpNDoc was able to solve. In his own words, “The ability to easily link navigation to topics or specific places in the documentation is so easy and intuitive.”

The second issue was publishing. Mitch published his book on the amazon Kindle, which Microsoft Word does not have native support for. If he had written with Microsoft Word, he would have needed an add-on or an additional software to do the conversion, and there is always the risk of something going wrong with both methods.

A major bonus for me is the multiple output formats. I was able to have my copy editor mark up MS Word generated docs. PDF’s for printing. Kindle format to test on multiple devices and screens, plus as the final format I uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing,” Mitch explained.

HelpNDoc can easily generate multiple formats from a single source file, including ePub and Kindle eBooks. This saved Mitch a world of hassle.

The third issue was the writing itself, or more specifically the formatting. Formatting is rather simple on Microsoft Word if the built-in templates suit your needs perfectly (and for most of us, they rarely ever do). You can update the templates with your own styles, but it’s really not that easy. As a result, formatting on Microsoft Word is not an easy task.

Thus, with HelpNDoc’s clean and efficient user interface, Mitch was able to focus on his writing while the software took care of the formatting. This is an important consideration when you’re writing a complex document like a technical book with multiple interconnected chapters. You want to ensure your readers can make sense of the topics, how they relate, and you need to make sure that you are formatting your documents correctly in order to do that. Using HelpNDoc, you can actually define hyperlinks to relative topics to make your entire book reader-friendly.

“I really like the focus of the product that is geared toward being productive and not getting bogged down in figuring out simple formatting, heading and other issues I found using MS Word,” Mitch said.

And the final issue was the pricing. Mitch pointed out that other software that boast of similar capabilities and features are priced much higher than HelpNDoc.

“I also feel the pricing fulfills a sweet spot where I don’t need or want other more expensive products,” he said.

HelpNDoc is free for personal use and evaluation purposes. You can download it here to try it out for as long as needed.

When we asked Mitch to comment on the overall effectiveness of HelpNDoc, his response was limpid:

“The product design for simplicity and productivity is excellent. I like being able to get to work immediately and not have to spend time searching online or the manual on what to do. I love that it (HelpNDoc) can generate output in other file formats. The ability to easily link navigation to topics or specific places in the documentation is so easy and intuitive.”

How HelpNDoc helped

Topic management

HelpNDoc has a number of tools designed to make writing easier. For Mitch, the topic management tools were a game changer.
For example using HelpNDoc, it is possible to rapidly drag and drop a topic to another location within the table of contents, rename it, change its settings, content… without breaking any links to that topic: HelpNDoc will automatically produce valid documentation files in all desired formats without any complex actions from the writer other than hitting the “Generate help” button.
You can learn more about the topic creation and management tools on our online help manual under managing table of contents, and under topic editor.

User interface

When we asked Mitch what he thought of HelpNDoc’s user interface, his review was glowing.

“The layout is intuitive and just the right amount of complexity without being totally overwhelmed and non-productive like using MS word for example.”

So why exactly is HelpNDoc’s authoring environment so productive ? IBE Software’s CEO, John Riche, explains the secret.

“You’ll be more productive when you write with little or no distractions. Sadly, many technical writing software that are meant to be user friendly, do so by giving you a lot of manual control options. The downside is you get distracted with things like formatting and layout, because you’re doing it manually.” says John.
“So when we designed HelpNDoc, we wanted to make sure you had the same level of control, but without as much hassle. You can customize your documents on HelpNDoc just as easily, but you don’t get bogged down with it.”

Now you can see these features all by yourself, take a Feature Tour of HelpNDoc.

Technical Support

Even the most intuitive software can have people wondering how to complete a certain function, or whether it’s even possible. That’s why HelpNDoc has:

So how was Mitch’s experience with the support?

“Really, the support on how to do x and fix one or two bugs has been outstanding.”

The big question

Productivity

Mitch told us all about how HelpNDoc helped, but you’ll notice a distinct lack of quantitative measures. So we asked him exactly how much more productive were you because of HelpNDoc?

“I don’t know how to quantify this in terms of how much faster, as in some cases, I don’t think I could have ever figured out how to do it in MS Word period. I could see that I saved 50% of my time not having to mess around with MS Word. One example is my eBook has over 260 color pictures and I did not want to have to fuss with placement of each one like you have to do in MS Word,” he replied.

Mitch’s experience proved that with HelpNDoc, you can actually write books and write better help documents in half the time.

Alternatives?

So, say there was no HelpNDoc, or that you hadn’t found it when you did. What would have happened then?

“If there wasn’t HelpNDoc, then it would have been a hard choice between spending more money on Adobe Robohelp or living with the pain of MS Word.”

Results

When all's said and done, the bottom line is how well did he write? No point writing faster if your book is no good after all.
The answer is he published a highly technical and detailed book in just 6 months.
We can’t take all the credit for how well Mitch’s book has been performing (it’s the author, not the software that matters). But we like to think we’re at least partly responsible for helping to publish Mitch’s first book Accurate Sound Reproduction Using DSP and getting its 5 Star reviews.

We could go on and on about how productive yet easy to use the features of HelpNDoc are, but we think Mitch said it best himself. In a survey where we asked him how he felt about HelpNDoc, he ticked the following:

Start Writing Your Own Book Today!

HelpNDoc is a documentation and eBook writing software, designed to make complex technical documents like help manuals easy to write, and easier for your readers to understand. Thanks to its ability to generate several formats including ePub and Kindle eBook formats, it’s also amazingly easy to write books, even those with complicated chapter relationships.
So if you are writing a technical book like Mitch, you’ll find our topic management tools are very powerful. And if you are trying to write an action-adventure thriller with a complicated plot like Alexandre Dumas’s notorious character relationship hierarchy...


Source: Wikipedia

...you’ll find the project analyzer is good at keeping you organized too.
We’ve all read that one book where you suddenly realize you’re supposed to know a particular character, and then you have to keep turning pages trying to figure out who she was.

“We made HelpNDoc with the goal of helping technical authors by making their writing easier. Our focus has always been on technical documentations like help manuals. We recognized early that eBooks are a good format for help manuals, and so we created the tools necessary for creating ebooks. We are seeing more and more authors using HelpNDoc to write fantastic eBooks and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it.” — John Riche, CEO of IBE Software

If you’re new to HelpNDoc we recommend starting with the free version to check how powerful and easy it is. You can download the free version right now.
If you’ve used HelpNDoc before and ready for something more robust, you can pick up the Standard or Professional Edition to generate all documentation formats including CHM, HTML, Word, PDF, ePub, Kindle and Qt Help.

Thanks for reading about this HelpNDoc showcase, and we sincerely hope we can write about your achievements in the near future too. Do not hesitate to contact us should you want to showcase your work with HelpNDoc.