Reviews of e-readers and tablets. Overviews of workflows.

Tech solutions that actual publishing people use to get actual work done.

Monday, June 20, 2011

.docx and manuscript workflow

I posted this on my main blog a while ago, but it seems germane to this conversation too. One thing I'd add: this is, too me, a reason for an open conversation about editorial workflow and how it affects authors. I'm by no means a hoary old veteran editor (although my boss has stopped asking me about current pop culture), but I well remember the days of receiving mss on floppy. I worked for one house that asked for each chapter on a separate disc. (I really wish I had a picture of the piles of discs.) So, in the grand scheme of things, asking authors to save as .doc instead of .docx is not among the more onerous requests we've made of authors for the sake of our own workflow. But I still think it's bad.

docx-icon.jpgI’ve seen more than a few tweets and blog posts from publishing pros whom I respect asking that authors not submit manuscripts in .docx—Microsoft’s new-ish version of the ubiquitous .doc file format. It seems like quite a few of us are using older versions of Office or they want to to be able to park files on their Kindles easily (though .docx support is coming to the latest Kindles).

I can understand this reasoning. I’ve got the latest version of Office at work, so I don’t really care what file format files arrive in, but I do occasionally have to resend something because the recipient runs an older version of Word and can’t or won’t convert the file (you can convert .docx files to .doc without upgrading). So yes, .docx can be a pain. I get it.

However, with sincere respect, I think telling would-be clients and authors not to use .docx is a Bad Idea and sends the wrong message. I’m beginning to think these kinds of cludgey, technologically-backward impulses are what make us look like anachronistic gatekeepers. Docx has been around for years. It’s the default file format for the most pervasive word processor on the planet. When we ask our clients not to use it, we look foolish and cheap. We look technologically unaware when we say that Microsoft created .docx to force people to upgrade (not true). It’s also maddening that the part of the publishing industry that’s managing the inflow of manuscripts is actively resisting XML (what did you think the x in .docx was for?) while the side of the industry that manages the outflow of finished books is killing itself toembrace XML, because it’s supposed to save our collective asses.

In short, this requirement needs to go away, even if it means some short term pain.

One more thing. If you use Kindle and have a .docx-to-Kindle workflow that works well for you, let us know in the comments.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Editing through the ages (or at least the last ten years)

First, I'll just admit it. I have a tech problem. I love new toys. I buy way more gadgets than I need--in fact, I have a drawer full of old products: a Sony Clie, on which I remember editing several proposals; a Palm Pilot or two; a Treo 650, my first smartphone; an IPaq 6315, my first and sadly not last foray into Windows Mobile, the stupidest operating system around; and a bunch of other cameras and camcorders and such. It's a bit like a personal tech museum. I do remember each gadget fondly, and it's fun to watch the tech progress from generation to generation. It's also frustrating when things move backwards (that IPaq was a piece of crap compared to the Treo), and just as frustrating when long-standing problems aren't solved. For me, and I imagine for all publishing folk, the biggest frustration is the lack of a comments feature in any of the word processing programs.

When I started editing proposals (not manuscripts, as the screens were tiny) on handhelds, I would make a note using brackets, highlight it, and then transfer the file back to my computer (using a USB connection, of course), in a process not that different from what Andrew writes about below. I never got as fancy as document comparisons, and often spent as much time transferring my thoughts back to the author's document from my notes as I did editing. But I could edit on the subway! Inevitably, the novelty of whatever new device I was using would wear off, and I'd rearrange my time to work on computer or paper instead, saving subway and other mobile time for reading. I never understood why these fairly advanced word processing programs didn't have the ability to make comments. I could format, indent, hyperlink, etc., but a simple commenting feature was somehow too advanced.

Then came the ereaders, and things changed again, especially when I got the Kindle 2. Now I could read full manuscripts comfortably, and I could make notes. While frustrated that I couldn't get those notes off of the device, the nature of my editing (not line edits) was fairly compatible. The notes on the Kindle took the place of the notes I used to make on a legal pad. I always had to transfer those to my edit letters, so I found it very useful.

Then came the iPad. One device that would do it all! At first, I was using Pages to read and review manuscripts, using a very similar system to Andrew's. Frankly, it was driving me nuts. First of all, the Kindle had gotten me very used to pagination. I liked that the page was static, I could read all the words, and then when I was finished turn to the next page. Pages uses a more typical scrolling UI, which I find unpleasant for reading. It take me too long to get the page centered, and oftentimes, I find that one manuscript page does not fit on one iPad page, which means even more scrolling. Annoying. That's when I said to myself, "Self, wouldn't it be great if I could import manuscripts to the iBooks program? I could annotate like I did on Kindle, have the same static pages that I like, and the text would reflow. If only..." And that's when I discovered Stanza for Mac. The program can convert Word documents into EPUB files, which allows me to then import the file into iBooks (actually, I add the file to Dropbox and then open it directly on my iPad now). I get the reading experience I like along with the ability to annotate, and while I can't export my notes, I still don't mind copying them over. Would I be happier if I could export them? YES. Please enable this Apple! (And Amazon and B&N and all you other people who won't give me my notes!) But for the right reading experience, I'm willing to sacrifice.

As much as I prefer the reading experience in iBooks to that of Pages, I would switch to Pages in a heartbeat if they enable comments. Or a third party app. And if an app would allow for paginated viewing AND comments? I'd marry it.

Happy to answer questions about my set up if you have them! And would love to hear from others about how they work.

After a month with an iPad

In a perfect world, there would be an iPad app that was basically Pages with complete Word tracked changes and commenting integration. A manuscript would go from email to DropBox to my iPad and be forever synced and I could comment and change with impunity.

The world is not perfect, alas.

However, I am surprisingly happy with this workflow for novel manuscripts:

Word Manuscript –> DropBox –> iPad/Pages.

I read and make changes. When I want to make a comment, I put it {} or <>—whatever isn’t being used in the manuscript. When I’m done, I move the ms back to my computer with a new file name.

To prepare the doc for the author,In Word, I do the following:

Compare documents: original manuscript to new markup. This essentially creates a new doc with tracked changes. I save this as the file I will send to the author. Then, I search for { or < and turn those into Word comments. This isn’t actually all that kludgy, since I normally go over my initial comments one last time before I send the ms to the author. Just adds a couple keystrokes.

Your mileage may vary, but this works really well for me. Full disclosure: I’m a bike commuter and never really have a subway or bus reading situation.

photo(Also, I am a very happy user of this case, particularly for the above workflow:

What is this?

A Twitter brainstorm.

@molly_oneill said:

@andrewkarre But I'm awaiting @MichaelBourret's review of the new nook w/ eagerness. He's like my own personal version of CNet. :)

I said:

@molly_oneill @MichaelBourret A publishing-professional-focused tech review site would actually be really useful.

Then @MichaelBourret said:

@andrewkarre Are you trying to tempt me or something?

Then @molly_oneill said:

@andrewkarre Ooooh, yes! I nominate you & @MichaelBourret to start it!! (Just think: maybe you'd start getting free stuff to review....)

And now we’ve done it.

So, this will be an informal group blog where publishing professional can talk about how they use e-readers and tablets to get work done. Simple as that. Get in touch with me if you want to post.

-Andrew Karre (@andrewkarre)