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

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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.

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