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The first step in our process was to identify the inefficiencies in our book development process and to leverage technology to make improvements. Like many publishers, our process consisted of editors manually marking up Word documents with instructions to production specialists for laying out books and formatting text. Though some standards were in place, each editor used his or her own judgment on how to tag manuscripts with directions and how to format books. From there, production interpreted the notes, clarified items, and prepared instructions that would enable a third-party vendor to create InDesign pages. It was all a leap forward from the era of paste-up and typesetting, but still not acceptable for a digital environment. The whole process took weeks per book, resulted in more errors and repetition than necessary, chewed up thousands of production hours, and created significant cost in outsourcing.

By converting from a system of manually marking manuscripts to using the styling functionality of Word, our editorial and production teams were able to take the existing manuscript-to-pages process and cut it down to 8 hours or less for basic narrative works. In addition to the cost savings and the significant reduction of internal man hours, our on-time rate to our printers increased from 30% to over 90% within a year, and our on-press accuracy rate rose from 58% to 97% in two years, drastically cutting costs associated with correcting errors at press. Better books, faster, for less money. That’s a big win for the team, and we felt it throughout the company.

While our production process was greatly enhanced through this change, we could see that another challenge still existed. Previous versions of InDesign do not adequately export formatting along with text for use elsewhere. As you start to think about e-books and other digital products, this adds back in a lot of the work and expense that was eliminated in the first step of our process. Because we were creating so many different types of files for e-books, apps, and other digital content, we were forced to send web-ready PDFs and InDesign files to external vendors to render e-book files. So we were back to a process that took weeks for every book, chewed up man hours, and produced errors. There had to be a better way.

Here is where we implemented an XML-supported workflow. XML is a standardized computer “language” that allows various platforms, applications, and systems to identify the format styles within text and then translate those styles for their own use. As we began to research all the opportunities that XML would provide, one immediate benefit became clear: XML forces a level of structure that would radically streamline the entire process. In our new workflow, editors apply custom, XML-compliant styles, which are a more structured and detailed set of Word styles than described above. These new styles are then converted to XML through programmed scripts, and the XML is flowed into formatted InDesign pages. Why does this matter? Because of the combination of the well-formed document (that is created by more rigid styles), the link between Word and InDesign that XML facilitates, and the new exporting features in the latest version of InDesign, Sourcebooks can now create pages for a basic book in less than two hours and then create e-book files in less than two hours—all without the use of external vendors. Not only can we accomplish these tasks in a fraction of the time and at much lower cost, but the final product is also substantially cleaner than those from previous processes. An added benefit is that we now have XML documents that can make the development of apps and web-based solutions much simpler.

One additional (and very important) benefit is that the number of errors in our e-book files has gone WAY down. Have you ever read an e-book and encountered a strange mark or set of marks? While most consumers would view such marks as typos (and think negatively of the creator), they are often the result of the e-book conversion program not understanding an element of formatting in the source files. With XML, this is no longer an issue.

Sounds great, right? It is, but it has not been without its challenges. A few things to consider:

  • This process must be led from the top. Sourcebooks accomplished this transformation because the leaders of our organization owned the vision for it. These implementations crossed department lines, upended existing processes, required intense training, and were often messy. Research, testing, and phased implementation were ongoing for years—not days or months. When the going gets tough and people resist, you need executives with a strong vision to keep the organization on course.
  • It needs to happen in steps. By taking a staged approach to change, we were able to evaluate the options before us at each stage and then judge the effectiveness of each implementation before making a decision on how to proceed. An incremental approach will allow you to reduce frustration, build confidence, and arrive at a better product than massive change or so-called bolt-on solutions.
  • Think about content—not about books. The most challenging aspect of learning an automated tagging system is that your editorial staff will be required to think about what a chunk of text “is”—not what it should look like. For example, editors used to mark sections of text that they wanted to appear centered on the page as “centered paragraphs.” In our new workflow, editors now select styles based not on desired formatting, but on specific types of text, like poems, block quotes, etc. The designers then match those types of text with a centered style in InDesign, and the text remains defined as a poem or quote. Visual responsibility is now put into the design, not on the editor—another hard thing for an editorial team to let go of.
  • Training, retraining, and more training required. This shift requires creative people (editors and designers) to think like technologists. You’re now asking people to think in a very structured manner that requires a high degree of precision in tagging execution. The implementation will not be fast, and it will often frustrate some of your smartest people. However, if you are committed to training and retraining, the results will be worth it.
  • Attention to detail is everything. The entire process hinges on correctly tagged files. If there are mistakes in the tagging, the process breaks down. The manuscript/content starts with editorial, therefore your editors and editorial assistants have to develop strong discipline in the creation of these files. If you have some highly creative team members who are, by nature, not that disciplined, you’ll want to make sure that they are paired with a production team that is extraordinarily disciplined and that will reinforce the standards and procedures for accurate file creation.
  • XML programming is expensive. Probably cost-prohibitively so. While you can choose to have all of the baseline programming created exclusively for you, we overcame the obstacle of cost by retaining a third-party vendor that already had tools in place to incorporate XML in a publishing environment. While there are some limitations in using an “out of the box” solution, it was far less expensive than starting from scratch.
  • Word and InDesign are constantly evolving. With each new release, these incredible programs become even more powerful. While we naturally think that upgrades are just added expense, it is important that someone on your team understand the functionality, the improvements made with upgrades, and the many ways in which these programs can enhance your processes.

To many established publishers and editors, the thought of embarking on a process like this is frustrating, but the world is changing, and with that change comes opportunity to reach more readers than ever before. A publisher is—and always has been—more than just a book printer. In order to prepare for “what’s next,” we have to lay the right foundation. The decision to advance our workflow was not easy or accidental, but it has created the platform from which we can effectively launch an ever-increasing array of new products at a speed previously unimaginable. The new systems—and more importantly a new attitude towards continual change—have positioned Sourcebooks to take advantage of every opportunity that the digital age can provide.

Comments  

 
-2 # Thad McIlroy 2011-10-22 23:07
Looks like an excellent presentation. Are there slides available? Thanks.
 
 
+1 # cbauerle 2011-10-26 06:38
I created slides, but they really were more of the visual aid type - this article has everything from the presentation plus more.
 
 
+2 # Em Rex 2011-10-24 04:46
"we overcame the obstacle of cost by retaining a third-party vendor that already had tools in place to incorporate XML in a publishing environment." would greatly appreciate a recommendation if possible?
 
 
-2 # cbauerle 2011-10-26 06:40
I'd be happy to give you the name - please email me at chris.bauerle@sourceb ooks.com.
 
 
-1 # Logu 2011-11-01 00:36
Hi,

Gud One. Can you please advise me if there are any workflow diagrams to depict the complete production process. I mean the production flow of converting author manuscript to print files. If so, please send me to
 
 
+1 # Jayashree 2012-10-26 03:40
Laserwords has an off-the-shelf product that takes of the entire workflow starting from Writing to taking it to the Printer or Digital formats... XML-First Workflow... Please feel free to contact for more details or a demo of the product.
 

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