Words in My Head

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Effective Workflows in Publishing

No, this is not a normal topic for me but it’s something I’ve recently had to ponder and decided to capture my thoughts about.

I’ve been doing desktop publishing in some form or another for a very long time. I’ve worked with Interleaf, Framemaker, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Word, and InDesign. And I even vaguely remember doing physical layout of copy for a class at CSU more than 25 years ago.

Yes, I’m not doing it professionally these days, even with my degree in Technical Journalism and choosing to make my living doing software development instead, but that doesn’t mean that I have stopped. My work through Moebius Adventures, even going back to the mid 1990s, has seen me lay out books of significant page counts (from a handful of pages to over 100) for quite a few projects since I stopped doing it full time.

But working alone, I probably have developed some odd habits over the last 20 years while I’ve done this work.

For instance, I do quite a bit of writing within my desktop publishing software. I don’t recommend this. In fact, I don’t think anybody does. But it’s easier for me to get some text written in Evernote or in a Google Doc and then keep working on the text itself while I am working on layout. This requires that I mix and match concepts from desktop publishers and writing tools from time to time.

I rely heavily on templates, not only for the look and feel of a book, but to help structure the content. Paragraph styles, just like in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, do that nicely. I can consistently apply the same headings, text styles, bullets, and so on, to keep the document structure manageable. And that’s probably one of the reasons why I can get away with editing/writing directly inside InDesign when I go that route.

So I would sum up my process as:

  1. Write some notes
  2. Move notes into new InDesign document
  3. Do layout and writing at the same time in InDeign from that point until completion

Recently however I hired a designer to help update the look and feel for some of our books. First to create a new template and second to actually lay out a new book.

The designer does not have the same goals in mind as I do for the results of this exchange. I mean, sure — the document has to look good in print or online. That is a shared goal and he definitely has an amazing eye for that. But I realized very late in the game that I was not specific enough in what I was expecting out of a template.

We exchanged many e-mails and sample PDFs of how pages would look and when I got the final template I discovered that paragraph styles were not part of his approach to creating templates. Instead he formats everything independently, changing space before and after, adjusting indents, adding elements, and so on. It’s a perfectly acceptable.

It became very obvious that his preferred process is:

  1. Get complete, final, unchanging document for content
  2. Move content into InDesign and do layout
  3. Produce output. Done.

When I receive the “final” documents from the designer, I will have to go through and update them locally with paragraph styles to create a usable, living document and template I can use from that point forward.

This has been a very expensive lesson to learn.  It’s not the designer’s fault. I made an assumption and it’s going to bite me in the butt.

What was the lesson? Be VERY specific when you are paying someone to create something for you, not only in what you want as your deliverables but how you are going to use the deliverables going forward.

2 Comments

  1. Great info Fitz and something I never thought about. For me my InDesign guy (BMo) says to me “you create content I’ll do the layout”. The division of labor works for us….LOL

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