Digital Directions: ‘Manuscript First’
The standard styles typically represent the structure of the book: "Chapter Name," "End Note," "Citation," etc. These structural labels are applied to the text as Word styles, much in the way that structure is defined in XML files in the "XML First" approach. Indeed, Word's DOCX file format is based on XML.
When a well-formed manuscript created in Word's DOCX format adheres to a standard set of style names, it can be automatically processed by software. Therefore, the translation of the book into a variety of delivery formats—such as e-reader, Web and even print—can be automatically generated. This automation is enabled through the use of output templates that also use standard structural labels. By having both the source manuscript and the output templates using the same structural tags, one can be programmatically mapped to another.
The automated output of the various delivery formats based on the standard manuscript can be performed by systems and service providers for a fraction of the effort of the standard conversion services. One compelling option is performing the automated conversion with the use of a third-party cloud platform. That way, a publisher can achieve automation without building its own system. An attractively economical path. (Full disclosure: My company, Finitiv, is now piloting such a cloud-based offering.)
Automated output has its limits. Highly illustrated works or those with complex layouts may not lend themselves to this approach. However, for many publishers whose works do not have complex designs, "Manuscript First" may be essential for profitable digital publishing programs.
I recently met with a small press that publishes between 60 and 90 titles per year. Currently, it is releasing fewer than 10 e‑book titles a year, due to conversion costs. When it adopts the "Manuscript First" approach, it will be able to economically release all titles on all formats, all at the same time. Isn't that the goal we all have? BB