From finished manuscript to press in 9 days.
Book publishers know the importance of fast time to market, and in few industry sectors is it more crucial than high-tech publishing. High-tech book titles become obsolete the moment a new operating system, programming language or other technology is introduced.
At O'Reilly & Associates—a publisher of books covering everything from the Internet to XML, Mac OS X, open source, Java and Web services—accelerating the publishing process can literally mean the difference between success and failure for many titles.
When the company decided to publish "Running Mac OS X Panther" in late 2003, O'Reilly and the impending author, James Duncan Davidson, knew that the sales cycle would span only a few short months. Apple would, by then, be introducing another new version of its operating system. Information about Mac OS X Panther became available in August 2003, and the goal was to offer the book for sale at Macworld Expo in January 2004.
MOVE IT OR LOSE IT
To achieve this goal, Davidson and the O'Reilly team would have to motor. But what no one knew then was that a one-time effort at rushing a book out the door would turn out to be much more.
Davidson proposed a different workflow for publishing "Running Mac OS X Panther" that would enable authoring, editing, copy fitting and proofreading to occur simultaneously.
O'Reilly authors typically write book content using Microsoft Word, or XML/SGML, often from a remote location. Each chapter is sent to O'Reilly, where it is flowed into pre-designed templates, a process that can sometimes introduce file-conversion errors. Once the layouts are adjusted, the files are then passed in a linear fashion through several rounds of copyediting and quality control before the book is published. This process takes several weeks as files are handed back and forth between project participants in different locations.
"We had to roll the final stages of copyediting and quality control into the writing schedule," says Davidson. Normally, these steps would add several weeks to the tail end of the project. "By conducting copy editing and quality assurance simultaneously with the layout process, we could get the book to market much faster."
HOW IT WAS DONE
It certainly didn't hurt the effort that Davidson was a bit of a high-tech guru—he's a software developer and consultant who specializes in Mac OS X, Java, XML and open source technologies. He set up a concurrent versioning system (CVS) on his Macintosh server to track file versions, make backup copies, allow everyone involved to check files in and out, and to track progress.
He then began creating Adobe InDesign templates to mirror O'Reilly's format and style, and authored the book in both InDesign and Adobe InCopy software, which work together. No one on the team required formal training on InCopy. "InCopy and InDesign are both highly intuitive," says Chuck Toporek, senior editor for O'Reilly. "Duncan showed us how to use InCopy with a quick five-minute demonstration. It's that simple."
As chapters came together, Davidson posted them to a secure Internet site for everyone's access. The combination of InDesign and InCopy allowed Davidson and the O'Reilly staff to work in parallel.
As Davidson wrote chapters, flowed text into the template and adjusted the layout, the copy editor checked out files to make corrections and insert comments for the author and editor. Editors were able to visualize each page, fitting copy precisely into the layout and taking advantage of features in InCopy, such as change tracking to make edits while retaining the original text in InCopy, separate from the layout in InDesign.
"Especially with features such as the ability to toggle back and forth to view copy in the context of an InDesign layout, the combination of InCopy and InDesign saves hours when copyediting each chapter," says Davidson.
RETAINING QUALITY AND LIFTING SALES
Saving time was essential, but the primary concern on this project was maintaining O'Reilly's well-established visual brand by retaining the exact look and feel of other O'Reilly titles, even though the team planned to use different tools.
By matching O'Reilly's existing template, Davidson preserved the look and feel of other O'Reilly titles. "The beauty is that people can't tell that this book was created outside of O'Reilly's traditional production process," says Toporek. "At the same time as we maintained the consistency we sought, we produced the book almost two and a half months faster than other titles, which had a dramatic impact on sales."
What began as an author's rogue idea to publish "Running Mac OS X Panther" fast is rapidly becoming accepted practice at O'Reilly & Associates. The company is now evaluating the Adobe Creative Suite with its built-in version control capabilities as a means of streamlining its other book projects. "The author finished writing the final chapter of this book just after Thanksgiving, and it went to press nine days later—a remarkable achievement," says Toporek. "The book sold extremely well, and we met our window of market opportunity."