The September Minnesota Book Publishers’ Roundtable event featured guest speaker Colleen Cunningham, senior technical production specialist at F+W Media. As content increasingly gets published to print and electronic formats, publishers are using content management systems (CMS) as a central repository for text, images, and design choices. In the CMS, content is stored in XML, a lingua franca that can be exported to InDesign, EPUB, and other formats as needed. This has a number of implications for the book production workflow as well as for the skills that editors need. I’ve used several CMSs, including Inkling’s Habitat, and was interested in an overview from someone with the big picture.
Colleen spoke of her experience converting a traditional production process to one that uses Librios. In the traditional process, a manuscript is created in a word processing document (almost universally Word), then turned into pages for a print book, and finally exported to create an ebook. When a CMS is used, the manuscript may still be created in Word, but then editing and tagging of design elements for layout are done in the CMS. From there, the content can go to print, ebook, web, and other as yet uninvented platforms. Furthermore, bits of the content can be tagged with keywords in the CMS so that it can be selected and recombined in other products. Colleen used the example of a cookbook in which recipes are given tags such as “low-fat” and “no dairy.” If a new fad diet emerges that eliminates dairy products, a new cookbook can quickly be generated using the recipes with the relevant tags. Using a CMS thus makes sense when content will be multiplatform and will probably be repurposed, as well as when content is fairly perennial and will not require heavy revision when reused.
Because content lives in the CMS, it’s critical that the content there be as error-free as possible. One issue that remains sticky is that errors are inevitably found during review of pages, after export from the CMS. When we see text and images laid out and “looking like a book,” we spot mistakes that we simply don’t see when the material is in a different format. These errors need to be fixed in the laid-out pages, but they also need to be fixed back in the CMS so they don’t appear again in the next product. In other words, they need to be fixed in two places instead of one. As much as possible, therefore, proofreading really moves up to the copyediting stage to make the content as clean as possible before export from the CMS.
One part of Colleen’s presentation that surprised me was her discussion of how tagging design elements (specifying that “this is a heading” and “this is a bulleted list,” for example) had moved from the compositor’s role to editorial. In my experience, which dates back to when this was done on paper (it wasn’t that long ago!), design tagging has always been done by the copyeditor or, sometimes, the production editor. I’ve never seen the styling of different elements and placement of images handed off to the compositor to figure out. But apparently this has been done differently at different publishing houses.
Her presentation confirmed some things I knew about using a CMS to feed content to various publishing platforms, and she told me some things I didn’t know. I also got to chat with her before the presentation, and she is an absolutely delightful person. As with most Minnesota Book Publishers’ Roundtable events, it was well worth the price of admission and time spent.