MARCH 2013 IN
RICK ASTER’S WORLD
I am in the middle of writing a new book, coding it directly in HTML 5 so that it is ready to publish as an ebook. I am attempting a form of the “XML first” strategy that publishers started to talk about five years ago. Having to write HTML markup every time I write a paragraph is a bit of extra work, but not so much when I compare it to wrestling with the formatting vagaries of the “authoring” software I used for my previous books. HTML 5 is at least a standard, or it will be any year now. If I use it correctly, it won’t arbitrarily delete pages of my document, a problem that recurred regularly the last time I prepared a book in Microsoft Word, just a few years ago.
But in fact, as I prepare my new book in HTML 5, I realize I am not relying on authoring tools at all as I write. I am writing and rewriting the book’s chapters in ordinary text-editing programs, the same way I write blog posts. I can write on a desktop computer, or almost as easily on tablet or phone. I could, if I chose, easily save my drafts on any cloud service, if I chose to. If I were collaborating with other writers, we could easily exchange fragments by email, without the need for an organized collaboration infrastructure.
It is not that I will not be using any authoring tools at all. I could hardly code in HTML 5 without a validator to prove that my markup is correct, and I rely on the free online W3C Markup Validation Service. To prepare the final document for printing, I will need software that converts HTML to PDF. In the early stages, I am relying on Firefox (yes, the popular web browser) for this, and though it does an professional-quality job, I will hope to find something more typographically precise. But these are essentially afterthoughts. They are important mainly for a period of a couple of days after I finish writing and editing. Authoring tools are no longer a meaningful part of the authoring process.
Is this possible? — That something as simple as a well-written document markup standard could take away the need for a category of software that used to cost me hundreds of dollars? I can only say that it seems to be working so far. If I can deliver my new book in electronic and print form later this year, I will be able to say definitively that it works.
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