अनकही

December 15, 2010

Personal Book Publishing : Introduction

Filed under: Uncategorized — Prateek @ 22:46
[ Crossposted from अनकही ]

Last week somebody asked me that what tools to use for writing a small book. Since this is not going to any publisher, the idea is to publish the book on the Internet. It is just a hobby thing, running ~30 pages. In normal case, since it is just a hobby thing, I was about to recommend her to use MS Word and get on with it. But I wanted to have a second look and understand whether it would be a good option for publishing on the web.

Since I have not checked this area in last few years, I thought it wise to just research  what is the current trends and softwares available for the purpose. My basic requirements are simple.:

  • A simple to use methodology which does not daunt the author. It should not distract the author by providing unnecessary options and it should not be difficult to learn.
  • Since the book is intended for web reading, it should support output in PDF, HTML and ePub. For MS Word documents, readers should have this paid software installed. Moreover, people may read documents in e-book readers where you cannot install softwares.
  • It should be future proof. Few years ago, documents were written in wordstar and books in ventura. Now, it is hard to find readers which can open those documents.
  • I evaluated following options:

    MS Word: Yuk. I won’t go for it. Large document support is pathetic. I is WYSIWYG, so the author gets distracted by the many options. No open support, you need to microsoft purchased software installed. Even OpenOffice is better than this. Although, if I had to write a letter or a 4-page article, MS Word would be my first choice.

    OpenOffice Word: Has good PDF output support. Low learning curve. But then it is WYSIWYG. It is better with most type of home documents.

    LaTeX: I love this from my college days. It let me focus on the technical things, and took care of every aesthetics by itself. Good thing is that it can produce excellent PDF and HTML very well. But I am not so sure about ePub. The math presentation is excellent. However, I see it having a slightly higher learning curve. huge community support. Usually popular with UNIX community.

    Lout: A newer sibling LaTeX. I like the easier syntax and nice output styles. But lack of community support and tools make it prohibitive.

    DocBook: This is an open standard. It is supported on windows platforms as well as UNIX. Has native Unicode support. It has huge number of output options, including PDF & ePub. Huge community support and best of all, it is future proof! It is very easy to explain to new user and there are good XML editors available. DocBook files are normal text files encoded with HTML-like tags. It has very intuitive XML syntax and lot of tools available. The input XML files are passed through a series of tools/programs to generate final output. That sequence is called a toolchain.

    As much as I love LaTeX, I would still go with DocBook now, for the sake of ease of use, output formats and future compatibility. DocBook files are normal text files with HTML like angular bracket tags. In follow-up article, I will explain how to setup a DocBook toolchain on windows.

    The best thing (probably the deciding factor) why I prefer DocBook XML over other solutions is that it maintains clear differentiation between design and content. The author is only worried about the content and story. The design, layout and looks can be taken care by a different person and can be worked in parallel. This segregation of design and content is very important. And anyways, even if I love LaTeX, I have the option to convert the DocBook XML to LaTeX and use it.

    I may have missed out several other good solutions, but maybe that is because I do not know them quite so well. I hope to enhance this post in future, if required.

    References:

    http://www.latex-project.org
    http://www.tug.org/

    http://www.openoffice.org/

    http://www.danielstender.com/granthinam/2152/

    http://savannah.nongnu.org/projects/lout

    http://www.docbook.org/

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