This overview of Kathrin Passig’s speech to publishers is pretty fascinating to me, because a lot of it is around tools and technology. Publishing and technology and productivity workflows? Oh, be still my beating heart!

For the record, here’s how I write:

  1. Create a new project in Scrivener based on custom templates I have set-up. These templates can be vague (“fiction novels”) or specific (“fiction novels in the Wyrdverse series”), and contain anything from nothing to a pre-populated rough outline/structure.
  2. Start fleshing out the project, either pantsing or plotting or a mix thereof (the templates deal with both).
  3. My default drafting font in Scrivener is Source Code Pro. One of the things about Source Code Pro is that it doesn’t have italics support. Which is why I chose it, because it forces me to remember to use markdown.
  4. Oh snap! I need to be away from the laptop for a while. No worries, I’ll sync my Scrivener project (as text files) to Dropbox.
  5. In line buying groceries, better do some more work. Whip out Notebooks on my phone, where I’ve set the interface here to use the same fonts and coloring as in Scrivener. Good thing I was using markdown, because it makes formatting on the iPhone super-painless!
  6. Type type type.
  7. Back at home now. Make sure Notebooks has synced all my edited files to Dropbox, and re-import them into Scrivener.
  8. Daily wordcount success!
  9. Oh shit! I dun fucked up and need to roll back to something I wrote three weeks ago. Good thing Scrivener supports snapshots and versioning!
  10. Rinse and repeat the same workflow for editing and revising.
  11. Re-rinse and repeat for beta edits, but this time using Google Docs.
  12. Oh shit! Deadline’s tomorrow! Use a pre-set export template in Scrivener to convert the markdown and spit out a nicely formatted Word document. Send it to my editor with a grovelling apology for not getting it in sooner.
  13. Wait.
  14. Get edits back as Word track changes.
  15. Procrastinate, then cry profusely because:
    1. Word for OS X doesn’t spellcheck on documents longer than about 50k words.1
    2. No mobility, meaning I’m tied to my laptop for editing, which makes editing much slower for me.2
    3. If I move or delete a chapter, I have to manually re-set all the chapter numbering (in Scrivener, this is automagically taken care of by the export template).3
    4. No snapshots/versioning, meaning fuckups are for life.
    5. There’s no easy way of getting data back into Scrivener, meaning I lose my document history.
  16. Finish editing and submit manuscript. Write many tweets about how much Word sucks.

In other words, my workflow is highly mobile, and leverages syncing and collaboration across a number of tools. Awesome! And it remains awesome… right up until the point where it gets turned into Word, and everything falls into a screaming shitheap, because that’s what Word is. A screaming shitheap.

Note that I don’t blame my editors or publisher for this, because I work in corporate IT by day and I know how corporate IT happens. Change is difficult, particularly when you’re working with a bunch of freelancers, i.e. authors. And Word is pretty ubiquitous, so it’s often a “least worst” choice for doing this sort of stuff.

The problem is that there’s no “industry standard” tool (that I’m aware of), aimed specifically at publishers, and designed to support collaboration and editing. Scrivener is great, but it’s like the Visual Studio of products; it’s aimed at the developer, i.e. author, and not the team. What publishing needs is its equivalent of Team Foundation Server (or GitHub, for you OSS types). That is, a tool specifically designed for collaborative work, where the focus is more on text than on formatting, that supports modern mobility and external syncing, with strong versioning and revision tools, and where a bunch of people can bash away at a single document before finally spitting out a pretty InDesign export at the end, ready to send off to the printer.

I want Scrivener Foundation Server, in other words. I want to be able to work on my front-end document, then pumpt it via some kind of API4 into a back-end run by the publisher, and I want that back-end to manage all the things the publisher needs to manage on their end of the workflow. And I just want it to freakin’ work and, most importantly, I want to be able to uninstall Word and burn it with fucking fire.

Is that so much to ask? It’s not like it’s technically difficult, it’s just… no one’s ever done it.

Well, c’mon. Someone spot me some VC funding, stat. Because the sooner I never have to use Word to write books with ever again, the goddamn better.

  1. No, really. Useless piece of shit software. []
  2. Couple of reasons. The first, obviously, is that writing isn’t my full-time job, so it’s something I have to squeeze in when I can. Not being tied to my laptop–that is, being able to grab writing and editing time when I’m waiting in queues at the shops, in the toilet, and so on–is immensely helpful. The second reason is a health-related one, i.e. I have trouble sitting for long periods, and most of my “sitting quotient” is taken up by my day job. Again, mobility is hella valuable here. Editing novels while on the crosstrainer at the gym? Can do for beta edits. Not so much with editor edits. []
  3. In fact, my “chapter headings” in Scrivener tend to be screenplay-style scene information, e.g. INT. TRAVIS' OFFICE. 11am. []
  4. Text files with markdown. Like, seriously. Text files with motherfucking markdown. []