February 16, 2016 Last Updated 8:17 am

Reedsy unveils new writing tool, the Reedsy Book Editor

Guest column: Ricardo Fayet, co-founder of Reedsy, talks about the company’s new writing tool for self-publishing authors and publishers

I was having lunch the other day with an author who’d delivered his completed manuscript to his publisher a few months ago, and now wanted to send them an updated version. That’s what happens when you write “current” non-fiction nowadays: everything changes so quickly that what was relevant a few months ago isn’t that relevant anymore.

Now, the problem is that the manuscript had already been typeset by the publisher. Why is that problem? Why can’t they simply add a few paragraphs here and there? Because manual typesetting is a tiresome process that can get very messy as soon as you start modifying things.

Let’s say you add a 100-word paragraph to chapter 3, it’ll probably make that chapter one page longer, so the typesetter will need to change the numbering of all the following pages. As a result of this, they’ll also need to change the end notes, the index, the table of contents, etc.

Surely publishing companies, or independent typesetters, use software that automates their job and makes it more flexible? You’d think so… Typesetting is still very much a manual process. We know this at Reedsy, because we published our investor’s book last summer, and we had to design and typeset it manually on InDesign, as most people do. At that time, we thought: “gosh, I can’t wait for our Reedsy Book Editor, because this is really a pain.”

Automating professional typesetting

The thing is, there are technologies out there built to help scale the typesetting process. LaTex, for example, is a “document preparation system” (i.e. a high-quality typesetting system) available as free software. However, most publishing companies still outsource the typesetting to individual freelancers who do the job manually, instead of building a tool to automate this process using LaTex. And this is where the Reedsy Book Editor comes in.

The concept is simple: you write your book directly on the editor – taking advantage of its Medium-like interface –, copy-paste it there, or import it from a document. Then, you make sure it’s formatted as you want it to: you can add images, end notes, scene breaks; you can also customize the font size, the headers and the spacing. And when you’re ready, you click on “export” and choose between a few available print templates. In a few seconds, you’ll get a professionally-typeset, print-ready file sent to your email. And all that is free.

As facts (or in this case, books) speak louder than words, here is an example of what you can do in a few seconds with the Reedsy Book Editor; click on the image to download an excerpt from Michael Doane’s book, The Crossing, which was typeset using the editor:

The Crossing book

Now, let’s imagine that my author’s publisher was using this tool for the typesetting. The author would be able to make these last minute changes to every chapter without endangering the typesetting. Our tool would automatically adapt the table of content, the page numbers, the even and odd pages, etc.

Of course, such tools will never replace a professional typesetter, since machines can’t make art (yet), but for simple layouts, they can make the process so much easier… And if you want something truly customized, you can simply ask a professional typesetter to build a template for you, and use it within the editor. That way, you get the best out of both worlds.

Isn’t it time to re-define ‘proofreading’?

There’s another thing that struck me from this author’s anecdote. Let’s say he sends the updates, and the publisher decides to have the typesetter make the changes (i.e. do the work all over again). Does it stop there? No, because the newly-typeset file would need to be proofread – again.

That’s the other thing about current typesetting: because it’s done manually, errors can easily be introduced. A proofreader’s job is both to look for any typos that might have been missed in the previous editing rounds (developmental editing, copy editing), and to look for any errors that could have been introduced during the conversion to the final formats.

In fact, the main difference between copy-editing and proofreading is that the copy editor reviews the text before typesetting, while the proofreader reviews it as the book will appear in its final format, after typesetting.

Again, this distinction is perfectly understandable, and actually vital, for complex layouts, such as picture books, art books, or cookbooks, where the typesetting needs to be done manually. However, for a simple “how-to” non-fiction book, or for genre fiction, wouldn’t it be simpler to control the formatting from the very beginning, so that there are no surprises when time comes to produce the final files?

Ricardo-Fayet-300As I often like to say, the “digital revolution” in the publishing industry has only happened, so far, on the distribution side of the value chain – thanks to one player we all know too well. On the production side, however, most processes have remained unchanged. Contrary to popular belief, this is not due to publishers or authors being reluctant to innovation or change, but mainly because the right technologies haven’t yet been made available to them. That is what the Reedsy Book Editor is trying to change.

Ricardo Fayet is a co-founder of Reedsy, a curated online marketplace connecting authors and publishers to the best publishing professionals. An avid reader and startup enthusiast, he likes to imagine how small players will build the future of publishing. He also blogs about book marketing on the Reedsy blog.

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