Monday, July 13, 2015

Farewell to “Beyond the Bleeding Edge”

The Bleeding Edge was a series of presentations at the annual STC conference (now the Summit). Its goal was to address cutting-edge technologies and methodologies that emerged too close to the conference to be addressed by the standard presentation proposal route. I proposed it after the 1998 conference after hearing comments that there weren’t enough advanced sessions. After approval by then STC-president Mark Hannigan and Assistant to the President Deborah Sauer, I launched the Bleeding Edge in 1999. I ran it from 1999 to 2014 except for a two year hiatus due to some organizational issues in 2008 and 2009.

Bleeding Edge presentations covered JavaHelp coding, XHTML, haptic interfaces (IBM sent a speaker from London, as I recall), the W3C RDF metadata standard, search engine optimization, XSLT, on-demand publishing, and similar topics. My Beyond the Bleeding Edge column in STC Intercom came out of the Bleeding Edge. The Bleeding Edge also spun off a “standards watch” session, with speakers discussing developments in bodies like the W3C and IEEE, and several “standards watch” columns in Intercom.

The Summit organizers decided not to run the Bleeding Edge in 2015 because they thought the Summit’s technical level had risen to the point where the Bleeding Edge was no longer needed. From what I saw of the presentations in Columbus, I agree. Although I’ll miss the Bleeding Edge, its demise is a positive sign for the Summit overall.


My thanks again to Mark Hannigan and Deborah Sauer, and to all the presenters over the years who did such an outstanding job of helping keep STC on the cutting (or “bleeding”) edge.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What’s New in MadCap Flare 11?

New versions of MadCap Flare combine powerful extensions to existing features and new features that go in unexpected and intriguing directions. Flare 11, released on March 17, continues this tradition. In this post, I’ll look at my favorite changes. (There’s far too much new to cover in one post. The What’s New Guide, http://docs.madcapsoftware.com/FlareV11/FlareWhatsNewGuide.pdf, is 350 pages long!)

By way of a brief introduction, I’m certified in Flare and Mimic and do a lot of training and consulting for MadCap so I’m not only a reviewer of Flare but a heavy user.

Extensions to Existing Features


User-Defined Macros


Help authoring often requires authors to perform the same set of steps over and over, such as applying a style to a series of paragraphs. It’s tedious work. Flare authors have been asking for a macros feature that lets them record the steps and play them back with a few clicks. This feature is now available in the Macros group on the Tools ribbon.

To use this feature, click the Record button, name the macro, and do the steps. When finished, click the Stop button (the renamed Record button). Select a macro to run by clicking the Playback button.

This feature is easy to use mechanically, but recording a macro records all your steps – mistakes too. So it’s hard to whip off a new macro on the fly unless it’s a simple one. But once authors get used to having to work carefully, macro creation is pretty simple and very useful.

Word Import Enhancements


Many Word users focus on producing documents that print smoothly, without regard to whether those documents can have a life beyond printing. Because of that, Word documents often have problems that cause trouble when imported into Flare – two in particular, both dealt with in v.11.

  • Authors who need to insert a screen shot in a Word document often just capture the screen and paste it into the document, but never save the screen as an image file.  This means Flare doesn’t know what to call the image file on import so it uses a random number for the file name, such as 0600001.jpg – technically correct but not very helpful.

    V. 11 partly fixes this. It names the pasted-in (embedded) image file after the name of the topic in which that image appeared. So Flare calls an embedded image in a Texas topic Texas. jpg, for example. This is a partial solution because if a topic has many embedded images, Flare creates multiple images files with names like Texas.jpg, Texas1.jpg, etc. Authors still have to figure out which image is which, but images being named after the topics that contain them simplifies the search.
  • Word authors who create tables usually calculate the number of rows required, then add a row for the column heads. Flare can designate a row specifically as a header and format that row using the Header settings in the Table Stylesheet editor. However, when you import the Word document into Flare, it has no defined header row. The solution has been to open Flare’s Table Properties dialog box and change the Number of Header Rows from 0 to 1. You then have to move the headings in the original heading row into the new, defined Header row and delete the old and now empty original header row. Easy but cumbersome.

    V. 11 fixes this. It can automatically convert the first row of a Word table to a Flare Header row. You’ll still have to clean up tables that have multi-line headers but single-header row tables will import far more easily. This feature is on the Options tab of the Word Import editor.


Cross-Reference Enhancements


I’ll start with a brief review of cross-references for Flare authors who aren’t familiar with them.

Cross-references are similar to hyperlinks but add two benefits.

  • They’re “aware of” their target title and change their wording if the title changes. For example, say you create a cross-reference to a topic called Grinder. The cross-reference wording will say ‘See “Grinder”’. If you then change the target topic title to Hoagie, the cross-reference wording automatically updates itself to ‘See “Hoagie”’. This eliminates the manual editing needed if you use traditional hyperlinks to point to a target topic whose title may change.


  • They can change their format to a page reference when output to a print format. For example, a hyperlink like ‘See “Grinder”’ is fine as a clickable link in online output or a print output viewed online, such as an on-screen PDF. However, if readers print the PDF, the link obviously doesn’t work – the reader can’t tell what page the link pointed to. This means the reader has to refer to the table of contents or index to locate the target of the reference. But with a cross-reference, the format automatically changes from a hyperlink-style like ‘See”Grinder”’ to a print style like ‘See “Grinder” on page 45’.


So what’s new with cross-references in v. 11?

Cross-reference granularity in prior versions of Flare could be too coarse. For example, a cross-reference might point to a target that wound up on the same page as the link. The result? A reference that said ‘See “Grinder” on page 45’ when the original link was also on page 45. In v.11, the cross-references are more sensitive to the context of the target. For example, if the target is on the same page as the link, the cross-reference wording is ‘See “Grinder” above” or ‘See “Grinder” below’, depending on the target’s position. If the target is on the previous or next page, the wording is ‘See “Grinder” on previous page’. And if the target if further away, the wording is ‘See “Grinder” on page 45’. The result is more realistic.

YouTube and Vimeo Movie Insertion Through the Flare Interface


Flare makes it easy to insert multimedia, such as Flash or HTML5 movies, into topics, but the assumption has usually been that the movies are part of the project. However, more authors use YouTube or Vimeo as movie distribution mechanisms or just want to link to movies from those sites, and v.11 makes it easy to add movie links directly from the web. Authors can either embed a movie in a topic using the Insert > Multimedia > YouTube/Vimeo option, in which case authors can set options like automatically starting a movie when a reader opens the topic, or linking to a movie using the Insert > Hyperlink option, in which case the reader must physically start the movie.

Interesting, Intriguing, and Sometimes Unexpected New Features


In no particular order (they’re all interesting)…

TopNav HTML5 Output


In 1989, starting a help system opened a single pane window that showed the topic. No navigation pane displayed until readers clicked a “Help Topics” button on the “button bar”. That opened the navigation pane in a separate window. Together, the two windows looked like this, navigation on the left, topic on the right:


In 1995, the release of WinHelp 4 introduced connected navigation and content panes that looked like this example (from Microsoft’s HTML Help) and was called the “tri-pane” window.


So the familiar tri-pane has been with us for 20 years. In recent years, however, Flare authors have been asking for a more web-like look. Some authors created it by hand by working directly in the code. In response, MadCap introduced the TopNav HTML5 output. TopNav has many options but the basic effect is to replace the tri-pane with something like this:


TopNav takes the table of contents and places it horizontally along the top of the window. Some layout elements have also been made individually selectable, so authors can create interfaces like this:



The introduction of the TopNav output has several ramifications. Three immediate one are:
  • TopNav looks cool but may not work for projects that have many level 1 TOC headings because too many headings will visually clutter the TopNav output.
  • TopNav adds many skin options. Using those options calls for more deliberate planning than the traditional tri-pane.
  • By breaking away from the traditional, documentation-related tri-pane look, TopNav may allow technical communicators to move into new publishing areas beyond traditional help.

By offering an immediate change in how we design online help and documentation, I consider TopNav to be one of the most meaningful new features in v.11.


Doc-to-Help Import


For some companies that create Word-based documentation and just need to put it online, Flare may be over-powered. In response, MadCap bought GrapeCity’s Doc-To_Help authoring tool in January. The idea was that authors who didn’t need Flare’s power could use Doc-To-Help instead. However, if those authors decide that they need more power, they can import the Doc-To-Help project into Flare.

U3D 3D Model Import


If your documentation contains engineering drawings, your engineers can save the drawings in Universal 3D (U3D) format. You can then insert the U3D files in browser-based and PDF outputs. Users can then click on the images and rotate them or zoom in and out. (To try it, go to page 173 of the What’s New Guide (http://docs.madcapsoftware.com/FlareV11/FlareWhatsNewGuide.pdf), click on the image in the example, and drag to rotate the image or use your mouse wheel to expand or shrink it.)

Augmented Reality


Finally, the unexpected – augmented reality. Unlike virtual reality, which takes users into a new reality like a game, augmented reality keeps users in this world but adds a functional layer when users view that world on a mobile device. Augmented reality seems to be most commonly thought of in terms of marketing. For example, Starbuck’s Cup Magic has let smartphone users scan specially imprinted cups that invoke an augmented reality layer atop the cup image. The image below, from www.interactivity.la, shows a Christmas cup that, when scanned, displays the singers on the smartphone screen.



Augmented reality goes beyond marketing. For example, the Theodolite app from Hunter Research and Technology (http://hunter.pairsite.com/theodolite/) superimposes compass, GPS, map, rangefinder, inclinometer, and other data onto a scene viewed on an iPhone screen, as shown below:




When would Flare authors use augmented reality? It’s hard to say. The idea is so new to tech comm that it allows functions we may never have thought of. One idea – field service information superimposed over the image of a machine being serviced.

Summary

And I haven’t discussed a whole range of other features such as:
  • Customizable keyboard shortcuts, a boon to accelerator key users.
  • Git integration, extending Flare’s version control system support.
  • Advanced page layout control, allowing very complex layouts for print output.
  • An image positioning feature that lets authors control how images fit within text without having to work with float properties in a CSS.
  • A global spelling dictionary that can be shared across multiple projects.
  • Building multiple targets in the background while continuing to work in the foreground.
  • And many more…

Between the extension of existing features and the inclusion of some unexpected new ones, Flare 11 is a major advance. I’m very impressed.

About the Author

Neil is an internationally known consultant, strategist, trainer, and developer for online content in forms ranging from online help to apps. He helps clients design content, select outputs, understand coding, and select and learn authoring tools. To do this, he brings decades of experience in tech comm, with 30 years in a wide range of online formats and tools. (He created the second and third commercial ebooks ever released, for MS-DOS 2.1 and Lotus 1-2-3 2.01 in 1987.) He also spent four years as an industry representative to the WorldWide Web Consortium in the 2000s.

Neil is certified by MadCap Software in Flare and Mimic, and by various other vendors. He is the author of “Advanced Features of MadCap Flare 10” (and earlier versions) and “Creating Mobile Apps Without Coding”, mobile app creation for non-programmers.

Neil writes columns and articles for various professional journals and is a popular speaker at professional conferences. In what passes for his spare time, he builds telescopes, cooks southern barbecue, and is using computer simulators to recreate a lost career as a US Navy fighter pilot. You can contact Neil at nperlin@nperlin.cnc.net or follow him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/neil-perlin, on Facebook at facebook.com/neil.perlin.7, and on Twitter at @NeilEric.




Monday, December 15, 2014

The Other Two CSS Books I Referenced in My STCTC Presentation on Dec. 9

Sorry for the delay in posting. I was doing a week of Flare consulting at a client in Houston and just got back to my office. Anyhow, the other two books that I suggested are:

  • The CSS Pocket Guide by Chris Casciano, Peachpit Press
  • Implementing Responsive Design by Chris Kadlec, New Riders

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“Float” – CSS Feature and Symbol of Change


Ever since I started the Bleeding Edge session at the Society for Technical Communication Summit in 1999, I’m asked how quickly something new really emerges to affect technical communication. It doesn’t happen that often but it does happen – Microsoft’s introduction of HTML Help at the WinWriters conference in 1997 turned online help in a new direction in an hour. This column discusses another such example of change, the CSS “float” property. The float property’s impact won’t be as quick or dramatic as that of HTML Help but I think that what it symbolizes for tech comm is just as far-reaching.

The W3C introduced float in CSS1 in 1996. (See http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-CSS1/#floating-elements.) But it remained little known in technical communication until responsive design, promulgated in 2010, came to tech comm through help authoring tools in early 2014. In this column, I’ll briefly describe the float property’s function before turning to the larger issue of what I think it symbolizes for technical communication.

What’s “Float”

Float is a CSS property that lets us position elements on HTML pages. No big deal, you say. We’ve done that for years using simple inserts. True. What if we need multiple graphics side-by-side on a page? Again, no big deal. Create a table, hide its row and cell borders, and insert the graphics in adjacent cells in a row. Philosophically, using tables for page composition is wrong but it’s worked fine for years. Until responsive design arrived.

Responsive design lets us create one (the crucial word) online output that automatically reformats itself for the device on which it’s displayed. For example, say you have to create online help to run on large-screen devices like desktops and laptops and small screen devices like smartphones. You can create two outputs, each designed for its target device. But now add support for 10” tablets? That’s three outputs. Then 7” tablets? That’s four outputs. At some point, you won’t have enough resources to create and maintain all your different outputs. Responsive design solves this problem.

Responsive design lets you create one output that can detect the properties of the device on which it’s displayed and tailor itself accordingly. For example, three graphics laid out horizontally when displayed on a large screen automatically shift to a vertical format as the screen gets narrower. On the first screen below, I inserted the first group of three graphics in a table. I inserted each graphic in the second group normally – not in a table – but specified a left float for it. On a wide screen, there’s no difference.


As the screen narrows however, like shrinking to tablet size, the graphics in the table can’t shift because the table controls the layout. The result is the horizontal scroll bar. But the graphics in the second group, controlled by the float setting, automatically start shifting to a vertical format shown in the next image.


As the screen narrows further, to smartphone screen size, the graphics in the table still can’t shift but the second set of graphics, controlled by the float setting, automatically shift to a full vertical format as shown below.


Float also lets us move whole columns, change how text aligns next to images, and more. This is what lets us create the “fluid grids” that give responsive design much of its layout flexibility.

The float property can get very complex but it’s easy to understand and apply for most online help and documentation projects. For example, to get the graphics to behave as shown in the figures above, the code is simply this:


Your help authoring tool’s stylesheet editor lets you add the floats without getting into the actual code. You can start experimenting with it now.

What’s the Symbolic Importance of the “Float” Property?

Why spend an entire column on a little-known piece of CSS code? In my opinion, float symbolizes four shifts taking place within technical communication.

·         Online superseding print – If you only output print, float is irrelevant. But if you output print and online or online only, you should optimize your content for online. Some techniques for doing so have been available to technical communicators for years, like using relative size units (em, rem, or %) for text rather than the familiar points, or embedding index entries. Float is the latest such technique to reach us. The more you think “online” first, the more in tune you’ll be with changes in technical communication.

·         Growing interest in output to mobile – For years, computer screens were so large that we rarely had to worry about screen real estate. But growing interest in mobile as a single source output option makes it increasingly important to find automated ways to use the same content on different-sized screens. Programmatically-controlled layout modification techniques like float do that and let us adapt quickly as new output requirements appear.

·         HTML5 output – HTML5 output itself doesn’t need floated graphics. But one of HTML5’s benefits is responsive design, and you’ll want to look at using float to make the most effective use of responsive design.

·         Increased development rigor – Poor development practices like HTML tags with no end tags and tables created by using the tab key to create columns have largely vanished as our authoring tools and practices improved. Others, like local/inline formatting, are slowly vanishing as more authors use styles. The result is that improvements in programming practices are reaching increasingly esoteric areas like graphic positioning control. We’ll never totally eliminate bad practices and “hacks” but we’ll minimize them through techniques like float.

Summary

The symbolic effect of float is that it illustrates how web coding practices are increasingly available to the technical communication world. As technical communication moves away from “writing” and toward “content” and the lines between web development and technical communication continue to blur, techniques like “float” push technical communicators closer to web developers, letting us future-proof our material and our jobs and get into increasingly interesting work.

About the Author

Neil is president of Hyper/Word Services (www.hyperword.com) of Tewksbury, MA.  He has 35 years of experience in technical writing, with 29 in training, consulting, and developing for online formats and tools including WinHelp, HTML Help, JavaHelp, CE Help, XML, RoboHelp, Flare, and others now almost unknown.  Neil is MadCap-certified for Flare and Mimic, Adobe-certified for RoboHelp, and Viziapps-certified for the ViziApps mobile app development platform. He is an STC Fellow and the founder and manager of the Beyond the Bleeding Edge stem at the STC summit.  You can reach him at nperlin@nperlin.cnc.net.


Thanks to Allen Beebe, Cheryl Landes, and Deborah Sauer for their comments.

This post first appeared in the Society for Technical Communication's Intercom magazine (intercom.stc.org)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book On Responsive Design

Per my presentation on responsive design at Lavacon on Monday, here are two books that I'd immediately recommend on responsive design and CSS.

- "Implementing Responsive Design" by Tim Kadlec, New Riders. Written more for programmers than help authors, but I'd recommend this book for the people at the presentation who were looking to go beyond what a help authoring tool can do through the GUI.

"The CSS Pocket Guide" by Chris Casciano, Peachpit Press. A easily digestible summary of the depths of the Cascading Style Sheet standard.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Questions From My July 18 STC Webinar on CSS

Mary C: Does RoboHelp provide a basic CSS that one can adapt?
Yes. When you create a new RH project, RH automatically creates a basic CSS called default.css. You can use this CSS and modify its properties, or (my suggestion) copy it, save the copy with a name that ties it to the project or (better) your company (in order to be able to apply it to multiple projects), and modify its properties.

Ellen C: Is it possible to create unnumbered items in a numbered list in Word?
Yes, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to do that the way you would in HTML and CSS (or else I couldn’t find it). To do so manually, press Shift/Enter after a numbered item to add an unnumbered paragraph that keeps the indent and doesn’t change the sequence of the next number. Keep pressing Shift/Enter to add more unnumbered paragraphs. When you finish, press Enter to go back to regular numbering style.

David M: What application do you recommend to create a CSS?
It depends. Do you want to create a CSS for a project done in an authoring tool or do you want to create a CSS independently of any project or tool? Email me at nperlin@nperlin.cnc.net to let me know and we can discuss from there.

Suzanne S: I'm currently using RH10 and we will be upgrading to RH11 for responsive design. Fonts and margins are currently defined in point sizes. To make the output work, do we need to make modifications to the style sheet to use relative size units?
The more you use relative size units the better the responsive design will be.

Barbara: I took over a project with many tags with the style within each tag. I have changed this by adding classes like p class=BodyText" and so on. Is this not correct?
You’re correct. The fewer the sub-classes the better, but you definitely want to replace inline formatting with sub-classes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Author! Author! With Flare

Ever wanted to write a book that people can buy on Amazon? Perhaps a technical book, perhaps a book of family history, or anything in between.

In this post, I’ll discuss how to do that using MadCap Flare as part of a larger tool kit that lets you publish a book to Amazon in both print and ebook format at mind-bogging speed.

By way of background, I’ve written seven books in my career. The “Small Business Guide to Computers & Office Automation: A Comprehensive Overview of Computers and Modern Office Technology, and How to Select a System”, was published in 1985 by Knowledge Industry Publications. The second, an update of the office automation book, was published by an in-house press in 1989. The original book took about five months to write and almost as long to publish. The slow publication process made it hard to write a technical book because it was almost impossible to update the book once it entered the process even though the subject matter itself might be changing. And so I stopped writing commercial books.

Then, in 2010, two things happened.

First, the late Nan Fritz, president of nSight, a consulting company in Burlington, MA, said “Neil, you’re a consultant. You have to write a book.”  I decided she was right and, after some thought, decided to take a MadCap Mimic course that I’d written several years earlier and repurpose it in book form. That meant that most of the writing was already done, in Word format.

Second, I found a blog post, now lost, that discussed why consultants should write books and why and how to self-publish. The gist of that post was that while it was prestigious to have a “real” publisher, the process was slow, publishers paid low commissions and no advance, and provided minimal marketing support. Self-publishing and “print on demand” technology made it possible to write a book and make it available on Amazon quickly and inexpensively but with a higher commission rate. There was still no advance and you were on your own for marketing, but that was like working through a real publisher anyway.

So I tried it. In the process, I put together a tool kit and workflow that I’ve used to write five books since 2011, all available on Amazon (blatant sales pitch warning). The books are “Essentials of MadCap Mimic 6”, “ Advanced and Unfamiliar Features in MadCap Flare 8”, “Advanced and Unfamiliar Features in MadCap Flare 9”, “Advanced Features in MadCap Flare 10”, and “Creating Mobile Apps Without Coding”. In the rest of this post, I’ll explain the tools, the workflow, and point out some lessons learned.

The Tools

The tool kit consists of:

·         ·         Flare (www.madcapsoftware.com) to write the content.

·         Amazon CreateSpace (www.createspace.com) to convert the Flare output into a print book and put it up on Amazon.

·         Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com/), also known as KDP, to convert CreateSpace’s print output to Kindle format and put it up on Amazon.

The Workflow - Flare

The most efficient writing workflow was to treat the book like any Flare project. I also planned from the start to write multiple books using the same basic Flare settings, so I initially set up the page layout, CSS, and one table CSS for the Mimic book with a view toward reusing them.

·         I set up the page layout using a custom size (6”x9”) and default 1” margins. (I used Flare’s 6”x9” because that was the CreateSpace size that I planned to use for the printed book and matching the sizes from the start meant fewer reformatting problems when publishing.) I added the book name in the header block and the “page n of N” page numbering template in the footer and that was that for the page layout. I could now re-use the page layout in multiple books by copying the flpgl file from project to project and simply changing the book name in the header.

·         I set up a simple CSS, specifying h1, h2, h3, p (paragraph), Note, Tip, and Caution styles. I made all the settings in the default medium, then switched to and used the print medium. (Why not make all the settings directly in the print medium, since that was the medium I was going to use anyway? Most of my Flare work involves online outputs using the default medium and if I used the print medium as the “default” for the books, there was a risk of getting confused between mediums. Not as efficient an approach as simply designating the print medium as the default but with less risk of confusion.)

·         I set up a very simple, black and white-oriented table CSS to ensure simple printing.

For each new book then, the overall workflow was this:

1.       Create the new project in Flare with MS Word as the primary target. (All the file conversions to print and Kindle take place in CreateSpace and KDP, not Flare.)

2.       Created the outline in Flare, with each section in the outline being a topic.

3.       Imported the page layout, stylesheet, and table stylesheet, making sure to change the heading in the page layout to the new book title. (I forgot to do that once and wound up generating a proof (final review) copy of the Flare 8 book that was perfect except that it used the Mimic title in the heading. A silly mistake but easy to fix.)

4.       Created a target called “ Word” and made it the primary target.

5.       On the XML Editor toolbar, set the Layout and Medium options to Print. (This may sound like a lot of work so far, but most of it was one-time for the first book. I could then copy those files to the new book project. The book-specific work took minutes.) I then started writing.

Several things to be aware of as you write:

·         Bullets work fine in the print output generated by CreateSpace but not in the Kindle output generated by KDP. This is a problem if you’re writing a technical book because bullets are so common. You’ll have to find a workaround, such as changing your wording or indenting “bulleted” paragraphs.

·         Watch your word spacing. In several cases, Flare inserted two spaces before a word but only showed one space until I saw the Word output.

·         MadCap Capture works well for capturing screens and inserting them in topics. (You can use any screen capture tool. However, don’t draw highlight boxes on screen shots because the area within the highlight box will become opaque in CreateSpace.)

·         Set the h1 style’s page-break-before property (in the PrintSupport group on the Stylesheet editor) to Always to avoid having a main heading at the bottom of a page and the text on the next page. However, if you have two short topics that both start with h1, you can wind up with two facing pages that are mostly empty and have to close up those two headings in Word.

·         Rewrite your material to avoid having a paragraph that ends with a short line that runs onto the succeeding page. If this happens, you may wind up with a left-facing page that contains a single word and the next topic starting on the right-facing page. This is fine but looks odd.


The table of contents can take some finagling depending on the structure you want. There are too many options to cover in one blog post, so I’ll put out an open offer to answer any questions down the road.

When you’re done, generate the Word output. Two things to watch out for when you do:

·         On the Advanced tab of the Target editor in Flare 10, select Generate TOC Proxy and Generate Index Proxy in the Output Options group. (You can also select Generate Glossary Proxy if you created glossary entries.) If you have an older version of Flare, you can generate the TOC and Index but you’ll have to do so using special-purpose topics. See the help or my Advanced Features… book.

·         On the Advanced tab of the Target editor in Flare 10 or before, select the Embed Images in Output option in the MS Word Output options group.

You can now review the Word file to make sure everything is right. If you need to change the content, you can make the change in Flare and re-generate the Word output or make the change in the Word output and separately in Flare. Also check for bad page formatting, such as having one line in the last paragraph of a topic on a separate left-facing page. When you’re satisfied, you’re done with Flare and ready to move into CreateSpace.

The Workflow – CreateSpace

CreateSpace is a book production, pricing, and distribution tool. It lets you set up your print book’s page size, color, and cover, plus distribution and pricing options for various Amazon channels. The process is step-by-step and you can perform all these tasks for free or pay for professional support. I did it myself and, while the results might have been better if I used the support, I thought they were good enough. (Part of the decision between do-it-yourself versus using a designer is the choice between time-to-market and aesthetics.)

When you finish laying out the book, including checking the layout in a page simulator, you can check a virtual copy or a printed proof copy. I recommend using the printed proof for two reasons. First, there’s just different feel between holding something tangible versus virtual. Second, you’ll want to see how your images look. (My main problem has been that the pixel density of my images is lower than CreateSpace prefers. CreateSpace will complain but let you ignore the problem. By getting the printed proof copy, I can make sure that the images really are okay.) Once you’re done, you submit the book for final review by CreateSpace.

After you fix or ignore any problems that CreateSpace identified, you give CreateSpace the go-ahead to put the book up on Amazon. CreateSpace will then slide you into KDP.

The Workflow – KDP

KDP is the ebook side of CreateSpace. KDP will take the files from the CreateSpace work and use them for the Kindle output. The process is almost effortless.

Two Obvious Questions

The first question is how long the whole process will take.

The writing part, in Flare, is up to you. Depending on how well you know the material, you might write the book in six months or, as I did for the Flare 10 book update, about a month.

The real time saving is on the publishing side with CreateSpace and KDP. The first time I did this, for the Mimic book, I worked slowly and thoroughly and the entire process took eight hours! (As opposed to nearly five months.) My book was on Amazon in print form and Kindle form the next day. As spectacular as I thought this was at the time, the publishing process for my latest book, “Advanced Features in MadCap Flare 10”, took an hour and a half! I ran through the process in the morning, the print version was on Amazon that afternoon, and the Kindle version the next morning.

This speed has totally changed how I write books. I can now write a book and time it for release with the software it’s describing without having to factor in months of lost time for production.

The second question is why not write the book directly in Word rather than write in Flare and output to Word? There are two answers. First, I’m a MadCap certified Flare trainer and consultant, so it made sense for me to explore what Flare can do. More relevant is the fact that Flare’s control files, especially the CSS, table CSS, and page layout, provide a rigorous but almost invisible degree of control as I write. For example, by making the CSS the master CSS for the project, my content formatting takes place automatically. Basically, it’s a snap to set up the infrastructure of a new book, with better control than Word and without the quirks.

Summary


Writing a book will never be easy. But using Flare in conjunction with CreateSpace and KDP means that the writing phase is better controlled and the publishing phase is so quick as to be almost irrelevant in your planning. Try it. You’ll like it. I did.