Can the Author Really Help?

A very experienced former book packager who has moved on to become an industry observer and critic of some note pushed back on my suggestion on Friday that authors could be involved in tagging content for contextual meaning. “Not in this lifetime,” was his comment, and he suggested that copy editors or managing editors might be the more likely candidates to mark what we’re looking for.

Among other things, our critic suggests that the usual consequence of having an author mess with the code is that the next job the packager or publisher has to do is pull out a lot of not-useful clutter.

What are we looking for? We want the biographies within a historical book that are used to introduce the characters. We want the place descriptions from any book — many from novels — that would be of interest to anybody visiting or looking for information about the place. We want to know which of the woodworking projects in a collection are suitable for Christmas, or require minimal tools, or a minimal skill level, so that we can create different collections for different audiences.

All things like this, the author will know best, usually better than the copy editor. Also better than the acquiring editor. And certainly better than the managing editor.

Extracting the value of the author’s knowledge and developing the tool sets and workflows that make it functional to incorporate it in the XML document of a book will require a lot of reinvention. In that sense, “not in this lifetime” is an accurate metaphor for when it will happen. Publishing needs some “born again” changes and this is one of them.