Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

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Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

Postby David Winter on Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:45 pm

This is my first post on the Madcap Forums, which I hear is a very friendly part of the Intertubes.

So hello everyone. :)

So... I am currently playing around with the trial version of Flare 4.1, and it seems that after a long time (I have been using FrameMaker since version 3.0 in 1994), my search for the Holy Grail of single-source publishing has come to an end.

Now when I buy Flare (and I am pretty sure I will), I consider using it not only for help systems, but also for a relatively complex book project. "Book" here meaning not a PDF eBook or a laser-printed product manual, but a real hard-cover book (circa 350 pages) that should be printed and distributed professionally.

(Why use a knife where most people prefer a fork? :) This book will be very topic-oriented - lots of small sections, conditional text for things that might be thrown out/moved around a lot. I might also want to re-use excerpts in other formats, especially HTML. So using a Help Authoring Tool seems to make sense here.)

I wonder if an experienced Flare user who tried something similar before could tell me if the PDFs created from Flare can be used for such a project.

I.e., will the PostScript code, the image quality (bitmap screenshots) and other factors relevant for high-quality offset printing allow for something that a printing company would consider a professional manuscript source? (Most printing house around here seem to prefer XPress, Word, InDesign & Co. as *cough* "open" formats for books.)

At this point, I can still go another route (e.g. by purchasing InDesign, which I'd frankly like to avoid). I would just like to know what to expect *before* I convert a boatload of content into a Flare project ...

I'd appreciate your comments, warning and RTFM's. Thank you.
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Re: Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

Postby beagley on Thu Dec 11, 2008 8:34 am

Hiya,
Conceptually: no problem! That would work great, and Flare's support for CSS (including some clever built-in customizations) will let you do most anything I can think you might want to do.

In practice: Flare's PDF generating is a brand new feature, debuted in V4 of Flare. Prior to this, you would export your Flare project to a Word file for final editing and PDF creation. (You can STILL do that, actually, and you might end up preferring it.) In practice, I've had a few quirky problems with PDF creation from Flare. I conclude that the feature is still "green around the edges."

Bottom line: Flare is not InDesign. If you wanted to do a "Dummies" style book, with all those funky, pretty side bars and enclosed boxes and different style pages, well, Flare CAN DO IT. But, as you said, it might occasionally feel like you are using a knife to eat your peas...

"I eat my peas with honey,
I've done it all my life,
It makes my peas taste funny,
but it keeps them on my knife."
-d
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Re: Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

Postby Hobbes on Thu Dec 11, 2008 1:53 pm

As Beagley said, there are some rough edges to the pdf output feature. I'm still having some minor issues with table formatting and graphics, but I have to admit that some of these issues may be me and not the tool.

That said, I love the pdf output option. I'm using it right now to single source OLH and PDF for a software application. It is saving me days of work with each release. The 4.1 patch made some significant improvements to the output quality and I'm guessing that it will be almost perfect by 5.0 for sure.

Though it isn't perfect, I haven't used anything else that is even remotely close. My guess is that you will have some frustrating days early on, but once you work out the initial kinks it will give you what you want.
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Re: Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

Postby KevinDAmery on Thu Dec 11, 2008 1:57 pm

You may find this interesting as well:

viewtopic.php?f=13&t=7811

According to Scott, his upcoming book was written in Flare.
Until next time....
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Re: Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

Postby David Winter on Tue Dec 16, 2008 2:56 pm

Hello beagley, Hobbes, Kevin,

thank you for your replies. Definitely useful and much appreciated!

I still play/work with the Flare 4.1 demo, and as the current Service Pack indicates, there's work being done in the PDF department, so I am curious and optimistic with regards to that book project.

I also just realized that Flare Projects in their raw state are essentially HTML files, so even if Flare's own PDF output weren't good enough, I could still go for an XML/XHTML-to-PDF renderer such as Prince XML or RenderX.

Thanks again.
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Re: Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

Postby beagley on Wed Dec 17, 2008 10:19 am

David Winter wrote:I also just realized that Flare Projects in their raw state are essentially HTML files, so even if Flare's own PDF output weren't good enough, I could still go for an XML/XHTML-to-PDF renderer such as Prince XML or RenderX.


Yes.

Though it may mean a good deal of effort in the initial setup.

(I was actually under the impression that all of Flare's raw files are XHTML/XML, not HTML.)
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Re: Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

Postby LTinker68 on Wed Dec 17, 2008 11:35 am

beagley wrote:(I was actually under the impression that all of Flare's raw files are XHTML/XML, not HTML.)

They're XHTML. The only true XML files are the support files, like the search chunk files, the index file, the TOC file, the glossary file, etc., that provide the data to the XHTML files that call those XML files. But topic files are XHTML.

You might want to see this blog from AndyR. It's a couple of years old, so I'm not sure how relevant it is for Flare v4. http://techwritetips.wordpress.com/2006/07/19/best-pratice-flare-3-high-definition-pdf-part-1/
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Re: Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

Postby doc_guy on Wed Dec 17, 2008 11:51 am

I'm in the process of writing a book on Flare using Flare. My plan is to provide the publisher with the PDF file and they will print from my PDF source file. I can't comment really on the "gotchas" yet, because I haven't actually delivered to the publisher. But I'm using Flare with the expectation that the output will be high enough quality in the proper format for a commercial printing run.
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Re: Using Flare for a "real" book - experiences/suggestions?

Postby David Winter on Fri Dec 19, 2008 6:15 am

doc_guy wrote:I'm in the process of writing a book on Flare using Flare. [...] I'm using Flare with the expectation that the output will be high enough quality in the proper format for a commercial printing run.


That sounds very interesting, and it would be great if you could share your insights from that project.
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