Desktop publishing woes

Desktop publishing refers to computer programs that allow you to create works with both text and graphics in the same file. I never got into the Mac and Apple world, so my experience is only with PC programs such as Microsoft Word, which has always done well with text, but is limited when incorporating graphics. Programs such as Microsoft Publisher and Adobe InDesign pick up the gap between programs that specialize in words and those that specialize in pictures.

My go-to program in the past has been Microsoft Publisher. When it originally came out thirty years ago, it emphasized the ability to take large Word files and merge them into larger book-length files and then convert them to formats that were used by commercial printers, such as PDFs. Today one can create a PDF file directly from within the Microsoft Word program. If one does not need sophisticated graphics for a book, therefore, one does not necessarily need a desktop publishing program.

I am putting this to a test with the 1400-page, two-volume Babson genealogy. The direct Word to PDF conversion does work, but Word can be temperamental, especially with large files, and I’ve had some problems with the PDF version coming out slightly different than the Word version, which is definitely not good when one has already indexed the book from Word.

So I decided to try my trusty Publisher. The only problem: the 2017 version of the program has changed since the last version I used, probably in 2006. When I poured the Word file into the Publisher pages, the footnotes disappeared! Undoubtedly, there is a setting that I have to find, but I don’t have the time to find it right now.

Assuming that you want to eventually publish your work, you need to start familiarizing yourself with the technology now…

I tried another tack with Adobe InDesign, a program I have as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, but have yet to begin to learn. The file did retain the footnotes this time, but lost the font sizes. When I have the time, I will eventually figure it all out, but it seems for the present project, I will be sticking with the direct Word to PDF conversion – carefully proofed for conversion bugs.

What does this tale have to do with your genealogy? Assuming that you want to eventually publish your work, you need to start familiarizing yourself with the technology now and keep up with whatever comes along in the future. Another skill to add to research, methodology, and Register style!

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

33 thoughts on “Desktop publishing woes

  1. Alicia,
    Thanks for sharing your experience with publishing. I will get there one day.
    My intent is to publish my family history in hard copy, a format that I believe will last for many years. I also want to put it on line, where I can add more photos and some interactive features, like time lines, maps, and trees. By this time in family history technology, I would think that someone would have created a template that one would add one’s data to. Any ideas on how to get started with that?

    1. Richard. Big question. The genealogy database programs (LegacyFamilyTree, etc.) all have built in programs to convert the data to “text” in HTML etc. The problem is that this text looks like —- and is nowhere near what most of us want to publish for our families. It would seem that there is profit to be made by someone who could establish a website where genealogists could share space for genealogical texts for a subscription fee. The big caveat that goes with that is the website cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of the genealogy, so it cannot be run by a genealogical society. Needless to say, free exchange of corrections and updates must be part of the equation. Hard bound books do last longer, but they are increasingly more expensive to product and ship. Already, genealogies are produced in limited runs, and/or on-demand, which limits the number of books out in the world. On line publishing is the future, as soon as the kinks get worked out.

  2. Microsoft Word has a version for Apple computers, which I have used successfully for several self-published books. However as you note – the graphics are extremely cumbersome! Apple has had a good program called Pages, which was great for graphics – it was a page layout type, and you could import Word text. It had some limitations, but a few years ago they ‘improved’ it and it is horrible now. I guess we will have to learn InDesign, which does work on PC and Mac. Footnotes and indexing are the critical items needed.

    1. Carole, I tried a MacBook as I have long heard that Apple’s system is “so much better” than Windows. Unfortunately, I really couldn’t make much sense out of it and decided I was too old to bother. I do have an IPAD Pro and love it for it’s graphics, but don’t use it for word processing. It might be nice if there was an “InDesign Light!”

  3. If you figure out a way to convert from Word to Publisher and preserve the footnotes, let me know! I’ve been trying to figure that out all summer.

  4. I use a PC at work and a Mac at home and can assure you that Microsoft Word is equally officious on both platforms. I have an idea — when you finally get this publishing thing figured out, write a how-to book for the rest of us who are tearing out our hair.

  5. Word is serviceable for most projects but, as you say, it can be quirky. I edit and format doctoral dissertations in Word; it’s universal enough that I can pass drafts back and forth between clients and their advisers. Plus, when I do run into those pesky problems, it’s easy enough to google through to solutions, then PDF the final at the end.

    From a genealogist’s end-users perspective, it’s really useful for the writer to make sure PDF or other formats are available if and when the hard copy can’t be found. I’m often hunting for publications that were available 10 or 20 years ago but are *nowhere* now. Occasionally (rarely) I can track down the authors, but they don’t usually have extras or digital copies. I’d even be willing to pay the price of the book to get a PDF.

    1. Luanabee, genealogies are always produced in small runs for economic reasons and either sell out or extras are dumped in the trash to get them out of the basement. PDF has come along fairly recently and it (and its successors) provide a great alternative. Most of my old books are either on Displaywriter disks, 5″ disks, or 3″ floppies and done in versions of Word that have long evaporated. All of which is part of the argument for electronic publication — with the Catch 22 that one needs to keep up with progress and make certain their work gets converted every time new stuff comes along.

  6. I love and use Adobe InDesign. When you “place” your Word document into a new InDesign document you need to enable the “Show Import Options.” That will give you the option to keep your Word file formatting.

  7. Learn InDesign, you won’t regret it. If you have a Word file, simply press control-D (command-D on a Mac) to Place it into your InDesign document. Since InDesign is an Adobe product, it makes PDFs flawlessly. What you see is what you get. Importing graphics and images is exactly the same, press control-D and place the image where you want. Creating a book with it is easy and yet if you want to get deeper into the sophistication of it it is very powerful.
    I am a concierge-publisher (helping authors to self-publish), so if you need any help with learning the program, let me know.

  8. I have done smaller jobs using the BOOK tab in Family Tree Maker. It was not instinctual so I am hoping that when I upgrade it will be simpler.

    1. Janet, I haven’t yet updated to the new Family Tree Maker — still searching for my disk from the old one to qualify for the upgrade! It will be interesting to see if FTM and other programs begin to become more text friendly — something I have advocated since the Bronze Age without much success.

      1. I did update my FTM to the 2014.1 for Windows that MacKiev offered. It worked great for about a month where I could see Hints and go onto Ancestry. Then the hints leaf was no longer usable, told me I was not connected to the internet. (of course I was) Now I have no hint leaf at all and cannot merge records to my FTM. Emailed MacKiev a month ago and still have not heard from them. Alice & Janet if you have any advice for me, it would be greatly appreciated.

        1. FTM 2017 is available now. MacKiev took the merging function offline for previous versions earlier this year. That’s why the leaves disappeared.

  9. I also am a Desktop Publisher/Graphic free lance consultant ( I like Rocky’s term- concierge )
    Depending on your project – I would be interesting in bartering some New England reseach super skills for my DTP skills – I used InDesign for my preferred product but also usually have to use Microsoft Office Word, Publisher, Powerpoint etc – I am very good but it is cumbursome.

    1. I would take you up on that except the book is going to the printer on Monday! I think it will be the last such large, hard published genealogy that I do. From now on I will concentrate on that website I started several years ago, which has lain fallow, and encourage the idea of publishing “as you go,” so that something gets published rather than waiting to get it all “right” for the book in 30 years (when I will be 99).

      1. I will be 99 much sooner than that, so am sure that is the reason I am so impatient with all these changes when I am comfortably set with what I wanted to do before. Have published three times,with good Editing help, in a yearly Historical publication by the Pend Oreille County, (WA. State) Historical Society, with photos from family memorabiiia. But the Editor does all the work of placing for the Printer. I call her a miracle worker when the final product comes out in June/July. These are shorter articles but so well done am happy with them. However it would be nice to try a larger product but am certain if these programs keep changing it won’t happen. And have done much simple newspaper indexing with Excel, even that is becoming more cumbersome to use. Started doing it when I was working in a local Library History Room because people would step to the desk, first qustion “are the older newspapers indexed?” Of course they were the years people were researching.

  10. Fogot to mention – the font changes when a document is placed from Word to InDesign because the master fonts are set to commercial fonts – more stable than Microsofts TrueType and others style fonts.
    But you can either set the master font to match your Microsoft font – or “select all” and then select the prefered font. note: often italics, underlineing and super/subscript need to be reviewed.

  11. One more thought about PDFs. Keep your original files from which you created the PDF.
    When you discover an error or significant addition, (inevitable) you can correct or add, and re-publish a revised PDF, noting the version and date. And hopefully provide to those entities that got version one.

  12. Modt “Improvements,” are not! When Microsoft messed with my emails and I can’t get into them without using my old computer which is getting tired out, scares me and makes me so angry. Do they think we have endless time to figure out what they have done when we would like to be able to get on with the job? Good Grief!

  13. I’ve done 2 books with a Word template provided by the publisher (Lulu). I used Word’s built-in note and bib styles closest to NEHGS. (Setting Stratton & Hoff’s styles to automate is pretty tedious.) Pagination and whether it prints on forematter is a bear to control in the Word version I have. Still, I did work some with Publisher, but I found that Word’s text management and footnoting was more important to the project than dynamic layout control.

  14. I would recommend Stephanie Evergreen’s book Presenting Data Effectively. She covers all of the desktop publishing issues. She has screenshots and checklists so it’s very easy to work along her book as you learn how to use publishing software. Well worth the read! It’s a perfect resource.

  15. Alicia, having had ten years of experience with InDesign before retiring last year, I found the easiest way to edit hundreds of pages is by taking advantage of the Styles feature.

    For instance, you can Select All to change fonts, size, etc. Then use Paragraph Styles to create special formatting of headers, footers, create columns, etc. It may take awhile initially to set up, but once it’s done, you can easily use the eyedropper tool to Apply your style changes.

    The Find/Replace feature also is valuable for revising or correcting specific words, or changing formatting.
    There are plenty of how-to books and sources available online. As you become familiar with InDesign, researching these features would be a useful starting place.
    Good luck!

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