• Overleaf for Book Production

    Posted by Graham on May 30, 2017

    Overleaf provides a wealth of features and functionality to assist with book production. In this post we review some case studies and take a brief glimpse “under the hood” of Overleaf to see why it is a safe and secure platform on which to build innovative solutions for book publishing. If you are thinking of writing a book using LaTeX, our companion post Overleaf for Book Authors might also be of interest.

    Overleaf: A safe, secure and sophisticated workbench for book production

    Overleaf is far more than just a cloud-based (La)TeX installation and text editor. It is, in many ways, a production workbench and can, if you wish, be used purely for typesetting and production purposes if that works best for your book publishing workflow—and that applies whether you are an independent self-publishing author or a publishing company. With this in mind, we’ll take a slightly deeper look into Overleaf’s infrastructure/technology to give a brief indication of its potential for book publishing. How you choose to use Overleaf is, of course, entirely up to you.

    Overleaf’s powerful servers compile your project in a sandbox based on Docker’s Linux container technology. Every project gets its own sandbox, which ensures that any code we execute as part of compiling the project is isolated from other projects—and this is the first of several layers of protection that we use to compile projects safely. For TeX users, this means you can safely access and use a wealth of tools and utilities contained on our servers—to create, process or generate a wide range of content for your books. You should find that there are very few LaTeX packages that you cannot run due to security limitations or the absence of supporting tools and utilities. Furthermore, should you, or your publisher, wish to explore building or creating novel solutions to complex typesetting or production problems then you can do so, knowing that you have a safe and secure workspace in which to experiment—assured that you will not affect the work of others.

    We can work with publishers to leverage our infrastructure technology and server capabilities to design complex configurations that simultaneously yield easy-to-use author templates whilst meeting the needs of book publishers. Minimizing complexity for end-user authors is essential and Overleaf’s in-house experts can help design solutions to achieve this.

    Case study: Overleaf as a typesetting and production platform at Language Science Press

    Language Science Press is an innovative publisher specializing in high quality, peer reviewed open access books in the field of linguistics. LaTeX is their preferred format for submission of manuscripts but some members of their author community prefer Microsoft Word. To support this, Language Science Press convert Microsoft Word documents into LaTeX files and upload them onto Overleaf to complete the production. We have published an excellent case study which provides further background on their use of Overleaf.

    For authors who prefer to use LaTeX, Language Science Press provides a number of ready-to-use templates on Overleaf:

    Case study: A multi-author book produced in 72 hours!

    At the 2016 Society for Scholarly Publishing Annual Meeting, Overleaf participated in a project to create a multi-author book in 72 hours… A team of science fiction authors, scholars, digital publishers, journalists, and technologists collaborated to write, edit, assemble and publish a book about the future of scholarly publishing in, yes, 72 hours. Whilst we would not recommend you follow such a tight publication schedule for your own books, it does offer an interesting example of Overleaf’s versatility: book chapters being split into separate Overleaf projects and then recombined into a single publication via a “master” project. Here is a brief outline of the process:

    • Prior to the project we created a suitable template
    • Each day, authors wrote their contribution using the template provided.
    • In the evenings, contributions were shared with copyeditors, who used Overleaf's rich text mode to leave comments, and the track changes compare mode could be used to see any direct changes they had suggested.
    • Authors reviewed and accepted or rejected the copyeditor’s suggestions.
    • After writing and editing was completed, the articles were finalised, ready to be brought together.
    • To bring the articles together, Overleaf’s TeXpert, Lian Tze Lim, created a master project.
    • Overleaf's linked files functionality was used to pull files from the individual chapter projects on Overleaf into the master Overleaf project. Naturally, the Overleaf URLs of the individual chapters would need to be communicated to the person responsible for coordination and production of the book via the master project.

    A schematic of the workflow is shown below and offers a model which could be replicated for other book projects—though, of course, the publication timeline would be less frenetic.

    A multi-author project being managed on Overleaf

    Overleaf for book publishing: Where next—maybe publishers can tell us?

    Overleaf already provides a great deal of infrastructure suited to authorship and production of a wide range of books; however, we recognize there are areas where we can, or should, bring in some new features, such as:

    • further assisting with the management of larger or more complex publications/projects;
    • the creation of non-PDF output such as epub, XML and MathML;
    • preflighting and technical validation of PDFs for publishing workflows (for example, proceedings publication).
    • Multi-author publications—such as conference proceedings, edited volumes or multi-author reports—open up fresh challenges, especially within editorial management. Here at Overleaf we have the skills and expertise to implement solutions to meet those challenges but the overriding requirement is to determine which solution(s) would best suit the needs of publishers, their editors and, of course, individual authors. There are innumerable combinations of editorial models, publishing workflows and types of multi-author works. How should you model these requirements to deliver new services that achieve flexibility without undue complexity? Overleaf already has some features that could be re-engineered deliver new services and solutions for book projects—for example, extending the teaching toolkit.

      One possibility is to re-purpose existing capabilities which, with some additional development, could provide some form of “Editorial Dashboard”. Via a suitable dashboard, one or more editors could easily create and then manage a “master project”—in effect, the “control centre” to coordinate the activities of multiple authors and sub-projects. However, a key consideration is to identify the boundary between functionality that could (or should) be built into Overleaf and those aspects which should be delegated to external workflows through an API to integrate with other platforms—such as publishers’ bibliographic management systems.

      So, we offer an open invitation to all publishers, from any sector of the publishing industry, to contact us and start the discussion—we look forward to hearing from you.