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The editors and typesetters at my organization are not very computer savvy, so I don't think they would be interested in editing in LaTeX or XML directly. However, we are interested in pursuing a structured format on the front end since Microsoft Word is a real pain to work with.

Our current workflow goes something like this:

Author            Editor             Converter -> Typesetters -> Export -> Ebook formats
Microsoft Word -> Styling in Word -> XML       -> InDesign    -> XML    ->

                                                              -> Export -> Printer
                                                              -> PDF    ->

What are some good options for providing a front end for our editors/typesetters that is structured (XML, DocBook, LaTeX), but not difficult for someone without a lot of computer knowledge to get a handle on?

It's imperative that it be very reliable. There are way too many solutions that only work some of the time.

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Markdown (see e.g. Wikipedia) might be an option, which you can convert to LaTeX using Pandoc. – doncherry Oct 2 '12 at 19:20
I've actually looked at markdown and the extended markdowns like Kramdown, but they don't necessarily have all of the features that we need. Particularly it doesn't do poetry that well. Pandoc is awesome as well, I love that its written in Haskell; but again it's almost as if we need a syntax specifically tailored to book production. – user19446 Oct 2 '12 at 20:38
It looks like you already know more about Markdown than I do :). I just knew that these tools are out there -- I've never really used them -- and wanted to throw them in as an idea. – doncherry Oct 2 '12 at 20:54
Have you seen this Aditya's post: randomdeterminism.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/… ? – mbork Feb 17 '13 at 22:13

I would like to suggest the use of LibreOffice together with Writer2LaTeX. The converter works extraordinary well, produces nicely structured LaTeX files, handles properly mathematical formulae, images, headers, footers, special symbols and so on. And LibreOffice has a good (although not perfect) compatibility with Microsoft Word .doc files. Better download the very last version (currently, 3.6.1).

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LibreOffice looks like a promising choice, I'm looking into it, thanks for the suggestion. – user19446 Oct 2 '12 at 20:43

My answer is based on two simple assumptions:

  1. Authors should not provide styling and should not rely 'heavily' on features specific to MS Office (at the moment I can only think of VBA macros and embeddings of other MS Office objects).
  2. The job of an editor is mainly to check the content and structure of a document provided by the author, and to produce a new structured document in LaTeX, HTML, OpenDocument, etc.

In this case my suggestion is to use LyX. It is a stable document processor developed since 1995. For authors, it provides a simple way to structure content. An author can mark text as title, section, subsection, ..., enumerations (also nested like A.1.a.), references, tables, etc. By default it provides a poetry style called "verse". Furthermore, the author does not need to, and is actually discouraged from, specifying page breaks or line breaks, font types, section/paragraph skips etc. (This is considered the job of the typesetter!)

Of course, a short introduction for new users to LyX is needed. (Here's a light tutorial covering the important aspects in about 30 pages. E.g. spacing is handled differently in LyX. You cannot hit several times to create vertical space—there are other ways to achieve that.) In summary, LyX is made to keep the document structure consistent.

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However I don't like LyX, you're quite right that it might be a good choice here! – yo' Feb 18 '13 at 14:10
You might want to mention change tracking: The one thing that many author–editor couples really love in Word is its change tracking mode. And LyX has as a similar feature. This is IMHO one point where it really excels over using plan LaTeX with diff, latexdiff, and so on. – Daniel Mar 19 '13 at 13:56
Well, why not just use LaTeX together with git or hg? – mbork Mar 19 '13 at 14:38
@mbork That are great solutions, but maybe not so much for the less computer-savvy. – marczellm Jun 16 '13 at 19:34

I can endorse LyX. Especially since LyX 2.0 it has the ability to replace Word for this kind of application. (Spell check was built in better and many other usability tweaks added.) For the papers I write (PhUSE mainly) I have used only LyX since 2009. I have nothing against text editors and raw LaTeX - I am a programmer and use text editors every day. But when I am writing I want to just to see my words.

What may not be clear from the tutorials etc., is that LyX is great for document editing - it has many features for use that are simple but brilliant - e.g. the "go back" button. It goes back to the place of your last change. Application: I want to insert a biblio item but what year is it? Go to doc rend read biblio entry, back. Ready to edit. Another great thing is the way it handles images - so easy to scale on import to fit the page exactly. Using LyX is a bit like the draft mode in Word. No pages are shown but headings etc. are rendered and images shown.

And there are packages/classes for slides like beamer. There is a LaTeX package for poetry books/pamphlets called poemscol.

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