Streamlined Editing with iAnnotate on an Android Tablet

My next book – Practice Law in the Cloud – will be coming out from Canada Law Book … soon.  I turned in the manuscript back in May (2012) as a Microsoft Word document.  I wrote my first book almost entirely on a Dell Mini 9 netbook, getting about 30-40 minutes of writing done each way on the GO Train.  It was an eye opening experience into the limitations of the book creation world.

Editing PDF Documents:  First Attempts

The first thing I was surprised by was the lack of interchangeable electronic documents.  Once I’d submitted the Word document for Finding & Managing, the manuscript disappeared into a black box and came back to me some months later edited and as a PDF.  Since I was on the hook for the first edition’s index, it would have been great to get a copy in Word format.  I could then have created a concordance file and auto-generated the index. Not possible with a PDF.  I appreciate that galley proofs are meant to be near-final, so publishers don’t want authors fooling around too much with the content.  Still, it makes the experience a bit more arduous for the author, and it must be frustrating for the editorial staff as they are bringing together two separate documents manually.

My process has changed over time.  The first edition galleys I went ahead and printed out – 2 pages to a printed page – and hand edited them on the train.  Then I typed up my notes and sent them to the editor.  We worked chapter by chapter on that one.  The second edition was easier, since there were generally fewer changes.  The editorial folks on this edition were really sharp and caught all sorts of things that had made it through the first edition process.  I put the proofs in PDF on my laptop screen and, using Windows extended screens, made my notes, comments, and other edits in a second window.  This at least eliminated the paper from the process.

Editing PDFs:  Tablet + iAnnotate

I recently acquired an Android tablet, a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.  I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it.  But one of the programs I like using is iAnnotate.  The free app (iOS, Android) from Branchfire allows you to mark up a PDF and save and share the annotations with others.  I had first played around with it by scanning in a couple of my New York Times crossword book puzzles.  I could then carry a puzzle with me and work on it when I had some slack time on my train commute.

When the Carswell editorial folks contacted me and said the proofs for this book were finally coming, I decided to hazard using iAnnotate for my editing process.  This would eliminate the need for a laptop for input, which I relied on for both editions of my first book.  I received the PDF on Friday and began working on it on the train home.

It went surprisingly smoothly.  I had a PDF version of my original manuscript to refer to, and toggled between the two documents within iAnnotate.  You can have multiple documents open and each has a tab at the top of the screen.  A 10-inch tablet was a good size for reading a page proof.

There were only three tools that I used to mark up the proofs.  There are a number of others and I will investigate them in time.  It’s a simple application to use – there is a one page getting started guide that really answers all of the interface questions on the Android version – so there was no real learning curve.  I used the highlighter function to mark text that I wanted to keep but place somewhere else.  I used the pen to draw arrows for where the copy should be moved.

I also used the pen to add any additional text or to make corrections.  There is a great strikethrough function on the extra tools toolbar.  I used that to mark the text to delete – it defaults to red – and then used the pen, in blue, to add in the new text.  The proofs have substantial white space around the text, so it was easy to write corrections in the margins.  I don’t think it would be very easy to read if you were having to mark right on top of the text.

It wasn’t all perfect.  Once you use a tool, and select a different tool or click the “done” button, your edits are locked in place.  I found that sometimes I was making a change and then changed my mind.  It would have been nice to undo what I had done.  In the end, I treated it just like paper and scribbled out my change or marked “keep”.  Not ideal, but not too bad.  It was also quite laggy on pages that needed a bunch of edits.  The PDF page would load but the overlaid edits would take some time to appear.

A screenshot of a page from the PDF galley proofs for my book, marked up in Branchfire’s iAnnotate. It’s blurred on purpose.

The edits were all made, though,  by noon on Saturday.  Instead of having a pile of paper or any retyping to do, I had my original proof in PDF and my marked up proof saved in iAnnotate.  You can upload or e-mail the PDF directly from iAnnotate and it retains the annotations.

Or it appears to.  I don’t know if this is something unusual in the Android app but when I e-mailed it to myself and read it on the Android tablet in Adobe Reader, none of the annotations appeared.  I finally uploaded it to myself – getting a little anxious, if all of the annotations were going to be stuck on my tablet! – on a cloud server. When I downloaded it to Windows, there were no annotations when I opened it in NitroPDF.  But when I opened it in Adobe Reader, they were all there.  I knew they should be, because the file size had more than tripled from the original PDF to the annotated one.

It remains to be seen if this is a success from the publisher’s perspective.  They’d given me a one week turnaround and I figured I’d need all the time (this is a personal project, not supported by my employer, so I only use my own time and equipment).  Instead, I completed what I think is a suitable editing job in a very short time.  I am hoping (a) they can open and see the edits and (b) it works as well for them.  It has certainly been the most efficient editing process I’ve had.