The Policarpio Letters

Being On Theory & Practice In Desktop Publishing


Claudia Lopes tells me it was Jose Marti, Cuban national hero, who said, ‘There are three things that a man must do before he dies: Plant a tree, write a book, (sire) a son’ ( I’m 67; I’ve done all those but I’m not stopping at writing a book – I want it published.

My good friend Mike asks me in an email which software should he use to publish his book-full of photographs, and this is my 1000-word reply.

I’ve been in the publication world for the last 32 years at least, beginning institutional writing in 1975 and eventually becoming Chief Information Officer of the Forest Research Institute (FORI). At the Institute, I founded and edited the monthly newsletter Canopy, the quarterly color magazine Habitat (which I patterned after National Geographic and proclaimed so), and the quarterly technical journal Sylvatrop, the Philippine Journal of Forestry. I never missed a deadline, and those were the days of Stegosaurus royale, dinosaur of a typewriter.

Ten years later, in 1985, I typed, edited and otherwise slaved for a manuscript and went to press for a book on the small farmer for the Farming Systems & Soil Resources Institute (FSSRI) of the University of the Philippines Los Baños. For a perfect book, I had to read everything 9 times, word for word. Exhausted, I said to myself, ‘There must be a better way.’ I discovered the FSSRI already had a personal computer. I asked Pids Rosario, Director of the Institute, to persuade the girl who was in-charge of that PC to teach me. Which she did, albeit reluctantly; and that’s how I became acquainted with WordStar. In about 2 years, sometime in 1987, I graduated to Microsoft Word – and I saw that it was good.

In the early 1990s, I learned desktop publishing on my own; I learned that I am my own best teacher because I’m a certified teacher, high school – and I’m hardheaded. Nonetheless, productive. Last week, I went to press with the 10th book I have desktopped myself, UPLB: A Century Of Challenges And Accomplishments, written by Fernando A Bernardo, published by the UPLB Alumni Association Inc, 249 big pages.

Before that, for the last 4 years, freelance, I have been editing and desktop-publishing 20 issues of big-page Philippine Journal of Crop Science, processing thousands of pages of texts, tables, charts, photographs. Integrating all with my software of choice.

Mike, to lead you to your software of choice, I now introduce San Policarpio (St Polycarp), 2nd Century Smyrna bishop, martyred for refusing to bow to the Roman Emperor as his Lord. ‘A practical leader and gifted teacher,’ he has a single letter to the Philippians surviving (Wikipedia). Nonetheless, I discovered yesterday ten other, hidden letters you’ll agree are indisputably Policarpio:

Package. You are an author and have the manuscript of a book you want published. First, design your book to promote itself, with a memorable title & image with impact. You’ll want a software to deliver your brainchild painlessly.

Open windows. You have to orchestrate the whole process from blank to book. If you don’t understand the software, King, humble yourself and submit to an Expert, be a Subject for a day. You’ll want a software you know it can do what you want done.

Layout. Watch: Can the software change a layout and all affected pages instantly? Remember, you’re working with 500 pages. You’ll want a layout-friendly software.

Insert. Is inserting a text or image a pronounced pleasure? Pain in the ass is a software that requires you to switch to mode 1 to insert, then switch to mode 2 to do the layout. Don’t make me get in and out of a table, figure, caption, box, chapter title whatever, one at a time – you’re wasting my time. You’ll want an insert-friendly software.


With this software, can you design – and redesign – a page, a chapter, the whole book faster than you can say ‘desktop publishing software?’ You’ll want a designer-friendly software.

Assess. Author or editor, you will find the need to review what you have done even when the manuscript has already been laid out. You have to check your facts, your assumptions, your dates and data. You have to double-check your sources, your bibliographical entries. With this software, can you make split-second searches and returns? You’ll want a reviewer-friendly software.

Revise. The inevitable happens: You want to revise your manuscript with 500 pages laid out, 345 pages of those changing their numbers. What about an instant Table of Contents, an instant Index? You’ll want a reviser-friendly software.

Print. You still need a few printouts before you go to press, for checking and changing where necessary. If you’re not the layout artist yourself, can you printout by yourself without having to buy expensive hardware and software? You’ll want a pocket-friendly software.

Intuit. When you have an insightful idea you want to put in your book at the last minute, can the software accommodate it in a minute? You’ll want an intuition-friendly software.

Out In, In Out. You’re not the layout artist: Can you use the software yourself when you have to? After that, you have to let go; stop tinkering with your manuscript, because you’re making life miserable for other people. Remember: In press, you can’t have your book and edit it too!

Mike, with the Policarpio letters as template, you can now decide which publishing software: InDesign? PageMaker? Quark Xpress? Microsoft Publisher?

My answer: NOTA. None of the above. I imagined the Policarpio letters yesterday thinking of only one software: Microsoft Word 2003. Not Word 2007, no; that’s beauty and brains that’s complicated. Word 2003 is sexy and sassy, and writer-friendly, reviewer-friendly, layout-friendly, pocket-friendly, intuition-friendly – truly user-friendly. I know; I wasn’t born yesterday (1940). With all those authors and software out there, the question is Survival with the Fittest. Word 2003 is the best thing that ever happened to desktop publishing. I can write a book on it.

Copyright 2007 September 02 by Frank A Hilario.
Also published by
American Chronicle in a slightly different version.
Researched for, organized-reorganized, formatted & hyperlinked via Microsoft Word 2003.


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