Category Archives: epublishing

Reflection & Reaction: The eBook Architects Workshop

My flight back to Boston isn’t until 6 p.m. tonight, so I’m writing this from the eBook Architects office – lovingly known as “where the magic happens.” The eBook production workshop has finally wrapped up, and the Ninjas are back to work. All I can hear is clicking, typing, and Toby going over a project with another Ninja, pointing at two different monitors. Across from my laptop are six different e-readers, including three Kindles. I know exactly where I am.

I didn’t really know what to expect as I prepared for this trip, as I sat on a plane to Austin, as I waited at the baggage claim for the Ninjas to appear from the darkness. I certainly did not expect the overwhelming warmth that came from the professionals I met at this workshop, including the original Ninjas themselves: Toby, Chris, and Joshua.

They picked me up and were all smiles; it was like returning to a group of friends. At the hotel, we all got together at a pre-planned mixer. I had dinner and met most of the attendees. Some came from publishers, others were freelancers, but all were eager to learn about successful eBook production.

The workshop was intense. I learned how to make a Kindle file (and the messiness that endeavor entails), how to create a book with fixed-width (iBooks), a whole mess of work in Regular Expressions and Perl, and what’s coming into play with EPUB 3. I learned about workflows and ways to make them more efficient, along with different tools that can guide ePub creators and help detect issues. I learned everyone has a lot to learn from creating ebooks, and that it’s a collaborative effort. And above all else, I learned that while I may still be a student, and not a professional in a technical sense, I’m not the only one curious, fascinated, and yes, overwhelmed with the affairs of electronic publishing. This is (a) serious business!

I think the best part of the workshop was this: it was amazing to talk to people who loved, lived, and breathed this stuff, this delightful chaos we’re trying to harness for readers all over the world. There is a community within electronic publishing that is growing, and it is full of people who are looking ahead to what can be discovered in this realm of digital content.

This workshop gave me a fantastic opportunity: I learned practical skills to utilize whenever I work within the ePUB format. I learned some good habits to practice during coding. I also networked with accomplished, driven professionals who have been involved with publishing for years, and all of them brought so many approaches to the table. After all, there is no one, perfect way of doing things.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a workshop of this kind, whether it’s hosted by eBook Architects or anyone else, do it. Please, please, please do it. You’ll gain an incredible understanding of not only what makes up the field of electronic publishing, but who. And if you’re anything like me, you’re not going to want to leave. It’s these kinds of opportunities that can give you a boost of confidence for your work – you won’t regret it.

eBooks and Education

So I made a pseudo-cameo in Joshua Tallent and Co.’s eBook Ninjas podcast! I had asked a question about how to prepare to enter the field of ebook conversions – I pretty much inquired about what to read, what to practice, etc. Joshua, Tobias, and Chris were kind enough to share their thoughts and advice. (To hear it, listen to the most recent episode, episode 41, about 10 minutes in. Needless to say, I was pretty giddy when they mentioned me, this blog, and my Twitter account!)

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they mentioned two things:

A) The date for the eBook Production Workshop(!) – September 19-21! If you’re interested in learning about eBook conversion and the like, check out this workshop. When I first learned about it, I knew I had to go – despite the $600 price tag. I’ll be booking my flight and hotel stay once more details are announced. I think what’s even cooler about this workshop involves who’ll be attending. I can’t wait to meet these professionals and learn about their work.

B) Near the end of the podcast, Joshua mentioned an interesting topic he and the fellow ninjas wanted to discuss within the next few podcasts: ebooks and education. While I’m mildly interested in the realm of digital textbooks, I’m more concerned about how ebook creation is being taught in schools.

With the number of times I’m asked about my current academic program by strangers and family members alike, I’m starting to feel like a poster child for the electronic publishing track at Emerson. I’m immensely proud of the track and believe it’s a fantastic avenue for students to get into the nitty gritty of online publishing. Emerson has taken an initiative in addressing the shift to digital among publishers; after all, it’s now required for incoming graduate publishing students to take an overview course in electronic publishing in the fall.

I have one year left at Emerson, and so far I’m looking to have taken at least four electronic publishing courses. These include the aforementioned overview, my thesis project (a forthcoming illustrated graphic novel I wrote/drew that I’ll be digitizing for view on the NookColor), a focused course on creating content for the web and e-readers (essentially, basic HTML and EPUB work) and a possible web development course. As a result of the web/e-readers class I took this past spring, I not only know how to create an EPUB file, but I understand how it works and know the limitations it can bring to certain texts.

The New York Times ran a piece about the famed Columbia Publishing Course, an intense program for students to learn the ins and outs of publishing. Inaugurated in Cambridge, Mass. at Radcliffe College, the course allows students to network with editors and learn about the trade; aside from attending lectures, students complete complex projects and proposals and present them to real editors for review.

Now, as ebooks have gained footing, the course has had to address their presence, ensuring its students to have the edge in the shifting industry.

But is the Columbia Publishing course teaching anything about EPUB? As far as I can tell, not really*, according to the second segment of the course, which involves digital media:

During the magazine and digital media workshop, student groups develop proposals for new magazines or Web sites, researching possible audiences, establishing editorial mission statements, designing layouts and wireframes, assessing competitors, determining potential advertisers and developing a Web strategy. By the end of the six weeks, course graduates have a greater understanding of book, magazine and digital media publishing than many people now working in the field. – CPC Course Description

Of course, my view of this course is limited because, hey, I’m not attending it. For all I know, I’m sure the word “epub” has been uttered a few times during a lecture or three. But I’m sure they’re not going into the details Emerson has begun to dig into with its epublishing track. There’s a difference between learning about ebooks and making ebooks.

Now, I don’t want to knock Columbia’s course; after all, I’m sure it’s an amazing opportunity for future publishing professionals. And let’s face it, you can only do so much within a few weeks! But while it’s very nice to gain an understanding of what ebooks are doing in the greater scope of the industry, I don’t think a future editor can genuinely understand what an ebook is until they catch at least a glimpse of how one is produced. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really work if you just read about it. There is a chemistry – a physiology, even – within an ebook, making it tricky to pin and analyze. Coupled with the nature of the ebook’s evolving culture and economy, many can find themselves at a loss to understand how it all fits together.

At Emerson, I’ve been able to learn about ebooks through three lenses: in one, I’m the programmer, dealing with cold code and troubleshooting the issues that plague text when read on a device. In another, I’m the editor examining ebooks as a platform for marketing a product; and thirdly, I’m the reader, trying to understand what I want from my own user experience as I consume books. I think future publishing professionals need to take to a three-pronged view in order fully comprehend what ebooks are doing. Print books aren’t going anywhere, but ebooks are indeed here to stay.

Aside from this, The New York Times article also bothered me because of the dismissive approach it took to Cambridge/Boston in general:

Since it moved to Manhattan, students have been able to plug directly into the industry and mingle with editors at book parties in the evening, a far cry from the cozy isolation of Cambridge.

“Cozy isolation”? Did The New York Times miss a memo about how many publishers are in Boston, including

  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Bedford/St. Martin’s
  • Beacon Press
  • Pearson Education (Custom Publishing)
  • MIT Press
  • Candlewick Press
  • Shambhala Publications
  • Cheng & Tsui

and many, many others. Yes, they’re not the Big Six, and they’re not in the middle of the busiest city in the world, but the publishers located in Boston and the greater Massachusetts area offer valid experience and opportunities for students to become involved in work they want to do by supplementing their learning experience with hands-on work. And certainly, when it comes to digital publishing, it  goes way beyond the Big Apple to, well, almost any place with an Internet connection.

I used to believe I had to force myself to live in NYC in order to “make it” in publishing. Based on my experience at Emerson so far, that is no longer the case.

* If any CPC students want to let me know what the program has covered in terms of ebook production, please feel free to comment.

Some quick links

Taking a gander at how to handle footnotes in ebooks (O’Reilly)

A study at Princeton (PDF); using the Amazon Kindle DX to reduce paper consumption and enhance the classroom experience (full report here, also PDF)

And Suzanne Collins discusses how to use Twitter to get a job in publishing – great read!

On Pottermore, Or: I should have expected that

As a fan of the Harry Potter series, when I first heard of the Pottermore website, my immediate thought was: “Hm. She’s doing more Potter stuff? Why? She doesn’t need the cash…” I was skeptical of the site, but I had no idea as to what it could possibly entail. I had caught a leak about Pottermore being some kind of MMO, which kinda-sorta piqued my interest, but nothing worth getting excited over.

Then, it happened:

NY Times – ‘Harry Potter’ Series to Be Sold as E-Books
Publisher’s Weekly – Pottermore Web Site to Sell E-Books in October
The Bookseller –  Confirmed: J K Rowling to sell Harry Potter e-books exclusively from Pottermore website

Of course. Of courseHarry Potter e-books. The thought of that is absolutely, positively, fantastically magical to me.

While some likely fictional people are unimpressed with the overall idea – this online network/community of new content for readers – the bigger, more important facet of this announcement warrants a lot of attention. E-books, guys! Harry Potter is coming to your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and – dare I say it – iPad! It’s a landmark that’s long overdue. Whether J.K. Rowling or her publisher is to blame, I don’t know. Nor do I care. But I know several thousand (at the very least) did.

What does this mean to publishers? What does this mean to readers?

I think this serves as a signal. With a series as popular and as permanent as Harry Potter turning to digital means in such a profound and personal way, publishers need to re-evaluate what that digital experience means to them in regard to their readers (and e-readers).

This could be the PR magic working on me, but I don’t think the digital medium, whether it be the web or the e-reader, can solely be a medium. It needs to present something else, something that goes beyond print – not just in form, but in content. We get that with many of our books, and I think even children’s books capture it best: an isolated space where content lives and thrives because of the interactivity it offers to young readers.

Yet I look at the stuff on my Nook and merely think “text on screen.” It’s my book, but it’s digital. It’s only another way of presenting the information I want to read. And I know a big part of it has to do with what the material is – obviously a personal reading experience lends itself more to an adventure series than a medical textbook – but are publishers doing what they can to go beyond bringing titles to a screen than just for convenience’ sake, or the chance to go “look at us, we’re digital now”?

That’s why e-readers (both the devices and the human counterpart, like myself) receive so much flack from those traditional foils: “I could never leave my [printed] book. I keep books for the experience of reading.” We haven’t figured out how to genuinely tap into and capture that experience within our devices.

Maybe Harry can help.

Job hunting ahoy

As Miranda has recently discussed, job hunting within publishing is tricky business. Daily visiting Indeed.com and the Bookbuilders of Boston postings for new leads, while easy in itself, can become discouraging after rejection e-mails or worse – no replies. Since moving to Boston I’ve applied to over 20 jobs in publishing (a small number, I’ll admit), none of which have come to fruition. Which, I think I can say, is a blessing in disguise – as a result, I’ve been able to focus on my graduate coursework and focus on what I want to pursue professionally (i.e. e-books and the like).

But as my time in school draws closer to the finish, the idea of getting an actual job within the field both puzzles and terrifies me, because I end up wondering whether I would fit the bill in general. Going into a profession within publishing is a relatively new thought for me; the idea of working within the realm of books, in any aspect, didn’t hit me until a few months before I earned my bachelor’s degree, just as I was about to decide on pursuing that dreaded M.A. in English literature.

The practicality of the path (oh, hey, I can do other things besides teach?) appealed to me greatly. But I did not realize (perhaps a little too late) how competitive the field was – or better yet, how competitive it has become.

Of course, I’ve been given a lot of pep talks about it*. Kinda in the same vein of that “it’s not you, it’s me” business.

It’s the economy. It’s the fact that publishing, as a whole, has taken a hit. What’s more interesting though, and more concrete reasoning to me, is that right now it’s near the end of the fiscal year, and publishers are trying to stay lean and mean before they can look to spend money on possible hires.

I would hope Wiley & Sons is at a place where they can offer positions after posting significant gains. But it’s this little piece news that’s interested me the most, from CEO Stephen Smith:

The shift to digital continues to enhance all of our businesses, resulting in new revenue models, new opportunities in emerging markets, and margin and working capital improvements. (emphasis added)

And also, according to Publisher’s Weekly,

E-book sales alone rose to $23 million, including a 145% increase in the fourth quarter to $9 million, 8% of group sales.

E-books are booming, e-books are the future, everyone’s buying e-books and e-readers – that seems to be all I read these days. Publishers are turning to e-publishing with incredible enthusiasm (for the most part), and yet the related jobs are still hidden like easter eggs. (If you disagree, by all means, show me the way!) As someone who is determined to enter electronic publishing, these bursts of good news and optimism have to be a good sign for me.

Right?

* Pep talks courtesy of one John Rodzvilla, electronic publisher-in-residence at Emerson College, who can be found at Gutter Type.