Thrown in at the deep end

My first month here has been quite the baptism of fire, culminating yesterday when I ran the first of two 90 minute training sessions for editorial staff about ebooks.  One month ago, I had no first-hand knowledge of the book industry.  Yesterday I was explaining to experienced editors and editorial assistants what they had to do to correctly commission and produce an ebook.  Life is never dull.

I focused on outlining the basic formats in which ebooks are released, and talking about the process I want to establish.  My manager had suggested to work from the assumption that my audience know nothing at all, and afterwards commented that I had perhaps even presumed too much knowledge. Part of the problem, I think, is that I don’t want to appear to be patronizing, but at the same time I want to be clear.

Incorporating the production of an ebook along with the hard copy publication of a frontlist title shouldn’t be too complicated, in principal.  Once we have a final pdf, the ebook process kicks off.  This pdf is supplied to a conversion house, who turns it into a reflowable epub file, and we then do a Quality Assurance (QA) check. If there are any amendments needed, we send a list of these, and the back and forth continues until we are happy.  In practice, I’ve not really had a chance to complete this process yet.  Of course, the process is complicated due to the nature of many of the books we publish here, which are more complex than a typical novel.  There’s a much greater level of formatting needed e.g. for dictionaries, or plays.  Questions come up such as the placement of footnotes – do you turn them into endnotes so as not to interrupt the flow of the text? – and appearance of tables.  These aren’t questions I can answer, which is why we want to involve the editorial teams to a greater extent.  In order to produce the best ebooks we can, we need to make the right choices with regard to format and layout.

I’m also finding a lot of my time taken up by kick-starting the production of smartphone apps (naming no particular brands). We seem to be juggling lots of different ideas and possible developers, with no central person co-ordinating.  I’ve started out by outlining the fact that we need to write a ‘comprehensive’ design brief for each app we want to produce, which can be supplied to developers in order to request a quote.  It’ll be interesting to see where this goes in the coming months, and I’m looking forward to buying my iphone when I get the chance!

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~ by kymethra on May 25, 2010.

2 Responses to “Thrown in at the deep end”

  1. I read your post with great interest because I, too, have been involved in training and educating our editors and layout artists in how best to prepare our books for in-house ePub production.

    Up until 6 months ago, after our books were sent to press (paper), all books were made into two digital formats: PDF (in house) and ePub (outsourced, supplied as PDFs). As part of our company’s initiative to save money, that process remains the same, except now we create our ePub in house by exporting from InDesign.

    My manager and I were given the directive to create an in-house digital work flow but were given no resources, except to be upgraded from ID CS2 to CS4. We were able to build the workflow, thanks to all of the online resources and the sharing of info on Twitter (#ePrdctn). Once we had our work flow worked out, we had in-house webinars to educate editors, designers, and layout artists how to best supply manuscripts and prepare the ID files for best digital output. It has all run fairly smoothly and we can now produce the digital books during the print ship month.

    Our biggest challenge is educating corporate and the sales team about the different formats and how PDF might be best for our more art-heavy, 4C books that depend on design for their context and how ePub is best suited for mostly- or straight-text books. When sales requests an art-heavy puzzle book for ePub (say, the Kindle) we try to explain how 1) Kindle doesn’t have a large enough screen to view the art and 2) the reader cannot print from it. Yet, we are told that when we used to send our books for ePub from the outsourcer, the books were created and sold, no problem.

    The missing piece is that 1) some books were rejected by the outsourcer as too complicated and it didn’t make it to corporate and 2) we don’t know how many of those ePubs were returned due to poor quality. The numbers are not there yet, so our attempts at explaining our choices come down to hours – if an ePub is requested and it’s going to take too long for us to do in-house, out it goes to the outsourcer. Until we get hard sales figures, it’s hard to tell corporate what or what doesn’t make sense. And so the education continues…

    But, all in all, it’s been greatly empowering to bring our ePub production in house. We can now quality control our product (something we were not able to do with our outsourcer and, wow, some of our ePub books frankly looked horrible) and we can put ourselves in the position of advising editorial on the best formats for their books … when they are ready to hear it – for now eBook production is strictly a Production Department initiative which makes me uncomfortable but our deadlines are so tight that eBooks are almost an afterthought.

    Thank you for posting your in-house experience. The more we all share our victories, frustrations, and questions, the stronger digital product we can make, which will benefit readers everywhere.

    Colleen
    on Twitter as @BookDesignGirl

    • I appreciate your response, it sounds like you’ve already been through a lot of what we’re experiencing at the moment (it is commonly said that the US is about 2 years ahead). We’re definitely of the belief that when it comes to ebooks it’s best to share knowledge and best practice rather than not, hence the ePub User Group I attended last night, which involves people representing lots of publishers (and I will try to write up some of what was said, though most of the time was taken up with presentations rather than discussion).

      I’d love to be able to take control over the production of our ePubs in house, but right now I don’t think we’re in a place to do that. We’re changing outsourcer soon, and getting a new DAMDAD, which really is going to make things much easier, but until then I’m finding a lot of frustrations!

      It’s great to be in touch with others though, together we can conquer this!

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