With December came the last week of the semester, the crazy-fun culmination of everything we’d learned over the last few months. There was scrambling, and panic, and late night meetings and script rehearsals, as well as several trips to the printer to make sure our materials would print just right. For Margin Press, we had the added “joy” of trying to put a square logo on a round object. Keyan, one of my amazing teammates, solved the problem by etching the logo on a flexible eraser, though in my panic we tried ink as the stamping mechanism, rather than straight up acrylic paint. I didn’t realize how easy it could have been until the day of the presentation… but, live and learn! In the end, we’d done all we could, and I walked into the sales conference feeling pretty confident about what we’d accomplished. The books felt real. Our company felt real. All the marketing plans, P&Ls, and TI sheets felt real. All that was left was to convince the panel of that, too.
The Sales Conference
December 2nd was the big day: the last day of the semester, and the day of our 20-minute presentations. Margin Press was eager to really make an impact, so we decided to divide the presentation up dynamically, with each person talking about the elements of the books that would have been under our proposed job within the company. This ended up working out really well, since I introduced each title’s pitch and general information, then talked about the Blippar tech augmentations, before passing it off to the next person. This allowed us to review our note cards between titles, so there was less of a chance of getting stuck or freezing while the timer was running.
Each panelist received a print copy of our catalogue and tip sheets, which are photographed in the album below, and a goodie bag full of the stuff pictured above, as well as the juggling balls, which I’ve included in the gallery below. We even found bags that were the right aqua color for our company! It all looked really awesome, if I do say so myself. 😎
Us with our mock-ups of the books and all the other paraphernalia in the back.
Margin Press paraphernalia
Mock-ups of the books. These were SO hard to make, because they all had special trim sizes.
Margin Press goodie bag stuff.
Catalogue with the books.
Covers of the catalogue and tip sheets.
Catalogue: Company & Blippar
Catalogue: My Chinatown
Catalogue: Urban Carnival
Catalogue: Douglas Cardinal
Catalogue: Winter List (Faux-Ga is a picture of us!)
Catalogue: Order Form
TIP Sheets: Company Info
TIP Sheets: Staff & Blippar Info
TIP Sheets: SWOT Analysis and TOC
TIP Sheets: My Chinatown (Page 1)
TIP Sheets: My Chinatown (Page 2)
TIP Sheets: Urban Carnival (Page 1)
TIP Sheets: Urban Carnival (Page 2)
TIP Sheets: Douglas Cardinal (Page 1)
TIP Sheets: Douglas Cardinal (Page 2)
TIP Sheets: Unsettled (Page 1)
TIP Sheets: Unsettled (Page 2)
Our presentation went well. We had practiced it for a few hours the day before and before the conference, which allowed us to make adjustments so nothing overlapped too much. We didn’t want information repeated when we only had 20 minutes to get through introductions and four books. It also reduced the sheer amount of data we had to memorize. Because of all that prep, the presentation itself just flew by. I think we all sounded relaxed, even if we weren’t inside. Let me tell you—all those years teaching paid off! I didn’t get stage shy at all.
After the presentation, the three panelists were invited to make comments, ask questions, and critique everything. This was the part I was nervous about. We were the second group to present, and the first group were grilled for almost forty minutes. Forty!! But something miraculous happened….
They only had a few nitpicks!
In general, we got really glowing reviews, with my favorite being the panelist from Penguin Random House Canada telling us that our TIP sheets were the best-designed she’d ever seen. (I’m allowed to squee here, right?! I designed those!) Also, the panelists I had pegged as the one who would be the hardest to impress had very little to say, except that she wanted to publish all of our titles and wished they were real books. Later, several members of the faculty approached us to congratulate us again, and applaud the final presentation of the tech, which they had apparently still been the most worried about.
All in all, I’m still glowing from it, and it’s more than two weeks later.
….but apparently I’m going to be able to do this all over again, because next semester Magazine Project is basically the same deal. 😂 Here’s hoping everyone in the cohort is ready to dive into that kind of madness again when the time comes.
I don’t have school again until January 4th, but that doesn’t mean I’m free of MPUB. I need to update my resume and portfolio and look for places to intern at. Sadly, my first choice does not have any openings for this summer. Our design course also has two side projects that we’re all supposed to work on over the break, and in typical-me fashion, I’ve made the courses far more complicated than they need to be. One of the projects I’ve mentioned before: the book redesign project. I’ll be redesigning Nine Princes of Amber by Roger Zelazny. This involves a complete cover redesign and interior layout.
The other project is a Visual Identity Program, which is basically branding yourself or a company with fonts, colors, stationary, a website, etc. I’m kind of excited about this one, since I’ve been wanting to redesign Country Mouse Design for a couple of years now, and this is the perfect opportunity to do it, and get professional feedback while I’m at it. I’m even making a branding book that includes promotional item mockups, grid systems, and templates for my invoicing, estimates, and contracts. Pretty exciting stuff. It looks SO pretty, you guys… here’s a sneak peek:
That concludes the first semester of MPUB! Woohoo!! Upcoming posts include a couple of Christmas holiday events I’ve attended around Vancouver, (hopefully!!) the last Archetypes post, and my notes from MagsWest. I hope you all are enjoying your holiday. 🙂
November was wholly consumed by what is known as “Book Project,” a seven-week crash course in publishing covering everything from the concept pitch to sales. Students in the MPUB cohort are placed in three separate groups and are given a two-sentence missive on the direction their mock publishing house should take. Each part of the project was punctuated with consults from industry guests, who graciously confirmed or rejected the ideas we had about each of our proposed titles. Due to the intensity of the project, the rest of the courses sort of faded away, so I’ll mostly be talking about the work we did leading up to the mock sales conference we had on December 4th.
The Book Project
PUB 605 started with missives being drawn out of a hat. My group selected ECW Press, which is a quirky, ambitious publisher that prints basically everything plus wrestling. Apparently the original owner is just a huge fan of the WWE, so, yeah….
I was pretty happy with the pick, since ECW’s titles were not as restrictive as Greystone Books, for example, which basically only prints nonfiction. On the other hand, we were the only group given instruction to include technology in some meaningful way. That presented several challenges, since tech in publishing is often used in gimmicky ways, and we wanted to avoid that at all costs.
The first week of the project was likely one of our hardest, simply for being thrown into it with basically just a syllabus as direction. One member of the team was out with the flu and another (an auditor) was unavailable. After being taught through all of September how important it is to take the time to refine your brand and company as carefully as possible, we were basically given two days to get that done. 😅 So, Week 1 was about finding our imprint’s name [Margin Press], starting the mission statement, pitching enough titles to make a solid list [starting with six and narrowing down to four over the course of the project], and beginning the sketch work for our logo. The logo development was probably the most exciting part of the week for me.
In the end, we settled on a design created by my teammate Bec, who is a graphic artist at heart, and way better at these things!
Week 2 was probably the hardest week of the entire program. There was so much due all at once, and working on books that haven’t technically been written, by authors we have never talked to (or made up entirely), was quite the challenge. Still, by the end of the week, we had draft Profit and Loss statements for all six of our titles, which we used to narrow down the list to the four most viable books. We had a really fun book we were all sad to see go, The Neopagan Next Door, a nonfiction on pagan practices in a contemporary society. In the end, though, we settled on these four (I’m including their final taglines, or elevator pitches):
Urban Carnival: The Hidden Lives of Vancouver’s Street Performers (my pitch to the group!) – “Bagpipes, beatboxing, and didgeridoos: what’s left of the vaudeville carnival can be found on Vancouver streets—but there’s more to these acts than meets the eye.”
My Chinatown: A Novel – “Lin has always felt torn between two cultures, but when a new development threatens Calgary’s Chinatown she must finally pick a side.”
Douglas Cardinal: Indigenous Architect – “The story behind the stunning architecture that has helped revitalize Canadian Métis heritage for more than half a century.”
Unsettled: Narratives of Syrian Refugees in Canada – “Six refugee families from Syria recount the struggles and triumphs of reconstructing their lives in Canada and rediscovering the meaning of home.”
With all of those books, we had one main goal in mind—we wanted to promote books from marginalized communities. So, while we were refining our list, we also refined our mission statement, which ended up becoming:
Margin Press publishes for readers who like to engage with literature through a kaleidoscope of multimedia. We publish voices from the margins and push the limits of content and form. Through a suite of creative and diverse media, our readers engage with stories from original voices typically underrepresented in society.
I can’t tell you how many HOURS we spent fine-tuning the words for those pitches and the mission statement. Probably too many…. but hey, in the name of a job well done. 😛
Finally, we started our Tip Sheet information, subsidiary rights research, and catalogue design. Oh, and marketing plans. Like I said…. it was a busy, busy week. Here’s what our board looked like:
The third week of the project, things began to settle into a rhythm, and while we were still insanely busy, I personally started feeling like everything was doable. Part of the reason I could feel that way is that not many of our team worked outside of class, so we could pull long meetings during the week. That meant we could relax or catch up on other coursework over the weekends. For future cohorts, make time to be away from the project or you’ll go batty by the end!
Week Three was also a bit shorter than we might have liked because three of us were attending MagsWest, a local conference for magazines (I have notes, and those will make another post!) That ended up being okay, though, since the assignments were mainly revisions. We got print quotes back from Friesens (this was such a fun part of the project… talking with an actual distributor about paper stocks and trim sizes and purchase orders. I think we were the only group that dared to haggle with the rep, haha. He gave us a 10% discount on two books’ printing though, so I guess it paid off. 😉 )
Cover developments also started that week. I threw together a cover for Urban Carnival, which ended up being its final version as well (that was cool), and also made a bunch of mock-ups for My Chinatown, which were all rejected. 😜 Here are a couple (the red envelope ended up being adopted for promotional materials though!)
Finally, I had an impromptu meeting with a member of the faculty to explain my use of Blippar, which further cemented the idea that we needed to be careful about how we were going to use the media elements in the final products.
By Week 4, all correspondence and assignments for the group were branded with our company logo, fonts, and color palette. This really started making us feel like a real company. Assignments started feeling more like deadlines that the company had to meet to be financially viable, and that made us more determined than ever to get things right. Because of that, the majority of the week was again spent refining our documents. We had to do a lot of finagling to get the P&Ls to 50%+ profit margins (which is the recommended number, btw, for any book after marketing and development costs…. a good way to see if you’re not losing a ton of money on your books over time) but we got them there!
And then it was all about the marketing plans. We actually started them from scratch again after feedback from a publicist, and got pretty creative with how and where we were going to distribute, as well as where we’d look for free publicity. I think the most interesting thing about the marketing plans is that, in the end, we didn’t put too much pressure on social media, and the publicist really encouraged that. Something for indie authors to think about, I guess… since we are encouraged to spend SO much time online, but it turns out sales are made in many different ways, and the more creative ones tend to have the most return on your efforts.
We also finalized the designs for our printed documents (the catalogue and tip sheets [I should really talk about tip sheets one day; they’re pretty interesting]). This was about the point that I was feeling the pinch. I asked for it, but my design work is under a microscope, so things like text being optically aligned instead of using the computer’s ruler, and solving rivers in the text were basically the bane of my existence, haha. But, I persevered!
This was our “reprieve” week. We’d front-loaded so many of our assignments that we sort of had a lot of free time for Week Five, which was nice. We talked about how to create the promotional materials for our books, which would be given to the sales reps on December 4th, and then basically worked on cover designs and jacket copy. It was pretty interesting, because we had a really visceral reaction to our novel’s cover from one of the panelists, who literally held the cover away from his body and said “I HATE this cover!” It shook us a bit, but we polled the entire cohort and even some of the faculty, and realized one of the biggest points of Book Project: you don’t have to take every piece of advice to heart. We kept the cover design.
The adjustments, though. They became the single most annoying and incessant aspect of this course. Change a single word. Adjust the photo contrast. Try a new font. Swap out the blurbs. Increase the margins by .25″. Crop the image. We were working on the jacket copy until literally hours before the cover got sent to the printer, and then I still found things I would have changed later. Another important lesson of the Book Project: No book is ever done… it just meets its deadline.
The fun thing we did that week, because we just needed to get our heads away from book descriptions and covers, was decorate our office for Christmas. I even Photoshopped a company Christmas card, which we put outside our door.
Last week of the project, ahhhh!!! I thought it might be fun to, instead of summarize as above, share with you all a sample of one of the real reports we had to send to the faculty every week. This was my second one:
Heading into Week 7…
I’m going to save the sales conference for another post! And when I post that, you’ll get to see our finalized covers and promotional items, catalogue and tip sheets as well! The good news is that we had ZERO problems with our print job…. shocker! 😛
Is there anything about the book process that you are particularly interested in? I have so many notes and my brain is just bursting with information now, and I’m trying to think about what would be post-worthy going forward.
October and November were extremely busy months for me. Multiple assignments and projects across all of the courses suddenly began or reached their deadlines, and there was simply no time for anything else. Now that the winter holiday has begun and I am blissfully allowed to stay in my pajamas whenever I feel like it, it’s time to catch up on the list of blog posts I’ve been wanting to get to. I’m starting with #MPUB’s October wrap-up.
PUB 600 (Topics in Publishing Management): Sadly, this course ended halfway through October. We presented the marketing plans for another group’s book on the 13th, and then class was basically over. I also turned in my third assignment, which I talked about in Episode 2. I’m pretty proud of what I accomplished in that course, and am eager to learn from Prof. Johnson again next term, when we switch gears to learn more about magazines.
A lot of presenters came to our class in October, including Zoe Grams, from ZG Communications; Shannon Emmerson, Jane Hope and Taryn Hardes from ECHO Storytelling Agency; Joyce Burn from Avenue Magazine; and Sean Tyson from Quiet.ly. Each presenter brought their own expertise on book marketing, publicity, women in publishing, and content marketing (as an added revenue stream for publishers).
PUB601 (Editorial Theory and Practice): Prof. Steedman pulled back some of the intensity of PUB600 this month as PUB605: Book Project started. He’s the instructor for both, so was the most acutely aware of the amount of work we were going to dive into. I did have to give a seven minute presentation on a topic of my choosing, though. I decided to talk about beta readers and their role in publishing, as it seemed the whole process of selecting/using them was a bit mysterious to the class (or at least those who’d never done creative writing before). Unfortunately, the dates for the presentation were bumped, and I had to give mine the day after the US elections. I was so overwhelmed by the events of the previous day that I hadn’t even been able to get through a practice run without getting distracted. I think at one point I even said “Well, I’ve lost the plot” during the actual presentation…. yikes. But, my very generous cohort said I did fine, and in the end I got a B on it. Or an A-. I can never tell. Canadian grading systems are so different! Most departments grade on a sliding scale, but if you get 80-85% or above, you’ve got an A…. compare that to the US’s 92+… (no wonder Americans are so freaked out about our grades all the time…)
We had two industry guests this month, both whom I really enjoyed listening to. Barbara Pulling, an editor, came in and talked about a matter close to my own heart: editing fiction! And then we had Robert McCullough (who edited Butter, one of my favorite books from the year!) come in from Appetite by Random House…. and that was highly amusing. I also got a free cookbook, which is never a bad thing! It’s so pretty…. 😍
PUB602 (Design and Production Control in Publishing): Remember how I said I was going to be doing a redesign of all ten books of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber omnibus despite only being assigned one? Yeah, probably not. Unless I make all ten books separate from one another… which could happen. Then I could play with the cover designs…. hmmm. Well, the debate continues, but October in 602 was pretty mellow.
The first two lectures of the month were about branding (with Prof. Pagé). We looked at various examples of how publishers not only brand series or themselves (most famously Penguin), but also how a publisher can brand an author through graphic design. One of the great examples of this is V.E. Schwab. You know Schwab’s books right when you see them.
Lara Smith from Figure 1 in Vancouver came in to talk about distributor (printer) relationships, and the importance of checking your documents thoroughly. She also talked about the whole printing process, which was pretty fascinating, but I won’t bore you all with those notes!
We also had Peter Cocking, one of the premier book cover designers in Canada, come in to talk with us about cover elements and layout. I learned so much, and really enjoyed it. The lecture made me determined to try and self-teach myself Illustrator over the winter break. I have a free account to Lynda.com as long as I’m an SFU student, so I might as well make the most of it! Here are some of the covers he showed us:
PUB802 (Technology and Evolving Forms of Publishing): PUB802 has continued to be the class that challenges me the most, and October was no exception. I had two essays due (of which I published both here [1 & 2]… sorry to be a bore!) and since I signed up to lead the class in a tech lesson, I taught the class about Sigil, an ebook editing software. While I made a bunch of materials for the course, I figure other people who create their own ebooks might appreciate the materials as well, so I’m going against my better freelancer judgement and sharing it here!
PUB605 (Books & Long-Form Titles): The dreaded Book Project has begun! This is a seven-week project that simulates a real publishing house. The department describes the course as: “During this 7-week simulation project, students work in groups to form a publishing company and to establish a list of 4-6 book or other long-form works in print and digital. Weekly assignments progress from establishing a company branding and identity to forming title ideas and then doing everything necessary to bring those titles to market. The project culminates with a presentation to an industry panel, faculty and guests.”
We were randomly put into groups of 5-7 people, given a parent company (ours was ECW Press) and a mandate (we had to incorporate technology in some way into our company). Then we were set loose into the wild. The first couple of weeks in the project were absolutely insane. Multiple six-hour meetings, which meant getting home at midnight, pitching ideas and developing titles and authors from scratch. I’ll have to do an entire blog post on it in the near future, but I don’t want to give too much of it away. Part of the not-knowing the details is critical to the project’s core purpose: to simulate the real publishing world, where conflicting advice and critiques are an everyday thing. All I can say is, if you are thinking of applying to MPUB, be prepared to work hard and make time for your teammates. It’s just seven weeks. Keep your schedule clear!
It was another busy month. Much tea was consumed. Despite all the coursework, I still had a little time to do other things, too, like attend some panels at Writer’s Fest, kick out some more freelance book projects, and put my name in the hat to attend DHSI this summer, a conference for tech and publishing. I was told a few days later that I get to attend, for free! So are two other girls from my cohort. We’re all going to rent an AirBnB in Victoria, near the beach, and have a grand old time for a week. I’m so excited!
Other than that, not much happened in October… 😂 How about you?
It’s time to talk about books and the Web, but not in the way you think.
In 1993, Adobe introduced its PDF format to the masses for the first time. This technology changed the way the publishing business was run, and quickly. For the first time, any computer (regardless of operating system) and any word-processing software could be used to create a final output. With the PDF, there were fewer incompatibilities between devices and mechanical printers, and publishers didn’t have to worry as much about missing fonts or bizarre display problems. Best of all, it was easy. Easy to create, easy to implement, and easy to edit. Now, in 2016, it’s rare to find any publisher or printer that doesn’t use PDF for its document management. Even digital ARC (advance reader copies) are more commonly distributed as PDF than print. It’s now a ubiquitous, standard format, and it would feel pretty bizarre if any publisher said “Oh, we don’t create those,” especially since many of the major book manufacturers require PDFs built to internal specifications (see page 29 of Ingram’s guidelines, for an example).
Adobe, in releasing the PDF format, probably never envisioned that it would set in motion what would become a decades-long, contentious debate between the publishing industry and Web professionals: What is the book, and what will it be in the future?
Then Came the Ebook
In 2007, the IDPF officially adopted the ePub format as its official standard. The IDPF “promotes the development of electronic publishing applications and products that will benefit creators of content, makers of reading systems, and consumers.”1 Since then, many have forecasted that publishing would go the way of mega-music corporations and newspapers, but in The Economist’s essay “From Pixels to Print,” (which is presented in a startling and beautifully modern way), the authors argue that “Analogies with the music and newspaper businesses have proved flawed. The music business collapsed in part because the bundle it was peddling fell apart: people wanted the right to buy one song, not the whole album. Books are not so easily picked apart. The music business also suffered because piracy was so easy: anyone who buys a CD can extract the music it contains in digital format in seconds, and can then share it online. Creating a digital file from a printed book by scanning each page, by contrast, is a nightmare. The fate of newspapers has been driven by the decline of advertising—a business publishers (which sell books to readers, not readers to advertisers) were never in.” Instead, the more profound changes to the publishing industry came in two ways:
ePub and other ebook formats paved the way for the rise of self-publishing into the mainstream and as a viable business model;
and a gradual but increasingly urgent shift away from the traditional production methods of print-to-digital, to XML-to-print.
While neither of these topics are the purpose of this particular essay, it is worth noting that both are extremely important in the context of the debate about the future of the book. It’s easy to lose the forest arguing about the trees, and in the discourse between publishing professionals, independent authors and Web professionals, it’s almost too easy to find hyperbole that misses the point.
Workflows are important. As the industry starts to demand more content distribution methods from its content, it’s not unreasonable for Web professionals to demand more efficient processes to convert that content. Indie authors have had more impetus to work in this fashion, as the majority of their earnings come from ebooks, rather than print. Therefore, when companies like Draft2Digital or Smashwords crop up, promising multiple outputs from a single origin file (and with higher royalty percentages than a traditional press would offer), those authors are the earliest adopters. But for traditional publishers, who have started to see the ebook industry stabilize in the range of about 17%, there is less drive to change a production process that has served them well since InDesign made PDF and ePub exports automatic after print design. Going back to the ideas behind PDF, and its explosive rise to being the standard in the print industry, the XML model still has a long way to go to prove input-efficiency to the companies who would have to implement those systems and train generations of staff on standards.
Second, publishing is a special market, as The Economist hinted. Unlike other industries where the focus is on growth and stealing market share, publishing is more symbiotic in its competitor relationships. Publishers and printers all specialize, which means there are few hard feelings (just missed opportunities) when a competitor signs on an author that turns out to be profitable. Furthermore, despite the pitchforks from some members of the self-publisher community, the industry can and does support multiple business models. All of those models require different ways of organization and thinking…. no one option is better than another.
So, what is the issue, exactly?
“Web is the future; Print is a relic.”
For the last decade, the argument has been about technology’s relationship with the book—web-first methodologies, digital-only formats, and the “ever-growing-decline” of print—and not about the idea that the physical book, that one printed with ink and paper, is also part of that evolutionary change. It’s likely that the nostalgic lens with which the world views the book has contributed to this close-minded way of thinking about the material form of the book: that a book is either print (static) or digital (evolving). Framing the two mediums that way is synonymous with saying traditional and self-publishing are a dichotomy, rather than two platforms that work in tandem with each other (intentionally or not).
In his essay “Why the Book and Internet Will Merge,” Hugh McGuire, the man behind PressBooks and LibriVox, stated, “In 2008 […] about 1% of trade book sales in the US were ebooks. In 2011 the number was close to 20%. Many expect 50% of trade sales to be ebooks by 2015, if not sooner. Books may not yet be on the Internet in great numbers, but they sure are in people’s Kindles, iBooks, Nooks, and Kobos.” But according to BookNet (at least for the Canadian market), ebooks have plateaued in 2016 at 16-17% of total trade sales. And beyond trade, independent and self-published authors are also starting to see the decline, as the Author Earnings report in October 2016 showed.
While McGuire argues that the ebook market has been crippled by publishers who are (perhaps justifiably) trying to control the e-publishing model to protect their print model, the ebook market’s decline may also be a result of a consumer shift back to print. It could also simply be a blip because of the surge of adult coloring books over the last two years.
Regardless, print isn’t going anywhere. But if Web developers want to get publishers excited about new workflows and tech, maybe it’s time to show them that it’s not just the digital realm that “gives birth to new and exciting things we can’t yet imagine.”2 Technology and innovation don’t have to be caged in the Web, because print can evolve, too.
Transmedia and the Book
There is no denying the way in which we create and consume narratives has drastically changed with the Web and the technology created in its periphery. They have provided multiple levels of interaction for singular stories, most simply showcased in the way our news is now delivered: in instant, snackable “NowThis” videos on Facebook, 140-character headlines on Twitter, full length YouTube broadcasts, longform articles on established platforms, on TV and in print.
From this deluge of new media forms and opportunity has come a new wave of innovation known as transmedia storytelling. Henry Jenkins, a Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, defines transmedia storytelling as “represent[ing] a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.”3 An example of how this theory might be implemented is in the simultaneous print and digital-game book, The Pickle Index. Briefly, The Pickle Index uses a multitude of delivery methods to tell a story “over 10 days,” providing an immersive and subversive style of storytelling to the reader. While not a true transmedia experience, as the reader would either choose the digital format OR the print version to experience the novel, it nonetheless starts to show what is possible with the future of narrative.
It may be surprising, but print books aren’t resisting this realm of innovation. A good example of this sort of storytelling evolution can be found in S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dourst. Just have a look at their trailer to see how the narrative is being played with. In S., two (and possibly three) stories are being told all at once. One, in a fictional novel The Ship of Theseus, and another in the margins and newspaper articles, letters and notes scattered throughout the pages. Drop the book(!) and all of this will fall out of order…. forcing the reader into yet another style of investigative storytelling. Creating an environment where different kinds of storytelling can happen, such as in S., unwraps the definition of a “book” and what a book—yes, even a printed book—can do… something publishers have been resistant to.
One of the best things about these sorts of innovations in print is that there are fewer cases of incompatibility. In the case of The Pickle Index, the creators only made it for iOS systems. Why they might have done so is irrelevant, only that they, by the very container they built the system within, limit themselves to one platform. For print, there are no such limitations. Print innovations do not have to worry about shifting online technologies (if they are careful) or startup failure—even if the way something was created goes away, the book itself doesn’t stop being usable (Anyone remember CD-ROM?) They don’t have to worry about OS systems, and because of the proliferation of online shopping markets, they don’t even have to technically put their books into every brick and mortar store to reach their audience.
Best of all, with the new augmentation technologies on the market, like conductive ink and image-linked media software, print can begin to move towards a bundled, transmedia experience that can excite publishers into being more bold in their book development (and therefore put more thought and funds into standardizing XML workflows and APIs, something Web professionals have been begging for for decades).
Here are just some of the amazing projects out there right now:
So Why Isn’t Everyone Doing This Yet?
Unfortunately, despite the ubiquity of this technology, it hasn’t seen widespread adoption. Why is that the case?
There are certainly enough start-ups striving to be the unicorn of publishing technology, so it’s not about access. Among some of the more well-established companies and projects include: Blippar, Blink, The Next Ten App Book, SmartBound, Booke, Geozer, ReBook, ElectroLibrary, Nimble, Modern Polaxis and FingerLink.
It is my belief that the struggle comes down to a simple marketing problem. Much like the debate over self-publishing and traditional publishing, and the dichotomies that form in the muck of offended sensibilities, the tech industry hasn’t done a good enough job pitching their projects. Because of that, publishers haven’t seen the true merits of treating their industry more malleably. Again, the publishing industry isn’t like the music or newspaper business. But they don’t believe it themselves, because everyone telling them to innovate is screaming “Print is dead!” and “Everything has to be on the Web!” The industry has turned defensive, sabotaging the ebook market and digital development to protect print sales (McGuire)…. but they’ve never been told that digital and print can work in tandem. That they don’t have to be multiple formats over multiple devices. Publishers could conceivably ditch ePub and Kindle altogether and embrace a single-product bundle: buy a print version, get instant access to the digital (for those that prefer larger font sizes or portability)… NetGalley and other ARC (advance reader copy) distributors already use Adobe Digital Editions, where Adobe, again, created a system that could be easily implemented and is full of convenience (digital copies can expire, for example, if they’re only being rented… So, if Sally buys the print edition but is going away for the weekend, HarperCollins could give her book a unique code that lets her [alone] rent it to her smartphone or tablet for a month.) Readers win, too; they would own the book, not simply be leasing it from Amazon or other ebook providers.
In addition, using the print version of a book as a base (or platform) could open up possibilities first conceived of in book apps (but had problems with discoverability, due to the nature of how apps exist on digital devices). There could be audio and video in-book purchases (think gaming industry), book trailers directly connected to the cover images of the books they are trying to sell (book trailers are great; but no one goes to YouTube to find books—imagine instead being able to scan cover images in a store and get the trailer right there, or even an interview with the author), and the use of 3D mapping to make digital pop-up books (and not just for kids; the applications for textbooks and architectural design are immense). Publishers could even limit color printing to the digital augmentations, allowing them to curb printing costs for books that usually are quite expensive unnecessarily (again, think textbooks.)
In short, books are evolving. And what’s happening on the Web is exciting and not to be dismissed… but neither is the world of print, which has the potential to be not only cross-platform and multi-media, but free from being made obsolete as new formats come and go in the digital landscape. Like the PDF, print is here to stay.
The Book: Not a Static Object
Now that the ebook industry is beginning to level off and show a consistent market share, publishing professionals can take stock of what has worked and what hasn’t. Formats that impede innovation can be put aside (my personal preference would be to see MOBI go away. Forever.) but now publishers can also look at their print books and think more broadly of that physical format being part of the ecosystem of change. The printed book is not a relic. It’s simply a format that works. And it will continue to work… but that doesn’t mean it can’t see a little evolution itself. Just don’t give it a touch bar.
September is long gone, but I haven’t had time to document everything that happened in September until now. If anything, that should tell you how busy it’s been! But even a month and a half in, I’m loving this program, and have no regrets in working so hard to pursue it.
PUB 600 (Topics in Publishing Management): Absolutely my favorite course so far, PUB600 delves into management and financial considerations for publishing houses. We’ve had a number of industry guests come in (or Skype in) as well, and they’ve told us about all of those things I went into the program to learn. Marketing and PR (as the trad. presses do it), title P&L (which basically tells you whether you can publish that book you want to or not), and how to position your publishing house to succeed in the market. This course also has two “major” group assignments and presentations, which I actually found to be really enjoyable. We reverse engineered a marketing plan for an existing book on the market, and then had to work with a 40% budget cut to still make the book viable in the marketplace.
One of the nicest things about the coursework is that you can build your third project into something personally beneficial. In my case, I decided to work on a SWOT and Competitor Analysis for a magazine near and dear to my heart. That meant getting in touch with the management team and having real discussions about the future of the publication and where it is heading. I might be getting a letter grade in the course, but the document itself will keep evolving to help this company in a real way (and also help my CV!)
PUB601 (Editorial Theory and Practice): This has been a surprising course for me. I’ve done editing in the past, but have never really felt like I wanted to become an editor. However, this course is making me reconsider! PUB601 is probably the most-discussed class among the cohort, as we are learning the acquisitions process from a real book that is actually being published next year. The book we were given to analyze is in pretty awful shape (would have absolutely been rejected by a trade fiction U.S. publisher). Obviously for the purposes of the class, the author’s name and book title have been redacted, but we’ve had to write “letters” to the publisher and the author describing what we think the book needs to be publish-ready. The vast differences in everyone’s answers have been really enlightening. You really could give your manuscript to ten editors and get ten different prescriptions back. What I’m learning for self-publishers is that you all need to have more confidence in your vision, and drop editors and beta readers who don’t “get” you. For traditional publishing, I’m finding that all the experiences in editing I’ve gained by working with self-publishers is going to serve me well going forward, if being an editor is the path I want to take.
PUB602 (Design and Production Control in Publishing): Ah, design! This class, so far, has been a lot of typography and general design philosophy, though more recently we’ve had the opportunity to ogle beautiful books and learn all the ways design can run amuck. Most of my Instagram photos from the last week have come from Design.
I really like the instructor for this course, and am hoping for guidance in building up my portfolio and rebranding Country Mouse Design (that’s a project for February). I think I already know where I want to intern, and will be seeking advice from both my PUB600 and 602 professors. The other big project for this class will be a novel redesign, and I’ve chosen (because I’m nuts) a redesign of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber omnibus, because I really hated the layout of that book. Why does this make me insane? We only need to redesign the cover and first few pages of the interior. I’m doing all ten books. Because why not. 😂
PUB802 (Technology and Evolving Forms of Publishing): PUB802 has probably been the most difficult class so far, as a lot of it is simply theory so far. There is a lot of reading every week, and we use an annotation plugin to have conversations throughout the week on the various articles assigned to us. If technology in publishing interests you, you could actually read all the course materials on your own time here. One of the things I’m finding particularly trips me up in the tech class is just the idea of reading books online (any books). It’s hard for me to imagine a situation where books could be hosted by the publisher online, and the book would still make a profit. Considering link rot on regular articles, and the abundance of free fiction on the web, I sort of feel it might be too late for regular books to make their own way on the web without insulting readers with paywalls or subscriptions. (Since publishers, they say, are rarely branded, what would make a reader want to fork over a monthly fee for a specific publisher’s backlist, unless that publisher was Harlequin, Penguin, or Tor?)
It was definitely a busy month. I’m just managing to keep ahead of my assignments by a couple days a piece, but others in my cohort seem to be having a little difficulty. I’m finding that not working has definitely allowed me to have the energy to take on all of the reading that is assigned, and if you’re someone who plans to apply in the future, you should definitely keep that in mind.
Other than that, I think the rest can be shared in pictures!
A minimalist cover for “The Three Little Pigs”… created in 20 minutes with my classmate:
Working on the editorial outline for that PUB601 manuscript:
The “art” installment in my department’s hallway:
I got a haircut, at long last. I hadn’t had the confidence to get to a stylist for over a year. My poor hair…
Playing with pretty books and paper and ink! (I ended up being a huge dork and buying a bunch of sample paper packs from local presses…)
And then we learned about all the ways production can go wrong…
What a proof will look like coming back from the printer. In Canada, most publishers use Friesens, which apparently employs an entire town!
This is an FNG. (A folded-and-gathered proof from the printer.) These are sent as the final “check” before press. Nothing can be fixed at this point except very minor changes, like correcting the ISBN.
Color register on a print color proof.
This book had to go through a recall because the i, f, and l of Lifelines curved over the fold. A very costly fix!
To fix the cover of this book, the publisher had to recall all the books, rip off the cover, and glue the replacement over it. Then trim the pages again to make the books clean. This book lost an entire quarter inch of space!
Nothing wrong with this one. It’s just pretty. 😀
I’m not sure this is what the first page is supposed to look like…
Whoops! An entire signature was glued into the book upside down!
Can you tell which is the POD printed, and which is offset printing?
And finally, I got some glasses! My long distance vision has been deteriorating for some time, but I really started noticing it when school started. Now I finally have some glasses. Somehow, it makes me feel like more of a writer. 😉