Notes on ebookcraft and Tech Forum 2015 (Part 2)

Take it easy on your team, but make it easier for your readers.

Baldur Bjarnason, Unbound, “When All You Have is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like JavaScript.” (video)

A lot of #eprdctn people are casual with the word “code,” but Baldur came to reclaim it with his talk about JavaScript (1). Of the three low-level technologies for creating E-books—HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—JavaScript surely is the least-used and most-misunderstood. Partly that’s owing to its relative (lack of) importance. It’s hard to conceive of an E-book without HTML, and few E-books these days abjure all CSS styling. But JavaScript is optional and even a bit scary. Baldur wants us to try some. He offered a very direct thesis statement for his talk: (2)

My goal is to convince you of two things:

1. That software projects should start small and scale up.

2. That JavaScript is the tool for the job.

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Notes on ebookcraft and Tech Forum 2015

Bro, do you even CMS?

Last week, I attended the ebookcraft and Tech Forum conferences in Toronto. At these events, BookNet Canada brings together editors, publishers, and technical staff to discuss digital publishing. This cute and useful flowchart explains the foci of these closely-linked conferences. For reasons both charitable and baffling, they invited me to speak about poetry formatting for E-books.

Moi, j’avais visité au Canada quelques fois déjà, par ce que j’ai des cousins qui habitent au Montreal et Quebec. Donc, j’ai beaucoup savoir faire au sujet des Canadiens—so just imagine my surprise when nobody in Toronto spoke French.

I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and thus did not attend the ebookcraft hands-on workshops, so I’ll leave those writeups to others. I did attend the speakers’ dinner, where I was surrounded by friendly people. Many of these speakers were people I’d seen and admired at the Books in Browsers conference last fall, and some were people I’ve come to regard as colleagues via the weekly #eprdctn hour discussions on Twitter. Many of them seemed genuinely interested in my talk. Poetry may be a small fraction of the literary output of trade publishers, but it accounts for an outsized portion of the formatting headaches.

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Swimming Against the Current

There are lots of different E-readers out there…just as there are lots of different rivers in Brazil.

So far, these tutorials have been using pretty nonpartisan, platform-independent technologies: HTML and CSS, EPUB and RTF, JPG and GIF. My most recent instructional blog post covered using open-source Sigil to get us to an EPUB, the standard E-book format recognized the world over as the dominant electronic book platform for people who have never heard of an Amazon Kindle.

kindle vending machine at MSP airport

I hate it when the Kindle tablet just kinda hangs there at the edge of the shelf until I jolt the vending machine.

Right. Sure. EPUB is recognized the world over as the dominant electronic book platform for people who have never heard of an Amazon Kindle. But a lot of people have heard of an Amazon Kindle. As I learned during Christmas travels, even the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport has heard of an Amazon Kindle.

Someday, we will all drive solar-powered cars, vacation in Castro-free Cuba, and read E-books that are not on Amazon-controlled Kindles. I look forward to those days, but I need to live in (and publish for) the real world of 2015. “Kindle” is synonymous with “E-reader” the way “Google” is synonymous with “search engine”: many people aren’t even aware that the alternatives exist. Even Apple’s iBooks platform, arguably the most sophisticated and certainly the most widespread implimentation of EPUB, has but a small fraction of the North American readership.

Few small presses can afford to ignore Kindle’s huge chunk of the market. (Even large presses struggle to do so.) If we want our poetry books to be bought, sold, and read electronically, we have to get them into a format that Amazon likes, and that means the proprietary formats of KF8 and/or mobi7. Continue reading

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Protected: The Problem with Prosaic Solutions

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Thoughts on Books in Browsers V (pt 2)

More Poetic Musings on #BiB14

(continued from earlier post)

Here are my notes on the talks, more for my own future reference than for anything else. The two talks I’ll summarize today, unlike most others, are not available on YouTube. To skip straight to my interpretations, go to TL;DR .

Dave Cramer of Hachette and the CSS Working Group: “Books and the New CSS”

(read an abstract of his talk)

I’d be remiss not to mention the hero’s work showcased by Dave Cramer at #BiB14, even though his talk isn’t available on-line. I could hardly do better than Iris Amelia’s sketches of the event, anyhow:

Dave, a member of the CSS Working Group, gave attendees a showcase of things that are (or will be) possible when CSS support expands to more screens, platforms, and devices. As others have done, he used a public-domain work to keep the focus on the formatting. Check this out:

slide from Dave Cramer's presentation, showing two columns of text in a browser

Dave Cramer has some nice CSS pagination.

If memory serves, Dave made this pagination, complete with running recto/verso headers, using just HTML/CSS. He’s displaying it in a Web browser, true to the Books in Browsers theme of the conference.

How about reflowing text around objects while maintaining pagination and headers?

slide from Dave Cramer's presentation, showing text reflow around illustrations in a browser

Everything gets better with whales.

Implicit in Dave’s presentation and slides was a full-throated defense of the page as an organizing concept, even for reflowable text.

Two quotes stood out, for different reasons:

“I’m the only thing that stands between you and lunch.” It had little to do with Books in Browsers, but Dave’s opening statement was a nice touch of humility and humor. It also communicated clearly his alignment with the very streamlined format of the Books in Browsers talks: Stay focused, say a lot, get off stage on time.

“Art forms advance not by forgetting the past, but by reimagining and building on it.” Even at a conference about digitizing books, attendees will encounter moments where they feel discomfort about rapid change. It was nice to have a reminder that the new need not replace the old. That is, after all, a central issue I face when I think about how ancient poems and modern E-readers can coexist. Continue reading

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Thoughts on Books in Browsers V

What lessons can YBR take from the Books in Browsers talks?

Books in Browsers is a two-day, annual conference exploring trends in digital publishing, E-books, and the role of “books” in a world where content is increasingly digitized and re-mixed (1). I went to Books in Browsers 2014 with three questions:

  1. How are people formatting E-books these days?
  2. Do the formatting requirements of publishers and platforms affect the way writers write?
  3. Does innovation matter when Amazon controls 70% of the E-book market?


Everyone comes to conferences with his or her own agenda, and mine, of course, was poetry. Not everyone shared my central organizing thought:

(crickets chirping)

Oh, well.

Here are my notes on the talks, more for my own future reference than for anything else. Just about all of the lectures are available on YouTube, thanks to Publishing Perspectives, and those are presented, naturally, without the tint of my own personal curiosities and viewpoints. Continue reading


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