The New Arts of Book Building: Challenges for Authors, Editors and Producers (Part Two)
In part one of this discussion, I discussed how in the word “book,” and in the various ways we hyphenate it, we set the definition and expectation of how we view our work as professionals and how content will be developed.
I also raised the question how books of the future will be built and what skill sets would be needed. To answer this question, I will look at some of the announcements now coming out of publishing houses about new “enhanced” and interactive e-books.
The Writing on the Wall
Professionals whose livelihoods, skills and inspirations reside in the making of books have also historically liked to refer to themselves as ‘book builders.” This term of art is still enshrined in the names of Bookbuilders West, Bookbuilders of Southern California, Minnesota Bookbuilders and Bookbuilders of Boston.
Holding on to a name rooted in making “things,”is the 85-year-old Bookbinders Guild of New York—the largest such trade group of book- making professionals—which gathers together the designers, editors, production managers, compositors and printers who actually practice the craft of bringing hundreds of thousands of new titles into the market each year.
“Building” a book from Gutenberg through to Desktop always consisted of (a) development: authoring and design, editing, production management; (b) prepress: composition, and making ready for press; and (c) manufacturing: printing, binding and components.
With the advent of Desktop, the transformation began. Almost overnight, pre-press vanished into development or manufacturing. Development skill sets required understanding of word processing and productivity software—but tradition in shaping text-based content made its way smoothly into the process—epitomized by the “ml” in xml, html, etc.—meaning “markup language.” And the terminology of fonts, point sizes and the variants thereof are very much with us.
Legacy era authors, editors and production people who have managed the transition from pencil and adding machine to keyboard are home free, and all of the current generations have been born free, with workflows now geared to the new technologies behind them.
Stubbornly, however, the word-based medium and its conventions remain the same—and those who are employed to create and prepare content remain schooled in those conventions.
Thus, watching with uncertainty the e-book phenomenon spread along the Internet, true book builders are wondering whether, although the printed book will probably not vanish in their lifetimes, most of their jobs might vanish—or will at least be transformed by the requirements of skill sets not embraced by their training.
Or, it may very well be that all the skill sets will not be found in one singular venue and production talent and creation and production of the new “book” will require a team effort among different enterprises.
The Job Descriptions of the Future?
So, how does the author, editor and production person prepare for the future?
Imagine some publisher posted classified ads in Book Business, Publishers Marketplace, Publishers Weekly, ForeWord Reviews, Library Journal, Printing Impressions, et al, that were worded as follows:
Wanted: Writers, editors, designers and production managers with strong traditional book experience and computer productivity skills in their specialty areas.
This generic terminology would likely deliver highly competent applicants. Yet, in many instances they would be unprepared to understand the technical judgment calls that bound the editorial and expressive potential of the various media and equipment used to deliver the new “enhanced” books (e.g., to get the most out of your book manufacturer, you have to understand how books are bound).
It is not that I don’t believe book professionals can learn the new language of interactive and multi-media development. Rather, I take a realistic assessment that, to begin with, people with these talents generally will have already found their way into video, films, theater, games, animation, graphic novels and various performing arts.
Listed below are publishing programs that typify what may be the job opportunities of the future [I excerpted and adapted all of the job description text from recent publisher press releases and/or online postings]. The questions I raise next to each highlight for me why classifying them as book publishing opportunities may not be realistic. Also noted are some that I think can be smooth or promising job opportunity, if limited, transitions:
1. Welcome to Enhanced Editions. We tailor-make e-books for the iPhone the way nature intended. Not only stacked full of brilliant, easy-to-use features, and hours of multimedia extras, but crafted with the editorial insight that only publishers can bring to a book. Watch the trailer for our first title, Nick Cave’s "The Death of Bunny Munro," and for our most recent one, Philip Pullman’s "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ," to find out more.
Beyond editorial insight, what can strong traditional book production experience bring to the electronic execution of this product?
2. enkHouse, a new digital division under Brown Books Publishing Group, announces the launch of its joint venture with KiwiTech, the world’s leading enhanced e-book/app developer. Together they are taking the lead in the exploding market of enhanced e-books and film-based apps. You’ll not only read your favorite book on your e-reader, but you will interact with it by bringing up images, music and videos—transforming the written story into a multi-dimensional experience. In addition, e-readers will get updates and news about film adaptations and more pushed right to their smart phones or tablet computers.
In what ways would editors and production people schooled only in book traditions be able to transform a written story into a multi-media experience?
3. S&S Children’s Books, Expanded Books/Expanded Apps. S&S is transforming the format of the original Choose Your Own Adventure books that required the reader to turn to a particular page to make a choice. In U-Ventures apps, they tap the screen. Plot progression is seamless. Our developer, Expanded Apps, added sound, light and other special effects, even music and alien voices, and the author introduced a lot more variations and endings and special situations: For example, where what happens depends on whether the reader remembers a secret word. In the original books, the reader was illustrated as a boy—sometimes a girl. U-Ventures are illustrated from the point of view of the reader: What you see is what you're looking at.
How would strong book experience equip an editor to collaborate with an author in the introduction of “added sound, light and other special effects?”
4. Under our Nosy Crow imprint, we’ll publish high-quality, commercial fiction and non-fiction books for children aged from 0 to 14. In our fledgling Appiness division, we’ll make innovative and excellent apps for smart phones and other devices. These apps will use text, audio, video, animation and images in fresh new ways. We are taking off with apps for children, but our ambitions don’t stop there.
What role could editors and production people trained only in strong book experience bring to the use of ”text, audio, video, animation and images in fresh new ways?”
5. Grand Central Publishing, part of Hachette, announces an “enriched” e-book version of David Baldacci’s latest novel, "Deliver Us From Evil," to coincide with the hardcover release. The e-book producers borrowed from the film industry and included “research photos taken by the author, deleted scenes from the manuscript, an alternate ending and other special features. The early versions of these books are experimental, and, because they were developed quickly to compete with other publishers, some of the technology is new and unpolished. But eventually the books could regularly feature full-length movies and photo slideshows. For authors who are open to the concept, new books could be written with multimedia in mind.
How many authors open to the concept would, on their own, develop a story any differently with multimedia in mind?
6. Owners of iBird Explorer, a digital book produced for the iPhone by field guide publisher Mitch Waite Group, can play the songs of more than 900 bird species. Using microphones, it can also capture the chirps and warbles of wild birds and match them against a database of bird sounds to help the "reader" identify the species.
Sourcebooks proved that sound and text could be successfully married by an exceptional conventional publisher with the imagination to transform itself and recruit and build a team of the right authors, editors and producers. Leadership and risk-taking from within needed.
7. Online fan community for popular fantasy series, FanFiction.net, features hundreds of short stories based on a series of young adult novels by Scott Westerfeld called "Uglies." Fans are extending the world by creating new characters. They take apart the narrative engine and, examining the different parts, they ask how things could have been different." Authors are pulled into the scene by fans who barrage them with e-mail to share their reactions, ask how plots came about and glean hints of what will happen in the next novel.
Expressive and outgoing editors and authors with strong book experience should find working in this area promising.
8. Vook. A vook is an innovation in reading that blends a well-written book, high-quality video and the power of the Internet into a single, complete story. You can read your book, watch videos that enhance the story and connect with authors and your friends through social media all on one screen, without switching between platforms. With the web-based application, you just open your favorite browser and start reading and watching in an exciting new way. You can also download and install the mobile applications through the Apple iTunes store and sync them with your Apple mobile device. There are 62 Vooks available, including Seth Godin’s "Unleashing the Super Idea Virus" and Gary Vaynerchuk’s "Crush It!." There are also cookbooks, and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. By the end of this year, Vook will put out 250 titles. Upcoming titles include a version of Stephen Covey’s "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Discovering Your Life Mission."
My guess is that Vook’s successful execution here is an example of how a new company can bring people together of varied skills with strong backgrounds in various media to shape a new product and build new skill sets. Not your basic “book” for production people with only strong book experience to manage.
9. Open Road Integrated Media. Open Road is a digital content company that publishes and markets e-books by creating connections between authors and their audiences across multiple platforms. ORIM leverages its partners’ experience and relationships to enhance titles from literary giants and introduce new stars to readers. The company's e-books offer a 360-degree world of existing and originally produced premium content that is marketed through a new online proprietary platform. Some of our well-known authors are Pat Conroy, Josephine Hart, Iris Murdoch, William Styron and Jack Higgins.
Another new company dedicated to building “books” with a completely synthesized multiple media concept for whose realization highly skilled professionals are retraining themselves. Listening to founder Jane Friedman present on several occasions, I doubt that any major publishers could make the transition to what she is doing unless they abandoned ship and started over. I also have no doubts about her success and that there are few new companies that could assemble the resources to duplicate the effort working with blockbuster authors.
What Are the Implications for Authors and Producers?
Clearly my generic want ad job description would probably not attract the talent and skill sets needed by these new “book publishing” ventures.
At this stage, my own experience tells me that the new book forms require creative and editorial talents that need to embrace new media boundaries and mixes, terminologies and skill sets.
I don’t think it is a wall too high to climb for any author of the present to think of his narrative in multiple media, alternate scenarios, and/or interactive experiences and—especially in non-fiction and reference—as an aggregate of components that can each stand on their own.
Such authoring talents have already found their way into films, TV, games and various forms of live entertainment. The question is whether the current embrace of the electronic medium by book publishers will follow history to date—separating out the text based and narrative talent from the multi-media talents that are required by such ventures as Vook, Open Road, Sourcebooks, Enhanced Editions, Enk and Nosy Crow.
And, if that is the case—should these new electronic multi-media, interactive forms be called “e-books,” or even “enhanced e-books?” To a great degree, this will be determined by the market and the success of marketers influencing the market—witness the ease with which books are now being called “apps” in the Apple store.
To my way of thinking, the conventional e-book can hold its own in the narrative and structural expectations it sets for creators and producers and readers. “Enhanced” e-books is a term to me that is off the mark. They are either e-books with additional reference and media matter—or they are interactive multi-media works within which all these media and experiences are synthesized in the conception and execution of the work to make what is essentially a non-book reading and experiencing product.
For most writers, editors and producers who are schooled in the conventions of book development and production, the traditions of authoring and development will continue to find a market. Media and effects people will still need conventional book development talents antecedent to production and publication of “book-apps.”
How this shakes out remains to be seen—but I think the CD-ROM story I cited in Part One is instructive in three ways:
1. Development then, as now, required different skill sets to create and execute on the content.
2. Marketing and distribution then, unlike now, was awkward and didn’t enjoy the revolutionary benefits and popular acceptance of the portable devices, wireless and the Internet.
3. Book publishers really didn’t see that they were creating a different type of media product rather than an enhanced book in a different medium. That may also be the case today.
Authors clearly need to take into account that even in conventional narrative development, the major portion of the market will be reading their work on portable devices. The jury is out as to what the demand and opportunities will be for genre, length and language levels—but on the fundamentals of text-based narratives supplemented by images and references, nothing significant will have changed the rewards for good story-telling, research and presentation.
Experienced editors and production people will find that they will need to develop skills that enable bridging and synthesizing the shaping of text-based content with the needs of the reading devices and the multi-media and interactive production features publishers will be introducing through outsourcing or in-house team building.
Unquestionably, change is in the air and on the ground. The writing is on the wall. How smoothly this inevitable change will be negotiated will be facilitated by how we define and name the product we are bringing to market.
What’s in a name? Definitions and expectations—and boundaries and exclusions.
What’s in a book?
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.