Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Helpful Code to Success

As digital publishing continues to boom, more writers and editors are learning the art (and benefits) of coding.  ♦ 
The e-book is an incredible technology which has revolutionized publishing . . . though it can be an intimidating technology to work with for the uninitiated. This is something I learned firsthand, as I recently had the experience of coding a book into e-book format for the Miami University Press. Working with code seemed daunting at first, but once I learned the basics of the markup it was not only easy to grasp some of the more difficult concepts but even fun to play around with the text to gain a better understanding of how HTML and CSS work together. HTML and CSS, which make up the digital text and its aesthetic qualities, respectively, are two primary features of the EPUB format and the e-book. While some of the coding is a bit laborious, like having to put paragraph marks (denoted by <p>) around each section of text, most of the markup was interestingly tricky and delicate; once I sorted out the text sections and completed the major structural elements, I then had to decide which stylistic elements to include, such as line spacing, page breaks, and pagination/navigation. These elements were difficult to set, because the HTML needs to display consistently across e-book platforms from vendors such as Google Play or iBooks. When viewing the actual e-books in different platforms, it was easy to see unexpected mistakes or stylistic elements that needed to be fixed. This required an immense attention to detail and led to frustrations, constant trial and error, and having to figure out how to correct the issues.
    The primary goal when converting a text into e-book format is to ensure everything remains aesthetically similar to the print version, but when transferring from print to digital it’s quite possible to introduce errors which alter the reading experience. (In my own case, I introduced over forty errors into the text that needed to be fixed.) This then requires a decent amount of editing to ensure consistency . . . but, this provides great experience with the editing and proofing of literary work. This holistic nature of creating an eBook—being both an art and science, involving both design and an intimate knowledge of the text—may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s an invaluable skill set to have, one that can set you apart from other individuals when looking for that career path into the publishing industry.
    I found it fairly simple to learn how to code HTML, and there are many websites and books that offer guidance for the beginner. One website I worked with is Codeacademy, which I found helpful because it shows how to do different kinds of HTML and then shows, in real time, the effects of your changes, letting you practice code until you get it right before moving on to the next lesson. In terms of coding the text itself, I used a program called Calibre, a free downloadable e-book platform. Calibre allows the user to insert plain text, add design elements and styling via HTML and CSS right into the book, and then view the e-book design within its software. And while Calibre did insert some issues I had to deal with, and took a little while to become familiar with, it was fairly easy to work with overall.
    Another aspect of the process that I enjoyed—which was just as crucial to the project’s success as learning code—was working with a team. It took four of us working to mark-up the novella’s text and two others to edit the marked-up text; we created a style sheet and worked together to decide on design and layout choices that best suited the text. It was empowering to work with a larger group, and it proved vitally important when having to make corrections and sift through the text in search of errors, and even more so when finding ways to fix those errors.
    After learning (and enjoying) this newfound skill, I decided to research jobs in the field of coding or working with e-books, both of which I have an interest in. What I found is that, given the popularity of e-books and digital works, there are many opportunities out there for those with an interest and aptitude in digital writing, and even knowing minimal HTML or the like can give you an upper hand when applying for these. In fact, moving forward, most jobs in the literary world, whether it be publishing, marketing, or writing, will likely require some sort of knowledge of HTML and the way text is created and digitally displayed across platforms. The jobs I found on my search which asked for some knowledge of coding—via the popular job website—included titles such as Marketing Editor, Technical Writer, and E-Book Technician, among many others. But I’d also recommend searching specific company sites for these jobs, as most companies now, even those unaffiliated with fields of writing and publishing, have a tremendous need, and also positions, for “digital writers.”
    While coding and working with HTML and CSS may not be the easiest to learn—and, yes, can occasionally feel monotonous and annoying—it’s absolutely a worthwhile investment. I now have a skill that not everyone can say they have, one which gave me the opportunity to help see a new e-book into the world (and into readers’ hands). What's more, learning how to code not only gave me a new appreciation for electronic publishing and digital works, but it may help lead me, next, into the career of my choosing.
  • About the Author
    Kaleigh Talaganis is a senior at Miami University, pursuing a degree in Professional Writing and Business Legal Studies. She aspires to be an attorney, but would also enjoy editing or working with digital text. In her free time she enjoys spending time with friends and watching sports.

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