A Literary Coincidence

A few weeks ago, I caught up on some children’s books that I’d missed. Briefly, here they are:

  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, the story of a young girl who learns to live with her families changes of fortune, as her family moves from the comfort of a beautiful, servant-filled home in Mexico to a farm worker camp in California during the Great Depression.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar, the story of Stanley Yelnats, who is living under a century-old curse and unfairly ends up in a boys’ detention camp, where things definitely aren’t what they seem.
  • Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, the story of a young girl who learns to make friends in a new town after she goes to the supermarket for groceries and comes home with a dog.
  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, the story of an orphan who doesn’t understand the boundaries that society in a racially divided town tried to impose on who he was supposed to be friends with and where he was supposed to live.
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, the story of a young girl who experiences the Nazi takeover of Denmark during World War II and decides to be a bodyguard for the Jewish people.

Now, in Number the Stars, some of the key action revolves around a crackdown on the Jewish people by the German occupying forces. The Nazi soldiers close Jewish stores and arrest Jewish Danes. And one of the ways the Danes figured out to deal with this was using their fishing boats to take Jews across the water to Sweden, which was free, hiding them under the deck.

Well, by the next week, my focus had changed, and I was reading “Beowulf”—both Heaney’s translation and Tolkien’s—in order to write some essays about it for Study.com. You may remember that Beowulf, a Geat, goes to the aid of Hrothgar, whose great hall Heorot has become a target for the monster Grendel. The Geats lived somewhere near south-central Sweden. And Heorot was in Denmark.

Hence the coincidence:

  • Crossing the water between Denmark and Sweden to bring Danish Jews to safety;
  • Crossing the water between Sweden and Denmark to save the Danes from Grendel.

Just one of those odd things . .

 

 

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The 8 Optional Topics in Introduction to eBook Formatting

I’ll be teaching Introduction to eBook Formatting at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies as an elective in their editing program on March 14–16. This course is appropriate for publishing professionals, writers and authors, K–12 and college/university-level educators, homeschoolers, librarians, and document specialists in any line of business. I thought I’d give potential students a taste of the contents by reviewing the main topics in a bit more detail than you’ll find in the syllabus.

I covered the first 5 topics in this post, the second 5 topics in this post, and the final 5 topics in this post. In this final post in the series, I provide more detail on the 8 optional topics that will be elected by majority vote for the last class period.

1. Footnotes and Callouts While it is possible to turn footnotes into endnotes and delete calllouts, there may be good reason for keeping them, in which case, a similar approach may serve both purposes. We’ll look at a way of handling both types of material.

2. Endnotes Linked endnotes may actually mean that more people will see this material with eBooks than in digital editions. For certain genres (e.g., scholarly works), these are essential, so it’s good to know how to work with them.

3. More Image Techniques If this is the choice, I’ll demonstrate screenshots with Grab, optimizing images with ImageOptim, and removing background from an image.

4. Introduction to iBooks Author and Multi-Touch iBooks  – Demo Only iBooks Author works somewhat differently from Pages, and it can be used to make multi-touch (aka enhanced) eBooks. If this is the choice, I’ll provide an overview of the program.

5. Introduction to Book Creator for the iPad – Demo only Book Creator allows you to create books for the iPad on the iPad.

6. Introduction to Read Aloud iBook Creation – Demo only Add narration to your iBook and it will highlight text and read to you.

7. Introduction to EPUB Structure – Demo only What’s inside an EPUB? We’ll open it up and take a look.

8. Exploring Simple Validation Errors – Demo only An introduction to those cryptic messages that the EPUB validator spits out.

Sign Up Here For more information about Introduction to eBook Formatting, offered March 14–16, 2013 at the University of Chicago Graham School at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago, click here.

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The Third 5 Topics in Introduction to eBook Formatting

I’ll be teaching Introduction to eBook Formatting at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies as an elective in their editing program on March 14–16. This course is appropriate for publishing professionals, writers and authors, K–12 and college/university-level educators, homeschoolers, librarians, and document specialists in any line of business. I thought I’d give potential students a taste of the contents by reviewing the main topics in a bit more detail than you’ll find in the syllabus. I covered the first 5 topics in this post and the second 5 topics in this post. Here, we get down to the nitty-gritty:

11. eBook Set-Up Steps Having either removed or adapted any print-specific features, we are now ready to treat the document from beginning to end, styling each element for its eBook appearance and functionality..

12. The Table of Contents and Heads eReaders and eReading apps build the navigational table of contents from the headings in the body of the document. We’ll style them, check them, and consider the advantages and steps to make a linked internal table of contents.

13. Formatting Text Text forms the main content of many eBooks, and we’ll discuss the different practices for styling paragraphs, eBook and eReader indentation, and workarounds for documents with issues in their text formatting (from, for example, OCR or PDF export).

14. Formatting Images and Ornaments Particularly because eBooks are a newer technology, as well as because eReaders and eReading apps have different capabilities, images are handled differently in different environments. We’ll practice several different approaches, as well as the treatment of text ornaments.

15. Simple Lists and Tables After paragraphs of prose and images, lists and tables are probably the next most oft-found elements in eBooks. We’ll go over several different approaches to lists and tables, as well as a couple of clever tricks you can do with them.

Having covered all the major formatting steps, we’ll then discuss Document Review and Client Approval, which includes checking and validating your EPUB and creating at least one proof for your client (or yourself).

In the next post, I’ll review the extra topics that—if there’s time—we’ll cover (choice of topics tbd by majority vote).

Sign Up Here For more information about Introduction to eBook Formatting, offered March 14–16, 2013 at the University of Chicago Graham School at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago, click here.

For the next article in the series, click here.

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The Second 5 Topics in Introduction to eBook Formatting

I’ll be teaching Introduction to eBook Formatting at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies as an elective in their editing program on March 14–16. This course is appropriate for publishing professionals, writers and authors, K–12 and college/university-level educators, homeschoolers, librarians, and document specialists in any line of business. I thought I’d give potential students a taste of the contents by reviewing the main topics in a bit more detail than you’ll find in the syllabus. I covered the first 5 topics in this post. Here, we get into the heart of the course:

6. Simplified eBook Workflow Having placed eBooks in context before the morning break on the first day of class, we will return to a hands-on session in which the basic mechanics of creating an eBook are covered. We’ll be amplifying this as we continue, of course, but it will provide you with an overview.

7. Finding the Least Common Denominator eReaders and eReading apps don’t provide the same results from the same input. In this session, we’ll look at what the differences are as a way of finding LCD items that will work across the board for the major eReaders and capabilities that are specific to fewer eReaders.

From here on, the class follows an additive process; that is, the earlier skills and strategies will continue to be practiced as new skills and strategies are acquired.

8. Assessing the Project Whether you’re considering making eBooks for yourself or others, you will often be starting from some sort of manuscript—perhaps from a print edition, perhaps not. Whether you’re simply getting a fix on the time investment or giving a client an estimate, this

9. Keeping the Client Informed Particularly because eBooks are a newer technology, as well as because eReaders and eReading apps have different capabilities, clients may not know what to expect the way they may with print publishing. So, we will practice decision-making and drafting documents with this in mind. Though not every student may have the intention of working for clients, keeping notes for oneself on why choices were made would be the self-publishing counterpart.

 10. Handling Print-Specific Features Even if an eBook project doesn’t start with a manuscript that has been used in print production, authors and writers may unthinkingly include features and elements that are appropriate for print publications but not eBooks. Whether its adding, deleting, or changing, we’ll address them here.

In the next post, I’ll detail the 5 topics that complete the course, and in the final post, I’ll provide some details about the extra topics that—if there’s time—we’ll cover (tbd by majority vote).

Sign Up Here For more information about Introduction to eBook Formatting, offered March 14–16, 2013 at the University of Chicago Graham School at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago, click here.

For the next article in the series, click here.

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3 Reasons Librarians Should Learn eBook Formatting

There are many librarians whose training didn’t include information about eBooks for the very good reason that they didn’t exist when the training took place. Professional development in eBook formatting can serve librarians in several different aspects of their work. Here’s how:

1. Increased acquisitions savvy. The more you know about what is and can be inside an eBook, the quality hallmarks, and the typical errors in eBook publishing, the better able you will be to compare and evaluate digital publications and various editions of the same work to create the best possible digital collection.

2. Targeted recommendations. Just as with print editions, knowing the details about digital books can help you make savvy recommendations to library patrons with a variety of interests and needs.

3. Collection expansion. With budget limitations facing just about everyone, librarians who can format eBooks can replace or expand their collection of public domain works by creating their own editions. With this capability, libraries can have targeted editions to serve their particular population(s), using some of the same techniques an educator might use to differentiate instruction.

Here are some of the kinds of features you can use to create an enhanced edition beyond the basic text when you know basic eBook Formatting techniques:

  • background information,
  • chapter summaries,
  • charts,
  • extension questions,
  • guided reading apparatus
  • highlighting or colored text to signal structure or important points,
  • illustrations,
  • linked glossaries,
  • links to websites,
  • tables, and
  • targeted word definitions.

I teach Introduction to eBook Formatting at the University of Vermont and the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.  For more information about my next Introduction to eBook Formatting course, offered March 14–16, 2013 at the University of Chicago Graham School at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago, see here.

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The First 5 Topics in Introduction to eBook Formatting

I’ll be teaching Introduction to eBook Formatting at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies as an elective in their editing program on March 14–16. This course is appropriate for publishing professionals, writers and authors, K–12 and college/university-level educators, and document specialists in any line of business. I thought I’d give potential students a taste of the contents by reviewing the main topics in a bit more detail than you’ll find in the syllabus.

1. eBooks vs. Print Books We’ll start the course with the tried and true method of defining our terms. We’ll discuss what makes something an eBook, types of eBooks, and the various ways eBooks (depending on their type) differ from print books.

2. Converting vs. Formatting vs. Designing vs. Redesigning eBooks People talk about “making an eBook,” but depending on how you go about this, very different types of actions could be involved. We’ll discuss the differences between and among converting files, formatting eBooks, designing eBooks, and redesigning eBooks from print editions.

3. A Variety of Ways for Creating eBooks There are many different ways to create eBooks, including a number of DIY options that may involve coding or the eBook version of WYSIWYG, as well as individuals and companies you can hire to do it for you. We’ll explore some of the top methods and their key features.

4. The Skills and Tools of eBook Creation No matter how you create an eBook, there are certain fundamental, underlying skills and tools you need to assure a high quality product. For example, you need to create content, validate your end file, and test on target devices.

5. eBook Client Issues and Tools for Client Communication Every author, writer, or other client you ever work with will have had vast experience with print materials. Depending on your work, you may encounter some who have little or no experience with eBooks, and so may have unrealistic or inaccurate conceptions of how their content will appear as eBook. Knowing about and addressing these proactively will make the process easier for everyone.

More Information and Sign Up For more information about Introduction to eBook Formatting, offered March 14–16, 2013 at the University of Chicago Graham School at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago, click here.

For the next article in the series, click here.

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“The Little River” Is a Fine Debut Short Story

In this debut short story, Michael Podhaizer convincingly captures the emotional turmoil of a young boy’s feelings towards his abusive father when the boy suddenly, and realistically, has life-and-death power over his tormentor.

The story opens with two vignettes that establish the characters: the narrator, Richard; his father; and in the background, the rest of the immediate family—Richard’s mother and two sisters. The third section takes the reader to Richard’s critical moment of decision, and then the story doubles back to explore in detail how the situation unfolded, casting further light on the relationship between not only this son and father, but also the dynamics and sequela of abuse.

A well-written and moving first effort.

You can purchase “The Little River” for $0.99 here.

Note: Full disclosure – Michael is my son; that is why this review is posted here, and not on Amazon, where the out-of-guidelines criteria prohibit family members from posting reviews.

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Four Reasons for Authors to Learn About eBook Formatting

Many writers have wondered whether they should format eBooks themselves or give them over to someone else to do. But there are reasons to learn eBook formatting even if you’re not going to format yourself. Here are four good reasons for learning eBook formatting, whatever your plans:

1. Grasp the Possibilities and Limitations. The differences in creating eBooks and print books favor eBooks for some particular content types and print books for others: eBooks have some capabilities that print books do not, but also have some limitations that don’t apply to print. If you understand the possibilities and restrictions, you can make better decisions and choices, whether you go one to do all your formatting yourself or not.

2. Save Money. You can cut eBook publishing costs by have a good basic EPUB document that you can then hire someone to tweak or tweak yourself rather than having to pay for a conversion that starts from .doc, .docx, .txt, .odt, or .pdf.

3. Get Started on the Way to HTML and CSS Editing. You may have a plan to eventually build your own eBooks from scratch, but starting with coding right off the bat is taking on a major learning curve. By beginning with a solid understanding of EPUB and the eBook testing procedures and taking the time to see the effects of various choices made in a word processor, you can gain valuable experience that will underpin your plunge into coding.

4. Save Time with Useful Workflows. Whichever way you go about formatting your work for eBook publication, there are valuable approaches and strategies that can help you produce high quality work, and which can be demonstrated in the familiar context of word processing.

Learn More. Writers might not see themselves as the target students for a course on eBook Formatting offered as an elective in an editing program. But the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies has a new offering, Introduction to eBook Formatting, that can serve writers as well as publishing professionals with editorial and production positions.

Details. Introduction to eBook Formatting is offered by author/educator Mary Elizabeth, who has worked in both editorial positions in print publishing and as a writer for over 30 years, as well as being involved in design, layout, and music engraving.  As an eBook formatting specialist, she has worked with many types of books, including novels; books of poetry; business, tax, and finance books; cookbooks and nutritional guides; scientific and medical books; scholarly works; travel books; spiritual and religious books; children’s books; article collections; autobiographies and memoirs; and works of history and philosophy. Whatever genre(s) you write, you are likely to find one or more samples used in the course that are related.

For more information about Introduction to eBook Formatting, offered March 14–16, 2013 at the University of Chicago Graham School at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago, click here.

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Caveat Author; Caveat Reader

It began innocently enough. I borrowed a hardback copy of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins from one of my daughters, after seeing the movie with my other daughter. And I was engaged. [Spoiler alert for material preceding the line of asterisks.]

I had followed Katniss from her home in District 12 to the arena, where—disobeying Haymitch’s advice—she had grabbed a pack before speeding away from the Cornucopia to seek water. Hours later, hearing the cannons reporting the number of dead in the bloodbath at the opening, she fears for Peeta and finally stops to open the pack for which she risked her life.

The description of what is and is not in the pack should only heighten the mood. But, in fact, it can end up destroying the tension completely because it ends with this description of the last item:

“And a half-gallon plastic bottle with a cap for carrying water that’s bone dry (p. 154).”

Now, me, I figure you can carry water that’s bone dry in your pocket, dispensing with the need for both bottle and cap . . .

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

The occurrence of this misplaced modifier destroyed for me the growing sense of alarm at Katniss’s circumstances because it broke my suspension of disbelief, thrusting me out of the terror of the arena in the future, back to a cynical take on the present in which so much of what is published suffers from not enough attention in the editorial process.

My immersion in the world of Panem (aesthetic reading, using Louise Rosenblatt’s term) toggled to critical analysis (efferent reading; Rosenblatt), as I took a moment to decipher what had gone wrong in the sentence and wonder how such a thing had come about.

One hears many complaints these days about the rafts of typos and other errors  in eBooks, but hardcover books are supposed to be premium quality items . . .

I used this particular example because of its potentially dramatic effect on readers, given what the author is trying to do at that moment, not to point the finger at this particular author or publisher, so let’s move on from that to a broader discussion, with a focus on the reader’s experience.

In his essay “Twice-Told Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe discusses the effects of reading on the reader as part of  his high praise of the short story, or brief tale, which he distinguishes from the novel:

“As the novel cannot be read at one sitting, it cannot avail itself of the immense benefit of totality. Worldly interests, intervening during the pauses of perusal, modify, counteract and annul the impressions intended. But simple cessation in reading would, of itself, be sufficient to destroy the true unity. In the brief tale, however, the author is enabled to carry out his full design without interruption. During the hour of perusal, the soul of the reader is at the writer’s disposal.”

Poe goes on to speak of the “single effect” that is wrought on the reader by the brief tale, but not by the novel. But I’m going to stick with the paragraph quoted and ask what application it might have, if any, to the novel-reading experience.

Clearly, many novels cannot be read in a sitting, both because of the demands of daily life and because of the length of some novels—Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (846 pages) all in one dose? I think we can take it that there will be breaks. Nevertheless, haven’t we all experienced periods of immersion in which we were “lost in a book” and felt that “during the hour of perusal, [our soul was] at the writer’s disposal”? I believe it is possible for the novel to transport the reader, even if the excursion is interrupted.

Poe also discusses ways in which an author may miss the mark in creating the desired effect on the reader. And, of course, there are many authors who—as Poe puts it—”blunder” in achieving what they set out to do (fyi, he focuses on Nathaniel Hawthorne, whence his title).

But Poe did not conceive, and we must, of a book’s effect on the reader being diminished by the failure of the editorial process or the failure of the writer to choose to employ any editorial process and go straight from manuscript to (self-)published book.

Even the most fastidious authors with the most eagle-y eyes that ever graced non-avian creatures may mar the effects of their writing by skipping over the editorial process. Effects may also be diminished by editorial teams who, for one reason or another, fail in their due diligence.

A reader whose suspension of disbelief is interrupted has no recourse. Of course, the reader could write in a correction on the page of a print book, but that may only add to the distraction. No, the reader is, in this regard, at the mercy of the writer and—if there is one—the publisher and its staff, and the time and focus they give, or don’t, to the editorial process.

Of course, I have only discussed works of the imagination here, not informational works, like textbooks, but I think it’s more obvious that factual works need careful checking before being unleashed on the reading public.

Where does this lead us? To this, if nothing else: it seems to me that given the potential impact in both literature and non-fiction, the importance of the editorial process should play a larger role in the discussion of the future of books.

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The Bestsellers You May Never Have Read

There’s a group of bestselling pieces of writing that are short, generally well-organized, easy to access, and read too infrequently.

They’re the Terms of Service agreements that accompany (or can be accessed) upon your subscribing to or employing services from websites, and they’re actually important for free, as well as paid, sites.

Terms of Service (TOS) agreements are too easily glossed over. When the first taste of a new product/service is in the offing, who wants to stop and read a couple of pages of boring boiler plate that probably says pretty much the same thing they all say?

Nobody, of course. But there are three key things that you should at least do a spot check on to see what you’re getting yourself into.

  1. End of service. Many TOS allow the company offering the service to shut down your access and use at its sole discretion without warning or remedy and, in some cases, without telling you. If you have email, notes, files, documents, etc. stored on a service that cuts you out without prior notice, you and/or your business/career may be in trouble. If you’re going to sign up for a service that may do this and you know it, at least you can take the precaution of exporting all your material on a regular basis . . .
  2. Rights to your material. TOS agreements often make a big deal about the provider’s rights to the material that you are gaining a non-exclusive right to use. They are also likely to warn you against infringing the rights of others in the material that you use.They may or may not, however, acknowledge your rights to material that you create and own. While some companies will ask you to agree to license your content for the minimum necessary use in order to do whatever it is they do with content, others will demand that you assign them the right to do virtually anything with your content. And, if that content is communications from other people, you make this agreement on their behalf and without their knowledge.
  3. Getting Your Data Out Besides the case of being shut out from your data, being able to export it in a usable form is critical if it is data that you need. File > export is nice, and it’s worth checking to see if it exists. If not, what are your options?

This topic came to mind because today I (finally) downloaded Evernote for my Mac. And I skimmed their service agreement before I did. The Evernote service agreement starts with three four-word sentences that promise you ownership, protection, and portability of your data, and a link to the CEO’s blog where these three “laws” are explained in more detail.

So, don’t ignore the lowly Terms of Service agreement. It may not be couched in deathless prose, but it’s certainly worth your while to know what it says.

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