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How I became a print digitisation fanatic!

by Arundati Dandapani
Wednesday, January 09, 2013 at 16 : 07

I have spent the past few months working for a Christian publishing house in the gorgeous old town of Oxford, producing books that illuminate, detail, debate, commodify, beautify, question and everything except threaten, the Christian Faith. But as an ebooks assistant, I learned, device-agnostic was the way to go!

The company's print digitisation programme spans four imprints. Alongside their frontlists, were full-scale plans to digitise their backlists of over eight hundred titles predating the late eighties. Ebook files were sent to conversion houses in India (vendors like Q2A and First Source), who would return with mobi and ePub file formats which would be tested on e-reading devices to see if they read correctly, and if not, returned with instructions referring to the original handover guidelines we had sent out while setting editorial standards for the ebooks. Files would thus move back and forth until the approval stage, before getting uploaded to retailers' portals.

I de-archived files from InDesign and Quark, prepared new files with reprint corrections, modifications for electronic format and Print on Demand as appropriate. This also meant changing biblio pages; creating new layers, removing the 'printed and bound in China/Malta/India' or 'typeset in Electra/Palatino' line, adding new acknowledgments or copy, and scrapping back coversalthough some publishers do convert ebooks with back coverswas advised that consumers had already been directed to the ebook through marketing channels outside of the book, possibly the push of a big retailer's algorithms. Books for nooks, reflowable ePUBs and some lovely illustrated fixed format books (more expensive) put bread on the table, and we also witnessed the launch of a new fiction imprint and the demise of the Kindle DX, reducing our local Kindle to a 'swear word' in office lexicon, for never receiving signal!

Working through author contracts, checking for ebook rights and royalties and negotiating rates in instances where there were none with authors and external agents made the job more interesting. And one constantly sought permissions, rights for images or content and renewed expired licenses. There was a difference in author contracts pre-electronic and post-electronic age; few authors wrote back requesting to retain their electronic rights. (Whilst I went home and looked back at my own first-novel contract, spotting ripe opportunity to go digitalfor a book that had been declared out-of-print for consecutive yearsthe least I could claim were electronic rights!).

It is true that faith-based books could open up a can of worms when kissing international markets. A publisher's diction is comprised of his mission, aesthetics, and importantly commercial motives. I was struck by how some books took approaches that nurtured an Anglo Saxon tradition; the imprints were divided into books about Christianity versus books about issues that addressed the Christian community. One of the first books I read and digitised was 'The Weight of Mercy', which I knew instantly, if published in another country, would sell better as 'The Game of Mercy'. It was a bit harder than sinful indulgence, entering the soul of a consumer of faith-lit, self-help, religio-spiritual and history books by the likes of authors diverse as Thomas Cahill, Brother Yin and Margaret Silf. I gobbled up books on Alzheimer's, Dementia and Parkinson's that addressed the Chrisitian community. During my daily commute, I would pore over others' e-reading habits, happy to haul my own 500 page tome of The Casual Vacancy over another "affordable" nifty tablet with a free Kobo app and limited library to boot.

The first in-house mobi file was produced and sent to the Kindle during my time, in an effort to become self-sufficient in the future, to replace overseas suppliers.

Over 300 online titles are selling on all the major retailer portals and their annual ebook sales dominated by black and white fiction; I was told the statistic was not insignificant. Even for an office where the regular worker enjoys buying X-mas cards over designing them in Adobe Suite, the work felt important, progressive and future looking.

Getting to Oxford (from London): There were two ways of doing this, by bus or train; the former being the cheaper option with the latter being quicker. My road to work in the winter was paved with snow fringed deciduous trees that shook with Christmas lights each morning. In trains you milled about perfumed black jackets of a billion shades of grey from so many different closets, men and women with briefcases and polished nails and shoes, top level and middle level managers eking out a livelihood, alongside. But the reverse traffic is greater more professionals from Oxford go work in London! Gut-wrenching, when you're nudging sub-zero temperatures and never see daylight before or after work, but worth the ice-breaking with a community of books you never once considered to be your genre.


More about Arundati Dandapani

Arundati Dandapani has studied, worked and travelled in India, USA and the UK, and returns home after an intensive year of a masters and other publishing activities. Ebooks, storytelling, copywriting, copyediting, proofreading, content planning and metadata tagging are tasks she is most skilled at with deep interest in digital and apps.

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