Publishing Nuts and Bolts

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By this point, if you’ve been following the DBW Expert Publishing Blog, you’ve noticed entries from authors, agents, publishers, and independent bloggers. “Great!” you say, “sounds like a comprehensive list.”

But there’s a facet of Porter Anderson’s “Publishing Core” still missing. That’s where I come in.

I am a Solutions Architect.

“What’s that,” you say?

I am the person who provides the plain language communication link between the publishing business and publishing production sides of the house.

I’m Jean Kaplansky, your friendly bookworm turned technologist. I like to talk about the technical stuff that makes publishing production solutions go. I dig under the hood and figure out the underlying structure and technology that drives publishing production, so you don’t have to.

Two defining moments in my career choices brought me here. The first was in 1992 when I went to work for a print composition house for academic presses and journals. I worked my way up from typing-in copyedited manuscripts to creating complex page layouts from production editors’ specs.

The second was when a friend and co-worker walked into the office one day in late 1996 with a shiny little gadget called a Palm Pilot. I took one look at that little screen and thought “Gee. I wonder if I can read books on that?”

Turns out I could. In short, I morphed from a liberal arts music major into a logical, problem-solving, computer software expert who writes things like “I morphed…”

But I remember where I started. And I learned how to talk to people in non-technical language about things like publishing production. 

Along the way I learned (in no particular order) SGML, XML, DTDs, MathML XSLT, content analysis, stylesheet development, EPUB 2, web technologies, what happens in acquisition editorial departments, how it differs from development editorial departments, and how that’s different from my main area of interest: publishing production.

Since 1992, I have mastered two basic ground rules of Solution Architecture:

Rule #1: Be familiar with all of the moving parts in any particular solution, from end to end.

Rule #2: Know your context.

Today I work on the parts of publishing that happen between the time a manuscript is sent to production and the time the production editor gets back final proofs, or the final EPUB, or more recently, the final KF8 file, iBooks file, or interactive book app… The list of final format media is no longer finite, and the evolution is continual. My purpose is to translate the evolving language of digital production for publishers, from the IDPF and EPUB, KF8, iBooks Author, to the secret life of recalcitrant floating graphics, and why tables are, well… not the easiest structures to layout in any medium, let alone on the 6-inch screen of an eInk Kindle…

And I get to explain things like the fact that all the interactive features enabled in EPUB 3 come from HTML5, and all of its cool typography effects come from CSS, both of which the new specification is based on.

And I’ve been around the block enough to know why you should never try to build a mousetrap (e.g. Content Management System) from scratch if you know there’s a vendor out there who’s already designed, built, and tested a perfectly good mousetrap (e.g. Content Management System) that will do what a mousetrap (e.g. Content Management System) is supposed to do. Or… as a wise friend put it, the only point in reinventing the mousetrap is to learn how to invent a mousetrap.

So if you’re in the business of publishing and have an interest in the industry’s transition to digital, stay tuned. I’ll be using this forum to give DBW community members the skinny on the nuts and bolts of modern, digital publishing production systems.

Jean Kaplansky

About Jean Kaplansky

Jean Kaplansky is a Solutions Architect at Aptara, which provides digital publishing solutions to content providers for capitalizing on new digital and mobile mediums. Jean is an avid reader and early adopter of eBooks and eBook-related technology, going back to 1996. Her publishing production past includes work as an XML Architect for Cengage Learning, a Systems Analyst for Pfizer Global Research and Development, and an XML Consultant at Arbortext. Jean’s introduction to typography and publishing production involved a calculator, some printed galleys, and a pica stick back in 1992. Follow her occasional tweets at @JeanKaplansky.

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