Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Back to the ABC's (digital publishing)

The other day, an eBayer offered $2 for a Dick and Jane book.  Ok, it was shabby but it was collectible when I put it on.  The offers for that book have been insultingly low.  Checking at Abebooks, I found that the current prices have lowered for that book (but not that low!).
 
I didn’t like Dick and Jane either.  The obvious intention to teach words rather than instill a need to read made reading a bore to my classmates.  My primer was Peter Rabbit.  That was because I asked someone in my family, six people beyond my years, to read it until I could follow the words with my finger.  Dick and Jane is probably one of those nostalgic collectibles, valued while its reader generation is alive.

When I think of old primers, The Tiddly Winks Primer my favorite with its art deco illustrations, I have to wonder about the socialization that Dick and Jane taught.  
Sally's in a car!  But will she speed past the boys?

A man-sized rabbit!  Houghton Mifflin 1923

"It is fun to wash doll clothes."


Ours was the television generation.  Dick and Jane had some illustrative charm but the words were … just words.  Kids then watched about four hours of television a day.  Visual cues mattered, how you looked, how your house looked.  Words only figured as conversation.

Dr. Seuss wasn’t allowed into my grade school library which I protested.  Most children didn’t frequent the public library so their reading was mostly from the school system.  I was book-oriented, made my own library cards, a ribbon bound book of my favorite poetry, and a book of riddles.

My first job out of college was at a publisher’s that specialized in religious socialization.   It was one of the largest in the Midwest and I was to learn how to work with illustration and photos besides the copy editing job.  I remember sitting with galleys that fell to the floor like yarn, cutting them, taping them into a dummy book.  My maternal grandmother worked there.  The co-worker sitting next to me had spent a summer in the religion department at Harper and Row!

To some of us editorial assistants, this was an apprentice job and if we longed for a break, we might find an excuse to talk with one of the jolly typesetters. If my job was tedious, I thought the typesetter was a saint of patience.

Who would have imagined digital publishing in the 1970s? 
 
I was so proud to have fitted my fantasy, The House in Windward Leaves, into paperback.  Just like old times.  Then I went to Kindle.  Now I was the sainted typesetter and this was complicated!  I got some help from the Kindle forum and Declan Conner’s blog.

Then I went to PubIt, thinking that it would be like Kindle.  Not so!  This time, I used trial and error, probably like hunt and peck typing.  I made up a work file and put samples through first.  My book has a few varieties of formatting, what had already caused headaches at Kindle. 

Then I went to Smashwords.  I could download the Smashwords Style Guide and found that I hadn’t understand some issues about my Word program, especially its paragraph and style settings.  Yes, I had used trial and error, hunt and peck, with my Word software for some years.  It’s an excellent guide because it covers Kindle and ePub and gives a solid idea about formatting for all ebooks.  Look at it first!



Now that I think I’m about done, it seems somewhat comprehensible while the edits can be done more quickly, once you know the code.  It used to take hours, cutting and pasting galleys into dummies, using a ruler to measure space and a right angle ruler to crop photos.

They say that Harry Potter taught children to read.  I think kids wanted to read Harry Potter in the way I wanted to read Peter Rabbit.  The internet, coinciding with Harry Potter, probably gave kids the need to read.  Before that, words outside of school were only needed for reading signs and the newspaper. Reading was associated with school and textbooks.

The new screen had to be read.  Now if a child wants to get somewhere, even with computer games, they need to read the storyline and the techniques for winning.  And the new screen has real experiences in socializing if a child can write.

It’s exciting to think that there will more reading because of a screen with writing instead of one with visual information.  I thought men wouldn’t type.  One year, I saw them in their offices, typing away on their computers.

I have to wonder if Kindle will have vintage books in the future.  They’ll probably be like black and white television or even like silent movies.

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