Illustration: The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia BascomHello, Elou. You know that time you illustrated a book and completely forgot to tell anyone about it? Yeah. We’re going to blog about that now. Finally.

We’re going to take a trip back in time, back to May of this year (2015). In May, a book was released. A book I created the artwork for…

And somehow completely forgot to blog about. Well done, Elou. Top form.

For those of you who don’t know, I work as a Production Designer for Jessica Kingsley Publishers and its imprint Singing Dragon. I spend my days making books look pretty, correcting books while they go from manuscript to finished product, printing books that are low in stock, taking photos of books for the work Instagram… – it’s a lot of books. Occasionally, when I’m lucky, I also get to illustrate them!

Once upon a time, lovely author Julia Bascom (before she was an author, I think) wrote a blog entry about what it’s like to have autism. This blog entry grew in momentum, being read and shared by autists and neuro-typicals alike until one day lovely commissioning editor Rachel Menzies decided to turn it into a fully-illustrated, 4-colour JKP book!

So in it came, and after any necessary editorial tinkerings, it was passed on to Production where it fell into the laps of two budding Production Designers, Francesca Sturiale (who is yet to have a website but informs me she will get around to making one at some point) and Emma Carroll (that’s me!) – at this point, it was Emma, as it was pre-illustration; Elou is the moniker I give my creative work but Emma is the name I go by at work-work and life outside of making pretty things – Fran on typography and page layout, and little ol’ me, after a series of meetings and discussions about what this book could look like (it was an important book and we wanted to get it right), on artworking!

Normally, when a book is commissioned at JKP, the commissioning editors tend to either already have an illustrator on board or have one in mind, or they write up a brief and offer it up in house. In this case, lovely commissioning editor Rachel had an idea. It wasn’t briefed as such, instead we were told it should be colourful, playful, abstract – and we ran with it.

This book threw me completely out of my comfort zone. If you’ve been following my Inktober posts, you know that my drawings are often whimsical and liney and very much not abstract but I love a good challenge. I put on my digital painting boots, grabbed my tablet and leapt into Photoshop – never to be seen again. And the rest, as they say, is history.

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

Well, it’s not. I am going to elaborate a bit, firstly:

Tools and materials

The images were created in Photoshop using the following things.

  • Standard hard-edged round brush at 20% opacity, 30% flow
  • Standard hard-edged round eraser at 20% opacity, 30% flow
  • The custom warp option under the move tool
  • Textures including: rough paper, concrete, wallpaper and, at one point, a leaf
  • Wacom Intuos and Bamboo tablets

Pretty simple, but also pretty time-consuming due to using such low opacities. The low opacity, and the time it took to build up the colours, was worth it though, without it the images wouldn’t have such lovely soft lines and ‘fadey bits’ (a technical term) around the edges. Of course, I could have used a soft brush but the feel would have been very different (I did dabble when I was first doodling out ideas).

The style stayed pretty much the same from first drafts to end results; at first, the illustrations had more facial features and little arms but it was decided they needed to be a bit more abstract than that. The eyes and mouths were something I wanted to keep to make the figures more approachable.

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

Colours

Throughout the artwork, there are only four colours: blue, orange, pink and a deep burgundyish (and white, if that counts as a colour, it’s up for debate), with small dabs of brown in one lone image. I loved the stark contrast between the warm tones and the blue, and having one stand-out colour is a good focal point on a page – the blue is indicative of some of the content, which carries through to the typography and simple backgrounds, as well as being integral to the illustration.

The colours were a learning curve, first drafts were all incredibly colourful – I took a USE ALL THE COLOURS approach, which was a little over the top. Don’t get me wrong, lots of colours can work for some projects but this was not one of them. After a little chit, a little chat and a fair amount of guidance from Art Editor Extraordinaire Mike Medaglia (potentially before he disembarked the good ship production and emigrated to editorial island, I forget), which I have stuck to ever since, I picked out my little pallet with the help of Fran and recoloured everything (layer masks saved my life). It was the best decision we could have made.

Prior to this I was just thinking ‘pretty’, when I should have been thinking of the implications of using every colour imaginable – in this case, it was confusing and made it difficult for the eye to work out where it should be looking. Like I said, learning curve.

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

A spread from The Obsessive Joy of Autism by Julia Bascom, artwork by Elou Carroll (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

Several drafts and a few rounds of corrections later, the files whizzed off to our colour printers in China and the books were delivered to our warehouse, almost selling the entirety of our US stock pre-publication date!

If you want to see more, this book would make a pretty nifty Christmas present (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). It can be purchased in both ebook and print formats via the JKP website, but also Waterstones, Amazon and bricks-and-mortar bookshops!

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Things I have learnt: from becoming a Design and Production Assistant

This is the first post in a series of ‘Things I have learnt’ – I have no idea where this series will go but this is the first post and therefore it is worth celebrating – cue Kool & the Gang.

It’s my workiversary! For the last year (wow, that went by quickly!), I have been working at Jessica Kingsley Publishers (and Singing Dragon) as a Design and Production Assistant. This is my first real job and my first official, really real paid job in publishing, and since I have now been there long enough to have had a little publishing baby (that didn’t sound quite as weird in my head), I feel I am ‘qualified’ to tell you things I have learnt from the experience so far.

1. Paper is possibly one of the best things ever invented

I realise how incredibly nerdy this is. But I stand by my guns. While I was doing my Masters, I may have casually scoffed at all of the lectures on paper, not because I didn’t find them interesting (I did!) but because to me paper was just that: paper.

In March, I was able to visit a printing press with my manager for a day’s workshop on paper and printing and ink and the effect light has on said ink – this, I think, was where it started. Even though I have been using (and unintentionally collecting) stationary for years, and reading books for the entirety of the remembered part of my life, I’d never really thought about the paper. Sure, I’d notice if something was thicker or felt different but that’s as far as it went.

While at the printers, we were shown various different samples and asked to guess what they were and what they might be used for. I got a few but mostly failed horrifically. After the subsequent tour of the press, and the return to work, I started to pay a lot more attention. (As well as bugging my co-workers with a lot of possibly stupid questions, sorry guys!)

I got a box of paaaaper

I got a box of paaaaper

Fast forward to now: I have been asked to gather paper samples from all of our printers and it’s stupidly exciting. I received my first sample pack a few weeks ago. There was squealing. Before now, I didn’t know how many possibilities there were, how many different looks and feels you could get, how what a book was printed on could drastically change the way people react to it. It feels powerful. Paper feels powerful.

2. There is a certain sense of pride in wandering around a book shop and knowing what the books you are looking at are made of

I am pretty sure I drive my friends mad when we visit book shops together. Or elicit the ‘nod and smile, nod and smile’ response. Where I used to just pick up a book because it looked pretty or interesting, read the blurb, put it back (or hold on to it because I really had to buy it and it was necessary to my continued existence), I now pick up books which look like they have been produced in an interesting way (or have hand-drawn waves on the cover but that is an entirely different blog entry) and react accordingly.

I pore over the paper, look on the copyright page at the type face if it’s listed (and try to guess what it is if it’s not), work out which finish is on the cover and which fun things have been done to it to make it look more pleasing (my current obsession is uncoated covers with foil details, yummy!), and then, naturally, shove the book in the face of whoever I’m with and tell them all about it, adamant that they should be just as excited as I am. (My best friend tends to pat me on the head, smile and move on to the next interesting book she finds – unless the one I’m shoving at her looks really interesting or has a super matt cover.)

Book shop experiences, for me, are so much better now. I connect with the books in a more material way and I think that is amazing.

3. Nothing is better than seeing a book you have designed in print

This point does not require much commentary – I remember how I felt when my first bit of typesetting arrived in the office, my first cover. Heck, every cover and every bit of typesetting. The reason I wanted to work in Design and/or Production in the first place was so that I could truly be involved in how a book was made. I’d thought about Editorial, or Marketing, but nothing quite appealed as much as being able to work on the book as a physical thing. (By this, I mean creating the physical thing.)

4. Production is the best department

I am horrendously biased. I should say that right now. Absurdly biased. However, there are several reasons that Production is the best and a few of these are as follows:

  1. As I said above, you get to work on the book as an actual, physical thing.
  2. Presents! We get sent things from our printers every so often (the most recent was a box of post it note books, I was perhaps a little too happy about it).
  3. Adobe CC. Beautiful.
  4. Occasionally getting to work on things outside of Production – we have been known to work on things for marketing, I have been known to work on videos. I have no idea if other departments get to do this but we do, so it’s a valid reason.
  5. Gloriously nerdy ‘field trips’.

5. You probably won’t get mentioned in the book

BUT, if you designed the cover, your name will probably be on the back. Woohoo!

I didn’t sign up for the publishing life with the want or expectation that I would be thanked in the books I work on – I get paid to do what I love, it’s awesome. But if your dream is to have your name printed on the acknowledgements page of a book, the designing side of Production is probably not for you.


So, there you have it. Five things I’ve learnt in my first year as a Design and Production Assistant. All images are from my Instagram.

On Interactive and Enhanced Fiction

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about interactive and enhanced fiction, how hard it is, how it’s reaching critical mass, how to rewire fiction and I am finding the commentary really interesting to follow. Despite my ongoing lack of iPad and my major project being a direct print response to digital in publishing, I am incredibly interested in these products and the struggles faced by the publishers who create them, as well as the opportunities they present.

I recently watched Neil Gaiman’s keynote speech (video below) from the Digital Minds Conference at the London Book Fair (which has provided me with a wonderful quotation for my major project report). It detailed the possibilities created by combining social media and digital publishing with the brilliant example of the A Calendar of Tales project, which culminated in an absolutely beautiful website with the author line ‘by Neil Gaiman & You’. It epitomises something which I think is really important in this new and very digital age: reader involvement, collaboration, community.

The project started on Twitter with Gaiman posting prompts and his followers responding. The responses led to stories which led to art. The Calendar created a community of artists and readers all driven by the concept of creating something. While this is not interactive in the same way as the products referenced in the articles I have been reading it was still an interactive experience – not an interactive reading experience but rather an interactive writing experience.

Another interactive writing experience, which I have mentioned briefly before, is Hot Key Books’ Story Adventure in which children were able to help write a book, with prompts and challenges. The idea proved really popular with schools across the country taking part. Both projects show the importance of reader involvement and not only that but show that the reading community whether children, adults, young adults or otherwise, love getting their teeth into the publishing process in whatever form it may take. Digital media makes this possible and even though I am still addicted to the printed book this can only be a good thing.

Perhaps the future of interactive fiction is not down the ‘choose your own adventure’ vein (though I have been thoroughly enjoying the Black Crown project) but rather in collaboration and community experience.

In this discussion of interactive fiction, I have not factored in enhanced fiction (which is also sometimes termed as interactive) with videos and audio and images. This, to me, is whole different world of digital media; its aims are different. The interactive fiction I have addressed above is all about the creative experience whereas enhanced fiction aims at creating an innovative and interesting reading experience. Black Crown is very game-like in its interactivity (there is a game developed by some of the Black Crown collaborators, Story Nexus, which works in exactly the same way) and in some ways it defies definition. Interestingly, these, like A Calendar of Tales, employ Twitter with the ability to tweet what you find as you move through the experience.

The cross-purposing of the term ‘interactive fiction’ is undeniably confusing so for the purposes of this and future entries, I am going to define my terms (as I, perhaps, should have done earlier):

  • Interactive Fiction: Fiction which is created by interacting with its audience or fiction where the outcome is dictated by choices made by its audience; in which the audience has the power to change the fiction with their interaction.
  • Enhanced Fiction: Fiction with added extras such as videos and audio (these can either be used to tell the story like The Numinous Place or simply add to the experience of the writing).

Enhanced fiction is not about the community, enhanced fiction is a singular experience and while it can be shared it can also be awkward to share (not unlike having someone read over your shoulder). Enhanced fiction is only just beginning.

As I have said, I am addicted to print but that does not mean I am against ebooks (in fact, I really enjoy creating them and having a career in ebooks would be brilliant). If I had to choose between a normal ebook (with nothing other than the text) and a print book I would buy the print but if I had an iPad (when I have an iPad) and was presented with the option to buy an enhanced version I would definitely buy both.

I adore Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon is a brilliant book and one which I could read over and over. It is a book which, when I finally acquire my iPad, will be one of the first things I purchase in enhanced, multi-touch form (along with Hot Key’s other digital innovations). There is a lot of selling power in enhanced fiction.

Towards the beginning of this entry I wrote that reader involvement is incredibly important in this new digital age, especially true of interactive fiction but also true of enhanced. Enhanced fiction is a great way of getting readers involved without asking anything of them; they do not have to participate but they are able to become immersed in the story in a greater way than if they were just reading it. Videos, audio and images help to cement the story in the mind of the reader. You can hear it, you can see it. That is reader involvement.

I am incredibly excited about the future of fiction as the digital experience develops, I am excited for readers, publishers and authors alike. I want to be involved. It may be hard and there may be naysayers but it’s an experience too important to miss. Digital is important. Digital is incredible.

The End of Timetabled Education

Almost two weeks ago, the taught part of my Master’s at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies ended. It culminated in a day of presentations, as if by each division of a publishing house to the board of directors.

New Product Development, a module renowned as much for the stress it causes as the rewards that follow. I feel particularly lucky in that I didn’t find the experience hugely stressful or unpleasant in any way. I would both be lying and inhuman if I said that there was no stress whatsoever in the process, part of the module is, in itself, learning how best to cope with workplace stresses (though the stresses of working life will be vastly different than MA stress). Each of us had other assignments to do for other modules and it at times felt a little overwhelming.

As (I think) I have written in a previous entry, I was placed in the Humanities and Social Sciences division of the fictitious ‘Buckley Publishing’ with seven others. I leapt at the chance to be Head of Design and my group graciously let me. We developed a proposal for Buckley Gold Open Access, an innovative open access platform (and four journals to be launched alongside it) for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Future plans included the expansion of the platform to cover other divisions such as STM and AAD.

I very much enjoyed creating the designs, building our brand even through the slides we used in our presentation. It was a exercise in team work and creativity and something I greatly enjoy. What I didn’t enjoy so much was the presentation; I am not a fantastic public speaker, the thought of speaking in front of people is not one that excites me. (As you probably already know.)

It went better than I thought it would. I may have rewritten my little portion of the presentation unintentionally as I was saying it but everything went well. Alongside the speaking, I was in charge of the smooth running of the slides, the changeovers were in my jittery little fingers. There was one hiccup caused by the jitteriness of the aforementioned fingers, otherwise all was well.

We were second, something I was incredibly grateful for as the day progressed. Having to wait any longer would have increased the nerves and decreased the likelihood of our presentation going as well as it went; we came in third place. (Below are only some of our slides.)

It was a good end to the taught portion of the course, a greater end than lessons simply stopping. It felt like a kind of closure.

Now begins the job search and the completion of our Major Projects or Dissertations and in true Emma fashion (the Elou in me shakes her head at this) I have created a schedule. Of course, I won’t stick to this schedule to the letter but it is nice to have one. Having been in formal education since I was four, with no breaks longer than the summer holidays, the idea of life before I secure myself a job is somewhat terrifying. Hence the schedule.

Everything is covered, from exercise to searching and applying for jobs, to my Major Project, to finishing my novel; it is packed and that is how I like it. As endings go this is a particularly good one and in no way do I regret my decision to do this Master’s. It has been a great experience, one that is not yet done.

But now I move on to the great job search and I feel like I’m finally ready.

London Book Fair (part two)

My second day of the London Book Fair was mostly made up of wandering around and talking to various publishers with a seminar, and a meeting with Nosy Crow and other of my coursemates in between, followed by the Phaidon Book Party (which I was very excited about).

The London Book Fair is a great place to gather career advice from people who are actually in the industry; it is not a fair to go to with the notion that you absolutely will get a job in publishing while there (it is definitely not that sort of a fair) but I found that publishers were more than willing to give me advice in the small lulls between their appointments. It is in these lulls that I learnt that it was definitely a good idea for me to hastily have assembled a business card before the fair, they were everywhere! Being given, being taken, being asked for, being offered and I am so glad I didn’t have to awkwardly announce that I didn’t have any when asked.

I was on a mission; my dream, if I were to be asked about my career aspirations (which I was), is to work in design but I did not have this foresight before my first degree so I did not go to university to study design. I catered to my other dream of becoming a published author/poet and studied creative writing and while it is an experience I would not change for the world, part of me wonders whether I should have studied graphic design as my other subject rather than English literature. My mission was to find out how achievable that dream is without being formally educated in design since A Level.

Luckily for me, the overwhelming response I was given (particularly by independents) was that in comparison to a good body of work, a degree really wasn’t that important. Larger publishers, due to the sheer amount of applications they receive, may opt to making a degree part of their criterion but I was assured that my lack of a degree would not prevent me from getting a design job from a smaller press. Once the first job is out of the way, the experience becomes all important.

It was a very heartening experience and those I spoke too were brilliantly enthusiastic about the books they produce; I love the industry even more because of those conversations.

The day’s seminar was titled ‘The Digital Generation: The Future of Children’s Storytime’ with Ed Franklin (of Booki), Geraldine Brennan, Babette Cole, and Nathan Hull (of Penguin). It explored the children’s book in the digital context, particularly in regards to illustrated works.

It is a worry among parents and grandparents that the move between print and digital may lessen the sanctity of the children’s book and the experience of reading with a child, an experience treasured long before the first tablet. The talk explored how this can be combated, it was remarked that ebooks should be just as beautifully produced as print and treated with the same respect; digital is just a varied format and should not detract from the work it presents.

A positive of digital, which has been expressed in various talks, is that digital can attract children who may not otherwise read. For some children, reading is just not exciting but with the addition of interactive content these children may find in them the home they never found in print. However, there is an issue of balance, too many animations, games and the like can be distracting; any additional content, therefore, should not be detrimental to the story. It is, afterall, a book.

I think it was Babette Cole that expressed that reading is an investment whereas apps and games just pass the time. It was an interesting look into the thought behind the illustrated ebook concept though success in the medium depends entirely on how tech-savvy the parents are.

In this talk, I even had my own little star-striking experience; not a few seats away from me was Suzy-Jane Tanner, a figure who coloured the reading of my early years, whose own works are being converted into e- form.

Talk of digital was rife at the fair, it was very hard to find a spot where you couldn’t hear someone talking about digital opportunities even just in passing. It is not surprising with the wealth of new products that are appearing. One of our modules at OICPS was testament to this, every group had a digital option for their projects and some projects, like my own, were almost entirely digital.

The day ended with the Phaidon Book Party, which was lovely. It was nice to see everyone again and it’s amazing how much my life has changed since interning with them before the MA had started.

The whole London Book Fair experience was brilliant, as I said in my last entry, it definitely affirmed my love for the industry and my future within it. I cannot wait until next year, and I cannot wait until I finally have a proper foot in the door of publishing.

London Book Fair (part one)

I realise that this is incredibly late but I would rather be late than not write it at all. Last month, I went to London Book Fair for the first time (hopefully the first of many times). Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos, I should have but did not have the foresight to know that I would regret that decision in hindsight. Next year, I will be toting my camera with me.

I’d packed my first day with seminars, and a small amount of time to walk around and see if anyone would talk to me (they did!), the first of which was called ”Don’t judge a book by its cover’… But we all do, especially children!’ with Jane Walker.

It did what it said on the tin, detailed the process of creating the best covers and what should be thought about while doing so. It was given from an editorial perspective but still incredibly interesting for budding designers such as myself. The synergy between editorial and design is all important when it comes to the cover, so too with marketing; as Walker said you can sell a poor/mediocre book with a great cover but you can’t sell a brilliant book with a terrible cover.

It’s the most exposed image of every book and ultimately determines whether said book will be picked up, as a reader, I am very judgemental about covers and I would imagine that many others are the same. I came out of the talk wanting to attempt to redesign those covers which displease me and perhaps I will.

The process of publishing an illustrated children’s book was described as ‘a bit like a rat travelling through an anaconda’ and it was possibly my favourite phrase of the day.

My second seminar was a Booktrust panel about genre snobbery called ‘Reading Outside the Box’ chaired by Matt Haig, who was joined by Chris Priestley and Brenda Gardner. I was going to include a recording of the panel here, I wrote in my notes that it will be on youtube but after a quick search it doesn’t appear to be there. Many apologies, readers.

I thought it was particularly interesting that genre snobbery is, perhaps, becoming irrelevant in YA, which was said to have taken over from pulp fiction. I, myself, don’t think of genre when I pick up a YA novel. I just see it as YA. The question was raised, then, as to whether genre is a marketing creation. Authors are branded by their genre but what would happen if genre divisions disappeared? Would prominent genre authors still remain prominent or would they dribble out of the spotlight?

I have an incredible amount of notes from this panel, which just goes to show how engaging it was. I am also pondering writing an essay on the subject, since the taught part of my degree is now over and I have time alongside my major project and SYP design work. (That is, if I don’t get a job very soon.) More on that later.

After the panel, I wandered around talking to various children’s publishers, particularly independents who were incredibly generous with their advice, and collecting catalogues before the Story Adventure talk from HotKey Books.

Story Adventure is a wonderfully collaborative platform for children in which they get to have their say in what happens in Fleur Hitchcock’s next book; I see a bright future for the project (I wish it was around when I was small!). It’s a great PR exercise and really emphasises the perks of reading, writing and overall creativeness among children.

The day ended with a talk on ‘New Adults & Steamies, reinventing teen fiction’ and rather than type about it here, I will direct you to Charlie’s brilliant blog entry. I highly suggest you follow her blog and her twitter (she’s queen of all things YA and lovely too).

As first book fair experiences go, this was a very good one. I may have started off slightly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stands I was surrounded with but that was soon replaced by a very bookish awe and excitement. If I didn’t know already, London Book Fair would definitely have confirmed that this was the perfect industry for me.

Stay tuned for part two within the next few days.

Transmedia: Harry Potter and Wonderbook

Children’s, how I love thee.

Oxford Brookes University was involved in the creation of the Wonderbook technology, specifically the skin recognition software or coding, I’m not quite sure, used in J.K. Rowling’s Book of Spells.

Today, we of Children’s Publishing hopped on a shiny, blue U1 bus and land-rocketed off through the winding countryside to Wheatley campus to view a demonstration and have a go on the game ourselves. (I say ourselves, I didn’t play but instead sat in the audience quietly squirming and working up the courage to inform the room that it was, in fact, the move button that has to be held down when casting a spell.) Hilarity ensued as the game was experienced for the first time and ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ was yelled enthusiastically at the screen.

This may not sound like much of an academic experience. Can it be that you can have fun while learning? Surely not, I hear you mutter. Welcome to the world of Children’s, where the lessons are fun and sometimes involve all-new technology! Once we were done with the demonstration we discussed Harry Potter and its vast storyscape. Before we began the discussion, I’m not sure any of us realised quite how big the franchise was and how much it relied on transmedia.

For those who may not be quite so publishing-savvy transmedia storytelling is a way of telling a story across multiple medias or platforms. A book may be coupled with video content, or expanded with a video game. Each different media is not retelling any part of the story but instead adding more depth and continuing the story. Book of Spells, for example, does not follow Harry and his companions but instead places the player in that world and expands on the overall mythology of the series.

I found this idea fascinating, the whole concept of transmedia demands to be explored and is something I would much like to look into (or even work with) further. I would like to know the limitations of this approach to storytelling, in theory there aren’t any but without researching this I can’t say for certain. That said, I am not sure how much I engage with transmedia on the user end of the spectrum. When I read, I do just that: read. If I am taken with the story, once I am finished, I will bound over to tumblr and search the tags for interesting tidbits like fan-made graphics but this isn’t transmedia. This is ‘fanmedia’ – a term which I may have made up.

When I read The Hunger Games and then watched the film, I flocked over to the website to find out which district I would belong to (I got my Panem ID) and I read all of the fictitious news bulletins – I did this because I knew they were there. I had seen it, again, on tumblr and decided to give it a go but I wouldn’t’ve gone looking for it otherwise.

I’m going to make an effort to seek out transmedia more, I might write more about my findings here. A project, perhaps.

Educake and JISC, Digital Lunchtime Lectures

I’m playing catch-up this week as I didn’t have time to write one last week. Today you get not one but two Digital Lunchtime Lectures in one blog post, a rogue blog post as it was dubbed by Helena Markou on Twitter (@helena_markou). I should probably explain, these lectures receive the official blog treatment from other MA students over at the Brookes Publishing website (though the posts themselves are proving to be elusive…), I, then, am a sneaky blogger. A rogue. A vigilante blogger, if you will.

I am getting carried away. I should get on with the blog entry now.

Educake

Educake is a new start-up aiding teachers with the teaching of GCSE Science, with the hopes of expanding across other courses. Last week we were joined by Charley Darbishire, the founder of the company, who took us through the process of creating the product (both the what and the why). We were given an inside look at how it worked as well as some of the costs involved.

Not only did he detail the start-up but his career before Educake and the transition between being employed and working for himself, he also gave us some juicy tidbits about getting into publishing. (Always a plus!)

See the official blog about this talk here.

JISC

Today we were visited by Paul Harwood from JISC and were brought up to speed on the ever-growing world of Open Access. As far as journals go, I know a little but not a lot, my knowledge of Open Access before this talk was essentially that it exists, as well as a few highlights I’d read from the Finch Report. (I am a terrible Publishing Enthusiast for this, I know, but I am learning!)

I was, however, familiar with JISC before this lecture (very much because Ruth is currently an intern with them) so I do not fail on all accounts.

The lecture detailed the problems facing publishers with the growth of OA, particularly with focus to the Finch Report and the move by the Government to ensure that all research which is publicly funded is available to be read by anyone without needing a subscription. This is creating all sorts of publishing models to ensure the best result for both the publisher and the author (and in part the institution the author belongs to).

He spoke at length about the Gold model (points which I will summarise in an edit of this post as I idiotically left my notes at home – I am not at home) but less about the Green model, which I gather is more of a move away from publishers. (Do not quote me on this.) I can only assume that this is because the Gold model is perhaps newer than the Green.

Harwood’s lecture focused mainly on the UK implications of OA with a small mention of Europe. It summarised the UK’s position in terms of research (how much of the global research pool was/is provided by Britons) and I was surprised to see how great it was (compared to our share of the world’s population).

Anyway, as I lack my notes I can’t say much more on this but I was much impressed by this lunchtime’s Digital Lunchtime Lecture. Look out on Twitter next Wednesday for the next in the series (follow #DLL13).

Children’s literature: Fairyland and the Enticement of Travelling to Another World

The capitalisation is for emphasis, I feel I should point that out before I begin.

Fairyland

I have recently finished reading Catherynne M. Valente’s current Fairyland books, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making  and its sequel The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and led the Revels there; I was sucked into them to the extent that, even though I had other books to read, between finishing the first one and the release of the second I could not read another book. I was so involved in Fairyland that I had to read the next one before I read anything else. And so I pre-ordered the sequel and squealed in excitement when it arrived.

I really enjoy these books.

Not many series that I have read recently have concrete endings to each of their titles so I was pleasantly surprised after reading the first and learning that it did, in fact, end. The same is true of the second. But that is not the point of this entry, neither is fawning over these books. Well, maybe it is a little bit.

It is in reading these books, and beginning the book I am reading currently, that I realised something about myself (and perhaps about children/young adults and publishing along with it). After my frolic through Fairyland, I picked up China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun and I am completely in love with that too. It was in my love of that and my ideas for my Major Project (which were also floating around at the time) when a thought struck: my favourite books, and even films, are mostly about unsuspecting men/women/children (but mostly children) being swept away and taken somewhere else, somewhere fantastical.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking Glass, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, StardustCoraline, C.S.Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan, L.Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart Trilogy, John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things. 

LabyrinthPan’s LabyrinthMirrorMaskSpirited AwayHowl’s Moving Castle, Ink, The 10th KingdomAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland (in all of its screen incarnations, though I’ve not yet seen them all, but particularly the National Ballet version, at the moment), the list could go on.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

My reading (and film-watching) life is immersed in tales of ordinary (or seemingly ordinary) people being taken to wondrous places. It’s an archetype which never fails to impress and inspire me. Why? It’s nice to imagine that things like that can happen to normal people, though, saying that all of the characters are in some way ‘chosen’, except perhaps Deeba in Un Lun Dun who ends up where she is out of loyalty to her friend (or possibly being too scared of going back home in the dark…). So maybe it’s nice to imagine that you could be chosen if being chosen and taken to some magical place was a thing which existed.

It seems to work for publishers too, there is so much that can be done with these stories that it’s hard to find fault in the release of a new one. The fact that it took me so long to realise my very obvious reading trend is credit to the ability of authors to make them unique (I am 2 months shy of 22 and have been reading for most of my life). With the sheer number of such stories, it’s clear that children like them too. What’s better than to imagine you’ve been pulled into an adventure by a wind in a dashing green jacket or that you’ve wished your brother be taken away by the Goblin King (even if you later realise that it wasn’t the best idea to do so)?

The Book of Lost Things

These are stories which don’t become boring and, while it’s a trend, they’re nothing like the paranormal boom of the last few years. These are slow things, steady things, pushing themselves forward until they’re in exactly the right place on the bookshelf for little (and not-so-little) hands to reach.

In the spirit of sharing (in which this spirit is selfish and one-sided, he has no left half, it’s very strange), if anyone has any favourite books, films or tv shows with similar themes, leave a comment! And with that, I flee to have my own adventure, which involves making my throat feel better by drinking orange squash. It’s not going to work but I’m going to enjoy it anyway.

Digital Publishing, a view from an Educational Publisher

This lunchtime, before the first of my lectures from the Digital Media Publishing module, we were visited by Liz Marchant, the head of Science Publishing at Pearson. The talk was the first of this semester’s lectures on digital publishing, all of which will feature visiting speakers from the industry.

Due to a tight deadline, Marchant’s lecture moved from last week to today and was a really good way of getting into the digital mood before my session in the afternoon. The talk walked us through the process of publishing a digital product from conception to delivery. It was focussed specifically on the scientific educational market but the theory and thought behind it can be easily applied to all.

She put great emphasis on the publisher’s responsibility to the success of the product, while there may be many other agents involved in its creation it is ultimately the publisher who takes the responsibility for it. If it doesn’t work for whatever reason, the fault is with the publisher and it is beneficial to have that in mind when conceiving a product.

The talk was formed of five main areas (with several of these expanded further):

  1. Digital as a whole.
  2. Process overview.
  3. Translating the needs of your target market into an attractive solution.
  4. Digital Business Case (vs. Print).
  5. Success.

The views below are mixture of both Marchant’s talk and my own thoughts. 

Digital as a whole

The first part of the talk highlighted the differences between print and digital, and what consumers perceive about digital in comparison. An example used being that online material is perceived as either free or cheap. There was a lot of emphasis on the changeability of content; digital products are not fixed in the way that print books are, content can be experienced in a lot of different ways, the function changes, the product can be changed more easily after it has been released, you can interact with your consumer.

Another focus of this section was the change of relationship to the customers and the consumers, the ability to track usage of the product which is not possible past the sale of a print title. With this comes the need for the customer to re-purchase, a challenge introduced by the changing face of access, whether it be subscription based, one purchase only, licences for certain machines or certain members of each organisation etc. The relationship with the consumer is crucial in the digital world.

Process overview

Fairly similar to the process of creating a print product, the digital process was outlined as follows:

  1. Segment identification (who will buy this product?)
  2. Problem (what does the customer need?)
  3. Concept development (solution)
  4. Business case
  5. Delivery
  6. Ongoing support.

With digital products the last point is very important. Print needs little follow up but with digital you are required to keep your audience interested and keep them needing the product. Without support customers might choose to adopt something else.

In this section Marchant also delved into all of the roles involved in creating a digital project. There were roles on her list which I didn’t even know existed. I am not sure what assumptions I had about the process before the talk but I am now aware of the full weight of digital products. There are so many different people involved that things could get a little confusing, communication is key!

Translating the needs of your target market into an attractive solution

The best way of finding out what your market needs is by asking them. A simple concept that may sometimes pass by unnoticed. However, it is not just what they think they need that should be addressed but also what they don’t know they need. For someone like me, who is new to the bustling world of publishing, this concept is a little daunting. Predicting what consumers need before they know themselves is something that I think can only be developed by practise. The more you get to know your audience, the more you can anticipate their needs and Marchant’s presentation backed this up.

A big part of this process is the pricing strategy, as mentioned above there are a lot of different strategies to consider and the one you go for depends both on the consumer and the product itself. How much is it worth to consumers? How relevant are the features as a solution?

They key to this section is in the testing. Giving customers an early look is bound to build up excitement as well as iron out those creases you may not have noticed. Even with in-office testing, not all bugs will be discovered; digital products have different functions depending on who is using them.

Digital Business Case (vs. Print)

I have to admit, I wasn’t entirely sure what was meant by the terminology here. From what I understand, the Business Case is what is used to convince the rest of the company that the product is needed and worth investing and will be beneficial to the company. It also assess the risks.

Things to think about when creating the Business Case included:

  1. The wear of the product. Digital does not wear out and therefore needs to generate other reasons for repeat purchases.
  2. Pricing policy. How do you define users? Whole school vs. individual students.
  3. Security.
  4. Ability to attract its own revenue or support the revenue of existing products.
  5. Loss leading.

Success

What defines success? In digital publishing it is simply that the product:

  1. was delivered on time and to budget. (Especially important in the educational market.)
  2. created a high quality experience with clear benefits that match the needs of the consumer.
  3. was presented with effective demos.
  4. worked together with all other components (such as a print expansion).
  5. delivered what was promised and is easy to use without long-winded training.

This aptly marked the end of the talk where we were then invited to ask questions.

Before the talk, I was thinking about possibilities for our New Product Development module (NPD), particularly the digital opportunities therein and Marchant’s talk definitely gave me a lot to think about when forming ideas. Even with project work, which will not be released into the wild once it’s finished, it is important to follow these processes (which is something I think I need to do more in my own projects). While we may not have the resources to fully adhere to them, now is the best time to practise.

And with that triumphant return to the blogging world (hello, blogging world), I am off to warmer climes (which should be read as either, the world of creative writing or the world of research, I’ve not yet decided which). Until next time.