Spotlights and Sound Bites: Digital Books Assistant Producer
Each YPG Spotlight features a different position in our industry. Whether you’re looking to move over to a new department, break into the industry, or just learn more about each step in the publishing process, we hope you find this series informative and interesting!
Here we talk to Ellen Maddy, a Digital Books Assistant Producer at Rodale, Inc.
Q: Can you give a brief rundown on your position as Digital Books Assistant Producer?
A: I work on a small team at Rodale dedicated to producing high quality digital versions of all of our books. We edit the code of the digital book files (the standard format is an EPUB file), looking for ways to improve the design and layout of the ebooks and catching any errors made during the conversion from print to digital. Many of our print books are heavily designed, visual cookbooks, exercise books, and nutrition books packed with tables, sidebars, and graphics. (Think Eat This, Not That, The Men’s Health Big Book of Getting Abs, and The Honest Life by Jessica Alba) Our challenge is to make sure these elements still make sense and look great in digital form. We also test each book out on multiple ereading devices. One of my favorite parts of the job is playing (I mean…working) with all of the Kindles, Kobos, iPads, and Nooks.
The Digital Books Assistant Producer is also an entry-level assistant position, which means that I sometimes complete projects for my boss and other members of the department as needed. I work full time, but some producers do contract or freelance work. Sometimes self-published authors hire freelance producers to format their ebooks.
Q: Were you always interested in this part of publishing?
A: Not exactly. I started thinking about a career in book publishing when I was in high school in the mid 00s, which was just before the ebooks revolution blew up. I explored editorial, marketing, and even book advertising, but I was drawn to digital books because that’s where you can find the most growth and innovation in the business.
Q: What kind of background should one have for this position? Is your own background typical?
A: Since digital books are still relatively new, I’m not sure that there is a typical background for digital books producers. In this field, I have met tech-savvy recent grads, mid-level graphic designers and web developers, and seasoned publishing and technology professionals who steered their careers toward digital book production as ebooks became a mainstream part of trade publishing.
That being said, there are some specific skills that are crucial to working on digital books. At a minimum, you must understand HTML and CSS. From a coding perspective, ebooks and websites look very similar, so most of us also have skills in web design/development. Experience with Adobe Creative Suite is helpful, as are image editing, copy editing, and desktop publishing skills. And of course, it helps to have knowledge about the book publishing industry and a passion for reading in general.
My background is pretty typical for an entry-level publishing assistant in that I studied English/Creative Writing in college and completed a number of (mostly unpaid) internships in the industry before applying to full-time jobs. In order to learn the digital skills necessary for ebook production, I took web design and development classes online and as an undergrad.
Q: What advice do you have for someone interested in this position?
A: The most important things you can do are work on your digital chops and cultivate a genuine interest in book publishing, especially digital publishing. The digital skills are in high demand, and showing that you actually care about books (or at least the content within them) can set you apart.
If you’re a student, take advantage of the computer science classes you have access to. Check out online learning tools like < a href=”http://www.codecademy.com” Target=”_blank”>Code Academy. Apply to summer internships in the publishing industry, and cast a wide net. While there are many New York City-based internships, more digital publishing startups are cropping up on the West Coast (also the home of the ebook-sellers/device-makers Amazon, Apple, and Nook).
If you already work in publishing and want to transition to digital, demonstrate that you are willing and able to learn new skills by taking a class online or attending a coding workshop. There are a ton of technology-related Meetup groups in the New York City area. Start by looking at Skillshare or General Assembly.
Also, get your hands on an ereading device or two and get a feel for the ebook reading experience. Better yet, crack open an EPUB file in a text editor, and see what it looks like and if you can understand it. If you want to learn more about the field of digital book publishing, there are some great resources at DigitalBookWorld.com and Idpf.org, the website of the International Digital Publishing Forum.
Ellen Maddy is a Digital Books Assistant Producer at Rodale, Inc., publisher of health and wellness books and the magazines Men’s Health, Women’s Health, and Prevention. A general digital book enthusiast, she has no particular attachment to turning pages or the smell of dead trees, reads ebooks and magazines on her Kindle Fire, bought her mom a Nook for Christmas, and has been known to steal her boyfriend’s iPad Mini. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.