Degristling the sausage: BBEdit 11 Edition

Women in uniforms standing at long tables, handling sausages.

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post called “Degristling the sausage” to explain my method of using BBEdit to get a list of which CSS classes are actually applied in a given EPUB file, out of the sometimes hundreds that are included in the stylesheet. Apparently I’m not the only person who needs to do this sort of thing, because that post has stayed in the top four pages on this site ever since, and clever people keep linking to it.

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One hour and eleven minutes of me trying not to swear

The awesome Laura Dawson invited me to do a webinar on the basics of book design, as part of a series for Bowker’s Our kindly hosts/co-presenters at Data Conversion Laboratory have posted a video of the session, so now you can follow along with bated breath as I try to remember not to say “fuck” for more than an hour.1 Can she do it? Watch the video to find out!

Because the video is video and my slides are about fiddly details, I’ve made my segment of the presentation into a PDF, so you can see what I’m talking about: “Making Beautiful Books” webinar slides (2 MB)
Continue reading “One hour and eleven minutes of me trying not to swear”

  1. Yes, my portion of the presentation ran about fifteen minutes too long, because I hadn’t timed it beforehand and couldn’t see my system clock while screen-sharing the slides from PowerPoint. Sorry, Allan. []

It ain’t up goer science

view of the ground from a rocket high in the air

After two years as a full-time e-book developer, I’m back on the print wagon—or, at least, one foot is—working for CN Times Books as (executive?) managing editor of print and digital production. CN Times is a wholly owned subsidiary of Beijing MediaTime Book Co., and about half of its staff members are Chinese, with several being located in Beijing.

Among the position’s more entertaining challenges is occasionally being called upon to explain industry jargon from printers’ estimates or freelancers’ invoices to colleagues whose primary language is not English. Last week, it was “jacket mechanical.” Today, it was “stock imagery.” And then I found myself writing an omnibus invoice-troubleshooting sort of e-mail explaining the varied uses of “manuscript,” “copy,” “proof,” “copyediting,” and “proofreading.”
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Degristling the sausage

One of the things I do at my job is clean up and beautify e-books that have been produced by a “meatgrinder”—the sort of automated conversion process that an outsourcer uses. My company has worked with a couple of conversion companies, and there are definite differences in the quality and markup philosophy of the files they produce, but one problem that appears to be chronic is that the EPUBs come back with CSS files containing tons of unused style declarations.

I’m talking thousands of lines, when two to three hundred will usually do.

This makes the files extremely tedious to troubleshoot and rework, so one of the first things I usually do if I know I’m going to be spending a considerable chunk of my day living in a particular EPUB is to cut down that stylesheet to what’s actually being used.

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Cracking the coding code

Woman in 1940s garb standing in front of a huge machine with lots of rotors

Got an e-mail from a fellow book designer this morning asking, “Do you have a blog post about marking up a MS for the designer/typesetter?” Um, I couldn’t remember; had to search my own blog to find out. I found I’d written two posts in which such issues come into play—

  • May I take your order? (September 30, 2006)—in which I show the sample pages I prepared to instruct a typesetter on a moderately complicated book design
  • How stylish are you? (January 19, 2008)—in which I listed and explained the most common style names I use when marking up or laying out a bookish document

But both of these posts are written from the designer’s desk, whereas my friend was, he later explained, looking for information that might help a fledgling editor (in this case, an editorial intern) understand how to mark up a manuscript. To which I said, “Um, hello, the Chicago Manual?” I know there’s some discussion of markup right there in the front, but I realized I hadn’t consulted that section in the 15th edition in years, and I hadn’t yet checked it in the 16th edition at all. So I looked! And found that there is now a sizable chunk of appendix devoted to markup, with an eye toward producing multiple output formats—print, HTML, e-books, and more. That appendix is heavy going, though, and more theoretical than practical. How might a designer or production editor explain, in, say, under twenty minutes, how a clever intern should mark up a manuscript?

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E-book Abomination Index

I’ve been reading a lot of e-books in the past ten days or so, and I have seen a lot of messy formatting. But the latest one takes the cake: a McGraw-Hill Professional book in which the first letter of every paragraph appears on a line by itself. Thus:

he quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Hella annoying. And there was an egregious typo in the book, repeated three times in one paragraph. Annoying enough that I dug around on the McGraw-Hill site until I found a place to lodge my complaint.

But then I got to thinking, as I filled out their lengthy incident report form, that if I want to report every fucked-up e-book I come across—which is most of them—I could spend the rest of my life chasing around on publishers’ websites for the buried feedback addresses or forms. And then I thought, Why not set up a sort of Hall of Shame where not only I but anyone else who finds a crappy e-book can post the gory details?

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the E-book Abomination Index submission form?
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Eirk Newth / India Amos
Left: Eirik Newth. Right: Me.
Easy mistake; could happen to anyone, we’re so alike. Except that, y’know, he’s a genius.

Here (with some corrections), in case anybody else interpreted my posts from this weekend in similar ways, is a way-too-long comment I just posted in response to Doyce Testerman’s Publishing, Charlotte, and John. You should start there, or it won’t make much sense. The part of Doyce’s post where poor Eirik gets dragged into things and where my grumbling gets taken somewhat out of context is at the very end:

In the postscript to this piece, Eirik Newth explains why Big Publishing consistently cites costs to create ebooks that fall miles outside my experience and expectation.

Short version: they’re doing it wrong.

Long version:

Publishers are still producing paper books the “X-Acto–and–wax” way and then outsourcing their e-book production to other companies, which probably automate the conversion process, and then they’re not practicing any kind of QA on what comes back, because nobody gives a shit, because the people who make the decisions don’t read e-books.

No wonder they think making an ebook is an expensive, time-consuming process.

Yes, you read that right. Publishers aren’t producing workable electronic files when they produce a paper book — their product essentially has to be OCR’d by a third party company to get an ebook out of it. They start with a hardcopy and make someone else turn it into an electronic version, which they’ll never read.

Oops. So I sez to him I sez, No, actually, you didn’t read that right:
Continue reading “Clarifications”

California, here I come!

book bindings

Now I know what I’ll be doing next time I’m in SF: Tim James of Taurus Bookbindery has opened the American Bookbinders Museum. The Chronicle reports.

In the museum sits an 800-pound Imperial arming press from 1832 that James bought and had shipped from France three years ago. Asked how expensive that was, he answers “frightfully,” declining to elaborate. James has been working on the museum for 15 years, accumulating paper cutters, paper samples, lettering tools, contraptions for lining blank paper, photos, manuals, and union pins from the International Brotherhood of Bookbinders.

Earlier this year he attained nonprofit status and started giving tours by appointment. In August he opened to the public. Admission is free and on Saturdays binder Tom Conroy is there working in the traditional fashion.

Even if you’re not going to San Francisco in the foreseeable future, do look at their website, which includes, among other things, a database of books annotated with salty comments such as,

First, one hopes
This may not be the most utterly useless self-published book ever written on binding your own books; and it may not be the very worst bound. It must, however, be in the final running for both prizes.
Covers heavily cockled, pages cockled at gutter, from poor binding technique

(On A How-To Guide: Bookbinding from Home)

Have any of you dear readers yet been there? If so, please report.

(Thanks, Jack!)