Posts tagged publishing

To understand & improve the process…

Doctorow expressed the most heart-wrenching part of the traditional publishing process:

But the reality of books was this: a publisher’s rep would come in and tell us breathlessly about the lead titles – how much promotion they were up for, how much the house believed in the title, how well the author had done before. We’d order a pile of hardcovers, generally a smaller pile than we’d been asked to take, and usually, they’d sell modestly well. Then we’d return the leftovers, and some months later, they’d resurface as remainders, with their dustjackets clipped or magic-markered lines drawn on their page-edges. Then they’d come in as paperbacks, hang around for a few months longer, and vanish. Sometimes, a copy or two would surface as used trade-ins, and sometimes a regular would ask us to order a copy, but within a short time, the book would no longer be in the publisher’s catalog in any form. It would be gone.

This was the greatest shock of my bookselling career, because these weren’t always bad books. Sometimes, they’d be wonderful books, the kind of books you wrote enthusiastic ‘‘shelf-talkers’’ for and recommended to all the regulars – the kind of books you fell in love with. Sometimes there was an afterword that talked about how much heart and soul the author poured into the book – the years of work and heartbreak. And just like that, the book would be gone.

How can a book live on? He asks authors who consider self-publishing to have a plan (there’s a novel idea). In particular, the plan needs to address how “to understand and improve the process by which large masses of people decide to read a book.”

Here are some of my “understand&improve” thoughts for Delta Stream Media:

  • Readers as co-producers
  • Authors as community leaders (more meaningful than “book tours” and more flat-structured and peer-to-peer than workshop&consult models)
  • Books as living social objects (with versions, more like software)
  • Layered (“onion”), continuous model of publishing (making the works public) to increasingly large circles, but rewarding enough at all levels to stop there if need be
  • Moving to the next, slightly larger layer of publicity means more work, but the work is spread among people previously engaged
  • The network is not a pyramid, but a more distributed network architecture, like LLL
  • The principle of care: the innermost levels are people who have relatively strong love for the topic, the content and the author (cf. fanfic networks or academic journals for narrow specializations)

SHREK: No! Layers! Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.

P.S. Making relatively empty sequels to good works is not how media should become “living social objects.”

P.P.S. An excellent example of observation-driven, agile, version-based dialog with media users:

For raids, we look at curves indicating the number of new players who beat an encounter each week. That slope tends to be steep at first as the most talented guilds race through the content, and then slows down as other players make progress. It’s time for us to step in when the lines flatten out and no new players are beating the content. It’s a bit easier for the five-player dungeons because we want players to prevail almost all the time. Nobody wants to go back to Throne of the Tides week after week until they finally beat Lady Naz’jar.

O’Reilly webcast “Digital bookmaking tools roundup”

I listened to the recording of the event with Peter Meyers, and all the links and slides are at

The messages I took home:

  • There is an app for it
  • It’s in closed beta, availability TBA in August
  • Anything more complex than (slightly) glorified pop-up footnotes requires “10,000 hours” level skills in programming and digital arts both
  • InDesign is very much the default
  • Nobody knows how the new business models will work out

Either I listened with the wrong side of my brain, or there was nothing about co-production within online communities. The production models I heard assumed either a lonely author or a traditional (sequential) book making process with separate roles.

Book review: “E-Book Enlightenment” by James Simmons

James Simmons set out to write about One Laptop Per Child e-books, but decided to go more general. I appreciate the clear and concise categories of information by chapters and within the chapters – it’s a big service to the reader, and it takes a lot of thought and work for the writer. Moreover, each piece of data tells a story with a strong exegesis in the area of open and free – meaning, it’s interesting to read, at least for someone who cares. I thought I would skip the first chapters, on finding e-books, but I learned much I did not know – for example, the story of this touching projects:

The Rural Design Collective (@rdcHQ) is a not-for-profit professional mentoring organization which furthers the education and experience of residents of rural Southern Coastal Oregon who are interested in working with web and/or media technology by involving them in real development projects. They devote a portion of their program to continued exploration of technology surrounding digital books. In 2009, they built an interface for approximately 2000 digital books using a subset from the Internet Archive Children’s Library.

It was easy for me to skim the chapter comparing different formats, because of the clear structure, but the tone is human and personal (“Advantages: I can’t think of any.” on RTF).

The Sugar activities and architecture for discovering and sharing books looks like something all children’s environments should be adopting (I am looking at you, Club Penguin). My daughter is probably older than the intended audience – she uses Shellfari for the purpose.  I don’t know if there are tools like this beyond Sugar, for young kids. With one click, you can share books with a person or your neighborhood. And, it has text to speech. Remember the lovely Living Books from the 90s, with text-to-speech (and animations) done via recordings, rather than generated? That was hugely useful for literacy, but not sustainable, and only a few were made.

James describes wiki-software for making books, called booki. I am looking at it for next book projects of Math Future (we are using Google Docs at the moment). I think I will wait for versions beyond alpha; meanwhile, James’ adventures with collaborating are illuminating, and echo my experiences:

Starting a book from nothing is intimidating.  However, once the book reaches a critical mass and there is no doubt that there will be a finished book you’ll find that getting help and feedback is easier, almost inevitable …If we didn’t start with the awful machine translated version we would never have gotten the good one.

The first thing is that there are good reasons to collaborate and not so good.  A good one is that your collaborator can bring expertise to the book that you don’t have.  A bad one is that you think there will be less work for you if you have a collaborator.  There are many human activities where “Many hands make light labor”.  Writing a book isn’t one of them.

Mokurai’s Replacing Textbook project involves several Math Future people such Don “The Mathman” Cohen, and uses booki, which James mentions. My materials about fractions may go there, as well. An obligatory Russian proverb: “The world isn’t small, but the stratum is thin.” I would appreciate if the book compared booki with Google Docs, rather than Microsoft Word (which isn’t a wiki technology).

For scanning books, I may consider building a Simmons Home Book Scanner Mark I. It looks quite easy and the name is fun to say. However, my new flatbed scanner is fast enough, and I have kid interns who think it’s fun to scan – at least a few pages at a time. James recommend the batch image editor Image Magic, which can apply the same operation to multiple images. This will save me a lot of time when I next scan a book! And for Windows, the mass renamer for files will come in handy. And looks like Scan Tailor software is even more powerful, so I will give it a try as well.

Sigil is the free EPUB editor James recommends. And calibre is the software for managing and distributing collections of e-books.

Overall, the Publishing section of “E-Book Enlightenment” deals with the technical side of making the book available, and not with the social aspects of “making the book public” (Doctorow). I would like to see a chapter on how to connect creators with readers, post-production.

I will go back to “E-Book Enlightenment” for step-by-step guides to software and hardware for making books. Screenshots and photos of key steps make guides quick and easy to use. Thank you, James!

O’Reilly and Doctorow: Learning to publish

I am mostly learning about publishing from O’Reilly media and from Cory Doctorow. They are my heroes and teachers. Not coincidentally to being heroes, they produce a lot of opportunities to learn their trade.

Publishing changed, obviously, and the services needed at this point in history are:

  • Co-production of content, including beta reading, discussion of drafts, submission of materials such as illustrations, anecdotes or anthology chapters, post-production extensions such as lesson plans, remixing for different situations, reformatting for different delivery platforms, translating, creating accompanying media and other types of connecting of audiences and authors
  • Packaging and distribution, such as proofreading, editing, layout, printing or ebook uploading, order fulfilment, support of version tracking and so on
  • Funding, that is, a way for individuals and groups who want to support the project to pay forward to make it happen, including pledge systems, corporate or grant support, and in-community crowdfunding

Here are my notes from Doctorow’s column, “Publishing and the internet: a changing role.

  • A publisher makes a work public.
  • Three roles: identifying works among slush; preparing the work; connecting to the audience. But a group that is nurturing can be smarter than its people, and working together in appropriate ways, a group can develop, rather than identify – MD.
  • In the old world, simply hearing about the work (by seeing it on limited-space bookshelves or screens) was a word in its favor. Not anymore.
  • Selection, duplication, preparation and distribution are now unbundled.
  • The new model: publish, then select (Shirky). But the work isn’t really published until some force collects it with the audience.
  • Internet publishers: group intosearch engines, bloggers, curators, tweeters, and suggestion algorithms. Also, there are wiki-projects for co-production, though it may be under “curators” – that’s what we will do – MD.
  • Publishers are everywhere, from Google to a tiny blog.

My notes from the O’Reilly panel, “What traditional publishers can learn from self-publishers.

  • Practice poverty (consciously)
  • Think tantric publishing: pleasure your customer rather than traditional bang/leave
  • Publish faster
  • The never-ending book launch; remain actively involved in the book forever
  • Liquid book = create once, use in many output forms
  • Failure to test is equivalent to gambling
  • 99 cent iPhone books (e.g. John Locke)
  • Publishers discover, select, package and sell content. But now, packaging and selecting aren’t needed, aren’t services anymore. Not true – MD
  • does distribution
  • – conversation support idea
  • POD for magazines
  • unbundled services from Amazon

Google Books for publishers: O’Reilly online event review

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I am exploring the book component of math content aggregation, since several of us are working on community book projects, including Sue’s anthology of informal mathematics, Dani’s GeoGebra, and my math clubs. Content aggregation is what we are doing at the moment; the next steps are packaging, distribution, and co-production of open content around the books, which is a part of their overall “campaign.” This letter is about the distribution step.

Last week, O’Reilly, a good book-centric community role model by the way, organized an interview with people from Google Books, which you can view here:
I took notes for our book projects:

  • These days, people find the majority of books they eventually buy through internet searches. Therefore, the key component of any book venture is supporting online content discovery.
  • Google Books indexes 100% of the text, which is searchable, without necessarily making it available for preview beyond the phrase found. Some of us will want 100% preview or Creative Commons license and others will want smaller previews.
  • Meta-data further adds to convent discovery. It includes information on where to buy ebooks and paper books, and Google Books can sell ebooks and paper books then and there as people find them through the browser. In this, they are competing with other programs like Kindle.
  • They answered my question about co-production with readers with, “we are planning for reader content in the next major update” which tells me we need to plan for it separately for now.
  • They support partnerships with local paper booksellers and can guide people to them. This was important for Sue.
  • The cloud model means that ebooks are accessed from anywhere online (like your Google Docs) and on smartphones. People can also download ebooks with or without DRM – the ability to disable it is important for me).
  • If the book is “high design” (non-standard page layout, fancy backgrounds) there is a choice for this original view or “reflowed” view for smartphones and such.
  • The starting page for publishers is here

Book review: Little Algebra Book

Colin Beveridge of Flying Colours Maths sent me his Little Algebra Book preprint for a review. Good books inspire me to two actions: taking and changing of content. The first category has content I like more or less “as is,” and the second category has content that clarified a need for change. Both are valuable, obviously.

What I want to take

  • The book has clear infographics for two major metaphors of equality – “balance” and “identical copy,” as well as for four arithmetic operations. For example, a bird popping balloons is used for subtraction.
  • Physical pages work as manipulatives: something cool may happen to a picture or an equation when you turn the page. If physical paper is used, why not play with it?
  • Minimalism in design and explanation is a mathematical value this book upholds. I don’t like math textbooks that weigh a ton and have a lot of water in them. A sentence, a picture, a few formulas – ah, that’s more like it!
  • The book is aimed at multiple ages. I can see using infographics with very young kids, but they are not babyish; the style is more like modern online logo designs, appealing to grown-ups. I may use this with older kids or adults who need to overcome their math anxiety.

What I want to change

  • The first phrase! “The aim of algebra is to get x on its own” – I realize it’s an artistic trope, where one particularly important aim of algebra stands for all aims. How can I say this in a way specific enough to be correct, and catchy enough to make good writing?
  • Write like this about other metaphors for equations: function machine, symmetry, truth values.

Little Algebra Book site

One of my favorite book review sites, Living Math

Not too soft, not too hard

How do books come alive?
The new book format by Neil Stephenson is nice, but “too big” – it assumes hundreds of people at least actively geek about it, which means hundreds of thousands of readers.
The Ning format Steve Hargadon used for Book Discussions is “too small” – Ning groups are too fragmented for the purpose, though the idea rocks.
LivingMath reviews from Julie Brennan are “just right” – if they were in a wiki, or the Yahoo group discussions were public and searchable.

Let’s mix the three and make something like MathTropes (like TvTropes) for family math books.

Link to my 1997 picture at Shodor. The materials we made back then are still up, and used.


Instead of “brick and mortar” for LearnSpace we plan to open, I’d like to have something like Luminarium! What learning won’t happen in a cool space like this? One can dream, right?!

15 million people in Britain are “innumerate” – hence too many could not play the lottery that required them to compare numbers like negative eight and negative six. I wonder if the humanity will grow out of lottery any time soon, by the way.

Neil Stephenson announced his “post-book” project just a couple of days after Seth Godin announced he’s not going to make traditional books anymore. Hmmm!

I really like how WIRIS graphs. I want to teach it to talk to Makerbots.

Actually, it would be nice if more of my things, real and virtual, talked to one another. Even announcing webinars to all the places isn’t automatic at all, because of format differences. I hesitate to give mundane tasks of this sort to interns, too.


The first three weeks of the graduate “Learning and Assessment in Secondary Math” were intense and exciting largely because of all the online opportunities for math. Technology wasn’t a focus of the course, but I invited students “to do what I do” online. Every assignment was real and live. For example, we made a Wikipedia article together – wth, Wikipedia, no article on Multiple Representations till we came along?

One of the tasks was to comment on Dan Meyer’s WCYDWT (here is the link to tomorrow’s Math 2.0 event) on any of the blogs writing about it. Here is one of the students, Al, expressing how real live tasks raise the assignment quality bar, and incidentally, requiring more time: “Personally, I think it does not make sense to add to a blog just for the sake of adding to a blog.  Dan seems pretty responsive as a moderator, and I feel a non-additive comment just makes more work for everyone.  Also, Dan’s blog is more than just a blog to me.  It’s more like an educational site where I need to take some time to parse and understand what he has posted.
Although I like this task, I would probably need to devote at least another hour to digest the posts and make a comment that wasn’t silly.”

You said it!

The picture starting the screencast today is me climbing the Raleigh concert hall with our wonderful parkour group. I finally found what I need to move around: some reasonable prompts for roleplay. Every time I do parkour, some fantasies of chases, usually extremely silly, invariably come to mind. It helps that the parkour community makes little videos about zombie chases, or references that awesome “Men in Black” scene.

This is exactly the phenomenon happening in many Math Clubs: a little roleplay prompt goes a very long way for engagement. For example, just mention the Spiderman before doing line art or coordinate plane work. The flow of the roleplay has to match the flow of the math activity, though! I could not roleplay chases on an exercise bike. Most textbook cookie cutter attempts to attach pop culture to math are so far from intrinsic. And some purists argue against roleplay around math because math is its own context that is fun by itself. For about 5% of the population, I may add – just like exercise is not meaningful for me by itself, but it is in the context of chase roleplay parkour provides.

I need to wikify the work on books, meanwhile, here is my rendition of the cover elements; it will NOT look like this – I am not a designer, etc. It’s a sketch.


Hello world!

Welcome to Math Accent! I am Maria Droujkova, here to talk about Natural Math community projects, the Math 2.0 Interest Group, Math Clubs, math publishing, math games, and family math events.

About Math Accent blog

I plan to speak and to write a bit every day. Let’s see what happens!

Math Playground, Colleen King’s site where we are moving math game discussions of our communities

Tagxedo is my neat toy of the day – thank you Ryan Goble of MindBlue for sending me his NY Times blog post “Tech Tips for Teachers” where I saw the review.

“Family Educator Commons” essay with Carol Cross was a meaningful task. We need to put it somewhere more visible and create discussions about it. A friend, for example, told me this sort of education is only possible for people dedicating all their waking hours to kids. I went and counted the hours in the described “one day in the life of a homeschooler” and it turned out the mother was spending 3.5 hours and the father 1.5 – quite doable, if more than the American average.  I want more of those conversations, though.

For a few years, I wanted nothing to do with dead tree books, because it looked like they may go away completely. By now it’s clear what roles paper books, or electronic books designed after them, can reasonably play in the next ten years or so. We are busy making some paper books about Natural Math. The artwork with Natural Math characters Victoria drew over the last five years really helps.

I need to find, and put up, files with character descriptions. I remember that Jenny likes to write and Luis is a rebel. Here are these kids’ hypothetical choices about times tables, which I used to illustrate the study we are now doing:

Kids' choices about times tables

Sonya is being an artist. The stories parents submitted so far show a greater variety.