Laura Brady has been a cutting-edge ebook developer since 2009. The founder of Toronto-based Brady Type, Laura is also the new editor-in-chief of EPUBSecrets, one of the primary planners behind ebookcraft (an industry event for ebook producers in North America), an active member and leader of the #eprdctn group on Twitter, and a devoted fan of the Toronto Blue Jays.
How do you describe yourself professionally?
At my core, I’m an ebook developer. I like to work, get my fingers dirty in the code, and make ebooks. I do other things as well: I’ve taken on EPUBSecrets, conference planning, and consulting and training, but I consider them secondary to making ebooks.
How did you start down this path?
A lot of people who are ebook developers are web people who’ve been asked to take on this part of the publishing process. My journey is a little bit different. I’m an old-school typesetter. I used to do the insides of books and do text design and page layout. I had been doing that freelance for many years and found that the freelance market was getting challenging. In about 2009, I started to investigate ebooks and found that there was a burgeoning market there, and that it was a fun place to be. That’s how I pivoted. So I come to ebooks from a design point of view, which I think is a little bit different than many ebook developers.
What should authors understand about ebooks?
A couple of things: A friend of mine, Derrick Schultz, wrote an article for EPUBSecrets called “Dogfooding.” The main idea of that is that publishing executives and editors, people high up in the publishing food chain, should be reading ebooks as their readers read them. Via a Kindle, on their phone, in a Sony ereader, if that’s where their readers are. And I would say the same is true of authors. They should be reading ebooks so that they understand the reading experience, and understand where it works and where it fails. Not to tailor their content, but just to have a really clear understanding of what ebooks do.
I work with a fair number of small publishers and self-publishers who don’t understand ebooks. It’s a big barrier. I end up having to do a lot of hand-holding and education, because they don’t read digitally so they just don’t know. I would say it’s really important to eat what you produce, and to understand the reading experience from a variety of different standpoints, not just print.
One of the things I tell people, in addition to dogfooding, is to think about consuming an ebook that you’ve produced, or some content that you’ve written or created, via assistive text so that you have a glimpse of the experience that a print-disabled reader has. In workshops that I do, I put an ebook on my iPhone, turn on the text-to-speech voiceover, and have the phone read the content to me. It’s a real revelation. People have no idea what that experience is like or how difficult it is, and how sometimes the code interferes with even a basic, decent reading experience via assistive text.
What’s your feeling about interactivity or extra forms of media?
I think that those kinds of things can really make a dynamic reading experience. I tend to be leery of interactivity and multimedia experiences if they’re done just for the sake of bells and whistles, but thinking through a more interesting reading experience for ebooks is worth putting on the table to pursue. A few years ago, the New York Times came out with an article called “Snowfall.” It was a really dynamic reading experience, and we were all blown away. Now it’s become common to make similar web articles. But I think ebooks need a moment like that, where we have a real rethinking of how we’re going to read, and interactivity is what’s going to bring it about. We have to deal with device fragmentation—interactivity isn’t going to work on E Ink devices, and it’s not going to work well across the device spectrum. But I still think that there’s a place for that kind of richer reading experience. I haven’t seen it done super well just yet. I think it’s still yet to come. Digital publishing and ebooks can be a kind of Gutenberg moment, but we really have to think through how it’s done.
To read a longer version of this conversation, please visit StephanieArgy.com.