Digital Department Basics

It’s hard to believe, but this is my final Ooligan blog post as the manager of the digital department. To share what I’ve learned during my two years in the program, I’m going to explain a little bit about the department and offer some resources that might be helpful to future Oolies, as well as to people outside the program.
The digital department has two primary functions: we oversee three websites (Ooligan Press, the Portland State University Book Publishing Program site, and Oregon Authors), and we create the e-books for Ooligan titles, both frontlist and backlist. We also explore emerging technologies in publishing, and during my year as manager of the department, we took the first steps toward adding audiobooks to Ooligan’s workflow.

Websites

Our three websites are built on the free publishing platform WordPress. We’re not alone: WordPress is used by 30 percent of the web. It makes it possible to create complex, customizable websites with very little knowledge of coding. However, WordPress itself takes some learning if you want to use it effectively.
WordPress is an open-source project, which means people all around the world contribute to its development, documentation and training. That community has created some powerful resources:

  • WordPress Codex: This is a constantly updated manual for how to use WordPress.
  • WordPress Lessons: These range from beginner level to advanced enough for people to develop their own themes.

While you can make a very good website using WordPress alone, we supplement it with a framework called Genesis, which gives our sites additional functionality. Genesis is made by StudioPress, and makes it easy for us to add features like front-page image sliders, extra menus on individual pages, and other nice extras.
To refine the style and appearance of the sites even more, we use two themes, also both made by StudioPress. For Oregon Authors, we use Magazine Pro. And for the Publishing program and Ooligan sites, we use Author Pro, which offers us the ability to create a library of our frontlist and backlist titles.

Ebooks

For every new title that Ooligan publishes, the digital department makes two different kinds of ebook. For Amazon, we make a MOBI file; for everyone else, we make an EPUB 3.
We start by exporting an EPUB 3 from the Adobe InDesign file that Ooligan’s design department has made for the interior of the book. We then do a lot of hand work cleaning up the code. To do this, we use a text editor designed specifically for coding. There are many text editors (and many opinions about which one is best), but three of my favorites are Atom, Brackets, and Sublime.
Once the EPUB is finished, we make sure that it validates (which you can do online), then convert it to the MOBI version using Kindle Previewer.
While all of this can sound very intimidating, but once again there are good sources of information online. One that I find especially helpful is the website EPUBSecrets, which features articles by many different ebook developers. On Twitter, the ebook production community is active under #eprdctn. There’s an annual conference for the field, Ebookcraft, and if you can’t make it to Toronto for that, videos of presentations are posted online afterward.
If you’d like to contribute to a good cause while you practice making ebooks, you can take part in the Standard Ebooks project, which produces new high-quality editions of public domain books. And when you’re feeling good about your skills and want to see how you stack up, you can sign up for the So You Think You Can Code challenge at Ebookcraft.

Audiobooks

Audiobooks are our newest endeavor at Ooligan, and we’re still learning about them ourselves. Michele L. Cobb and Robin F. Whitten at Audiofile Magazine were extremely helpful to us during our early research, and their site is a great source of information about audiobooks—including recommendations on titles. As Ooligan gets deeper into our audiobook journey, we may want to join the Audiobook Publishers Association, a not-for-profit trade association that presents events and advocates for high production standards.

Learning Resources

My final and biggest piece of advice is to take advantage of online training. My two favorite resources are Lynda.com and Portland’s own Treehouse. Lynda.com (which is owned by LinkedIn) offers thousands of courses in just about everything, including InDesign, HTML, ebook development, WordPress, and even management. Treehouse is more specific to coding and is a good resource for WordPress skills.
At Ooligan, we’re lucky because the press has a Lynda.com account. But if you live in Portland, the Multnomah County Public Library gives all its patrons full access to Lynda.com. If not, your library may have something similar, and even buying a membership to Lynda.com or Treehouse is economical at about twenty-five-dollars a month.
The hard part about this program is that it flies by so fast, and it’s hard to say goodbye to my department. Fortunately, I know I’m leaving it in able hands, and I hope that this post will help pass along a little of what I learned during my time here.