Before I began the book publishing graduate program at PSU, the only reference I had for HTML was from computer hackers in heist movies. The way I saw it, HTML was this computer magic that only the smartest and cleverest people could possibly understand. I dipped my toe into HTML formatting when I started writing blogs for Ooligan Press, but I still didn’t understand how HTML actually worked or even why we were expected to format our blog with it. At this point my understanding of HTML had changed from awed ignorance to befuddled exasperation. I felt the required formatting made writing my blogs more difficult and I didn’t know why I had to do it. Thankfully, I am now learning about what HTML is and how it works.

For those who still view HTML as a special sort of witchcraft, I would like to share how it works in the way that helped me understand it; HTML is the original language of computers and it is the main tool that helps us correctly translate how we want content to show on the browser. But why would that be important to a publishing house?

As I’ve previously mentioned, HTML formatting is used for blogs and many publishing houses have active blogs. Blogs are an important tool for publishing houses because they are a way to share information with others and also show that we are knowledgeable in our fields. Writing a blog in HTML only requires a basic amount of HTML knowledge. For example, I was doing it and I didn’t even understand how I was doing it. That being said, there are blogging tools that remove the need for the user to know HTML.

Publishing houses also need HTML for their websites. Creating a website with HTML does require more knowledge and understanding of coding than blogging. Not only do you need the HTML to create the site but you would also use it to update and adjust when needed. Websites are important for publishing houses so that readers, authors, and other publishers can find you and learn about your house. It’s where you find the mission statement, the backlist, and the history of the press. Just like with blogs there are tools you can find that allow you to build a website without diving into the HTML but these tools come with limitations and sometimes extra costs. Knowing how to use HTML to build a website opens up many more options and allows for more creativity and personality.

Last, but certainly not least, HTML is essential to create e-books at publishing houses. Without HTML, the book formatting wouldn’t be consistent across e-readers and italic and bold words in the print version wouldn’t show in the e-book. There are tools that you can find that remove the HTML step but these are not likely used in publishing houses.

Even though there are tools that allow you to skip having to use HTML, if you want to have the most control and creativity HTML is the best way to go. A great starting place to learn and play with HTML is W3Schools. It explains the basics and has a “try me” tool that you can edit to see how it all works.

Join in the magic of HTML and find out all the ways you unknowingly interact with it. While learning about it does demystify the process it doesn’t make the end result any less magical.

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