Workflows, Hybrids, and Design at The Digital Press

This weekend was largely turned over to work on two upcoming projects from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. When I first started the press, I swore that I keep things small, avoid having two projects in production at the same time, and build slowly. 

Last year, I broke that rule and this fall, it seems like I’m breaking the rule again. I’m in production with Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee project and with Patrick McCurdy and Ad Astra Comix on the expanded, digital version of The Beast. Fortunately, the projects are both super cool and they’re challenging me to refine my craft as a publisher, develop new workflows, and think more about the nature of books. 

The first challenge that I faced this weekend was publishing a series of essays on Colin Kaepernick originally written for the web. As a result, they had hyperlinks rather than traditional footnotes or in-text citation. The links were embedded in the text, which I received as a Microsoft Word file from the book’s editor, Eric Burin. Moreover, Burin was working on a massive introductory essay (that may well initiate the field of Kaepnerick Studies) that has over 400 embedded hyperlinks instead of traditional scholarly citation.

I had two concerns with these files. First, I needed to check and, wherever possible, stabilize the links by making them as persistent as is possible for the web. Second, I needed to make these links visible so that when the book appears in paper form someone can follow the citations back to the original source.

Workflows

I devised a simple workflow to extract the URLs from the Word files. First, I converted the .docx format to markdown (.md) using the remarkable and powerful Pandoc. Then I opened the markdown versions of the documents in Word and used a little visual basic that I cribbed from the internet to convert all the URLs to hyperlinks:

Sub ConvertSelectedURLTextsToHyperlink()
  Word.Options.AutoFormatReplaceHyperlinks = True
  Selection.Range.AutoFormat
End Sub

I could then select all the hyperlinks in the document and paste them into Perma.cc, where I have a professional account for The Digital Press. Perma.cc allows me to convert all the various URLs into stable and permanent URLs as a batch which it then outputs as a .csv file. 

Once I’ve dropped the original hyperlinked document into InDesign, I can swap out the original URLs in the document with the new stabilized version. There should be a way to automate this, but I don’t know how to do it. 

More significantly, I decided to insert the permanent URLs as both hyperlinks, for the digital version, and as footnotes for the print version. 

As a little aside, anyone with a serious interest in publishing, learn how to code. I wish I know how to automate parts of this process, but I simply don’t have the coding skillz necessary to do it!

Hybrids

Protesting on Bended Knee is a hybrid project that will appear in both print and digital forms. Things like hyperlinks present both a technical challenge for the paper version of the book, but also presents a challenge for how we engage with a text. Hyperlinks constantly tempt the reader to move beyond the linearity of the text and embrace the dynamism of textual meaning emerging from a series of relationships between words, sentences, and other texts. The book in contrast disciplines the reader to follow an argument, page-by-page, from from start to finish. From a technical standpoint, citations are still allude to the relationship between the text in a print book and other texts and the reader is still free to follow these connections, but the book does little to facilitate or encourage it. Instead, citations stand as a kind of infrastructure supporting the text, but also conveniently set to the margins of our vision. 

My current compromise is to include the perma.cc, persistent links in footnotes, but to eschew formal citation. This isn’t ideal, in that these links lack the legibility and transparency of formal footnotes, but they at least point the reader to places where the text has been linked in a conventional way. I guess this is the think with hybrids. They reflect the instability of their form and refuse to map easily onto their constituent parts.  

In the end, this is what the pages of Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee look like. 

Protesting CoreyWilliams copy

Design

If you’ve been following my work on Protesting on Bended Knee, you’ll know that I’ve already messed about with designing the book. I got some feedback from Chris Olsen our graphic designer and tried to give the page a bit more of a contemporary look with more white space. I’m not sure that the updated design is a cool as the one that Chris proposed, but maybe it’s getting there? I wanted to retain a certain house style for this book, but not at the expense of making the book look good.

Designing the expanded content for The Beast is a good bit more fun in some ways. First, the book will only be digital. So I felt less pressure to produce a functionally hybrid text. More importantly, though, I can try to play a bit with making sure that the book looks good in digital form. I’ve decided to use a sans serif font that looks good on screen. I also played a bit more with the graphic element of the book because I don’t have to worry about how the headings will look when printed. At the same time, I did maintain the page as the basic unit for engaging the text largely because The Beast itself, the comic, is paginated and it makes sense for the essays to follow this form as well to lend cohesion to the book.

This is my page for The Beast. I quite like it.

0Conway TheBeast copy

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