Nicholas Dames’s readable New Yorker piece presents telling episodes in the history of authors’ use of the chapter in non-fictional and fictional works — from Cato the Elder, Pliny, the Venerable Bede, Caxton, Fielding, Gissing and others.
Latin capitulum, Spanish capítulo, French chapitre, Czech kapitola, German Kapitel, Romanian capitol, Italian capitolo, English chapter: is it anything different in the digital age? The page can “disappear”, scrolling down a window, replaced by a percentage of book completed. What about the chapter?
The following paragraph from Dames is telling when juxtaposed with the final chapters of Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book (MIT Press, 2018), which brings to bear on the history of the book and its elements the perspective of an artist; reviewed here.
Like the momentary lifting of a pianist’s fingers while a chord still resonates, the classic novelistic chapter evokes time by dwelling in a pause rather than a strong ending. We feel time in the novel by marking it out into bits, but only bits that have no strong shape, that fade or blur into one another in the recollection. The greatest practitioners of the chapter have preferred to cast their divisions as fleeting caesuras with lingering aftereffects, scarcely memorable in their specifics but tenacious in the feeling they evoke. (italics added) Situations yielding silently to new configurations, feelings fading imperceptibly or stealing upon us, shifts in the atmosphere around us: time in the novel is made up of these chromatic transitions, and the usual name for them in the history of the form is the chapter.
The Repository of Primary Sources has been running since 1995 at the University of Idaho. Under the wing of Terry Abraham, it lists “over 5000 websites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar”, and “[all] links have been tested for correctness and appropriateness”.
So what has this to do with the evolution of the book? Well, in the world of book publishing, whose job has it been to make sure that a book is known about and can be found — not only on publication but after? Marketing, Promotion and Publicity, undoubtedly, but they would be among the first to shout if Editorial or someone had not registered the book’s metadata with Bowker or the equivalent local ISBN registry.
According to Google, there are 129,864,880 books in the entire world (as of 5 August 2010, 8:26AM), but that is a semi-statistical estimate for the modern era drawn from sources such as ISBN registrars and OCLC’s WorldCat. Bookfinder/JustBooks, launched in 1997 by Anirvan Chatterjee, claims that through its network, it searches over 150 million books for sale. With the great hoohah over Hugh Howey’s Amazonian extrapolation, we can safely assume that there are many, many more books out there probably without ISBNs, which after all only came into effect in the 1970s and, even so, now there are vociferous opponents to the ISBN calling it an offline anachronism.
There is no question to beg about the usefulness of metadata. So is there a Terry Abraham and cohort out there to whom publishers and self-publishing authors can turn to deposit metadata whose links will be “tested for correctness and appropriateness”? Of course, that begs the question of whether there should be someone or organizations out there to perform that function. Why not leave it to the power of the Internet or the power of the market? Even if a book goes unnoticed or after a time becomes an “orphan work“, the power has spoken.
Let’s leave the power politics for another bookmark. Whoever performs the function, what exactly is it? Let’s call it the “findability” function. It goes beyond the usual social media marketing of a book or ebook that most publishers assign to Marketing. It goes beyond the usual search engine optimization (SEO), although it is arguably a part of it.
It goes to making the book as locatable an object as it can be, endowing it with “ambient findability.” See Peter Morville’s book of that title and judge for yourself whether “endowing something with ambient findability” misconstrues what he is saying or how the Web works. Nevertheless, …
Superfluous as they are claimed to be becoming, should publishers leave findability to the ISBN registries and librarians (until they become superfluous as well) or to the technorati?
As the book evolves, this “findability” function currently falls between the stools of Commissioning (where the editor discovers the author and pumps him or her not only for the ms but for connections leading to sales/marketing opportunities and further editorial opportunities), Editorial/Production (where the copyeditor, designer and production editor ensure that metadata is assigned and link-checks are run and the work is registered with the Library of Congress), Sales/Marketing (where marketeers scour the author’s questionnaire if it has arrived, create lists of mailing and emailing lists, compile the list of offline and online reviewers/bloggers and design the social media campaign and where a sales account manager with responsiblity for Amazon and other online accounts worries whether IT has included the work in the scheduled ONIX, EDI and customized catalog feeds) and Operations/Finance (where an accountant, analyst or inventory controller assigns the ISBN usually upon receipt of contract approval).
So if you are self-publishing or publishing books/ebooks, who attends to the ambient findability of what you are publishing? As more and more books go online, isn’t this part of the new craft and art of the book?
By the way, I found Morville’s book one rainy Saturday afternoon while shelving books at the local Oxfam bookstore. I bought it instead of shelving it.
When it comes to acquiring skills and professional training in book publishing, from the early days of the printing press onwards, learning by doing has been book publishing’s order of the day. Consider the following interview exchange between Mac Slocum (Tools of Change) and Theodore Gray (The Elements):
MS: What skills — or people with those skills — must be incorporated into the editorial process to produce something like the iPad/iPhone editions?
TG: Specifically in the case of “The Elements,” the skills required were writing, commercial-style stills photography, Objective-C programming, and a whole, whole lot of Mathematica programming to create the design and layout tool and image processing software we used to create all the media assets that went into the ebook.
Other ebooks might well require different skills. My next one, for example, is going to include a lot more video, so we’re gearing up to produce high-grade stereo 3D video. That’s one of the challenges in producing interesting ebooks: You need a wider range of skills than to produce a conventional print book.
Starting out in book publishing late in the last century, a novice would have consulted Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking and the Chicago Manual of Styleto learn the basics of design, editorial and production. If it were Trade publishing that beckoned, a familiarity with A. Scott Berg’s biography of Maxwell Perkins (“Editor of Genius”) would have been likely.
But as with the acquisition of print publishing skills through learning by commissioning, designing, editing, printing, marketing and selling, the acquisition of the skills required for ebook publishing could use a hand up from appropriate resources. People like Joshua Tallent, Joel Friedlander, Liz Castro, Craig Mod, Matthew Diener are those resources — either by example or authoring — and novices today would do well to start bookmarking their output.
For notes on the availability of formal training and career conditions in publishing, see Thad McIlroy’s The Future of Publishing.
Two interesting words: “semantic” and “innovation.” Find yourself a good cup of coffee, a slice of sachertorte, the aroma of cinnamon and take the time to read this article by David Worlock.
“Getting” the fundamentals of digital publishing means “getting” semantics: the semantic web, taxonomies, ontologies, tagging and all that. David Worlock’s article is a good place to start to understand why.
We’re witnessing another sea change in Web publishing. From Pinterest at the beginning of this year to the launch this week of a new product from two Twitter founders, Medium, 2012 has been a year where the norms of publishing are being challenged.
So writes Richard Macmanus at ReadWriteWeb about a new platform for Web publishing. But there have been books written in Twitter. What if the same were to happen in Medium? If the stream replaces the page, if topic maps replace authors, . . .