Agata Mrva-Montoya is Honorary Associate in the Department of Media and Communications, University of Sydney, and Publishing Manager at Sydney University Press. Agata is interested in the impact of digital technologies on publishing, the future of scholarly publishing, and open access. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and @agatamontoya.
WHAT LED YOU TO START WORKING IN DIGITAL/MEDIA PUBLISHING?
It was a natural evolution, though I must say I don’t actually think of myself as working in digital publishing. I work in scholarly publishing, a sector of the industry that I am really passionate about. I have been at Sydney University Press for almost ten years and digital publishing underpins most of what we do. We were one of the early adopters of a format-neutral workflow to do the layout of our books, print-on-demand technology to get them printed and social media tools to get them promoted.
The search for the perfect single-source layout system has led me to become interested in opportunities created by digital technologies for book publishers, be it new formats (like ebook apps) or new business models (like open access in scholarly publishing). In 2014 I had an amazing opportunity to spend two weeks with Touchpress, the UK-based publisher of several ground-breaking ebook apps on the market (such as The Waste Land, Disney Animated, and others).
Since 2016 I have been teaching a unit on making ebooks and digital magazines in the Master of Publishing degree at the University of Sydney. I designed the curriculum to combine practical and theoretical aspects of digital publishing to enable the students to acquire skills in a variety of software, but at the same time to understand the design processes, workflows and production issues in digital publishing. I am hoping that students end up with practical skills but also an understanding of the broader context of the ever-changing digital publishing landscape. The teaching motivates me to keep on top of new trends and issues in digital publishing across book and magazine production. I am about to start revising the unit for next year to make sure that the content stays up-to-date and relevant to newcomers to the publishing industry.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
Checking emails and Twitter feeds to catch up on what has been happening in the industry is the first thing I tend to do in the mornings. And then the day turns into a balancing act of competing priorities while I am juggling core frontlist publishing work with other projects. These days I am less directly involved in the book production, though this depends on the upcoming deadlines. As a commissioning editor for the SUP series in animal studies and archaeology, I look for new authors and manuscripts, manage peer review and carry out structural editing of the titles in these series. I also do proofreading, manage marketing and communication strategies for our books and the SUP brand, and SUP social media accounts. I am currently working on the redevelopment of our website and managing our backlist ebook conversion project, both of which are long overdue.
WHAT’S YOUR WORK SETUP LOOK LIKE?
I love experimenting with technology and using various tools for work, teaching and writing.
The cloud-based platform that we use for book layout, Infogrid Pacific Digital Publisher (IGP DP), allows us to output a PDF for printing and various ebook formats from the same source file. We also use IGP DP platform to do indexing so that our ebooks have hyperlinked indexes. We use Adobe InDesign to design book covers and any marketing collateral.
We use Bibliocloud to manage our titles, production schedules, metadata, etc. We rely on MailChimp to drive our marketing activities and Eventbrite to manage events. While email remains the main communication tool, we are also using Slack within the SUP team and Yammer for internal communications at the University of Sydney.
I rely on Dropbox, Google Drive, SharePoint, Facebook Groups and Skype for collaborating with others. I use Hootsuite to manage my personal and work social media accounts. I have used Trello on and off to manage various projects and priorities.
I am a huge fan of Scrivener and I use it for any writing longer than 1000 words, brainstorming, note-taking etc. I have even used it to design, manage and write post-class reflections on the unit of study on making ebooks and digital magazines.
I could go on …
WHAT DO YOU TO GET INSPIRED?
I read books, a lot and at all times. I read broadly across various genres, though I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction. I read in print and digital formats, depending on the type of book and the time of day. I usually read on iPad or MacBook when commuting, and printed books at night. I have recently finished The Future of Management by Gary Hamel and have just started to read another one of his books: What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation. Next on my list is Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp et al.
I also follow several blogs and online news sites. My favourites are The Bookseller’s Futurebook, The Conversation, and The Scholarly Kitchen.
I find working with others really inspiring. Together with two of my colleagues at the University of Sydney Library, I have established a weekly Project Foundry, a dedicated time and space for staff to engage in deep work on individual projects, or an opportunity to test ideas, get feedback and participate in creative thinking in a group environment.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF WRITING OR QUOTE?
The first thing that comes to my mind is a phrase by William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. This motto fits well with my minimalist approach to material things at home and beyond, my concerns about the environment, and my interest in design thinking. Design thinking is a design-driven, user-centered approach to problem-solving with a focus on creating innovative products and services that are useful and, dare I say, beautiful.
IS THERE A PRODUCT, SOLUTION, OR TOOL THAT YOU THINK IS A GOOD MATCH FOR YOUR DIGITAL PUBLISHING EFFORTS?
I highly recommend both Bibliocloud and IGP DP for book publishers. It took us years to find a system that would help a small publisher manage their production workflow and metadata without costing a fortune and Bibliocloud has been designed to do just that.
IGP DP is a great tool for a publisher interested in taking control of both print and ebook production in-house. It is not for the faint-hearted, but with basic knowledge of HTML and CSS, it is a really powerful format-neutral layout system.
WHAT’S THE PASSIONATE PROBLEM YOU ARE TACKLING AT THE MOMENT?
The new website and the ebook conversion project are at the top of the list, but I am also interested in reviewing our publishing process so that it becomes more author-centred, lean and efficient. Together with another two colleagues, I am working on a research project that aims to understand the publishing needs, motivations, experiences and behaviours of academic authors in the arts, humanities and social sciences in Australia. We are hoping to use this data and the design thinking methodology to see how we could do scholarly monograph publishing differently.
ANY ADVICE FOR AMBITIOUS DIGITAL PUBLISHING AND MEDIA PROFESSIONALS JUST STARTING OUT?
As technology keeps on changing, it is important to keep on learning and trying things out. And there are many ways to do it: by reading books, industry magazines and blogs; engaging in discussions on social media (especially Twitter); doing some of the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) or online courses offered by providers such as Lynda.com and so on.
I am a huge fan of the design thinking approach to problem-solving and I believe that it is particularly relevant to digital publishing, where all too often technology and a fascination with ‘special effects’ take precedence over user needs and common sense. Following design thinking principles ensures that the available technology is used to solve a specific problem in a clear, intuitive and purposeful way, creating digital publications that are both beautiful and useful (as per William Morris’ advice).
Finally, digital publishing is a set of tools that can be used in many contexts and fields, so it is crucial to pick an industry that one is passionate about in order to lead a truly fulfilling and inspired career.