Cover of Shirley Hazzard=

By Michelle De Kretser

I’m honoured to be launching this collection of essays on the work of Shirley Hazzard and I’m very grateful to Brigitta Olubas for kindly inviting me to do so.

We all have reason to be grateful to Brigitta. She has dedicated years of intellectual labour to Hazzard’s work, calmly insisting on its importance to our literary culture. In 2012, Brigitta brought us the groundbreaking monograph Shirley Hazzard: Literary Expatriate and Cosmopolitan Humanist. As Robert Dixon has said, it was a transformative book that placed an expatriate writer at the centre of Australian literary studies. Also in 2012 – fittingly, a transit of Venus year – Brigitta organised a symposium on Hazzard’s work in New York. It was there that the essays that make up this new collection of scholarly writing were first aired.

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As one of the objectives of my trip has been to work out how to assist academic authors with publishing books with wider appeal, I decided to spend some time with Icon Books, an independent publisher of thought-provoking nonfiction. Icon Books are best known for a series called ‘Introducing’ which makes complex topics accessible to wider audiences by means of good writing, real-life examples and graphic illustrations. They have also published many outstanding standalone nonfiction titles popularising economics, science, philosophy, psychology and other complex topics such as epigenetics.

As many of Icon Books authors are academics, I asked Kiera Jamison, Series Editor, and Duncan Heath, Editorial Director, how they manage the process of commissioning, manuscript development and editing of books that popularise serious research.

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One of my roles at Sydney University Press is editing books, and while I was at Touchpress I had an opportunity to learn more about editing apps. Many insights came from speaking with Fiona Barclay and Mari Volkosh, knowledgeable editors who have worked on apps across various subject areas from science to archaeology to literature. I even helped with copyediting the content for one of their upcoming apps, which showed me how working on apps differs from editing of books.

The most important thing, I have realised, is that an app design is driven by visual and interactive elements, rather than text. Basically, apps don’t aim to replicate books and instead they focus on interactivity and providing an experience that uses different modes of communication. Having said that, there is still a place for editorial control over the overall structure of the content, the style of writing and its suitability, but written content plays a secondary role in an app.

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The opportunity to spend two weeks with a company that is changing the face of app development has been an amazing experience. I couldn’t have picked a more creative, inspiring and enthusiastic group of people to learn from. Or more patient – I spent two weeks observing, gatecrashing meetings and asking endless questions. Since its inception, Touchpress has remained at the forefront of what’s possible in app design and trying to develop and nurture this new form of media. In a market flooded with low quality products, apps created by Touchpress stand out by a mile. They combine in-depth research with compelling stories, wonderful illustrations, videos, animations and games, all seamlessly integrated into beautiful and intuitive designs.

During my short stint in the app world, I have tried to get my head around the process of app development. I had hoped to be able to come up with a linear model, mirroring the traditional publishing workflow. Alas, app development has turned out to be a far more complex, nonlinear and iterative process that combines writing, movie making, music, photography and software development. So where do you start?

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Is there such a thing as a literary app? Is there a space for multimedia in works of literary quality? Writing about fiction, Richard Nash said that

The lack of video, the lack of audio, the lack of ways to change the forking outcomes of plot (what is rather crudely referred to as “interactivity”) is a feature of literature, not a bug. And, as it turns out, books are interactive. They’re recipes for the imagination. Conversely, video is restrictive—it tells you what things look like, what they sound like.

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The monograph remains the corner stone of scholarly publishing, especially in the humanities and social sciences, and it remains, despite the affordances associated with digital technologies, firmly wedged in the age of print. While the need to deliver content digitally and produce ebooks is generally accepted, we seem to be producing ebooks that are little more than digital copies of the printed codex. In many respects, they provide a less satisfactory experience for our readers: the ebooks are more difficult to read, annotate and quote from.

Complex academic writing lends itself to deep immersive reading which is problematic in an electronic format. Research shows that reading comprehension remains higher when books are read on paper rather than a computer screen or an ereader. While it is becoming increasingly easier to annotate ebooks, the lack of page numbers in ePub makes quoting difficult. Moreover, all too often books in the ePub format do not contain indexes and the reader, deprived of another important avenue of entry to the text, is expected to use the search function instead.

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Photo of Isaac Gilman=

By Isaac Gilman

Peter Givler observes in his history of university presses in the United States that “Universities have been publishers for at least as long as there has been moveable type.” For over 100 years in the United States – and for over 90 years in Australia – the most prominent expression of university publishing has been the university press. Over the past two decades, however, shifts in technology and the economics of publishing have created an opportunity for university libraries to take an active role in fulfilling “one of the noblest duties of a university”: the publication and dissemination of useful knowledge.

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