Friday, May 31, 2013

An interview with Liz Castro, editor and publisher of 'What's up with Catalonia?'

Author, editor, publisher and EPUB expert Liz Castro has recently published an important new book on Catalonia and its move towards independence from Spain, What's up with Catalonia?: The causes which impel them to the separation.

The book, available both in print and digitally, is a well-edited, highly informative, and easy and pleasurable to read collection of 35 articles concerning its subject. The book's editor and publisher, Liz Castro, is perfectly positioned to organize, edit and produce this collection based on her technology publishing background, her translation skills, her time spent in Catalonia, and her digital publishing expertise (Castro publishes the Pigs, Gourds, and Wikis blog).

Castro has gathered together an amazing group of experts, from politicians to authors, from academics to technology experts, to examine the history, culture and politics of Catalonia – and, most importantly, to examine the issue of separation from Spain.

A little background: last September 11, Catalonia’s National Day, 1.5 million gathered in Barcelona in a pro-independence demonstration. What followed this event was snap elections where the issue of Catalonian independence became the central issue. The momentum that seemed apparent was the inspiration that led Castro to begin to organize this new book.

The articles were written in December 2011 and January 2012, and the book was quickly completed  – just before the Catalan parliament voted in favor of a Declaration of Sovereignty, according to Castro's editor's note to the book.

"Some of the writers who contributed articles for this book I knew previously, but others put their trust in me sight unseen," Castro writes. "I am indebted to both groups for their confidence, their collaboration, and their insights. I hope I have captured the spirit their articles with my translations."

View Larger Map

Castro's contributors include: Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia, who contributed the prologue to the book; Andreu Domingo, Deputy Director for Demographic Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona who contributes a fascinating report on immigration; and New Yorker J.C. Major who writes "On the prickly matter of language."

"What, then, makes a nation? Not race or religion—at least not for Catalans," writes Major. "Nor the trappings of power—a state, an army—whose unquestioned benefits they lost a long time ago. The right place to look for proof of Catalonia’s unique personality is in the broad field of culture—in the set of values and customs that are shared by a community and are specific to it, the common way of doing things that is recognized as such by the people living in a certain land and also by those coming into contact with it for the first time."

Though the book takes a decidedly pro-independence point of view, the book is by the far the most up-to-date and thorough look at the issues involving Catalan independence, and is also a great example of how to organize and self-publish a book in both print and in digital formats. The book is available on at $10.80 in paperback form and for $3.99 for the Kindle. It is also available inside the Apple iBookstore at the same price of $3.99, as well as at Barnes & Noble in both print and digital forms.

"I tried to make it so they could open the book any place and find an article that didn't put them off, was so hard to read and complicated and based on previous information, so they could jump right in."

Castro points to the anecdotal articles such as that by Josep Maria Ganyet and the article by Eva Piquer as contributions that are particularly good at covering topics for the lay reader.

I can't help but think that if Castro has spent her time in Athens rather than Barcelona we would be on the receiving end of a brilliant examination of the issues surrounding the crisis there. But we will gladly settle for this, and I highly recommend its purchase.

Ninety percent of the material in the book is new, Castro told me earlier this week while driving down to the IDPF conference in New York where she gave a presentation on EPUB 3.

Following the September 11 demonstrations, Castro watched from the United States as events began to unfold. The president of Catalonia had previously campaigned on a platform of negotiating a new fiscal pact with Spain. But when this fell apart the issue of sovereignty began to become top of mind.

"Being from the United States, I was watching all of this and noticing how it was getting huge amounts of press – and it was really exciting for me because I've been following Catalonia ever since I went to live there in the eighties and no one had ever talked about Catalonia in a political way…newspapers had never talked about Catalonia as a political entity, or very little, they mostly talked about football, they talked about food, and they talked about tourism and (Antoni) Gaudi," Castro told me.

Suddenly Catalonia was all over the press, and Castro thought that, at first, the media was doing a good job of covering the story.

"But as things got more complicated, and it wasn't just 'we're going to have another demonstration, tomorrow we're going to have a referendum then we're independent' the newspapers started to publish less, and the things that they published were not substantial enough," Castro said. "They mostly continued on the same theme of 'Catalonia's rich and selfish, and not only that they're indebted.'"

So Castro started to think about publishing a book on the subject.

"This is something I can do," Castro concluded. "I can get up-to-date information about what's going on right now, not this old stuff, and I can make it a lot more nuanced, a lot more detailed, so people can really understand what's going on there."

"There's the question of language, of its history, the feeling of not belonging to Spain, not being appreciated, not being understood."

So Castro started her outreach to possible contributors.

"In the letter I said 'I'm not anybody, I'm a lay person in terms of Catalan politics, but I know how to make books. If you guys can write it, if you can get me good information, I can translate it, I can make it into a book. I can make it exist.' So that is what we did," Castro told me.

"These were amazing people, these were politicians, the opposition leader of the Catalan left, eventually the president of Catalonia decided he would contribute, there's top tier journalists, academics, sociologists. It is really quite an amazing collection of people. They're not famous in the United States, but in Catalonia everyone knows practically every single one of the contributors is."

Liz Castro was able to tell the readers of her blog that What's up with Catalonia? was available to download in early March. Castro was able to use her blog to explain where to find the book inside major online retail outlets, as well as that they could download the book direct from her.

Because the print form of the book is completely print-on-demand using Amazon's CreateSpace, as well as Lightning Source (Castro promises a blog post on using these two companies and I said I would love to re-post that blog entry here – I'm not sure she was enthusiastic about that), there was no need to fund a print run.

Instead, Castro used crowdfunding as a way of spreading word of the book and getting the end product into the right hands. Recently she guest contributed a nice post on the subject of crowdfunding on the Publishing Perspectives website.

"But my book posed a unique problem in terms of crowdfunding: the people who might be willing to sponsor the book — Catalans who wanted their story told — were not the target audience for the book. Americans, Brits, and other people outside of Catalonia with only a cursory idea of what was going on there, 13 million of whom visit Catalonia every year were the target," Castro wrote.

So, rather than using Kickstarter, Castro signed up at the Catalan crowdfunding site called Verkami. "My goal," Castro wrote, "was to raise enough money to send 500 copies of the book to libraries, magazines, and political leaders all over the world. And thus, the rewards consisted of the typical copy of the book for the sponsor, but much more importantly, one or more books sent to the recipients of the sponsor’s choice.

Nearly 600 people sponsored the book, raising about $15,000. Each sponsor received a copy of book, plus the copy or two that would be sent to the person the sponsor selected.

For Castro, getting the book into the hands (or tablet) of the right audience in the goal. She is especially keen to get it into libraries but is finding that a challenge as libraries will not accept unsolicited books.

But 20 to 30 bookstores in Barcelona are currently carrying the book – supplied by the UK division of Lightning Source – and Castro is pretty happy with sales so far.

Liz Castro found herself in a uniquely qualified position to publish What’s Up with Catalonia? based on her background in technology publishing and her time spent in Barcelona.

"One of the first jobs I ever got about publishing was actually in Barcelona in a computer company that wanted to distribute Macintosh software, and so I started working in the publications department," Castro told me.

"One of our first projects was translating PageMaker 2.0 into Spanish and doing all the documentation. It's sort of a reflection of my whole life since then because I've been constantly working on documentation using the tools that I talk about. So here I was working on Spanish PageMaker but using PageMaker to do it with."

In the early '90s she started her own book publishing company doing translations of Mac software books in a market, Spain, with only about 50K Macs in it. It was with this experience that Castro learned the print business, dealing with print runs, distribution and the like. Then she moved back to the U.S. in 1993 to work with Peachpit Press (sold in 1994 to Pearson PLC) on the Macintosh Bible (in English).

She then was asked to write a book on HTML, though as she admits, she knew little about HTML at the time – but she found the subject fascinating.

"It was an amazing thing because it was this way of helping regular people to publish their ideas and get their ideas out on the web to the public without a huge amount of infrastructure – and that's kind of been the theme of my employment over the years."

Then in 2010 came her book EPUB Straight to the Point.

"The web has been hard to commercialize, for regular people, but books you can actually sell," Castro said. "The abilities that ePub bring is that you don't need a huge infrastructure to make a book."

Also in 2010 Castro moved back to Barcelona and has since been able to combine her skills in eBook publishing to produce new books. One of those is Barcelona, Catalonia: A View from the Inside by Matthew Tree. The book is derived from the essays Tree had put on his website, and made into both a Kindle Edition and print book through Amazon.

"While this was going on EPUB was evolving, and my feelings about publishing was evolving," Castro said.

"I was doing books for other people and still working with Peachpit to do my books. And one of the things that was hard for me – I don't mean to complain – but I was tired of doing HTML, I've been working on it since 1988," Castro told me. "It's gone through seven editions, it's gotten to be really big, it's gone from 140 pages to over 500 now."

"I've been really struggling with how to keep a book current without me redoing it. So when fixed layouts started to be a big thing – I think that was in December of 2010, only six months after the iPad was released, and only six months after EPUB Straight to the Point came out in June – Peachpit started talking about doing a second edition and I said 'wait a minute, I don't want to get into this cycle again.'"

"What if I just create a short, and sort of an extra chapter about fixed layout itself. I was thinking about this for myself I can use this for promotional material for my book and I can use it as a way to keep the book current."

This new eBook can be bought separately, but is really meant to drive sales of the main title, but also to keep EPUB Straight to the Point current.

This experience with EPUB, and her advocacy of the standard – which she advocates – has made her a valuable resource on the subject, as evidenced by her presence at the IDPF conference in New York (you can read a recap of her speech there this week on the Digital Book World website.