Alumni in the Spotlight – July 2012

Noah Efroym is a May, 2012 graduate of the MS in Publishing program.  Noah began working as an Assistant Manager for eBook Development in the Digital Content Development department at Simon & Schuster in October of 2011.   Noah received a full scholarship to the MS in Publishing program at Pace and served as the Graduate Assistant in the multimedia lab while he completed his graduate studies.  In addition, Noah interned at Open Road Media, a digital publisher and multimedia content company, where he was able to apply his excellent technological skills and publishing knowledge, thus exposing him to numerous career and job opportunities.  In this interview, Noah will talk to us about his work, how to prepare for a career in today’s competitive job market, and about the world of publishing in general.

Prof. Denning:  Hi Noah, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview.  You are a recent graduate of the program and you successfully landed a position in your last semester of your graduate studies.  Can you tell us a bit about how you got to where you are? How did your educational experience at Pace prepare you for your publishing career?

NE:  Sure! During my time at Pace I tried to take as many courses as possible that focused on technology and its application to modern publishing. I found I really enjoyed working with the Adobe creative suite of products, like InDesign, in the Desktop Publishing course, and later applied that knowledge to the Information Systems in Publishing course, where I was able to get some hands-on experience with eBooks. From there I found that I was well positioned for my internships working in digital production at Open Road Media and Hachette, which were themselves the springboards for my current full-time position at Simon & Schuster.

Prof. Denning:  What does your job as Assistant Manager for eBook Development entail?

NE:  As a Big Six publisher, S&S has over a dozen imprints. I’m responsible for creating eBooks for three large imprints—Gallery Books, Pocket Books (which includes Threshold editions), and Touchstone. Our production cycle is typically six weeks long (though rush jobs where I may have to convert assets into an eBook and archive the finalized assets that same day are not unheard of). This means that when the designers are finished with the final layout of the print book in InDesign, I have that much time to collect those assets and create a final eBook. Two weeks are spent on the initial conversion, two on quality assurance, and the final two is taken up by the ingestion period of online retailers. My secondary responsibilities include working with editors and the managing editorial staff to update older titles with teasers, back ads, and reading group guides.

Prof. Denning:  Can you tell us about the Digital Content Development Department? Is this a relatively new department in publishing houses (do other houses have them)? How is the department structured?

NE:  Although our department is relatively new to the world of publishing, every major publishing house has some sort of digital departmental equivalent, absolutely. As eBooks continue to gain traction and eat more of the market share traditionally occupied by print books, these departments are constantly growing and commanding more authority within modern publishing houses. For example, our department at S&S recently filled a new full-time position, and we’re taking advantage of a great many temps and interns.

Prof. Denning:  How do you work with other member of the publishing team?  Editorial, Marketing, Production, Sales?

NE:  Every department interacts with us in different ways. From editorial I’ll often receive correction memos for older or recently published titles. These are sent both to production and to myself. But while the print book needs to be carefully reset to accommodate the addition of a sentence or the correction of a typo, I can typically correct the eBook in seconds and immediately upload the finished product for re-ingestion by online distributors. This means that the corrected eBook will be available for sale on the next day. A print book would have to wait for the next print run, and there’s no guarantee that would happen if the sales figures didn’t warrant it.

I’ll work with managing editorial to schedule pub dates for older titles for which we’ve recently acquired rights. Funny enough, we’ll actually have to buy these older books used from Amazon because we simply don’t have any copies sitting around anymore. Marketing will send us back ads or request linked buy button pages to be inserted into the backs of eBooks. These are great revenue-increasing tools that make purchasing the next title in a series just a click away.

Prof. Denning:  What skills did you need to qualify you for this position?  How did you prepare yourself for a position like this?

NE:  HTML, CSS, and InDesign knowledge are absolutely essential tools for this position. General tech savvy and familiarity with major e-Reading platforms like the Nook, iPad, and Kindle are also useful assets to bring up during an interview. Knowledge of common programming skills/tools like GREP or Oxygen will only help, and for extra points you can learn Javascript. Learning the internal mechanics of eBooks themselves and current IDPF specifications is a constantly evolving process, but establishing a workable knowledge of how eBooks work is relatively simple. Several great books, like Liz Castro’s EPUB Straight to the Point, are easy to find online.

I deconstructed several eBooks in my free time before I secured my internships—nothing trumps hands-on experience.

Prof. Denning:  Can you tell us a bit about Simon & Schuster?  What is it like to work there? Where are they in terms of digital publishing?  What are some of their most successful initiatives?

NE:  Working in digital is fantastic because we’re often the nexus of not only new technological initiatives, but of every other department in the company since we interact with most everyone at some point. S&S is doing some great work and is really taking advantage of modern publishing technology. The design department incorporates some great XML-first workflow practices, spearheaded by Steve Kotrch, into their cover design workflow. We’re also discussing experimenting with DRM-free eBooks, similar to what Tor is doing at Macmillan, and have recently launched our first digital-only imprint, Pocket Star Books, for which I’m designing all the eBooks.

I may be biased, but I think we’re doing some amazing work in eBook design, layout, and optimization. S&S only creates one eBook file, so it has to work consistently across all devices, and we’re constantly thinking about how to give readers the best experience possible. We can do a lot of things with eBooks that may not be possible with our analog counterparts. For example, we may try to get color photo insert assets that the print version couldn’t budget printing in color, or we’ll remove/reorganize front matter assets so that readers don’t have to flip through extraneous content before they can start reading.

Prof. Denning:  Has social media played a role in the success and growth of eBooks?

NE:  Well it certainly hasn’t hurt, but quantifying the impact of social media in eBook sales is notoriously difficult. I think most every imprint at S&S has Twitter/FB pages, and we work with our authors to set up pages on these websites and interact with readers to promote their titles. What’s really important is fostering an online community, ala Seth Godin, to encourage the growth of digital sales. S&S is tackling this head-on with websites like

Prof Denning:  What do you think the future holds for book publishers?  Do you think the launch of designated ebook readers and the iPad (and subsequent tablets) forever changed publishing as we know it?

NE:  Electronic reading devices will always be able to do so much more than print books, and as time goes on, the technology with which they do what they do will only become more advanced, refined, and inexpensive. Color eInk devices aren’t far off on the horizon, and working prototypes of flexible paper-like electronic display devices are already in circulation. Publishers who embrace these changes and actively work to take advantage of them will find themselves with a continued role to play, and those who don’t will wind up like Houghton Mifflin.

Who knows, maybe Google’s Project Glass could prove to be the next great leap in the way books are read. I mean, at least until we can plug ourselves into the Matrix and consume them instantaneously.

Prof: Denning:  What do you think the biggest trends in publishing are today?

NE:  Right now it looks like romance/erotica is sweeping the country. Hey, I’m not one to judge, but when I see someone reading 50 Shades next to me on the subway it still grosses me out a little.

Prof. Denning:  What was the topic of your thesis paper?  What advice would you give to students who still have to write their papers?

NE:  I wrote about the relationship between publishers and authors through the lens of the eBook and how the availability of inexpensive digital publishing/distribution servicers has forever altered that relationship. Writing that paper had a large influence on my philosophical perspective of DRM and royalty rates—often favoring the author. It’s something I was really interested in exploring so the paper flowed from me as a natural extension of that enthusiasm, making it really easy and enjoyable to write. I think a thesis should be a relatively painless process for these reasons, so my advice to students it to focus on writing something they’re passionate about, too. It also doesn’t hurt to explore institutions or departments you’d like to work at in the future. For example, I wrote about the XML-first workflow at S&S that I mentioned earlier, and was able to impress people there with my ostensibly superhuman knowledge of some of the minutia of their design and layout processes.

Prof. Denning:  What do you think are the essential skills our students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?

NE:  Well, that all depends on what part of the industry students would like to work in, but for Marketing and Digital, and even to some extent Editorial and Sales, then a solid knowledge of HTML is invaluable. And I don’t just mean the ability to distinguish a <div> tag from a <span> tag, but real workable knowledge of web design and CSS. Books are words, and manipulating them used to mean working with arcane typesetting devices, but now it means working in a digital environment, and for that HTML is the main tool of the trade.

Prof. Denning:  Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students?

NE:  Take as many internships as you can! It’s impossible to know what you’ll enjoy until you’re actually in the thick of things. Also remember that internships are the currency in which full-time positions are paid.

Prof. Denning:  How have you been involved in the program since graduating?  Would you like to guest lecture? Teach in the program?

NE:  I’d love to guest lecture at some point, and I’ve been invited to do so, but I feel woefully underqualified to occupy the time of so many students. Give me a few years, and maybe I’ll glean enough wisdom that’s worth sharing with others!