The Open Book Podcast: how digital changed the role of editor

Listen to The Open Book Podcast on SoundCloud.

You can see Scharlaine’s e-book here.


F = Freya Horton Andrews

S = Scharlaine Cairns

F: Hello and welcome to the Open Book – a podcast about books and the publishing industry as they take on digital. I’m your host, Freya Horton Andrews.

S: For the whole of my career, I always had one book on the go – one book I was halfway through and one book I was just starting. So it was all a juggling job, but if you can manage to do the juggling, you can make it work really well for you.

F: Scharlaine Cairns is a freelance editor. She’s worked in the educational publishing industry for nearly thirty-five years, and just recently she’s published her first e-book, about Pythagoras’ theorem.

S: I trained on the job with a small company called Lloyd O’Neil publishing that was in Claremont Street, South Yarra. It was a great job to learn on because they had in-house typesetting and an in-house art department. It was all educational publishing.

F: And what year was that?

S: 1983-84. My job before that was as personal assistant on the Sunday Observer so I had been involved with print media beforehand, which actually helped me in my role as book editor. The newspaper actually had men there that had worked on molten metal and stone. Even though they were working on screen, some of their operators had been working on the metal letters and the stone where they laid out all the text and printed the page from that. So I saw how that worked and, yeah, we didn’t think it was archaic at the time, but yes, it was archaic.

F: So that’s really interesting, that you’ve gone from this really traditional print media and you’ve now produced your own interactive e-book. Can you tell us a little bit about that process?

S: I was contacted by a lady called Nicole Melbourne, who has a business called Nikki M Group, and she wanted a maths online activity. Pythagoras theorem just kind of lent itself to be a really good suggestion. You could actually illustrate the lengths of the sides with the squares on them and you could put an active animation that made people understand that, which you can’t do with a book. And that’s the reason why it was an e-book. So we put it free online and it’s a best-seller in Greece and around the world but I didn’t make any money on it because it’s a freely accessible book. You know, that was my first attempt at an e-book, so I was really happy to see that it was well received and it kind of spurs me on to think outside the box and do some other things like that.

F: In terms of the, kind of, dawn of the digital era, do you think that has an effect on the role of the freelancer? Does that make it more or less attractive?

S: I think it makes it more attractive for the freelancer because of the fact you’re not needed in-house, to be an in-house presence. You can go in for meetings when needed, but really, you’re at the end of an email and everything can be shown to you on a screen. My job has changed a lot. For one thing, email has just made everything speed up. It was supposed to be a leisure-creating device but it hasn’t been because now instead of waiting for an overnight courier or something to deliver my next stage of the book, I get it instantly by email and they expect it back from me as quickly as I can do it.

F: So what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the publishing industry today?

S: I think the fact that people can self-publish and a whole lot of not-well-edited not-well-thought-out material is out there as gospel. I think that’s one thing that’s really hard to compete with. So not the best books are getting the most exposure, and I suppose that’s not just for the industry, it’s also for the readership.

F: How do you envisage the future of print media?

S: I think things like newspapers probably have a limited life to come. Everything’s online, you know, the first thing I do is go and look online at the news if I want to find out something more on a topic I’ve heard a little bit about on the radio or something. Printed books – I think there’s still a place for them, and it’s not just my generation of people who’ve grown up with books and feel comfortable with them. The new generation – although they’re exposed to all this digital media – I think that there’s still a place for print media.

I love the smell of new books and there’s something just really nice about holding a book, having it with you on a plane. There’s something sterile about looking at a piece of machinery, I think.

F: This has been the open book podcast.

Main image: An editor’s work desk. Source:  Max Pixel, available under CC0.
Podcast music: Cheery Monday by Kevin Macleod. Source: Youtube.

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