The skills ebook creators already have for their next job

Derrick Schultz is a designer, developer, and artist working at the intersections of technology and storytelling. He is currently Lead Product Designer at The New York Times. Derrick collaborates with a team of designers, technologists, and newsroom staff to create the best user experience for Times readers. Prior to his work at NYT, Derrick was a designer and developer at Atavist, Atavist Books, and Open Air Publishing where he created genre-bending and award-winning digital reading products. He'll be speaking at ebookcraft on a panel called E-production Without Borders: Next steps and blue sky possibilities for the eprdctn pro.

There comes a time in almost every ebook-maker’s life when they decide it might be time to branch out. Making ebooks can be a draining process, and who doesn’t need a little change every now and then? If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. The good news is finding postings for jobs that are tangential to publishing is easier every day. The trick is getting those jobs. But here are some things I’ve learned that I hope you can put to use.

Promote the skills you already have

You’ve learned a lot making ebooks — and you might not even realize you possess many of the skills you’ve learned. Your skills are valuable to industries outside of publishing, but sometimes they need to be reframed for a potential employer. Here are a few things to consider mentioning in interviews, and a few things to brush up on to expand your knowledge:

Technical skills
You likely know HTML and CSS. You might also know XML, JavaScript, and other proprietary formats. (Sorry, I’m not sure having memorized BISAC codes helps outside publishing, but it definitely helps in nerd trivia.) At many places, this qualifies you for at least entry-level developer roles. If you’re applying to something more senior, consider learning advanced JavaScript techniques (React is huge right now) and potentially a backend language (Node, Rails, PHP, etc.).

Explain to any web developer the QA requirements for ebooks and their heads will spin. You have an attention to detail many other developers do not! While debugging and finding fixes for other tech projects is different, remind a potential employer that you take this seriously.

User experience (UX)
This is the number one thing I suggest you mention to a potential employer and often something ebook people fail to realize they do: You care about readers! If you pushed for a change because the print version of a book wouldn’t make sense to a reader as an ebook, you just engaged in user empathy and created a better user experience in your product. That’s a big deal, don’t overlook it. If you want to improve in this area — and learn some of the UX buzzwords — consider finding a UX class online. There are a lot of developers in the tech world who are only interested in code — I’ve yet to meet one in ebooks like that.

Don’t be afraid to brag
Ebook people are a humble bunch. It’s why we like each other. Nine times out of ten, I will tell you not to brag. But that tenth time is in an interview. There is a fine art to bragging well, and to not bragging poorly in an interview, and it can take practice. There’s a great book on talking about your accomplishments in interviews called, well, Brag! by Peggy Klaus. It’s worth a read but here are a few tips:

  • Keep a list of your accomplishments
    Did you work on a book that was a big seller? A book that won an award? Or maybe you were mentioned by your CEO because of the hard work you did? Keep a list of your achievements and don’t be afraid to refer to them in an interview. It’s also important to not turn these into “bad” brags: “I was really glad that my effort to change how we handle table of content links in the ebook was acknowledged by this well-known reviewer” sounds better than “My work got the book a good review.” Use them as a way to highlight your skills, not just the award.
  • Practice with a friend
    If you’re worried about sounding pompous, try out your responses with a friend. Your friend can tell you whether you sound confident or silly. The first time you try these out, you will feel strange — you’re a humble person! Getting comfortable with your confidence is important to a great interview.

Translating your skills from an industry like publishing to another one — be it a tech startup, a non-profit, or something completely different — is never easy. You know you have a lot to learn. But you already have talents that will be invaluable to new employers, and highlighting these attributes confidently and appropriately in an interview is the difference between a disappointing interview and a great new job.

Register for ebookcraft to hear more about the transferrable skills of ebook developers and so much more!