Five days left! | Q&A with our web developer, Pablo Defendini

Having a bit of trouble with the Kickstarter update page today, so I am posting here today.

We are up to $11,052, which is 44% of our goal with five days to go on the Year Two Kickstarter. We can do this! Spread the word!

Here’s our Q&A with Pablo Defendini, who is developing and designing our new website.

pdefendini-headshotYou do a lot of work with storytellers, both in prose and comics, and you used to run tor.com. What is it that draws you to design and publishing around fiction?

I love stories, and I love storytellers. I also get a huge kick out of being a facilitator, which is why my absolute favorite part of running tor.com was enabling authors to connect with their audiences more directly. To me, this is one of the best features of the internet: that ability for anyone — but authors for the purposes of this conversation — to directly connect with their audience in ways that weren’t possible before. It’s also why I’ve stayed active in the genre even after leaving tor.com, working with authors such as Toby Buckell and Cory Doctorow on interesting small indie projects.

You and I had been hashing around ideas for creating a new website for Fireside for months before this Kickstarter launched, and you have been thinking about electronic magazines for much longer. What has you so interested in this?

Much of it does come directly from my experience at tor.com. Tor.com had some very specific goals, which it has reached magnificently imho, but I always felt like it could go further: I always felt that tor.com could be a self-sustaining entity, as opposed to something ancillary to Tor Books. In many ways, that has turned out to be the case: under the editorial stewardship of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Liz Gorinsky, and many others, Tor.com has become a powerhouse venue for genre short fiction, paying professional rates for quality work. But it’s still a line item expense in the Macmillan P&L — that always struck me as intrinsically wrong, but I was pretty sure that the answer wasn’t ‘MOAR ADS!’ I’m a firm believer that people — particularly genre fans — are willing to pay good money for good work, often enthusiastically so. I never got the chance to play that hunch out at tor.com, but the intervening years have proven that this is the case, not only through the emergence of things like Kickstarter, but more directly through the successes of independent editorial endeavors like Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish, and Marco Arment’s The Magazine.

Tell us a little about your ideas for publishing online, and about the ideas that have influenced your thinking.

To me, the web has always been, at its core and from the very beginning, the ultimate engine for publishing. When Tim Berners-Lee put up the first website at CERN, he was publishing (albeit for a very small audience). It’s funny, this year at the Tools of Change conference, which is a conference for publishing professionals, one of the keynote speakers was Jeff Jaffe, the CEO of the W3C (which is the standards body that maintains the web, essentially). His message was a simple one: “web = publishing. publishing = web.” Some people from the legacy publishing industry were a bit put off by this, but for me and many others there, that was a “no shit, Sherlock” moment: the web makes everyone—and I do mean everyone—a publisher. If you’re blogging, you’re publishing. If you’re tweeting, you’re publishing. If you’re posting on Facebook, you’re publishing (although Facebook’s walled garden somewhat flies in the face of the definition of publishing, which is ‘to make public,’ but I digress.)

So what’s happened is that people who have grown up with the web, and who work on the web, are finding that you don’t need the trappings of the publishing industry to publish, you just need a lean, webby system that gets your work out there—that makes it public. That’s been the case for a while now, at least since the rise of blogs. But now you have people like Craig Mod going on about ‘subcompact publishing,’ Marco Arment putting together The Magazine, Jeffrey Zeldman starting A Book Apart, Ev Williams putting Medium out into the world, etc. These are people who are lovers of books and reading and writing, but have absolutely nothing to do with the legacy publishing industry, and that ignorance has turned out to be a huge, huge advantage: it’s allowed them to really get down to brass tacks and determine what is actually necessary in order to publish — turns out that mostly (and I’m exaggerating slightly here for effect, but only slightly), what you need is an internet connection, a good CMS, and a well-designed reading experience.

What can you tell us about your plans for Fireside’s website?

Well, first and foremost, we’re designing it with needs of the reader front and center. One of the things that attracted me to working with you on Fireside was this notion of good pay for good work, and of treating creators fairly. The flip side of that idea is, of course, treating the reader fairly, and that’s what I hope we can accomplish with Fireside: I want us to create a reading experience that respects the reader and places their needs above all. At the same time, I’m interested in creating a lean, straightforward system for publishing, something accessible that can make your life as an editor easier. To that end, we’ve chosen to base the CMS behind Fireside on Pressbooks, an open source publishing platform based on WordPress which is specifically designed for ebook output. This means that we get the benefits of a powerful blogging platform like WordPress, with its versatile structure for managing and outputting periodical content, coupled with the book-centric output that we want to make available for our readers. In some ways, it’s coming full-circle: I always wanted to migrate tor.com to WordPress from its current platform, but never had the chance to do so — I’m working on Fireside with developer Kirk Biglione of Oxford Media Works, who is the person I reached out to back in the day when I wanted to make that move.

What kind of stories do you like to read?

I’m all over the place, but I’ve recently found myself more and more drawn to short fiction. It fits better with my lifestyle: short works in short bursts, on my mobile device (currently an iPad mini). As for genres, I’m a big fan of hard science fiction, and I read a lot of nonfiction: from history to current events, sociology, etc. I’m bilingual, so I try to read a lot in Spanish, as well, although living in the States I sometimes fail spectacularly at this.

Tell us something that doesn’t make it into your biography.

I am secretly a Cylon. Contrary to popular belief, we do have a plan.

Year Two Kickstarter

Pablo Defendini is a Product Manager at Safari Books Online. He worked as an art director for large and small advertising agencies and magazines in Latin America before becoming Mass Market Designer for Tor Books in 2006, and then Producer for Tor.com in 2008. Before his current position at Safari Books Online, he was the Interactive Producer at Open Road Integrated Media. He also does branding, graphic design, interactive design, book design, and ebook development work for a variety of interesting folks. In his spare time, he’s an avid printmaker.

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