Episode 26: Interview with Nellie McKesson of Hederis

Today we’re joined by Nellie McKesson, automated publishing pro and founder of publishing software startup Hederis.

Nellie has over a dozen years of experience in publishing. She spent the early years of her career doing hands-on book production and layout, and then moved into more technical and managerial roles. As the market for ebooks began to rise, she taught herself web development and was an early evangelist for using web technologies in the book production process. (You may have seen her speak at a conference about building automated book production tools.) In 2018, she founded Hederis, with the goal of bringing web-centric book production to publishers of all levels.

2:14 —

We find out Werner Herzog is a Virgo, and Corinne rescues Emily from her own non-existent Russian accent. And now Corinne is fair game for voiceover requests.

6:15 —

Time to dive right in with our important ice breaker question, which is about—guess what?—Nellie’s tuxedo cat, Cool Runnings! And the story of how she came into Nellie’s life is very similar to the way Ardi Alspach and her house panther Merlin came together.

9:00 —

Nellie shares the path that brought her to book publishing, which heavily features libraries (of course). Also her teachers rewarded her hard work with, rather than a field trip, a full day of snack-eating and read E.B. White’s The Once and Future King in the corner.


Nellie shares her early days of book publishing, and Emily learns that Boston is a big publishing town (so West-coast-centric of her not to know!). Although, we realize that we also don’t know anything about LA publishing. Any LA publishers want to be on the show to set us straight?


And now for the story of her illustrious career! Nellie is often identified as an ebook person, but she doesn’t think of herself that way. Instead, she sees herself as an “automated publishing person.” She gets into what that means and how her first job at a small math book publisher piqued her interest in markup languages. Her next job as a production editor at O’Reilly Media continued to carry her in that technological direction.


So like…how do you input math equations when the figures aren’t on the keyboard? Nellie tells us about some of the languages that make it possible.


Nellie cracks open an ebook and starts learning different coding languages, the ins and outs of EPUB, and the technological side of publishing. Emily jumps the gun on asking the difference between xml and xhtml tagging, but fortunately Nellie was just about to tell us what it was anyway!


Wait. Who is in charge of the web? The Illuminati? They’re called the W3C actually, and NELLIE IS PART OF IT—their Publishing Working Group, to be precise. They developed a way to use CSS for creating both ebooks and print books (so the coding works both for print and the web).


We learn Nellie’s personal preferences when it comes to print vs. ebooks, and though she has had different preferences at different times in life, she’s never really settled for one or the other. She also points out that print books have had hundreds of years to evolve into what they are today, which can (and should!) inform any new publishing technology.


Ah yes. It’s time to talk the good old-fashioned Sharks and Jets of publishing technology: print vs. ebook. As someone who understands both digital and print reading and production, Nellie has encountered resistance to using different standards and technologies. But she’s got passion and vision, so she does what it takes to bring that to life!


Corinne makes the mistake of reading Jenna Jameson’s memoir in print on the NYC subway. Also we take a detour to talk about Awards for Good Boys and having your local bookseller (Hi Lori!) order a new book for you.


So what is Hederis anyway? It’s Nellie’s effort to help make a publishing automation tool more accessible to publishers. Basically, she wants to make the process simpler (and more book-centric) and the product more beautiful. The aim is to help publishers put out books faster and with more efficiency, keep up with trends, and be braver with what and who they choose to publish. Currently the software is in beta testing with different publishing companies such as Erewhon Books.


Nellie tells us her thoughts on the future of publishing and the evolution of digital reading.


Why did Nellie move to Portland? And where is she exercising her mad drumming skills?


Sleater-Kinney is still an important trailblazing band in rock and roll, but they’re also hacky-sack cops.


Her list of people, companies, and things to follow:


So what are we reading?

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