Slice of Slaw, an E-Book Using the McCue Method

A recent post by Rich McCue on his blog Rich’s Random Thoughts got me thinking. More: got me motivated into action. Rich is a systems administrator at the University of Victoria (and someone who was helpful getting Slaw launched, back in the day) who is interested in helping academics do their thing better. In this case, he’s put together a set of instructions for making e-books — at no cost to the management.

Essentially it involves composing in Google Docs, converting the exported HTML file into the industry-standard ePub format using an open source app called Sigil, and then, to put the icing on the cake, converting a copy into the mobi format used by Kindle with another open source app, Calibre. Add to that the ability to export into PDF from Google Docs, and you’ve got your book in three formats enabling just about anyone to read it no matter their device.

Rich’s instructions are clear, so you should feel comfortable about trying this out. And to make things even easier, he’s got a video that he links to which graphically demonstrates his method. So easy, in fact, that even I could do it.

For a long time I’ve wanted to mine the riches of Slaw’s deep archives (getting on for 9,000 entries). Though much is ephemeral, as befits a blog and magazine, a whole lot of what our columnists and contributors provide has lasting and important value. Yet, bringing it to the surface and aggregating it in a useful way isn’t easy.

Using the notion of a slice through time and topics, I’ve abstracted most (but not all) of the entries from the last eighteen months that treat cloud computing and its impact on lawyers, compiling them into an e-book, “Slice of Slaw: On Cloud Computing (2011.02 – 2012.06),” featuring posts and columns by Dave Bilinksky, Joan Chambers & Debra Finlay, Simon Chester, James Kosa, Dan Michaluk, Sharon Nelson & John Simek, Jack Newton, Wesley Ng, John O’Sullivan, Dan Pinnington, and David Whelan. This “tranche” could well make an interesting introduction, for example, for a lawyer who’s new to the practice of cloud computing and who wants to learn about the issues that are troubling the profession.

And, because this was half the point after all, I’ve made it available for downloading in three e-book formats: PDF, ePub, and mobi [update: I’ve added an html version, which isn’t portable, of course.]. The book is 83 pages in PDF, but I’ve made it as easy reading as possible, so the font size is large and the leading is generous.

It’ll take some time before I learn how to iron out all the kinks and to make the best use of each of the programs involved. But I think that the first essay isn’t too bad at all. I’d certainly appreciate your feedback (let me know the platform you’re using).

And I’d like to hear from you about the notion of Slices of Slaw, particularly as to what topics would be useful as tools to assemble interesting entries.

Comments

  1. There might be a problem with the links in the table of contents. I am unable to access them. Google says I don’t have permission to do so with my current account.

  2. This is a great idea, Simon.

    I look forward to future collections – of the Slaw and user-generated variety.

    As you and Rich (and Sarah Glassmeyer ) note, building these books is incredibly easy, and with most ebook readers providing the ability to highlight, tag and annotate epub content, the usefulness to users of the packaged and reformatted content is greater still.

    I will be very interested in hearing the various ways tablet-toting legal professionals people put this portable material to new uses.

    Well done!

    Colin

  3. … and those of us who always wanted to have written a book (it is easier to have written than to write) but have never really progressed (in length or permanence) beyond blog entries can now self-publish our posts on Slaw in easy-to-distribute-as-gift format. Wonderful. Thanks.

  4. @smtorsch Many thanks for catching this. It’s a function of Google Docs I hadn’t understood. I’ve fixed it now so the PDF download should work. (For those who are interested: rather than using the automatic TOC-creation tool, you have to put bookmarks into the text and build your TOC on these.) I’ve also, for good measure, created an HTML version, though that’s not portable, of course.

  5. Since you’re starting out from WordPress, it makes sense to use a WordPress to EPUB plugin rather than going via Google Docs. (You don’t say how you got to Docs.) There seem to be a couple of plugins at least, including Anthologize – http://anthologize.org/about/ I’ll be looking into it.

  6. @ John Gregory @ Nick Holmes If you’re interested in doing this from Slaw, I’ve found that it works to go to the entry on Slaw in a browser, select and copy it, and then paste that into a new Google Docs document. Because we use fairly basic formatting, it seems all to come through quite well. You’ll need to do some clean up. But the basics are all there.

    Nick, I haven’t tried the plugins. Let me know what you think about how well they work. You might lose some ability to tinker with the text etc. if you bypass a Docs step this way, though.

  7. Another great resource for young lawyers to use. Thank-you for doing this.