We caught up with Debi Letham, Director of Ellipsis Digital based in Glasgow, to find out more about what they do.
Hi Debi, okay, Ellipsis Digital is a Glasgow business, you started out on your own and it’s a creative firm that helps bring the written word to people. That ticks all our boxes but can you tell us a bit more about your company and what you do?
We started 5 years ago (2007) with two companies, Ellipsis Books and Ellipsis Digital. The digital side was dealing purely with the ebook industry and developing software for that side of the industry. The book side was dealing with the more traditional typesetting line of work. We would take the manuscript from the publishers and put the words onto the pages and design then finish the pages. The finished page that you see in a book is the part that we do.
We’ve had our ups and downs and we decided to let Ellipsis Books go and just work under Ellipsis Digital. We have to keep moving with the industry; Ellipsis Digital as a name places us in both the digital and traditional arena. It looks to have been the right move as this year, the digital era is booming!
Are you an ebook reader?
NO! We have various devices in the office, all the major brands and we have software on the computer to let us see how the finished product looks. However, I still prefer the theatre of turning a page and getting caught up in the romance and notion of it. Even silly things like if someone has read a book before you or you got one from a charity shop and then you try to imagine what they thought of the book. I don’t think you get the same sense of drama in your head with the ebook.
There are plenty of people who still buy books but you also get people who will buy a hardback for their shelf and then pick up an ebook copy for convenience.
Do you ever see this situation changing?
I think I will have to give in at some point but there will always be a place for the printed book. The volumes that publishers are printing these days has gone way down and we’re being asked to do more backlist* work for ebooks so I will have to move into that world soon. I can’t be promoting it for the company but not using it myself!
*A backlist refers to an older title from a publisher. With respect to Ellipsis Digital, their work with publisher’s backlists relates to taking books that may have no electronic files or could even be out of print and turning it into an ebook.
Was there a big change in your working practices when you started working with ebooks?
Yes but of course, the printed word has changed as well. The language has evolved a lot from the 50s, 60s and 70s, especially the grammar in a lot of books. The formatting in an ebook is different from the printed book in that there are certain restrictions. There are some things the software won’t let you do and you have to rejig it to get the same feel as the printed page.
Do you have much interaction with other businesses in the city?
We have a publisher who rents office space from us at the moment – North Star. He publishes books to teach English as a foreign language and he’s is doing quite well for himself but as far as anyone else goes, we deal with printers but that is just about it! Most of our business to business work is off-shore.
So Glasgow is a location that is right for you as people as opposed to being vital for the business?
Absolutely. It wouldn’t matter where we were, if I had a big enough house we could all work there. You know, if we pull off a 5 year plan, we’ll set up a big house in Grand Cayman and we can all work from there. Then again, let’s not plan too far ahead…getting back to the location, for our side of things, it doesn’t really matter.
Is enough being done to help small businesses in Glasgow?
That is a difficult one to answer because yes you do get some help but only if you tick certain boxes.
There is a lot of red tape as far as the council is concerned. We’ve been fortunate enough to have had a very good contact in Business Gateway who has been fantastic for us. They’ve really got involved on a personal level and helped us but even Business Gateway as an organisation could do more.
In the current climate, if you need help regarding finance, you have to tick all the boxes. You have to be squeaky clean, you need to turn yourself inside out, have a healthy bank balance and have customers coming in the door. It seems as though you need to prove you have this before you can get support but of course, you don’t have this and that is why you need support. Let’s face it, if we all started off like that, we wouldn’t need their help in the first place! If they could flip their help around a little bit it would be a great assistance for so many companies starting out. They do have a start-up level programmes but it may be that their expectations of a start-up level are completely different from what is actually out there.
What do you hope 2012 has in store for the business?
We have started off particularly well as at the end of 2011 we managed to bag a big project for backlists from a blue chip publisher. We started that project in the week beginning 9th of January and there are other projects we are looking at too. So yes, the ebook side has definitely taken off and we’re geared up to take advantage of it.
As long as you achieve your goal?
On a personal level, do you have a love of books and do you have a favourite book of all time?
I do get asked this a lot but honestly, I don’t have a favourite book. I also get a lot of “you work with books all day, you can’t possibly go home and want to read a book” but yes, if I have a full day to myself, I’m happy sitting there with a good book and a glass of wine and I can finish the book in a day. Perhaps because I proof-read and skim all day I can read a bit faster but I’ll read anything. From chic-lit to crime novels and even gruesome horror books.
Do you find you read books in a series or from a similar genre or do you like to hop from genre to genre?
We went through a phase of doing a lot of these vampire novels and sometimes we get printed copies of our work when it is complete. We got about 10 of these books and even though I didn’t really fancy them, I was looking for something different so I thought yeah, I’ll have a read. I ended up running through the entire series in about 3 weeks flat, I couldn’t put them down, they were amazing!
We have worked on the Stieg Larsson books which have been hugely popular but I haven’t picked any of them up yet. I keep hearing people say that they are hard to get in to and I think I’ve kept putting them off for that or whatever reason. I don’t usually go by whatever people say but it may just be the size of the books that have put me off so far! I hope to get round to them at some point.
The mention of Stieg Larsson takes us neatly on to what you prefer between books and movies?
Book all the way. Any film I have watched after reading a book just doesn’t come up to the mark. Maybe my mad imagination and a glass of wine ensure that the film can’t come up to scratch with what I have in my head. The one that sticks in my head is ‘Misery’ and I loved that book, some of the scenes were horrendous and then I saw it in the cinema and I thought “is that it?”
Do you have a Glasgow story or book that you really enjoy?
We do quite a lot of Glasgow books like The Herald Diaries, however, one set of books that I couldn’t put down was by a Glasgow lawyer, G J Moffat. I picked up ‘Daisychain’ and read it from cover to cover one Saturday. He has had a couple of books since then and I think that it’s really good that they’re set in modern day Glasgow. For instance, in one scene there’s a character walking down from Blythswood square and then they’re passing this pub and that pub and you can see it all unfolding in your head. It was easy to read, I like his work because it’s been possible to connect with the book and the places.
A link to the GJMoffat site where you can download the first chapter of ‘Daisychain’ free (and buy the book or audiobook) can be found here:
A couple of quick-fire questions for you, all Glasgow related:
Favourite place to shop?
I go to Silverburn a lot as that is local for me and all the shops are handy because its under one roof but I prefer to just wander around the shops in the city centre. Not necessarily the shopping centres, just in the city centre or heading out to the West End, it is hard to beat wandering around shopping on a sunny day.
I like all of the wee funky and arty shops you get in certain parts of town and it is good that they are all close together.
I’m quite often in them and think “should I buy this or not?” and then you pop into another shop nearby and you’re thinking the same question again. If it is a wee quirky thing you are after, you can be in and out all day making your mind up and I like that. However, if you’re shopping up Sauchie, down Buchie and along Argyle, you don’t think like that, you’ll just go and buy the first thing you see or the last thing you see because you can’t be bothered going back up to Sauchiehall Street.
Does that run deserve the Style Mile tag it has bestowed upon itself?
I wouldn’t say Sauchiehall Street does but Buchanan Street does yes, well, it’s getting there. However, I am worried about lots of the town. We used to be based in the Candelriggs and there is nothing there shop-wise, so much is shutting down. There will always be wee gems and galleries that you can find sitting in the middle of nothing but it is the nothing that worries me.
Favourite place to eat?
I’d have to say the Battlefield Rest on the south side of Glasgow. We saw it being renovated, we know the guys who have owned it since it opened, we have a good relationship with them and the food is fantastic.
Favourite place to drink?
Anywhere that has got wine….I don’t have a favourite place to go. We don’t always go back to the same place. Even after work we tend to just go somewhere handy without it being a big thing. We’ve not long moved to Hope Street and we’ve been popping into the Rhoderick Dhu but before that when we were in Candelriggs it would have been Bar 91 or somewhere in the Merchant Square.
Do you have a favourite place or view in Glasgow?
I would have to say Crookston Castle. It’s close to where I stay and on a sunny day it’s beautiful. It is the last remaining castle ruin in Glasgow and even in the winter, I’ve been up with my nephew playing bows and arrows with sticks so I have a lot of great memories there. There’s also been times when we’ve had a party and been drunk and headed over to play football or lark about. Crookston Castle and Pollok Park on a sunny day can’t be beaten so there is a lot of great areas away from the city centre or the West End to consider.
You can see a lot from Crookston Castle and it doesn’t get frequented by any neds because the Historic Scotland gatekeepers house is there so that keeps it in good order.
What would be your perfect Glasgow day?
Well, that’ll be a non-work day. It’ll have to be a warm sunny day, sitting outside with a few cocktails and something to eat, not too late, no one is too drunk and with a bit of shopping with the girls thrown in. Spending time with friends in the centre of Glasgow in the sun is just brilliant, I really enjoy that.
Mind you, all year round in Glasgow they still have the tables and chairs outside pubs and restaurants. There could be two foot of snow and the tables and chairs would still there!
Is there anything else about your work that you’d like to get out there?
The one thing I’d say is that when people ask us what we do and I say “we’re typesetters”, they always follow it up with; “what’s that?” You then explain about the formatting and layout of books and you quite often get told, “I didn’t realise somebody did that!” Maybe they just think there is a book fairy that taps a magic wand and all the words appear on the page. So yeah, it’s nice that we help bring the magic of books to people but it’d be nice to have a few more people knowing about us.
Or are you claiming that you are the book fairy?
Debi responded with laughter but obviously the real book fairy would never reveal herself so we left it at that!