The Problems of Philosophy: Book Publishing


As an avid reader, I am always on the lookout new books to read. I also happen to hold (albeit controversial) opinion that ebooks are more practical as compared to traditional paper books. Project Gutenberg and The Internet Archive is full of eBooks and other texts on various topics - all for free. However, since these works are generally digitized using automated tools, the quality of the end result is passable at its best. This is where Standard Ebooks comes in. This volunteer driven project takes books from the sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style manual, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to create a new edition that takes advantage of state-of-the-art e-reader and browser technology.

Producing an ebook with Standard Ebooks requires a bit of tech, a bit of art, a bit of language, and a lot of patience. Except for that last item, this activity falls right on the intersection of my areas of interest. Once I discovered this project, I had to start contributing. So, I picked up a book from their “beginner friendly” list and started hacking away.

The Process

The process of producing an ebook is pretty strictly defined and strangely methodical. While there is a very detailed guide at ths Standard Ebooks' website, the process is roughly divided into following sections:

  • Sourcing the Material: Once the producer has selected what they want to produce, they must verify that it is indeed a public domain work and find sources (like scans or physical copies) to base the ebook off of.
  • Running Scripts: In this section, the book producer runs a bunch of scripts to initialize ebook skeleton, cleanup source material, fix formatting, etc. These scripts also fix the typography and try to generate some metadata.
  • Manual Fixes: While the scripts do a lot of heavy lifting, they’re not perfect. A lot of errors cannot be caught by the scripts - partially because of messy sources and partially because of inherent quirkiness of the English language. The producer must thoroughly proofread the book and make all the manual fixes necessary.
  • Adding Art and Metadata: Books (especially the electronic ones) are a lot more than their content. At this stage, the producer must find appropriate public domain art that suites the Standard Ebooks theme of old timely oil paintings. This art will be used as the book cover. Other metadata such as table of contents is added as well.
  • Review and Publication: For the book to be part of Standard Ebooks publications, it must go through a review process. The book is reviewed by someone from the core Standard Ebooks team. Once all the necessary bugs are fixed, the ebook becomes a part of Standard Ebooks catalogue.


The process of producing this book involves surprisingly varied set of disciplines. While I was vaguely aware of this when I started, it still blew my mind how rewarding the process was.


The domain of text is inherently complicated. As a developer I deal with a lot fo text on a daily basis. However, rarely do I have to deal with strange character sets, different encodings, and their implications on the end product. Sources on Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive can be surprisingly messy depending upon scanning artifacts, the equipment used to digitize, era and location the scanning was done in, etc. Navigating through this mess is a huge learning opportunity. Every software developer should get their hands dirty and head straight with text encoding. It teaches one how narrow their character set (and worldview) is. And we haven’t even started talking about non-latin scripts yet!

Behind the Scenes

A lot goes into an ebook beyond just textual content. There’s a lot of metadata modern software relies upon. There obvious things like are images, footnotes, and table of contents. Then there are less obvious things like sematic tags, colophons, imprints, half titles, etc. It was fascinating to learn all these new… things about anatomy of an ebook. Standard Ebooks has published a very thorough Manual of Style and they make sure you follow it to the letter. As frustrating as the experience was, I believe that it has made me a better writer as long as styling and formatting concerned.


Standard Ebooks is very particular about its choice of cover art. So, in the process of hunting for cover of this ebook, I went down the rabbit hole of old timely art world. As a side effect I learned a bunch of things about various movements in the art world, cultural influence, and its significance in the modern world. I also learned of the meme potential of the classical art. Reddit never disappoints!

Get if from
Standard Ebooks