NPR Producer Davar Ardalan Adapts Multimedia Book on Pressbooks

Davar Ardalan is a senior producer at NPR News and the author of “The Persian Square,”  released Feb. 3 in the Kindle store, and the memoir “My Name is Iran.” 

Tell us about your latest book and how it evolved from the initial version to the one you created on Pressbooks.com.

The Persian Square book

The Persian Square

I have been researching new distribution models for indie authors since 2012. That’s when I first turned to the iBooks Author software to create an interactive book with text, audio and video. In March 2013, I published “The Persian Square” on iBooks for the first time. The eBook chronicled the Iranian-American immigrant experience going back to the 1800s. I have updated the book several times to critical success, but unfortunately not many people are familiar with reading multimedia books on iPads. As I prepared my latest update, I looked into publishing the book on Amazon Kindle. I researched the various book production platforms and was excited to find pressbooks.com. I first studied YouTube clips until I felt comfortable with the Web-based book creation tool. I was also able to great guidance from folks at pressbooks.com, and that made it much less of a daunting task. Having created my update for Kindle using this platform, it’s liberating to know that I now have my own content management system for future books.

What was the most useful feature in Pressbooks for you when working on this project?

I don’t come from a graphic design background, so I appreciated the different book design themes available. I enjoyed testing the layouts and love that mine ended up looking Persian even though that wasn’t one of the design elements. In addition, the fact that I was also able to export the files and test them on my Kindle meant I had more confidence in the professional look of the book as I built each chapter.

Multimedia books are still to some extent uncharted territory. What did you learn about the possibilities and limitations for multimedia storytelling in book form?

Multimedia books give storytellers the freedom to expand beyond pen and paper without having to rely on a digital producer. My husband, John Smith, likes to say “From clay cylinders to papyrus to paper, welcome to the next 600 years of reading!”

It has been difficult to market the book, but that is only because the topic is very niche. It is also difficult to get readings at bookstores or even book tours with multimedia books, but I enjoyed the Reddit AMA that I did recently and found the questions had great range and depth.

Your first book was published by a traditional publisher, Henry Holt. Why did you self-publish this book, and how was that process different?

My first book, published in 2007, was old-school, and I am grateful to have gotten a sizable advance for it as well. But in the end, I sold under 10,000 copies so it’s not like it was a bestseller. I had nothing to lose by self-publishing and teaching myself the skill of building a multimedia book. With my first book I had the advantage of having one of the best editors in the business, but midway through the process she left and I began working with a new editor. Perhaps the book would have been stronger if I had completed the process with my original editor, but it’s hard to tell. With my self-published book, I was lucky to team up with an incredible author and journalist who edited every word. It’s critical to have an editor, no matter how you publish your book.

By day, you’re an NPR producer and “interactive storyteller.” How would you use Pressbooks in a news context?

The next work I’ll be producing using Pressbooks will focus on sexual identity within the Iranian-American community. I plan to publish that as part of The Persian Square series on Amazon Kindle. There are hundreds of LGBT members in the community, and their stories of identity and assimilation will be important to document. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Some scholars in the United States have argued that there is no definitive basis in the Quran or other theological texts for the condemnation of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.” It will be interesting to hear their stories. I am also encouraging the public to share their stories by emailing story@thepersiansquare.org and #PersianSquare on Twitter and Facebook. In this way, my work is unconventional and instead of pitching it to a mainstream magazine or network, I can self-publish directly to the public.

You are also a successful social media strategist and have a beautiful website set up for the book. How do you plan to utilize these skills to market your book and how would you recommend other authors who are less versed in the Web and social media use these tools for author and book marketing?

I have created 101 Tweets with facts from my book. These have been well-received, and I plan to share them using the hashtag #PersianSquare throughout 2015 via @idavar and @PersianSquare. In early March, I’ll co-host a Twitter party and invite some of the folks featured in the book to engage and share stories. I will also be speaking about the book in LA, Boston and Philadelphia in the next few months.

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