Blog request from the Big Cheese

Caleigh Minshall

Edited on 09/10/2010.

A few days ago Tim sent me the following email:

Could you write a blog that would
describe the inter-relation between

tipsheets, pexod,,
onix, & the print catalogue

(which is, actually, available
on-line as well) [here]


perhaps using snooker, or
a pin-ball machine, as the metaphor


Although I will not be using snooker or pin-ball machines as a metaphor – because I don’t know much about either – I can definitely write a blog about the connections between onix, pexod, tip sheets, and the catalogue!

We can start with – specifically, one of our book web pages. Let’s use Caroline Adderson’s Bad Imaginings as an example. You’ll note, when you go to the page, that the page is divided into sections: there’s a short description at the top, then a longer description, then a list of awards, several review quotations, an endorsement by John Metcalf and finally Adderson’s biography and photo at the bottom of the page. You’ll also note that every one of our book web pages is organized in the exact same way, with minor variations occurring in what type of content is displayed (more or fewer review quotations; an excerpt; an essay; an introduction, preface or author’s comments, etc.)

These web pages, and their content, are created by our enormous database called PExOD. The pages are created each time someone clicks on the link; our website sees that someone is requesting information about Bad Imaginings, and so our website pulls all of the relevant Bad Imaginings information from PExOD, and then the website displays that information on the page according to the website design made by Allan Zuk at ClamourCreative (not Steve like I originally wrote … sorry, Allan). Steve, however, was the one who ‘helped with the interface between Doug Plant’s Pexod (which existed before and Allan Zuk’s design for’ (I quote from Tim’s email).

PExOD, therefore, is the source of all the information you see displayed on our book web pages. Each book has its own entry in PExOD, and within that entry are sub-sections for each individual review quote, introduction or preface, short and main descriptions, etc. Each book entry in PExOD also includes a lot of information that doesn’t end up on our website, such as supplier details, sales rights and territories, specific format information, etc.

PExOD can then turn all of that book information, including all the info that doesn’t display on our site, into a type of file called ONIX for Books, which, the Book Industry Study Group says, is ‘is the international standard for representing and communicating book industry product information in electronic form’. ONIX stands for ONline Information Exchange, and in the book industry ONIX is used as a standard way of communication between publishers, wholesalers, e-tailers and retailers, other publishers, and anyone else involved in bookselling, even if each communicating party is distinct from the other. You could think of ONIX as a special book industry language that wildly different people can still share.

So, PExOD houses all of our book information and then transforms that information into ONIX. PExOD then sends those ONIX files to aggregators, or other organizations that read ONIX – places like,, Chapters-Indigo,, and many other retailers, e-tailers and wholesalers around the world. For example, if we visit Bad Imaginings on, you’ll see much of the same information displayed on that is on That’s because both and are using the data entries from our PExOD database.

That explains, PExOD and ONIX, which leaves me to explain tip sheets and our print/online catalogue. If you don’t remember, tip sheets are the 10-12 page documents we present for each new title of the season to the Literary Press Group, whose sales reps then scamper off to convince booksellers across Canada to stock our titles. These tip sheets often include short descriptions, main descriptions, review quotations, excerpts, introduction/preface/author comments, biographical notes …

Sound familiar?

Of course, the promotional material on, PExOD, and various aggregators all has to be written and collected by somebody, and that task often occurs in preparation for the tip sheet – before the PExOD entry gets worked on, since PExOD is fussy and wants publication dates and other hard facts like that before it accepts title information. The tip sheet, then, is often the first manifestation of what will later appear on many, many websites around the world; in fact, when you look at a web page for one of our titles (see Jon Evans’s Beasts of New York, for example), you are essentially viewing the title’s tip sheet. The only exception to this is that we unfortunately can’t include images in our book web pages (the ‘functionality hasn’t been implemented,’ Tim says, though images are theoretically possible), but we can include images in the tip sheet, and so Beasts of New York‘s tip sheet includes lots of gorgeous illustrations by Jim Westergard, while the web page, sadly, does not. (Although you can view the illustrations on Westergard’s own website here!)

The catalogue is the final piece to the puzzle and seems to be pulled together after the web page, tip sheet and PExOD entry (which, as you know by know, mainly contain all of the same information) are completed. The catalogue contains much shorter copy than the tip sheet (only 200 words compared to 10-12 pages) but it needs to be just as attractive to potential book buyers. I usually shorten the main description and then include 2-4 sentences about the author at the end of the copy, but sometimes the description needs to be significantly reworked before it suits the shorter length of the catalogue.

And there you have it – a whirlwind tour of PExOD, ONIX, tip sheets, the inner workings of, and our print/online catalogue. I realize it’s pretty confusing, so if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer it as soon as I can. Have a good weekend!

About Caleigh

Intern at the Porcupine's Quill.
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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.