When you write a book, you want to get it into as many hands as possible. Technological innovations make it possible to reach more than just hands by enabling you to produce audible books and accessible, portable content for a variety of mobile devices. More than ever, readers demand a high-quality user experience with content, and, through social networking vehicles, they have more ways to complain or share with others when it doesn’t go so well.
In a 2015 survey covering trends in digital publishing, conducted by Bowker and Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL), 72% of respondents indicated that they currently publish digital content and 79% plan to in the future. Whether you author non-fiction, fiction or technical material, you can leverage opportunities to distribute digital books via your own website, Amazon, Apple, and other ebook distributor sites.
Getting your content into formats to work on iPads, Kindles, or smart phones is more complex than creating a word processed file of your content, but it’s doable even if you self-publish. It requires a thorough understanding of your content structure, goals for converting, and technology options for completing the process. And you need to feel secure that the conversion process helps you reach your ultimate goals to maintain quality, retain formatting, reduce errors and rework, and fit within the allotted budget. The following tips will help you ensure a smooth delivery with minimal rework that meets the need of a wide range of audiences.
Account for Version Control and Device Differences
The popularity of mobile devices continues to increase, but the actual products change often. So even though the formats differ by device, if you create a separate eBook to meet the standards for each one, you not only need to regularly update the content, but also maintain multiple versions of the files. Instead, to produce the most consistent reader experience, you can apply best practices (using technology-agnostic standards such as HTML5) for creating content viewable on devices rather than just in print. Then you can avoid the shifts in the marketplace based on device popularity. For example, Kindle remains a popular format for eBook reading (as of the timestamp on this article), but the Sony Reader has essentially vanished. The iPad continues to claim significant market share now, but we can only speculate on the manufacturers and devices functionality of the future.
Pay Close Attention to Your Table of Contents (Not Pages)
The long-held notion of a physical “page” in print doesn’t really exist in most formats for eBooks. So if you’re used to writing your content to adhere to a standard number of pages or words, you’ll need to rethink your approach to writing. When readers peruse your content digitally, it resizes and rotates, and users can select their own preferences for text size and style. So the table of contents, which provides the outline structure of the book and helpful signposts, is essential in an eBook. They allow the top-level heading elements to always start at the top of screen (rather than a new page). More importantly, the table of contents provides hyperlinks so your readers can click back and forth to the sections they want to go over.
Rethink Formatting Elements
DON’T assume you’ll get your exact custom fonts. Custom fonts are available on later models of Kindle and on the iPad, but not everyone has the later models. Expect to compromise and pick a font that looks like your corporate font, just as you did in the old days of the web. Choose a standard, sans serif font, and it should work well on screens of nearly all devices.
A popular style in print for setting apart the first paragraph from related paragraphs is to indent, but this causes conversion problems into the eBook format. You can easily separate paragraphs using line breaks instead. Also avoid using margins with bullet points, even if it’s how you’d do it for print using a style sheet. Line lengths are limited in eBooks based on screen size, so just use bullets as ways to separate items without indenting.
Another formatting challenge is introduced by color. eReader “ink” does not display color, so avoid describing a caption as containing the “red, underlined text” and refer to the actual data/numbers in chart rather than highlighting the color of the shape as an indicator.
Resist the Urge to Use Tables
Tables often provide a great way to show related content in a graphical format to show the connections and comparison/contrast, but they do not convert well into eBooks. When you absolutely need a table to maintain content integrity, try to keep it under three columns in width. You can also convert tables into images to retain the formatting and values, but remember that the sizing is then fixed.
Maintain Integrity in Graphics
Because devices come with so many screen sizes, follow this good rule of thumb: keep images under six inches in width, which works with virtually all eBooks. And rather than relying on captions (which can get separated from the image), refer to the image by name or number and place the associated explanation directly in the body. Graphics will likely display in black and white, so avoid referencing them by color, and avoid using directional terms (to the right or left) because the screen rotation can result in location changes.
Ignore Pressure to Embed Audio and Video
Audio and video files can cause problems within eBook formats, and the jury is out on whether people even like to review this type of content within the eBook. If you have supplementary content in other formats, consider linking to a standalone website where you can provide downloadable files.
Partner with a Pro
These tasks may seem daunting, but an expert in content conversion can help you throughout the entire conversion process. A high-quality firm makes sure the final reading experience meets your audience’s needs, with clear, easy-to-consume content. The pros can take your raw files and reformat, add value, and minimize rework, leaving you time to work on your next endeavor.
Devorah Ashlem is a Senior Project Manager at Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL). DCL offers world-class data conversion services and software, and specializes in complex projects with expertise spanning all industries. To contact Devorah Ashlem at DCL, email firstname.lastname@example.org