This article by Jason Matthews first appeared at The Book Designer.
“Knowing what you know now…”
I work with new writers online and at events. They ask a myriad of smart questions including this one: how would you publish differently if you did it all over again? As the saying goes, hindsight is 20-20. I’d do dozens of things differently than the blind assault to digital publishing I debuted with.
But that’s true for most authors. This industry has evolved so much in just a few short years; even the “experts” have had to learn the ropes on the fly. You’ve probably heard most of the common answers that follow I wish I had:
- been more involved with social media
- blogged sooner
- invested in a great cover
- done more market research
- worked with a professional editor or two
- learned more about SEO (search engine optimization)
Here’s another answer you may not have heard as much, but this would have helped me immensely and is still true for many writers today:
- embrace the functions and technologies writers can use in their books
There’s a common dilemma in this digital author business: most writers are of advanced age, and the technology they need to succeed is easier learned by the younger crowd. This is a generalization of course, but I see a lot of frustration behind threads of gray hair when discussing issues related to blogging, social media, converting documents and more. The tech learning curve is something we all experience since nobody knew anything about this stuff several years ago. That’s when Amazon introduced the first Kindle (circa 2007) and the ebook revolution really took off.
Let’s back up further for a moment–what is writing? It’s story-telling and sharing information. It probably began with oral tradition, moved into hieroglyphics, saw the rise of alphabets, then the printing press and finally the computer age. Publishing has evolved at a snail’s pace compared to what’s happening today. Most industry insiders were astonished how fast ebooks became mainstream while also changing the paradigm of authorship and how retailers sell books. It’s reasonable to assume the near future of ebooks may be far more elaborative than they are today: hence the need to embrace the recent tech and also contemplate the unknown.
Those are the two sides to this coin: making the most of what’s currently available and keeping an eye open for the next wave. Let’s talk first about what’s available now. Your ebook should or can have:
- Active links for navigation in the Table of Contents and/or an NCX file. It’s wise to also have links to locations within the book like a References page.
- Links to your primary social media pages, website and blog so readers can connect with you. If you have a Facebook “Like’ page for the book, a link needs to be in there.
- Pages for About the Author and your Other Books with direct links to them.
- Links for leaving reviews (e.g. the Amazon review page for your Kindle version).
- A sample chapter of another book, especially if part of a series, with a link to buy at the end of the sample.
Notice how most of this current stuff involves simple hyperlinks. That’s not going away, but much more is entering the picture. Let’s talk about that now with a disclaimer: while it would be impractical and perhaps foolish for most authors to attempt to put all of these elements into their ebooks, these are possibilities worth considering. Some authors and books are suited for these things better than others.
What is an enhanced ebook or EEB? Amazon has some newer titles called Kindle Edition with Audio/Video. Apple iTunes and Barnes & Noble both list it as the Enhanced Edition, and they’re a few dollars more than the regular ebook. Most notably they have a range of audio and video additions embedded into them, but much more can be done including photo albums, pop-up graphics, maps, animations, even instant messaging with other readers. EEBs don’t work on older devices, like basic Kindles, but the newer tablets and smart phones are fine. At present time making EEBs gets into apps verses ebooks, which is more difficult for the average indie author to do without outsourcing. This might change in the near future as solutions should appear for anyone who wants to make EEBs, so it’s wise to start thinking about additions that might benefit your books. (Google Ebooks has a brief HTML tutorial for authors familiar with making their own EPUBS – https://support.google.com/books/partner/answer/3316879?hl=en&ref_topic=3238502, but most authors will need to hire out for this.)
Pricing comes into the picture. The more data that goes into a digital file, the more the retailer needs to charge for storage and distribution costs. In some cases, it may still make economic sense to link a reader to an external website for watching a long video as opposed to embedding a short one.
This concept also gets into “enhancements” verses “distractions,” what readers really enjoy verses what marketers think they might want. In either case, authors should get feedback on what readers appreciate rather than adding a multitude of audio and video effects just because it’s possible.
Interactivity is a part of enhancements and takes it a bit further. Instead of just seeing and hearing more than text and pictures, interactivity engages the reader to participate with the story or information. It can also be with other readers and the author too. Common examples include children’s and educational books, where readers are asked questions and answers are shown. But there’s a huge realm for creativity here. For example, mystery authors could incorporate surveys along the way getting a feel for who the readers think the murderer is. Teen Romance authors could include a social media page discussing which characters should fall in love and why. Non-fiction authors who teach could add a forum for readers to ask questions and get answers in real time from forum members or even the author. Alternative endings are also an option, which could be done in any ebook today, even a basic Kindle. The author can give the reader a choice of plot direction for a happy, romantic or surprise twist ending. The possibilities are endless.
Most authors would love to break into book clubs. I’ve visited six in person to discuss my novels but still haven’t yet done one online. Since there are online book clubs all over the world, it’s possible to join in on their discussion. My recommendation would be in a Google Plus hangout, and this could be done with Skype as well.
Writing collaborations are about to take a huge leap thanks to programs like Google Docs, where multiple people can contribute, comment, edit and more in live time from anywhere online.
An events calendar can be uploaded to your ebooks, even without enhancements. Since it only takes a few minutes to upload a new version, once a month you could update an ebook with a chapter called Monthly Events that lists where you’ll be. If your book is successful, you could also host a weekly “book club” get-together with a link to your Google Plus page.
These are just a few ideas for what can be done today and what might be just around the corner, more about getting you to think of options than to go into details for implementing every single one. Perhaps you have even better suggestions. Please share them in a comment.
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