An Editor’s Place in Ebook Development: What We’ve Learned

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2018-08-21

Recently, Beth and I were able to partake in a webinar put on by Editors Canada, entitled “The Editor’s Place in Ebook Development.” It was a fantastic learning experience, and the host, Kevin Callahan of BNGO Books, was a great teacher with a lot of knowledge to pass on to us. Here are some of the things we picked up from the webinar.


E-book or Epub?

One of the first things we covered is probably one of the simplest—how to correctly spell the terms we would be talking about. Even as recently as five years ago, terminology for ebooks and ereaders was not standardized and could vary greatly from outlet to outlet. As ebooks have become more popular over the last ten to fifteen years, the way that ebook has been spelled has changed. You may have seen Ebook, E-Book, eBook, or perhaps Epub or ePub. The current standard for spelling these terms is ebook or Ebook, and epub or EPUB. Handy information for editors to add to relevant style sheets!


What Is an ebook or an epub?

The simplest way to put it is that an ebook is a digital presentation of text. However, the capabilities of an ebook have been expanding rapidly in recent years. Now, an ebook can be made up of just text, but it can also include text, images, and other content as well (such as audio, video, or other interactive elements). An epub, on the other hand, is the small, web page–like package that the ebook comes in. It is made up of code—XHTML, images, CSS, fonts, and other media.


There are also ebook files called mobis—a mobi is Amazon’s proprietary format for their Kindle ereaders.


What Editors Need to Watch for when Editing Ebooks

An editor editing an ebook needs to look for certain things that don’t belong in ebooks that might otherwise be commonplace in print versions of the same book. For example, page numbers should be removed! Why? An epub is by nature reflowable text—as the reader changes fonts or text sizes, even line heights, the text is able to move and reflow to accommodate those changes. This means that page numbers are irrelevant to the book as a whole, as the “pages” are always able to move. Fr the same reason, cross-referencing must also be removed, as it would be impossible to use them to reference places in the book when those places are not static!


A really interesting way to include cross-referencing in an ebook without referring to page numbers is to make the cross-references interactive. You can do this by internally linking the cross-reference marker to another section in the book, so that when the reader taps the cross-reference, they are automatically taken to the correct spot in the book.


Other elements an editor would need to watch for would be complex tables and images. Complex tables may not always configure neatly into the ebook page, so is it possible to make modifications to make the table easier to include in the file? A preferable alternative is to rewrite the table information into the text, break it into smaller pieces, or, as a last resort, include it as an image if possible. Including images with captions can be tricky because there is always the chance that the caption might get shoved on to the page following the image, if the image appears toward the bottom of the page. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about that, but it’s good to remain aware of potential issues.


Enhancing Navigation in an Ebook

An editor should ensure that, where necessary, there are complete and correct lists of illustrations, figures, tables, and a well-functioning table of contents. In an ebook, it can be very helpful for the reader to load up the frontmatter section with these elements and linked lists to help the reader navigate easily through the content.


Assisting the Reader: Providing an Array of Extras

Ebooks are great because the allow you to add elements that print books cannot handle, such as links to web content, or even audio and video files. However, extras that the reader will appreciate may not always be as flashy as embedded video.


For example, one of my favourite ebook extras is pop-up footnotes. When I encounter a footnote in the text, all I have to do is click on it, and the footnote text appears in a pop-up right on the screen for me to read. I don’t have to navigate to the back of the book or chapter to read it, then navigate back to where I was in the book—all the work is done for me.


Other extras the reader may appreciate are extra reference materials. This could be as simple as a list of characters in the book, or it could expand to include bibliographies and indexes as well. Bibliographies can include links to outside content for the reader to look at—however, the downside is that it’s always possible that links can break with time, or that the reader may not be on wi-fi. What might be especially useful to a reader in a nonfiction or reference book is a linked index, or even indexes—you could have a recipe index for a cookbook, a character index for a complicated fiction work, or a geographical index. Even having the regular index function as a linked index can be very helpful—all the reader has to do is click the term or word they’re looking for more information on, and they go straight to that section, then can easily travel back to the index thanks to the ebook’s internal navigation.


Unusual Examples to Watch For

An editor should keep their eye open for some elements that would make sense in a print book, but don’t belong in an ebook. For example, text colour—e-ink devices don’t show colour so any text colour that has been included should be removed.


Something you might not think to watch for is the location of the copyright page—in print books, the copyright page is always located in the frontmatter. However, in ebooks, it is becoming more common to move the copyright page to the back of the book. Why, you might ask? Well, if a reader was to preview the book using Amazon’s “Look inside!” feature, the publisher may not want one of those preview pages to be wasted on the copyright info. They might instead prefer it to be actual content of the book.


Ebooks: Improving on What a Book Can Be

Ebooks provide so many opportunities to add functionalities and content that can make for a richer and more accessible reading experience. However, as an editor, it is helpful to know how these added extras can malfunction or provide issues for readers—if we know what to watch for, we can ensure all the ebooks we work on or with are clean and tailored for a great reader experience.


Future Webinars

Be sure to watch for the next webinar on this topic. You won’t want to miss it!




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