Up early for ebook expert tips (and Apple news)

Apple Watch
I was up at 3am yesterday to catch up bus to Sydney for Ebooks 201 for Editors: Intermediate, a super-useful new training course run by the NSW Society of Editors and presented by Editia’s favourite freelance editorial consultant and ebook expert, Sarah Fletcher.

The fact that I was able to follow the launch of the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch live while getting ready made the early start bearable. How stunning is the Apple Watch! I can’t wait to read novels on one via Spritz’s speed reading technology (Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and Gear 2 smart watch reportedly already work with Spritz, so it will happen). I’m also excited about the iPhone 6 Plus for reading and watching video as it may be large enough to mean I can hand my iPad Mini over to the kids less reluctantly.

But back to the ebook production course, which introduced me to plenty of exciting tech tools too. Sarah taught us to use eCanCrusher to unzip and rezip ePub files, Sublime Text 2 to edit them and Pagina EPUB-Checker to validate files. All are user-friendly and preferable to Sigil and Calibre (for production at least) these days according to Sarah.

In the morning session we learnt about the differences between the ePub 2 and ePub 3 standards, how to create an ePub 3 and how to make an ePub 3 back-compatible given so many retail platforms don’t yet support the ePub 3 format.

I’m a code geek from way back, having first built web pages in html in the mid-’90s, so I enjoyed mucking in and playing with the xhtml. Seeing the potential of ePub 3 for video, audio, live drawing and quizzes has given me some ideas for our upcoming titles too.

In the afternoon, we formed groups and worked on content strategy, coming up with a fixed layout ePub 3 project, envisaging a couple of user personas for it and planning its structure accordingly. There were some old school tools involved in this one: index cards, blue tack, yarn and butcher’s paper.

Next, Sarah presented an in-depth session on integrating audio, video and animation/graphics to ebooks taking responsive design into consideration.

Finally we spent some time on testing and developing complex ebooks, covering quality assurance, wireframing and UX, which helped some of us to reconsider our Editor’s Ecosystem diagram mapping out our relationships with other members of the publishing business, reflecting on the kinds of partners required to create complex digital content.

Sarah suggested we come up with a personalized action plan at the end of the session, listing some new goals relating to the course. Here are mine.

Short-term goals

• Extend my QA testing to include Adobe Digital Editions and set up a checklist for use in each ebook test.
• Experiment further with the software tools Sarah recommended including those mentioned plus Flightpath and Oxygen.
• Ensure I always list the length of a video when publishing it so readers can factor that into their decision-making.
• Focus more on content strategy at the start of a project, considering whether text, images, audio, video and metadata are appropriately targeted to user personas.

Medium-term goals

• Learn to add audio, video, quizzes, live drawing to ebooks eg complex ePub 3s or iBooks author productions.
• Learn to create fixed layout ePubs.
• Learn to code so that images are optimized for each size screen that a reader may use.
• Try out iBooks Author and Amazon’s new Kindle Kids’ Book Creator.

Long-term goals

• Publish a vegetarian cookbook including video in fixed layout.
• Publish a children’s book with live drawing of images and audio that plays on a per word basis.
• Include complex content in all Editia publications.

If you’re serious about making ebooks, you should keep an eye out for Sarah’s courses. I attended the first Ebooks 101 course she presented and still use much of what I learnt that day today. Sure, you can learn much of what you need to know online, but nothing beats learning from an expert in person and sharing the experience with fellow students so that it is interactive and ongoing. Sarah even provides a selection of ereaders for hands on testing during the QA session (pictured below).

Ereader petting zoo

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