This introductory course aims to equip book editors to work on multi-format publications.

What’s a multi-format publication? Let’s say it’s a book that you might read on paper, on a website, as an ebook, or in an app. Maybe more! Let’s define a few of the most likely formats a book might take these days:

Focusing on people

Faced with such a plethora of options, publishing teams can struggle to make decisions and set priorities.

A good way to make decisions is to use personas. Personas are people you invent, with names, ages, backgrounds, and interests; and with specific devices, connectivity, and available money. They represent your target readers.

Creating personas can seem like hard work. One reason it’s hard is because you really want your book to be for everyone, and narrowing down your audience can be painful. Be assured that your entire project will be better off for it.

Creating a persona

The more detail you add to a persona, the better. To get you started, here are some pieces of information might include about the person you create.

  1. Full name
  2. Age
  3. Gender
  4. Location
  5. Profession
  6. Interests
  7. Family situation
  8. What motivates them?
  9. What would they willingly pay for your book?
  10. In what formats would they most like to read your book? (This might relate to price, convenience or other factors.)
  11. How will they acquire your book? (E.g. a bookstore, their workplace, an app on their phone, a book club, etc.)
  12. If they are getting it digitally, what device will they use? Name an actual device model.

Be very specific. Remember that you are not describing how everyone might read your book. You’re describing how this particular person will read it. If you can imagine a very different person reading it another way, create a second persona.

Once you have created at least one persona, you should make all your decisions in their best interests.

If you have to make money from your book, personas are also useful for predicting sales, and therefore in creating project budgets. For example: let’s say your persona’s name is Elizabeth. How many people like Elizabeth can your sales and marketing reach? If that’s not enough people, do you need to change your persona, or add more personas?

Lots of personas isn’t necessarily a good thing. The more you have, the harder it will be to make decisions, because your personas may have competing interests.

New workflows

For many years, the lifecycle of a book in print has looked something like this:

  1. We commission the author.
  2. We get a raw manuscript from the author.
  3. We clean it up and add instructions to a typesetter.
  4. The typesetter lays out each page and sends us a PDF.
  5. We and the typesetter refine the PDF until it’s print-ready.
  6. The book is printed and copies are sold and warehoused.
  7. We make some reprint corrections and print again.
  8. The book goes out of print.
  9. Some libraries keep copies indefinitely.

Increasingly, we might add steps for converting our files to an ebook format and selling it through, say, Amazon Kindle.

In print, and in constrained environments like Kindle, we have been fairly sure how people will experience reading our books.

When we create multi-format books, that changes. We have no idea where or how people will read our books. Any number of different machines might render our books in different ways, based more or less on the instructions we package with it.

So we’re publishing for that uncertainty, and learning new skills to do it. The new lifecycle of a book might look like this:

  1. We commission the author.
  2. We get raw manuscript from the author.
  3. We transform it into a document with a structure that a machine can follow.
  4. We might work with designers or developers to refine the document, with certain formats in mind as priorities. (Maybe a print book and an ebook.)
  5. The book is printed and copies are warehoused.
  6. People order copies that are printed on demand in places around the world.
  7. Our document enters the big, uncertain world of the Internet, and countless machines process it, over and over again, in countless different ways.
  8. From time to time, we update it and entrust the new version to the Internet’s distribution systems.
  9. If we’ve made it well, our book has a long and happy life in places we never dreamed of.
  10. There is no limit to how many people might read it, because there is no limit to the number of copies that might exist.
  11. The book remains available for as long as the Internet’s systems share it. Given the nature of the Web, this is effectively forever.

The new way is harder, scarier, and much better for the world. Books are now far more like websites than traditional paper books were: they are living documents that exist simultaneously on paper and in a digital ecosystem that is constantly evolving.

The Internet is much bigger than print publishing ever was. There is more work for editors than ever. And greater responsibility on us to put high-quality, socially responsible content into the world. It’s time to learn some new tricks.

What we’ll cover

  1. Context

    The first section sets out some big, important features of the multi-format world that we need to know about.

  2. Connecting humans and machines

    As production and distribution becomes automated, we need to learn how to talk to machines. Here we’ll talk about preparing documents that computers can process.

  3. Choosing tools

    Each of us need to refresh our toolboxes. We can throw out some old tools (like MS Word), and try out new ones till we find what works for us. There’s no Swiss Army knife for multi-format editing. So what should we learn and look for?

  4. Collaboration

    When we plug our work into the Internet, our new tools give us easier collaboration and proper version-control. We’ll talk about how your editorial team might change, and about different approaches to version control.

  5. Building blocks of books

    Books have long been made of well-established building blocks, like pages, chapters, frontmatter and endmatter. We’ll quickly touch on the building blocks of multi-format books: what’s the same, and what’s changing?

  6. Text

    You might want to skip straight here: a list of common multi-format challenges and tricks for dealing with them, including links, cross-references, capitalisation, indexing and mathematics.

  7. Images

    In the past, we only had to get a 300dpi image to the setter. Things are a bit more complicated now. But fun! We’ll cover a short list of image must-haves.

  8. Interactive elements

    ‘Interactivity’ is publishing’s favourite buzzword these days. We’ll touch on some of the main ways that users might interact with books, and how those features might work in print and on screen.

  9. Data as content

    Books often contain little databases, like glossaries, bibliographies, and lists of abbreviations. Some books are big databases, like dictionaries and catalogues. We’ll talk briefly about what this means for preparing and structuring manuscripts.