I have spent the past three and a half months working as an ebooks assistant for an Oxford based Christian publishing house producing books that aim to illuminate, detail, debate, commodify, beautify, and question the Christian faith in non-fiction and fiction offerings, and with over 300 ebook titles already selling on all major retailer/online portals.
Here are my top ten tips for anyone freshly entering the ebooks arena.
Being device-agnostic is a good starting point for a good ebooks assistant! The Kindle might refuse to catch good signal, or your version of Calibre (an ebook viewing library that lets you read all major ebook formats the way they would appear on e-reading devices but from the luxury of your PC/Mac screen) might not display the bold text or appropriate leading. Keep checking your ePub and Mobi files simultaneously on all e-reading devices. Versions of Calibre differ, and making sure your software is updated and that all devices are displaying text accurately, is key to being on the ‘same page’. Widows and orphans can reflow, unless you are dealing with a fixed format text, wherein these would be errors.
Sharp proofreading skills and supreme attention to detail will only reward you as files keep shuffling between being sent for conversion, corrections and before they are finally uploaded to retailer portals error-free!
Focused instruction and well-annotated guidelines are the key to error-free ebooks! When creating editorial guidelines/handover forms for ebook conversion whether for an external supplier or in-house, provide focused instruction on the design features in the book that could affect electronic output. Flag up images, diagrams, tables, indents, line breaks, italics, bold, positioning of text, bullets, en rules, em-rules, unique symbols that are unusual. State relevant page numbers or line numbers as in the original text, and advise with 100% accuracy.
De-archive with draconian order. Honour all fonts and links; gain agility across all design and software programs, and versions! Ensure the right files are available at a known location and mark up all locations for reference. Sometimes old print files may not be available, and having a handy document that lists what’s available and what’s not, speeds up decisions in purchasing/allocating e-ISBNs!
Play designer, but consult a real one too! Alter biblio pages, scrap the back cover or craft new layers on the cover. Add acknowledgments or copy/reprint corrections as required by your editor for ebooks or Print-on-demand as per the spec provided. But, this work can be fiddly when you are trawling ancient files or complex ones, so get a real designer to sign-off all your work!
Author contracts vary from pre-digital times into post electronic-age ones. Check for explicit clauses on ebook rights and agreed royalty rates. Which authors and agents have you contacted? Who has requested to retain their electronic rights? Communicate in clear and precise spread sheets that are easy for everyone to follow. Review your backlist and frontlist regularly to progress your ebook work.
Clearing permissions and extending image/external content rights demands careful and strong negotiation skills. Track the duration and territories for all licenses and seek a rate sheet from all vendors to ensure you are not being overcharged. The mantra is file, file, file!
Do not be shy to question and understand your consumer; I embraced all things faith-lit including self-help, religio-spiritual and history books by authors diverse as Thomas Cahill, Brother Yin and Margaret Silf including specific books on Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Parkinson’s to understand the language of my publisher.
A sales perspective will always inform your publisher’s editorial initiatives. Faith based books in particular could open up a can of worms when publishing internationally. For instance, ‘meditation’ might be better understood than ‘reflection’ in global markets. Similarly, one of the first books I read and digitised was The Weight of Mercy, which, if published in another country, might sell better as ‘The Game of Mercy’.
Seek professional mentorship from beyond your supervisor, because mixing skills across departments can be inspiring!