Why Ebook Authors Need to Embrace New Technologies

by Joel Friedlander on April 16, 2014 · 41 comments

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By Jason Matthews

“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:

  • embraced the technologies available for use in ebooks

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.

Dealing With the Pace of Change

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 that ebooks may soon be far more elaborate than they are today, and that’s why we need to embrace the recent technological changes while we 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. What does that mean in practical terms? 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 involves simple hyperlinks. Hyperlinking isn’t going away, but much more is entering the picture. Let’s talk about some of those things now, with this 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 will be more suited to some of these enhancements than others.

Enhanced Ebooks

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 enhanced ebooks 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 smartphones are fine. At present, making EEBs might suggest making an app rather than an ebook. Apps are 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.

Pricing also 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 in your ebook.

This concept also gets into “enhancements” verses “distractions,” what readers really enjoy versus 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

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.

    Book Clubs

    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 to use a Google Plus hangout, and this could be done with Skype as well.

    Multiple Authors

    Writing collaborations are about to take a huge leap thanks to programs like Google Docs, where multiple people can contribute, comment, and edit in real time from anywhere online.

    Events Calendar

    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.

    Have you experimented with enhancing your ebooks? Let me know in the comments.

    Jason MatthewsJason-Matthews- of eBook Success 4 Free is Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He is also a novelist, blogger and self-publishing coach. He works with writers around the world through every phase of book creation and marketing.

    You can learn more about Jason here.

    Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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      { 37 comments… read them below or add one }

      Anil Atluri April 23, 2014 at 3:18 am

      An article full of tips, Joel.
      Thank you for the article. I gained plenty from here.

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 20, 2014 at 10:00 am

      Hi Chris,
      Thank you for the comments. I feel the need to email KDP directly and get some response because it doesn’t make logical sense and (as you mentioned) plenty of authors are doing it. Perhaps Amazon is still deciding what to do.
      From that first forum thread you mentioned, one KDP employee response says you can use affiliate links to our own Amazon ebooks within your Amazon ebooks, which makes perfect sense. Here’s the part from that thread:
      “Guys I wrote Amazon about the affiliate links. Turns out you can use affiliate links in your book as long as they are only amazon affiliate links and not to other websites. here is my message and their reply.
      Is it against the rules to use affiliate links to link other books i have written?
      Or should I only use the URL? I am confused as to the terms. Please let me know what is approved or not so I can publish accordingly.
      Their reply
      Hello,
      Yes, you can definitely use amazon affiliate links in your Kindle books. However, you can not promote products on other web sites in your Kindle book.
      I hope this information is helpful. Thanks for your understanding and for using Amazon KDP.”
      There may be contradictory dialogue between KDP and Amazon Associates Program. Still it seems ridiculous that one may use Amazon affiliate tags for their own Amazon ebooks everywhere except within their own Amazon ebooks. I can’t think of a reason that should exist, beyond the TOS writer not thinking it out clearly.
      As per your second comment about not seeing more information of how to create EEBs–it’s a valid point. This isn’t a tutorial on creating them, but I probably should have at least briefly mentioned some programs for those interested. Thank you for adding those recommendations.

      Reply

      Chris Backe April 20, 2014 at 9:49 am

      The aforementioned colleague is probably putting her clients in danger. Who knows if/when Amazon decides to crack down on it, or whether they’ll take the book off the market or simply give a warning. I’ve considered a few options, including linking to pages on my travel blog (“for my current recommendations on hotels in Bangkok, see this page on my blog”).

      In any case – Joel, what would you use to create enhanced e-books? =)

      Reply

      Deb Dorchak April 20, 2014 at 9:37 am

      Chris, I’m a die-hard InDesign user, never liked the idea of just using any direct export of a Word doc to anything, but I did stumble across a tool I’ll be using in the future that maintains my standard of quality. It’s the only online converter that, in my opinion, gave me a clean ebook in .mobi and .epub—straight from Word. http://ebook.online-convert.com

      What I liked about it was it kept the text formatting clean AND it put images in, images that sized accordingly to fit the device without any wonkiness.

      This cut down my layout time considerably, since all I had to do for the digital version was clean up the client’s styles in Word.

      For print, I still stick with ID.

      I also find the advertising policy interesting, since I know of one colleague who includes a ton of internal advertising in her clients’ ebooks. Each of her clients has some video or seminar they’re doing and the links to them are right in the front of each book. Her marketing method is a big reason why people go to her to have their ebooks done and up on Amazon.

      Reply

      Chris Backe April 20, 2014 at 7:23 am

      First, Amazon’s TOS prohibits using affiliate links in an ebook. Section 5.1.2 (according to a KDP thread at https://kdp.amazon.com/community/thread.jspa?messageID=379132):
      “You may not include in any Digital Book any advertisements or other content that is primarily intended to advertise or promote products or services”. Another take on the subject is over at http://inspiringtransformationpublishing.com/amazon-links-kindle-book, which supposedly has it from the horse’s mouth.

      Anecdotally, I can say that authors are doing it, and Amazon isn’t pulling books out of the catalog. That may simply be a policy to prevent them from taking on a huge workload, but they have recently tightened the strings on the affiliate programs.

      Second, I find it really funny that article about “new technologies” to create enhanced e-books doesn’t mention any of them. What programs would you use to create these? InDesign is far from the easiest program to use, and plenty of folks have tried the enhanced-ebook-made-easy (RIP Moglue). Hiring a professional (the “farm it out” argument) dodges the question – how is an author supposed to know what questions to ask when they don’t know what programs or services a pro might use to create?

      If you’re looking for the best way to create enhanced e-books right now, for free, download iBooks Author for your Mac for free. There are some significant limitations, but it’s one tool that’s out there right now.

      (As an aside, I’ve written books in PowerPoint, toyed with an early beta of Moglue, and am always on the lookout for new tools. Just a bit disappointed no ways to create enhanced e-books were mentioned.)

      Reply

      Will Gibson April 17, 2014 at 5:31 pm

      Corina, I think it comes down to the ‘intuitiveness’ of working with computers and technology and within the Internet. It’s not in the DNA of older writers like myself as much as with the younger generations. And if we don’t use computers extensively in our employment, we also don’t have much practice with them.

      This area of self-publishing has become a bigger challenge to me than the writing and the editing of the book. I rely on my son for all things computer. And when he gets ‘mad at me’ for this lack of intuition, I just remind him that I was born in the forties and that we didn’t even have television then.

      Jason, I echo the other commenters in saying that your article is outstanding. It is well-written, informative, and clear. And I know that we old writers don’t have any choice but ‘to embrace’ these new technologies. The opportunities are exciting, if somewhat intimidating, but I’m looking forward to the challenges.

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 17, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      It’s a demographic irony, Will. The group with the most information to share have the steepest learning curve for how to share that information.

      Reply

      Paul Salvette April 16, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Great article, Joel, as always. The interactive quizzes are a great idea, particularly for textbooks. It would be interesting to see what authors come up with. However, the eBook platforms need to be able to support JavaScript. It’s called for in the EPUB3 specification but adoption has not been very forthcoming by reading systems, despite the fact that web browsers have supported it since the 1990s.

      For the choose-your-own-adventure type books with hyperlinks, James Schannep has some fun ones. An interesting use of existing eBook technology rather than go down the much more complicated (and expensive) book as an app route:

      http://www.amazon.com/James-Schannep/e/B0094AZ9QM

      Reply

      D.G. Kaye April 16, 2014 at 9:33 am

      Excellent article! Good checklist reminder for book inclusions. Thanks for sharing! I am sharing too!

      (Rewritten due to bad spelling above.) A good reminder to check before hitting send! :)

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 17, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      Haha, I’ve done that too, D.G. Another tip on leaving comments: if the comment is lengthy and you put real effort into crafting it–copy it before submitting. That way if the website or internet has a glitch, you can resubmit it without needing to rewrite your comment masterpiece.

      Reply

      D.G. Kaye April 17, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      Lol, thanks Jason. And yes, I know that trick well as many times I have been caught in that situation! :)

      Reply

      D.G. Kaye April 16, 2014 at 9:31 am

      Excellent article. Good checklist reminder for book inclusions. Thanks for sharing, I am sure to!

      Reply

      Frances Caballo April 16, 2014 at 9:30 am

      What a wonderful article, Jason. Kudos to you. It’s a great reminder on the many features we need to add to our books as well as the possibilities out there as technology develops. Great topic.

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 16, 2014 at 10:36 am

      Always a pleasure, Frances, especially coming from you :)

      Reply

      Deb Dorchak April 16, 2014 at 9:28 am

      “Writing collaborations are about to take a huge leap thanks to programs like Google Docs, where multiple people can contribute, comment, and edit in real time from anywhere online.”

      I’m so glad to hear that. My biz partner and I started doing that in 2010. She’s in Chicago and I’m in Las Vegas—we wrote four full length novels in Gdocs.

      Reply

      Corina Koch MacLeod April 16, 2014 at 10:07 am

      Agreed, Deb. My co-author and I also use Google Docs for real-time collaborative writing. It’s a tool to watch because it has recently added some unique Add-ons for authors. I’ve written an article describing features of Google Docs for writers, for anyone who’s interested: http://bit.ly/1ipNiUY

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 16, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Deb and Corina, you’re on the right track and ahead of the curve on this one :)

      Reply

      Deb Dorchak April 17, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      Thanks Jason and Corina. Wendi and I knew the old “you write a chapter and I’ll write a chapter” style of collaboration wouldn’t work for us. Google Docs has been a blessing…except for that one time we broke it. We maxed out the word count limit and it just stopped. Scariest moment EVER.

      Reply

      Marla Markman April 16, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Terrific article! So informative. I knew about some of these technologies, but others were new to me. I work with a lot of authors who have how-to books, so I’m always thinking of creating books with interactive features.
      Two questions regarding that:
      1) How difficult is it to create interactive worksheets in an ebook?
      2) In general, is interactivity technology something that is being done now, or is that something that’s “around the corner”?

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 16, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Thank you, Marla. Smart of you to be thinking of what you can do for these new authors and books. As per your questions:
      1) Obviously depends on what you’re doing, but without getting into designing an app you’re somewhat limited with interactivity at the moment. You can let the reader direct where they want to go and send them throughout your document, but to really answer questions and other things will take fairly involved coding (an app).
      2) It’s mostly being outsourced to professionals, but I think we’re going to see a lot more indies sharing how to do this soon. It’s on my “embrace” list as I haven’t yet learned to create an app.

      Reply

      Marla Markman April 24, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      Thank you for your answer, Jason. I was afraid of that. What if, instead of being interactive, you wanted readers just to be able to fill out a worksheet electronically, like you can with those online forms where you fill in the blanks and print them out? Right now, those worksheets need to be in a fixed format so they look good in the conversion. Since they are in a fixed format, you can’t fill them in. Is that still the case, unless you create an app, as you describe above?

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 24, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      I don’t think it can be done with making an app for that.

      Reply

      Corina Koch MacLeod April 16, 2014 at 6:52 am

      Great article, Jason.

      You’re quite right: tech learning curves can be quite intimidating for authors. There’s a lot to know. The authors whom I work with certainly find publishing tech intimidating. I’m curious to know if anyone has gathered data on who exactly is finding publishing tech intimidating, and why. Does it come down to demographics, or does it cut across age categories?

      I began as a traditionally published print book author. When ebooks came onto the scene, my co-author and I rewrote one of our books and then hired someone to turn it into an ebook (I now know how to do that myself). Based on feedback from the book’s audience, that book was then turned into an interactive PDF. We’re now considering turning that same book into an app.

      I’m learning a couple of things in this process: it helps to know how your audience wants to experience your content, and sometimes you’re limited by the technology that’s currently available. Give the current technology a try anyway, and then keep an eye out for new technology because it just might be a better fit for your content.

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 16, 2014 at 7:27 am

      Thank you, Corina. You made a few really smart points including the need to give it a try anyway and considering learning to make apps. I think a lot more indies will be making apps soon, and some already are.

      Reply

      Joann Sondy April 16, 2014 at 5:33 am

      Since the books I design are not continuous flowing text, rather they are loaded with images and graphics, the Kindle Direct path was not for us. I have been tapping into and experimenting with other pro-level methods for years.

      I’m learning more about the types of books self-publishers are working on and like sharing how to produce an interactive ebook. For example: travel, cooking, adapting coffee table style books, children’s stories and poetry.

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 16, 2014 at 7:23 am

      Hi Joann. I wish I had more experience with books loaded with images/graphics and possibly the need for fixed layouts. Maybe in the near future–sorry not to have more info on that now.

      Reply

      marcy goldman April 16, 2014 at 5:17 am

      This is a superb feature by Jason Matthews! Since I just published my self pub. my first cookbook – and I didn’t think ahead to formally feature promotional hyper links in the cookbook itself. But a month after book launch, I informally (via my website platform), offered a free 4 Month Membership to Recipe Archive Access on my website. It was my thank-you to my readers. Since subscriptions and recipes have long been monetized on my site, this was indeed added value to the book (whether one purchased the Ebook or print). In hours, I received tons of email receipts from Amazon, Indigo, B&N, from avid cookbook purchasers who were delighted to partake of the added value of book-with-bonus-gift. What’s remarkable is that 50% of those who send in their book receipt, are totally new visitors to my site. For my next cookbook, I will indeed hyper link this offer and think of some new ones. Matthews feature offers some terrific, relatively basic things to do. So that I don’t forget, I’ve pasted some of those things into the manuscript I’m now copy editing – it’s my to-do list/reminder!

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 16, 2014 at 7:21 am

      Really glad to hear it, Marcy. Sounds like you’re doing some wise things with your cookbook. All the best!

      Reply

      J.M. Ney-Grimm April 16, 2014 at 4:47 am

      I’ve seen the recommendation that ebooks have active links to other titles by the author and to review pages. I’d love to be able to include them. Unfortunately my sales are split pretty evenly between Amazon.com and Amazon UK. I get occasional sales in Amazon DE, Amazon ES, and Amazon CA.

      But, currently, Amazon uses the same uploaded ebook file for all its sites. If I put links for Amazon.com in my ebook, then readers in the UK who purchase the book will be directed to the wrong site.

      The same issue comes up with Kobo. I believe they have different online stores for different regions of the globe. And it gets even more acute with Smashwords, where the ebooks are distributed to different vendors altogether.

      How do other authors deal with this? Do you simply put links for the site where you have the majority of your sales? I’m concerned about providing a smooth experience for all my readers.

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 16, 2014 at 7:19 am

      J.M., I like using Global Amazon Links that take a buyer to the proper Amazon nation for their purchase. Two great places to make them are http://www.booklinker.net/ and http://manage.smarturl.it/. The former is only good for Author pages and books at Amazon while the latter will also work for the Reviews page. I use them inside my Kindle books and also at my websites. Here’s a video explaining how to do that with pros and cons of each: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2c5Gk2CXL0

      Reply

      J.M. Ney-Grimm April 17, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      Jason, thank you! That’s super helpful. I see that Booklinker is for Amazon only. Can SmartURL be used for Kobo links to the different Kobo stores? (Although I’m not sure how I would find the Kobo URLs, since I can’t see other Kobo stores from my US location!)

      Also…I’m curious: since these sites seem to be free for the user, how do they make money?

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 17, 2014 at 6:14 pm

      SmartURL can be used for any website that has affiliations with other nations. I use it for my Amazon Review links in my books since BookLinker only works for Author pages and Product pages (even though BookLinker is solely for Amazon). I made a suggestion to the BookLinker designer to add Reviews capabilities, so hopefully that might happen soon.
      Each company allows you to use your own affiliate (tag) links to your products for extra earnings on sales. However, many people don’t do that little step, in which case they add their affiliate links when the tag is omitted. That’s how they make money.

      Reply

      J.M. Ney-Grimm April 17, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      I wondered if that might be it.

      A fellow indie author just informed me that using affliliate links inside an ebook is against Amazon’s Terms of Service. I tried to track it down in the TOS on the Amazon website, but haven’t found the reference yet. This stuff is tricky! I’d sure like to be able to use these global links!

      Jason Matthews April 17, 2014 at 10:07 pm

      Amazon has a huge affiliate program and encourages participation by everyone, including authors for their own books. That’s their business: selling products. I use my own affiliate tags at my websites and within my own ebooks. Ask your friend where he/she got that info.
      It is against Smashwords’ rules to use links to other retailers for sales, so perhaps that’s the concept.

      J.M. Ney-Grimm April 18, 2014 at 4:53 am

      Thanks, Jason. That’s reassuring. Unless I can see the prohibition in the TOS for myself (which I did not, when I checked), I plan to go ahead.

      Greg Strandberg April 16, 2014 at 8:42 am

      For my “also bys” in the back I have two “About the Author” templates – one for Amazon and one for Smashwords. I list a short 50-word blurb for each book and use an anchor text link. It takes about 4 pages in Word to list all my books.

      Reply

      Jason Matthews April 16, 2014 at 10:25 am

      That’s wise, Greg. Some authors even have one specific for Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and/or Google Play. I usually let my Amazon links be the default ones except for Smashwords.

      Reply

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