“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.
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,
- 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 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:
The possibilities are endless.
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.
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.
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 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.