Planning for Digital Production Before It Starts

Team of young designers working together in office. Diverse business executive standing at a table working on new business project.
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This is the first of what I hope will be a series of migrated articles from Digital Book World. This piece was originally published there in May 2015. Watch this space for more!

When was the last time you invited an ebook developer to an acquisitions meeting?

I venture to say that it’s the rare publisher who thinks that far in advance. The in-house crew responsible for the ebook will have a perspective that’s different than the editor’s, the sales manager’s, or the marketing team’s. Planning for the digital version of the book should happen right from the start.

Scale, lateral content, typography, formats – these are things that your marketing people aren’t going to understand in the same nuanced manner.

There are plenty of artifacts on the proverbial cutting room floor that could add lateral depth to many digital products. Unlike its print counterpart, an ebook doesn’t need to be produced in even signatures and can be enhanced by reintroducing sidebar material that was excised from the print book for length reasons. This is particularly true for nonfiction monographs, for instance, where additional context and resources can be added to the back of a chapter, in a “jump to” appendix.

In practice, an ebook developers’ influence can be as small as thinking ahead to keeping the color versions of images that will later be converted to grayscale for print so they can be returned to color for the ebook, or to reminding editors that a yellow, low-contrast cover is going to disappear on an e-ink device.

A savvy ebook developer will ferret away descriptions of the commissioned illustrations that can be used later for the descriptive ALT text. And, of course, the developer will push the production editor to secure post-print image rights so that the ebook doesn’t wind up accidentally missing half of its content.

For highly designed titles, a digital production expert will also encourage typographical choices that can be maintained in the ebook—slamming the door on PostScript fonts or opening up the already ebook-licensed OTF/TTF cabinet for designers. The developer will understand the glyph and diacritics needs of the content and help plan for a font that covers those needs in all formats.

An ebook developer will push fixed-layout projects away from trim sizes that will be letter-boxed badly on tablets, instead directing them toward aspect ratios that maximize screen real estate. She will remind you to keep archived versions of the artwork that preserve all the layers, so that when the grant to animate this content comes through, the production department will be ready. And she’ll also make sure you keep the expressive text as a separate layer, not flattened in to the artwork.

Finally, a really smart ebook developer will already be planning how to scale content to the web, making sure their ebooks have clean HTML and that responsive best practices are already clearly established. She’s already pegged an image for the snowfall-style opener, saved an interview with the author and mapped out the image galleries.

Needless to say, editors, marketers and sales teams can’t be faulted for not planning for any of these things themselves. Their expertise lies elsewhere and is no less essential to the success of any given title.

But the truth of the matter is that everyone loses out when production experts don’t have a seat at the table early in the publishing process—not least of all the ebooks that come out of it.

So editors, go ahead and invite an ebook developer to your next planning meeting. The worst that can happen is you’ll end up with a rich, vibrant ebook.

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