Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Right now we are facing a game-changing moment in publishing, where publication is possible for those who might never have achieved it before, an opportunity created by the rise of digital publishing. As an author I am excited by the opportunities that the digital medium presents and keen to find new ways to entertain and engage readers. Yet it’s also true that one of the greatest challenges facing authors today is how to write for the digital age.
Skill at storytelling using the written word does not necessarily translate to skill using various new technologies available, or even knowing which options to utilize.
Writers write and, thankfully, I think there will always be a market for the book in its traditional print form and electronic equivalent.
But digital publishing presents an opportunity for enhancement and interactivity that’s talked about a lot more than it’s explored, and the main reason for this is the technology available to authors, the level of knowledge authors have about these programs, and differences between the various digital reading devices.
Related: The Digital Book Awards, honoring the most innovative digital publishing
Challenges and opportunities
For example, what does your average writer know about EPUB3 and the industry-wide hesitation surrounding this program? How much do they need to know? What do authors know about building an app, about learning how to use programs like iBooks Author or Demibooks Composer?
Learning these new technologies – which change every couple of years – means losing valuable writing time and takes authors away from their key competency. Authors are writers, not software engineers! Nor are they film-makers, photographers, illustrators, typographers or designers, or any of the other professions that contribute to enhancing ebooks or building apps.
The point is, applying any level of interactivity or enhancement to the book in digital form (whether ebook or app) relies on specialist skills that most writers do not have. Yet the quandary remains: In order to succeed as authors today, familiarity with these technologies is becoming increasingly important.
Doing digital differently
When I set out to write my own series I had highfalutin ideas about what I wanted to do to enhance it digitally, but I didn’t know how to make an app, or build a website, or even what a MOBI file was. But I knew I had a ripping yarn to tell that could accommodate some reader interactivity – without surrendering control of the overall narrative or offering alternative endings (a la Choose Your Own Adventure/Pick a Path).
Despite researching many of the options available I did not adopt any of them. In the end I settled on the only technique I could see that would work across all the digital reading platforms: a simple hyperlink.
Whether you are reading with a Kindle or an iPad, a hyperlink will work to direct readers to one part or another of the book. It’s not the complex layering I had in mind, but it did give me an opportunity to give the reader a chance to make his or her own choices about the order in which they received the information, and from which character.
That a good old hyperlink was my best – and most affordable – choice for digital enhancement when I started writing in 2012, and it probably still is today, surprises me – particularly when you consider that the hyperlink has been in use for electronic/digital writing for nearly 30 years, with programs such as Storyspace. But maybe I missed something! I am keen to hear other ideas authors have adopted in order to enhance their ebooks. And despite the limitations there is still plenty of scope for experimentation, a fact we should be celebrating.
This is the first of a series of articles on digital publishing from an author’s perspective by J.J. Gadd.