Excellent Ebooks Sydney wrap-up (APA Workshop)

Newsflash! The Australian Publishers Association is running these workshops again in Sydney and Melbourne in October 2012. Details are on their training calendar.

Run in Sydney on Tuesday 5th June and today in Melbourne 12th June.  The first thing I should say about this workshop is that it sold out in both Sydney and Melbourne. If you are interested in this workshop then contact the APA as they could to run these workshops again if they get the numbers. The contact details of the Australian Publishers Association Professional Manager are available at the top of their training calendar here and you can read the information sheet on the Australian Publishers Association website.

Developed and presented by Sarah Hazelton and Natalie Costa Bir,  The Australian Publishers Association made it available for industry training. Some highlights and what was covered during the day:

Dymystifying ebooks and defining key terms

  • Sarah and Natalie took us though some of the key terms and ensured we understood what they meant. This was important to the day to make sure we were comfortable with the language. We also receive these as part of our excellent handouts.


  • Does this word fill you with horror? Does the sight of all those ‘tags’ and the words ‘HTML elements’ make you feel as though you’ve landed in ‘Codeland’?  Don’t worry you’re not alone.
  • Sarah and Natalie gave us a run through of the basics and then set us all an exercise by handing out a sheet and asking us to find the errors. Reminding us that html is logical many of looked at the sheet initially with a sense of terror.
  • But the exercise reassured us all of the logic and simplicity behind coding if we could see past the unfamiliar characters. We had to look for both editorial and coding errors and learn in one case that what looked like an error wasn’t in fact! Sneaky trick, but good lesson!

The Elements of a Print Book v’s Ebook

  • Attendees had the chance to suggest what they knew about differences between print and digital books. These included text reflow; difficulty with breakout boxes and tables; where images will sit in relation to the text; the prelim information and covers.
  • Included in our Excellent Handouts was a handy comparison table listing in details the differences in the elements.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Natalie and Sarah took us through some key questions to ask yourself when preparing for your ebook conversions as well as how you approach your book from the beginning.  Does your book use different typefaces for emphasis or to indicate a conversation? In the world of ‘choose your own font’ this approach won’t work and it is imperative to decide another approach. Consider does the book cover work when reduced to thumbnail size or will you need different covers for print and digital. What material that traditionally sits at the front of a print book will need to be moved to the back and what will be dropped?
  • Sarah and Natalie also emphasised throughout the training of the need to communicate changes to the author to ensure they understand the process and work that is needed for conversion processes.  Their Excellent Handouts gave more pointers to what should be considered when creating ebooks to best practice standards.

Additional Content for Ebooks

  • I particularly enjoyed the section to encourage attendees to think of what can be added to ebooks to improve the experience. Whether this is additional images, cross-selling other books by the author or asking for feedback considering what we can do to enhance the digital reading experience.

Creating an Ebook

  • In this section of the course we got into the nuts and bolts of various approaches to creating an ebook. They helpfully supplied scenarios to give us an understanding of the different approaches.
  • We were talked through how to set up styles in word. We also heard how to work InDesign when outputting to an epub file.
  • I particularly enjoyed the discussion about having your content in a CMS (Content Management System). Having had many similar conversations in the late 90’s early/2000’s when managing websites it had a slight sense of deja-vu. But in a good way. I’ve been involved in setting up and documenting CMS workflows and it makes total sense from a publishing viewpoint to manage your content, workflow, testing, approvals and outputs this way.
  • I remember from times managing websites that there is a cost investment needed to migrate your content into the CMS. Sometimes this feels like a burden but a robust CMS will enable various outputs and uses including social media.

  • I don’t know the costs of these systems however some names I heard mentioned included TeamSite and Squizz. These may appear to be angled towards website content and outputs but I gather you can also get ebook outputs.
  • Having seen how printed book corrections were logged in a large publishing house the thought of having to only do a correction once across multiple files is brilliant. There are many useful reasons to use a CMS.
  • The main message about his section is that there is no one way of creating ebooks; the decision is whether it’s a simple route or more complex approach.

Epub Under the Bonnet

  • In this section Natalie and Sarah took us though the composition of the epub as well as the importance of metadata and the benefits of cascading style sheets.

Editing ebooks

  • Sarah reminded us not to be a hero when editing backlist titles – don’t fix anything that isn’t wrong; you could end up causing more problems. Remember if you do find an error don’t blindly to a ‘search and replace’ without thinking through what could happen. She mentioned the recent case of War and Peace as quoted in this story in The Guardian by Hermione Hoby:

When, however, Philip came across the line, “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern”, the Kindle/Nook rivalry wasn’t foremost in his mind. Instead, he thought he’d just stumbled on an unorthodox verb-translation or some other minor textual hiccup. It was only when that rogue “Nookd” struck again that he realised, via the text’s search function, that every instance of the word “kindle” or “kindle” had, in fact, been changed to “Nook” and “Nookd”.

  • I don’t know if this story is funny or sad but really highlights the danger of not proofing your ebook and never never do a global search and replace! Good advice Sarah! 

Workflow – the crucial knowledge

  • Sarah and Natalie set us a great group task by giving each table a set of post-it notes with various workflow steps already written on them. We then worked together to put them into the right order for a dual print and ebook workflow. It was really interesting to see the slight variations in approach that each table had come up with and at the end of the exercise we were talked through these. 
  • Our Excellent Handouts gave us workflows for print and ebook and also workflow for ebook only.

Tips for integrating ebooks into your workflow

  • Again, covered in our Excellent Handouts, this section gave us tips that are imperative to ensuring ebooks fit into your workflow. These included some ‘seemingly obvious but need to be said’ tips like plan first and do costings. Other tips included training for your staff and working with your editorial team to get them comfortable with code.

Quality Assurance (QA) Checklist

  • Over my career I’ve managed QA on website content, website builds, website applications not to mention the thousands of books that have passed through the Production Departments that I have managed. 
  • Feel free to call me a nerd but a testing plan – in this case the handy QA checklist in our Excellent Handouts – just makes me happy. This should help many publishers approach their QA in the correct way and is worth the price of the workshop alone. 


  • Sarah and Natalie gave us an amusing debate over Digital Rights Management so that we could see how to explain this to authors. Our Excellent Handouts also covered DRM.
  • We then had an exercise with our table to come up with some suggested keywords for a title as this is a way to approach your book blurb as an editor to help with search results. This was a very interesting exercise and one that I found I didn’t do so well!
  • We also talked Metadata, what it is and how it helps retailers and other websites to categorise books. 

Enhanced Ebooks

  • We had a great discussion from Natalie on her experience creating an enhanced ebook. Our Excellent Handouts also gave us some great information to consider in your approach. 
If the summary I have written here has whetted your appetite to attend this workshop then check out the details at the beginning of the post and contact the APA so these can be run again in Sydney and Melbourne!
I’ve only touched the surface of what we learnt throughout the day and this is highly recommended, not just to editorial staff but to anyone involved in setting up and running your ebook program.

Thanks APA, Sarah Hazelton and Natalie Costa Bir!

2 thoughts on “Excellent Ebooks Sydney wrap-up (APA Workshop)

  1. Hi Anna,
    Just wanted to say a huge thank you for coming along to the Sydney workshop. Sarah and I had a blast with the group and were most appreciative of all the insightful questions and sharing of experiences from everyone.
    This write up is great – and I hope it whets the appetites of more attendees!

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