At the ebookCraft conference in Toronto, Canada, this March, I got a chance to talk to the industry’s busiest ebook creators from North America and the UK. I asked them what copyeditors could do to make the process smoother for them. Their requests are eminently easy to accommodate, and the skills are a good thing for a copyeditor to highlight to work in this market.
“Use styles!” pleaded Simon Collinson, Digital Editor at England’s all-digital Canelo Digital Publishing. Creating an ebook means a lot of coding; ebook production staff are programmers. Even more than in copyediting (Is this possible?), consistency and precision are paramount. When a Word manuscript has Styles applied to every bit of content, the ebook production staff can use macros and CSS (cascading style sheets) to automagically produce a correctly styled book.
To make this smooth, every single style must be well defined in a design style guide. To increase quality, “labels styles the same across all books,” says Lindsey Hunnewell, Digital Marketing Coordinator at Nimbus Publishing Ltd. in Canada. That doesn’t mean all books need to look the same. Hunnewell’s team will apply separate looks for each book even when the Word styles are identical. It just means a lot less data to manage (and fewer places to go wrong) when the code set is limited.
Communicate Changes Clearly
Ebooks don’t have fixed page numbers, as anyone who’s used an e-reader will know. Pages reflow infinitely, depending on the user’s setting for text size and the size of their screen (e.g., Kindle vs phone). So, directions like “change the colon after following on page 14 to a period,” just won’t help production find the offending colon. They’re working in the raw code, not even on an ereader. Location identifiers in ebooks are an ongoing problem. (It didn’t even sound like solutions were satisfactory enough to be a source of debate. They’re just a problem.)
The one suggestion I heard repeated was Laura Brady’s that a unique string of words (or whole sentence) be used to identify the location. Production staff can then identify the text easily by a simple search. Brady is one of the leaders in ebook production, and an organizer of the conference.
Identify Scene Breaks with More than Space
Ebook producers don’t see the fancy Word formatting that was applied. They see pale code in Courier on a black screen. So they can’t visually tell where a scene break is because of a taller white space. “Mark scene breaks with ***, not just a blank line,” Collinson requests. “This converts to a thin line across the margin.”
This matters for coding the layout as well as for supporting accessibility for screen readers and other tools for people with visual impairment. A blank line is not read as a pause, and it takes a moment for the listener to get their bearings when scene breaks are not audible. Accessibility was the dominant thread at this conference, as this is both considerate and a massively growing market as the population ages.
Provide the Metadata
Another possible role for the copyeditor is in writing the metadata and applying the accessibility tags and in checking that content. “Understand all metadata needs,” advised Hunnewell.
Metadata includes the cataloguing information and descriptions that libraries and book sellers use to categorize titles and find them for users. Accuracy (a copyeditor’s specialty) is paramount. A typo in a name will make a title utterly undiscoverable to potential buyers and readers.
“Give the copyeditor a narrow list of the tags [for metadata] that apply to what they’re doing,” says Brendan Ouellette, of Canada’s Annick Press.
A11y (accessibility) tags include the information that screen readers voice for visuals, tables, and such. Descriptive text, in particular, needs to be appropriate, meaningful, and not redundant of captions or body text.
This is a goal for just about everyone in the editorial process: stop the tinkering. What the programmers would like is to get a final, final file. Wouldn’t we all. But this is something worth reviewing. They want proofreading done before layout, so that the only corrections then are related to coding and layout snafus: missing text, misstyled heads, and such. How can we get closer to final? “Soft proofs” are the way one major publisher tried to solve this: tweaking Word settings to mimic the final page size, font, and layout, then proofreading that.
Photo by Zhoa, used under CC BY-2.0 license.