E-book First and Other Publishing Strategies

By David Alan Rech of Scribe Inc.


With the growing popularity of e-books, questionable profitability in print book development, changes in publicity, and new review methodologies, almost every publisher is considering a variety of strategies for book publishing.

Some publishers are developing e-books first. If the e-book sells well and seems to justify the cost of a print run, then they develop the print version. Others are developing selected books only as e-books. These books are created as either separate titles, elements of other books, or serial publications. Many are using e-books for sales and marketing purposes. This allows publishers to create e-books that can be used for review and publicity before first pages. It also avoids the cost of printed galleys and starts the sales and marketing cycle earlier.

Any publisher can take the following simple steps to facilitate a change in publishing strategy:

  1. Make sure your books are always in an electronic format. Copyedit, typeset, and correct books using electronic methods, and ensure that you never print your book during any stage of corrections.
  2. Clean up the manuscript while it is still in the copyediting phase. The greatest hindrance to a flexible workflow is using the typesetting phase to finalize the content of a manuscript. All known issues should be resolved in the copyediting phase; insertion of new material, editing, and the resolution of queries should not be handled in pages. While an argument can be made for a proofreading stage, there is no requirement that books be put in pages (even if you have difficult authors). You can easily proofread from a clean Word document or even an e-book, neither of which requires fixed page makeup.
  3. Structure the book from the beginning. This can easily be done by using styles in Word or pursuing a strategy to produce a well-formed document. The copyediting phase should be the latest phase in which structure is determined. Structural decisions should never wait until typesetting.
  4. Never allow the content of your book to be held in a dead-end technology. Your books should always be held in an archival format that contains sufficient structural information from which other versions can be derived. This structure will allow your books to be easily converted to any format that is popular at the moment, issue an updated printing, reedit the content for a new edition, or develop future products without having to perform additional work. You can accomplish this in a number of ways (including the Well-Formed Document Workflow), but you should have a robust markup, not an annotated one like that of the ePub format or a difficult to convert format like PDF.

Fortunately, all the strategies that allow you to publish in flexible ways also increase efficiency and avoid many of the problems publishers currently face. You don’t need a radical shift in work methodology or difficult technology to pursue a variety of publishing scenarios. Given the current situation in publishing, it’s imperative that we begin to explore these strategies now. We can no longer be paralyzed by a difficult business environment.