Is editing e-books more like editing books or editing web content?

Hello Rachel
I have been asked to edit and proofread e-books. Do the rules for web content writing have any bearing on e-book writing?
Kind regards
The Scribe
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Dear Scribe
My first question is: what format will the e-books be produced in? I see rather different rules for PDF-only e-books and those destined for other formats used on Kindle, Kobo, iPad and so forth.
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Hi Rachel
I have asked my client who produces the e-books about the format and it depends upon the author’s preference.   Mainly in PDF format to be viewed in a standard browser but may be formatted for an iPad, or other mobile device such as an iPhone. It would have to be a very short book to be read on a mobile phone, I should think!

The e-books may be marketing material or books written by people who will only produce their books in electronic form. I do proofreading and copy-editing and, since I did your web content course, I have also worked on content for web sites in accordance with the principles I learned from you.
I am wondering if those same principles apply to the e-books. I should think they do for marketing material, but in the case of a normal book in electronic form, should it be more like an ordinary book or more like web content?

Since I did the Contented Diploma in Web Writing, I tend to think that all documents should share the qualities of good web content.
Kind regards,
The Scribe
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Dear Scribe
It's counterintuitive, but long books on an iPhone are a pleasure to read. Try it! I'm reading Nicholas Nickleby on my iPhone right now. People used to cite the iPhone as their preferred reading device before the iPad came along. I love its portability, clear screen, touch page-turning and resizable text.

Now the nitty gritty.

E-books destined for multiple devices including mobile phones can be written any way. Novels should be written like novels, and annual reports like annual reports.

E-books about marketing should use ultra-plain English, and will benefit greatly from other web writing principles. For instance, clear, front-loaded chapter titles will make the e-book easy to search and follow.

The major variations in instructions concern formatting, believe it or not.

If you know you are certainly writing only for a PDF and no other format, then somebody needs to take pains with design and text formatting. People expect a commercial PDF to look beautiful. I assume your client has a good designer and wants you to do nothing but edit.

However, the e-books you edit will go into several different formats. Therefore your edited document needs to be extremely simple, so it can be easily converted. I'm oversimplifying, but in general the way is as follows. 

  • If you receive a document with inconsistent styles, dump it into plain text format and start again. (It's painful unpicking the writer's bad styles paragraph by paragraph.)
  • Ideally you'll be given a template that is self-explanatory.  If not, use Styles in Word and be utterly consistent.
  • Use a minimum of Styles, nothing fancy. The best starting point for the body of an e-book is plain text with just one or two levels of heading.
  • Don't 'design' the book. It doesn't matter what it looks like in your Word document, as long as Styles are simple and consistent.
  • Another reason for not fiddling with formatting: on an iPhone or iPad, readers can change every aspect of text design (font size, page colour etc), just as they can on the Web.
  • Don't do anything fancy: no tables, columns or images. (You can see this is very different from a PDF, where images and beautiful design come into their own.)

Smashwords free Style Guide is clear and useful

When I say 'try it!' — that's the very best advice I can give you. Try reading novels on a friend's iPhone and iPad. Check out tons of free PDF e-books on the internet, and compare the various experiences. Trust your own judgement about what works and why.

My other main tip is to ask your client every question that comes to mind. Ask to see the e-books he has published. The more questions you ask, the better you'll do.

Don't expect yourself to be a perfect e-book editor from Day One: practice makes perfect, and very very good is good enough. You are an experienced editor and proofreader, and you understand what happens to text on a screen, so your work will be very very good. Have fun.

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Thank you so much for your advice, Rachel. I will try reading e-books on my son’s iPhone very soon. A neighbour has just suggested I pop along and play with her iPad, which I will do; can’t wait to try one out actually.
The publisher has a clever designer so I can stick to my knitting. As you say, the main thing is to do it, particularly as the e-book he showed me desperately needed editorial help.
The Scribe

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