The Future of TRULY Interactive Ebooks, by Mary Cummings
June 25, 2012 | 8:45 am
By Paul Biba
[Editor's Note: Mary Cummings is editorial director of Diversion Publishing. We wrote about their interactive ebook here.]
Enhanced e-books aren’t new and neither are interactive e-books. But one thing that you don’t see too much of is interactive e-books that operate as true e-books (no apps required!). These are books that you find in the Kindle store rather than the App store. They work on every device, from black and white Kindles to iPad 3s. But you probably haven’t seen too many of these e-books—neither have I.
But now they are here and I’m very excited. Why? Because of what it means for authors. Consider all those plot turns you scratched. What if you included “alternate endings,” killed off your hero just to see what happened, and then allowed your reader to take a U-turn and continue the story? The material is already there from your editing and development process. Think of it as a “director’s cut”.
That’s why I was excited about the opportunities presented when W. Craig Reed approached Diversion Books with his completed plot-interactive military thriller, The Eagle and the Snake, complete with a multimedia non-fiction afterword. Reed’s novel has a number of plot choices the reader faces, as opposed to the one or two that are common in other titles that boast plot interaction. Reed also includes bonus material like character videos and “files” that can be linked to throughout the novel. What I love about this book is that the experience of actually reading the novel isn’t disrupted by enhanced features. And if at any point you don’t want to read supplemental material, you can simply press the “back” button on your device and go back to where you were in the narrative. More than anything, The Eagle and the Snake reminds me of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I loved as a kid.
Diversion did all of the book building in-house using Vook. What this basically consisted of was building the “vanilla” book with the actual text, creating an ePub, unzipping that ePub, identifying the location names for where each plot choice or non-fiction teaser lead, and then creating an anchor and hyperlink system within the chapters that is similar to what you would do in a Word document. It took a little getting used to, but was surprisingly straightforward.
Vook packages start at $9.99, so this provides a stark contrast to the expensive prospects of book app creation or even simple conversion. Our Vook book could be fine-tuned to do exactly what we wanted, and when something didn’t work, we were able to go back in and fix it. The tools are there, and they’re no longer exclusive to tech gurus.
If you’re thinking about doing a project like this one, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Know what you’re getting into. Before you even think about creating the interactive and/or enhanced e-book, make sure your material fits, that everything has been well-edited, and that your reader will have a good experience of simply reading the book. It’s not easy! Reed’s novel is basically 2 ½ books, between alternate plot lines and the non-fiction afterword. Be prepared to go the extra mile if this type of project is something you’re interested in.
Read the manual. Whether you’re using Vook or something else, the step-by-step process of unzipping the ePub, identifying locations, and entering hyperlinks and anchors needs to be followed very closely!
Make time for troubleshooting. This is not a crash-through project. If the reader experience isn’t a good one, you’re missing the whole point, so make sure each interactive step takes your readers exactly where they want to be.
Keep in mind that different devices allow for different features. Some things won’t work on older Kindles (e.g. video), so take that into consideration if you’re thinking about embedding video or other features. Find alternatives (such as embedded links that take you outside of the book) and make sure the reader has the information to access these features through another source, like a laptop. You might even consider making two versions of the book—one with embedded higher-functionality features, and one without (but still with all of the info on how to access those great features).