3 Differences Between Printed and Digital Books―From an Editor's Point of View

Everybody's talking about the differences between printed and digital books from a reader's perspective. Hard-copy lovers enjoy the smell and feel of paperback books, and how they can be displayed neatly on a bookshelf. Those who prefer electronic copies talk about convenience, because they can read anywhere using their smartphone, tablet, or favorite reader device, which are lightweight and can store thousands of titles.

But how different are POD (print-on-demand) and digital books for those people putting them together? What do editors have to think about and anticipate when it comes to book design and planning? I'm going to share my experiences here considering the process I went through when organizing two volumes of the Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories collection.

1. Page Numbers vs. Click and Interact

It's pretty obvious: you need page numbers to know where you're at or find a particular chapter on a paper book. But, you wouldn't need it in an ebook, right? One of the main advantages of digital reading is that you can change the font style and size on a device. And, once a reader changes those settings, you do realize that the way you envisioned what your digital book should look like is going to be thrown out of the window...

So, the key to understanding the fundamental difference between hard copy and ebook is that you don't need to number pages when preparing the latter, either on the corner of a page or in a table of contents. What you need are clickable links on a table of contents, which would direct the reader to a bookmarked chapter or section in the book.

The same is true for footnotes, since they won't appear the same way (foot of the page) and should become end notes in digital books, that is, they would come at the end of the book and have the words associated to them as clickable links―without that superscript number to keep them in order. 

And while you're at it, you can also add more interaction, by linking other parts of the book to an external source, such was your author website or link to other books you've written.

These are the steps I followed on the CBSS ebooks: the table of contents showed the title of each short story and the respective author, with links to each relevant page. That way, readers could click and go straight to the content they wanted to read.

Two versions of a Table of Contents: Printed (left) and Electronic (right)

2. Images and Author Pages

Author's Bio for the Printed Version

Author's Bio for the Printed Version

Remember I talked about planning the look your book will have? Well, in paper books you can have an image placed in one corner of the page and arrange the text neatly around it. You can choose to increase or decrease the size of an image to match the size of the paragraph (i.e. to avoid having one too many or too few lines around the image.)

And, where are you most likely to use images? In author pages, of course. By the way, if you're not adding an author page at the end of your book, you're doing it wrong! That's a great opportunity to share your bio, more info about your book and career, and links to your website and other books you've written. In this day and age, you must engage your readers not only with your original story, but with your life story as well!

Author's Bio for the Electronic Version

Author's Bio for the Electronic Version

Planning it on paper is easy, but when it comes to digital versions, the best thing you can do is not align images with text. You should place it centralized, above or below the paragraph, so no matter what readers do as far as customizing how the text looks on a device, your image will never get in the way and the alignment won't look awkward.

When putting together the CBSS volumes, I had to have two sets of layouts: the print one would show the author's photo and short bio on the left-hand side of the first page featuring their translated short story, while the electronic version had all bios organized alphabetically at the end of the book, and the pictures were placed as I just mentioned―right above the bio.

On the electronic version, everything was more centralized, since readers could see the picture, short bio, and links galore to learn more about the author (email, website/blog, twitter, Facebook, YouTube, as well as books they've published.) For the printed book, due to the limited space, we opted for a picture + bio on the English version of their short story, then a picture + contact info on the Portuguese (original) version of their story.


3. Prices and Giveaways

This is an age-old debate, at least for as long as digital books have been around: How come digital books are sometimes just as expensive as paperback versions? Well, each publisher or self-published author has their own reasons for pricing a different version of a book a certain way, but from my own experience I can tell you that, yes, ebooks can (and should!) be cheaper.

Let's think about a simple math: each printed copy must be printed, and that takes paper. Paper costs money. Distribution of physical items costs money. So, if you choose to have your book in paperback format, your print-on-demand costs will have some overhead. With a digital book, you only need one original and multiple copies can "travel" online to their destination at the same time without much added cost.

So, when pricing your books, make sure you reflect that overhead by using those calculators that are conveniently provided by your publishing platform of choice. During the publishing process, you will be able to calculate how much your share of the royalties will be and how much commission the platform will keep. And, while maximizing your profits by matching both prices is very enticing, you may have a wider reach with digital books at a more affordable price.

Besides, when you have a giveaway going on, you can do much more with digital copies of your book. If you've promised to send out autographed printed books, for example, you'll have to buy a few copies―at an author's discounted price, of course. That's exactly what we did when I had a talk at the American Translators Association annual conference in San Antonio and took 20 copies with me to help with distribution and raise awareness of the project. Now, if you're sending digital copies you can pay a lot less, create discount coupons for certain campaigns, or even send it out for free, depending on your distribution channel.

Well, these are pretty much the three main lessons I've learned while putting together the two CBSS volumes. What lessons would you like to share from your own publishing experience?

RAFA LOMBARDINO is a translator and journalist from Brazil who lives in California. She has been working as a translator since 1997 and, in 2011, started to join forces with self-published authors to translate their work into Portuguese and English. In addition to acting as content curator at eWordNews, she also runs Word Awareness, a small network of professional translators, and coordinates two projects to promote Brazilian literature worldwide: Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories (CBSS) and Cuentos Brasileños de la Actualidad (CBA).