Introducing LatinNow ePubs and Anna’s new book!

By Janie Masséglia

This month sees the launch of LatinNow’s first volume (although it’s Volume 2!) in our new series Manual of Roman Everyday Writing, available as an Open Access interactive flipbook:

Anna Willi (2021), Writing Equipment, Manual of Roman Everyday Writing, Vol. 2,
LatinNow ePubs, Nottingham.

We’re delighted for Anna and the whole team send our congratulations for completing such a stellar publication in the strangest of years. I’ve nobbled this month’s blog to write about the business of publishing an ebook, and what we’ve learned about getting the new volume into ‘print’.

We were first inspired by the gorgeous publications by the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama in Oxford, who produced their Medea book back in 2016 and their Agamemnon book last year. For academic projects and researchers looking to dip their toes into Open Access publishing, an in-house ebook has a number of advantages:

  • You can control everything about the look and layout of the book
  • You can share your work easily online, encouraging a wider readership
  • You can embed links and videos
  • You can update your publication instantly
  • You can track and study the traffic to your site (e.g. using Google Analytics), giving you that all-important data when reporting your research ‘impact’

But there are some areas where it might seem easier to fall back on a traditional Press, particularly peer review and permanency. We’ve been working hard to negotiate our way around these problems, and wanted to share both our new publication and our findings:

Self-publishing isn’t incompatible with Peer Review

It’s now more important than ever that scholars receive acknowledgement for their hard work. We were adamant that we wanted our books to be officially recognised as ‘proper’ Open Access books, and so held in mind the criteria that would allow us to apply for Certification with the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) once they were published. If you can set up a Board of Editors, an Editor-in-Chief, follow the steps to have the manuscript frankly appraised by external experts, and make your processes open and transparent, you don’t need to rely on a traditional Press for your ebook to be peer-reviewed. You just need to be brave!

Get yourself an ISBN number

If you are attached to a University and part of a research project, the chances are that your Library will be able to provide an ISBN number. If not, these can be purchased easily online.

Choose the right type of ebook for your readers

In most cases, preparing an ebook begins with making a PDF. I used Adobe InDesign to prepare the layout, but any word-processor which prints to PDF (including good ol’ MS Word) would work. If you insert logical bookmarks, cross-references and links into your PDF, you make it more interactive and easier to navigate. But there is a snag when dealing with long texts in PDF: all that scrolling. With a hard-copy book, the reader can check a reference or view an appendix before returning to their original location just by putting their finger between the pages. With PDFs and some ebooks, once you’ve followed a link elsewhere, there’s not always an obvious way to get back. Scroll, scroll, scroll.

In the case of Anna’s ebook, she had built a fantastic appendix of literary sources with original texts and translations, and these could be found by following a hyperlink in the main text. How could we get the reader back from the appendix to the original page they were reading? We could have programmed another link, this time from the appendix back to the main text. But what if several places in the main text referred to the same item in the appendix? The manuscript would become littered with options. In fact, there is a way to return to your previous location in a PDF (Alt + left arrow key in a PC, or Command + left arrow key on a Mac) but this manoeuvre isn’t familiar to all users. How could we make the book as user-friendly as possible, retaining the best bits of a traditional book and an ebook? The answer came in choosing an additional software to turn the PDF into a “flipbook”.

What’s a Flipbook?

Flipbook software processes your PDF and gives a smart on-screen interface that also provides helpful navigation buttons and reading features. Very little of the flipbook software on the market is made with long, finger-in-the-page-while-you-check-the-references-type text in mind, so finding one that offers the right features for an academic book is essential. Our wish-list for usability included:

  • a ‘back’ button to help the reader return to a previous location
  • the option to have the Table of Contents visible alongside the book while reading
  • a search box to function as an index
  • the option to embed videos and media in the text
  • a standard format which could easily be made available and shared online

We compared lots of software packages by using the free trial version before finally settling on one called FLIP PDF Professional, the only one we could find that really lent itself to the way researchers use books. It uses HTML5 so works like (well, it is) a webpage (cave emptor: avoid any software which only uses Flash, as this is being phased out and you’ll have bought a white elephant). This little video shows these functions in action for Anna’s new book:

Future-proof your ebook

The current trend in flipbook software is for monthly subscriptions. Aimed primarily at the journalism and publicity sectors, these payment plans mean that, for an ongoing fee, users always have the most up-to-date features and have the option to store their publications in the provider’s online repositories. But when the payments stop, the ebooks and brochures disappear. Most academic research projects only last a few years, so it’s important not to become tied to a subscription service.  The one we settled on happened to be one of the few services which we could buy outright, up-front, meaning we had complete ownership in perpetuity of our publications.

Finding a permanent webpage to house the ebook was important. LatinNow, like many research projects, uses a subscription-based WordPress blog as our main project site, which is linked to the life of the project. Again, we needed a home for the book which would outlive the blog site. We decided to use GitHub as a cost-free way to store our flipbook permanently online. This did require a bit of IT know-how to get started, but with the help of Jasper Donelan at Nottingham and Jezcentral (you’re never too old to ask your big brother for help with coding), we got there (a tip for other GitHub beginners: do download the GitHub desktop app).

We hope you enjoy the book which you can find online here. Huge congratulations to Anna, and thanks to everyone who helped us find our way from draft to flipbook.