Recently I attended a University of Illinois seminar on digital advances in the humanities. The seminar, courtesy of a collaborative publication series, “Women in Print: Value-added E-books and New Digital Collaborations.” It was co-sponsored by our University of Illinois Press, the University Library, The Rare Book Room, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and several other departments. The seminar featured several specialists from these units, plus History and Graphic Design, talking about how to enhance materials in the humanities.
For scholarly publications, some of the issues were how to put transcriptions side-by-side with original manuscript facsimiles and make the web interface user-friendly. Speakers discussed typefaces, amount of white space on a page, and free distribution of scholarly materials using multiple online channels.
All this stuff is relevant to the production of mysteries.
As authors, we usually count on our publishers to make decisions about the appearance of our books online. The publisher chooses font, alignment, background, scrolling options, etc. As consumers, these decisions have consequences: how tired your eyes get from scrolling or flipping pages or how frustrated you are when a digital platform doesn’t work the way you expect.
A note on cover design (especially if you design your own): make sure it is legible in thumbnail size! That is how potential readers see it first, until they make the decision to click on the cover for a larger version.
Last but not least, make sure you know what your book looks like on a smartphone vs. a laptop vs. a tablet.
The other takeaway for me from this seminar was a better understanding of how graphic design and electronic formatting can make or break a book, non-fiction or fiction, and why digital books won’t necessarily be much cheaper than print if you employ professionals.