Sunday, October 30, 2011

Extreme Face Painting (Enhanced Editions): Taking the Scary Out of Producing eBooks

Originally published on Digital Book World

A significant amount of the books we publish at F+W Media are written for people who are passionate about such topics as Design, Craft, Horticulture, Fine Art, and more. The majority of these titles are highly illustrated, which means it can be quite challenging to convert them into eBook form and maintain the integrity of the original print editions. However, it's important to embrace this challenge and strive to produce digital versions of books with the same attention to detail when first published in print.

With this in mind, I'd like to tell you about two enhanced eBooks we released shortly before Halloween called EXTREME FACE PAINTING. The duo features one with 25 step-by-step "fiendish" projects and the other 25 that are "friendly." And though we're pleased with the way both turned out, the winding road to get there was pretty scary at times.

To start, we decided to split the print edition, which features 50 "fiendish and friendly step by step demos," into two separate projects. This was meant to give each focus and frankly to help keep the file size from getting too large. By dividing the content into two we prevented creating enhanced eBooks with very long downloads, which is important because let's face it, most people don't like waiting.

So I believe this strategy put us on the right track, but two new eBooks meant the need to design two new covers! Both came out great but I honestly wish I'd requested the "fiendish" design be as radically different from the original cover as "friendly" is. Instead, the iconic green skull image is identical to the one used on "50" and I can see how this might cause some confusion with consumers. But that's the beauty of digital, if this really does end up being problematic we can always make that change and resubmit. That would be a nightmare to contemplate in the print world!

But one early decision that did take us in the wrong direction was my desire to try and faithfully replicate the format of the printed book. In the original each face painting project is explained using a series of photographs grouped together, side by side. This layout approach works well with a book that's 8 1/2 x 11 in size. But when considering a reading experience meant for a 10" tablet you're now designing for pages closer to 4 1/2 x 6 and smaller still if you include a device with a 7" screen. Don't get me wrong, we more than managed to get multiple images on a page for these digital editions, but during production it became pretty clear that things just weren't coming together as originally planned.

The main reason was due to the captions that accompanied the pictures. Each set of text varies in length so the content appeared cramped and uneven. Plus the book includes an entire introduction of suggested materials like brushes, sponges, and (of course) paints and after being converted from InDesign to ePub looked particularly disproportionate and simply awful.

I knew we had to start over.

So I consulted with my colleague India Amos, who always has great suggestions, and together we determined the best course of action. One key change was the decision to break out each content element, specifically all those "step-by-step" photographs, and give each a dedicated page. This new direction provided the room we needed to present both images and text in an understandable, linear fashion that the reader would find appealing, but more importantly, useful.

This revision was a vast improvement but to me the images appeared as though they'd been copied and pasted into the file and looked more like a scrapbook than an eBook. Granted, the full screen images were nicely framed by our test device but the smaller ones seemed incomplete somehow. We remedied this by adding a gentle border around the majority of pictures, which introduced more presence and dimension.

If you regularly read eBooks then you've probably noticed how captions and photos often get separated as the text size is increased or decreased. This usually results in a frustrating reading experience, so we did our best to ensure that won't happen, especially since the Extreme captions are instructional and meant to accompany the photos as closely as possible.

These enhanced editions also feature a graphical Table of Contents that presents each face painting project using a thumbnail image. This concept adds a level of convenience for the user because it really helps to quickly decide which characters are of interest and prevents having to browse through each step-by-step demo.

And lastly, a terrific DVD featuring the extreme artists/authors, Brian and Nick Wolfe, is included with the print version of Extreme Face Painting. So we re-edited the footage specifically for the enhanced editions and the clips look great, especially in full screen mode. It's amazing to see how the twin brothers transform a willing subject into a "fiendish" green skulled monster or a "friendly" Mardi Gras fairy making these video demonstrations essential viewing.

You can see sample pages of the iBooks version here.

We hope you agree they're spooktacular. ;-)

Happy Halloween!!!

Also available at:
Extreme Face Painting: 25 Fiendish Step-by-Step Demos
Extreme Face Painting: 25 Friendly Step-by-Step Demos

Barnes & Noble
Extreme Face Painting: 25 Fiendish Step-by-Step Demos
Extreme Face Painting: 25 Friendly Step-by-Step Demos

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