Transcript of Dr Scott Hollier interview on the accessibility of self publishing

Wednesday, 1 February 2017 11:33am

Introduction

You're listening to a podcast from Media Access Australia. Inclusion through technology.

Philip:

I’m speaking with Dr Scott Hollier, Media Access Australia’s specialist advisor, digital accessibility. And today’s focus is on the accessibility of self-publishing. As mainstream publishers cut back on their author rosters and globalised sales models limit the amount of new authors a publishing house can take on, more and more people are turning to self-publishing to share their stories. Today, self-publishing is becoming the new normal, and can reach a very wide audience through print on demand, audiobooks and eBooks across a myriad of platforms. So what about accessibility? Dr Hollier self-published a book late last year entitled “Outrunning the Night” and waded through all of the challenges that can occur when trying to ensure the final product remains accessible across a number of different document formats and publishing platforms. So Scott, how did you go about selecting the right self-publishing tool? What were the key considerations and which ones did you shortlist?

Scott:   

It’s a great question, and ultimately there are a lot of self-publishing options out there. And if anyone is considering going down this path and they have a great story to share, I’d certainly recommend doing it. For me, after investigating about 10 different platforms I shortlisted it to two. And the main two that have a very wide distribution is Lulu and CreateSpace. And in the end of the day I decided to go with CreateSpace for two reasons. One was because CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and so if I went down that path I knew that my book could get to Amazon and, through Kindle and some other bookshops. But secondly, when I investigated the interfaces, it became quite clear that CreateSpace was the more accessible of the two. And after doing a bit of investigation, I realised that if I was going to go down this path, then I probably stood the best chance, accessibility-wise, of getting my book completed by myself using CreateSpace. So in the end of the day, I went with CreateSpace. And for the most part, there were some challenges, but for the most part it got there in the end.

Philip:  

Okay, and what were the main issues that you personally encountered?

Scott:   

I think in terms of the interface, it worked pretty well for the most part. So in terms of selecting an ISBN number and the title and all those sort of details, it was fine. In terms of the interior, they provided a good template. So I could largely copy and paste in my content and that worked quite well. Where it really got challenging though was the book cover. So in order to do the cover they take you into a wizard and in that wizard you can then design and create your own cover. But that was very, very inaccessible and the screen reader and the magnification just didn’t have a prayer of making that one work. So at the end of the day I actually needed to pay a friend of mine who’s a designer to create a cover as a PDF and upload it as a PDF, which worked really well. But I was a bit disappointed that most of the process I could do myself, but not the cover. So what I hope is that, for places like CreateSpace and other online self-publishing tools, that perhaps if they could have some already predefined templates that you can easily just have generated based on your synopsis and table of contents and title, and then perhaps that would make the task a lot easier and if people still wanted to do the in-depth design they could still have that option but still have some predefined templates first.

Philip:  

Okay, and by interior, you mean the main body of the book minus the covers, right?

Scott:   

Yeah, that’s right. An interior wasn’t too bad to do, thanks largely to the template that was provided. What I would provide as some advice though is that if, even though it’s not necessary for the print version, it’s still a good idea to make sure that the table of contents is generated properly, that the headings are correctly styled, and that alternative text is in there for the images and things. Because although it’s not necessary for the print version, it does make it a lot easier when you try to look at other versions like your eBook versions later on in that process.

Philip:  

Okay well, talking about eBooks, what were the main lessons that you learned and just how different is the setup between a printed book and an eBook?

Scott:   

Again, a great question and the answer is quite a lot, as I’ve discovered through this process. So for example, when you get to the end of the CreateSpace process with the print version, it then says click on this button and your print version will get whisked off to Kindle and then it will turn into a Kindle eBook. Which is technically true. However, when I did that conversion process, it turns out that the table of contents got scrapped, all my alternative text disappeared, and the formatting went really, really odd. If you are going to go the eBook path, it’s better to have all your documents prepared first and then you can copy and paste that document into a clean template rather than the one that has all the binding formatting and margins. And in that clean format then, that becomes a really good Kindle eBook. So that was a good lesson learnt. One of the other really big lessons I learnt from that process was that in Word, there’s two spots for alternative text. One is as a title for an image, and the other one is as a description of the image. And I discovered that unless you have the alternative text in the description part rather than the title part, all your alternative text will disappear. So that was a really good lesson learnt.

Philip:

Brilliant. Well you can keep that in mind for your second book Scott.

Scott:

[Laughs] absolutely.

Philip:

And which format did you explore and ultimately choose for the eBook version?

Scott:

Well once the Kindle was locked down, I was very keen to make sure that people had whatever format they found most comfortable. And the feedback I got from a number of different disability groups and people with disability is that they wanted to have a variety of different versions such as HTML, such as EPUB and PDF. And while PDF is often considered inaccessible and people often don’t like it, there’s also a lot of people that do like it because of its structure. And if it’s properly tagged and set up, then that becomes quite a good version because it’s compatible with so many different platforms. So I was keen to make sure that it was available on all those. So the HTML version actually turned out to be the easiest because as part of the Kindle process, you can export the book straight into HTML. And it actually did a really, really good job. So that was probably the easiest of those. The PDF wasn’t too bad in terms of saving that and exporting that from Word, once I had all the tagging and things properly. And the EPUB was probably the only one that was a bit tricky. I didn’t have any really good EPUB tools and so I used some of the free online ones. And the formatting wasn’t the best but it did turn out to be fairly accessible and readable. So I took the win in the end and that worked pretty well. But from there I also wanted to make sure that there was an audiobook. So yeah, I went through a process of getting a professionally narrated audiobook as well.

Philip:

Actually, tell us more about that, Scott.

Scott:

I was very fortunate that VisAbility, based here in Western Australia, was very supportive and they created the audiobook and did it so, in [0:07:04.7] format. So as a result of that, it meant that my book was available in that format and in terms of the medium, in the end I basically decided to sell it online so that people can download it as a digital download. And because it’s in [0:07:19.0] it means it’ll play [0:07:20.6] players with that extra features, but if they don’t have [0:07:23.7] player then it’s just, you can use standard MP3 files. And when I’m at conferences and things, I often sell the book just on a USB stick along with all those other eBook formats. So I include all the eBook formats and the audiobook as one package. And that seems to work pretty well. Some people have other preferences, but if, I figure with HTML, EPUB, PDF and a professionally narrated audiobook in MP3 and [0:07:46.7] and there’s lots of options there for people and yeah, whatever they want to do with it from that point on is fine with me.

Philip:

Finally Scott, what are your top five tips for self-publishers in regards to ensuring that their finished product is accessible to everyone.

Scott:

Just make sure that right from the very beginning you include accessibility. So even if you’re just doing your interior initially for print, and you’re looking at eBooks later, I’d still recommend making sure things are correctly styled, that your headings are in place, your table of contents is properly generated and another thing to make sure is that that alternative text is definitely put in place, ‘cause that was probably one of the big things that tripped me up with those two areas, alternative text in Word, just make sure that it is in the description field. Certainly make sure that you have lots of options in terms of distribution of your book, so in my opinion, the more you’ve got, the better. And yeah, ultimately something that is probably separate from the list but a very important tip I would chuck in at this point anyway. Make sure you have a good editor. If you have a good editor to keep you honest, continue cracking the whip and has expert knowledge, yeah, can turn what may be just scrawls into something that actually reads like a book and I’m very grateful.

Philip:  

Thank you so much for sharing some of your self-publishing journey. It’s bound to help people. Thank you for your time today Scott.

Scott:   

Thank you Philip.

Conclusion

This podcast was presented by Media Access dot org dot au.

 

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