A Blog by Scott Isaacs

Generic Book Review – Notes for Publishers

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been reading a new book.  These comments aren’t specifically about this book, although they are prompted by it.  Anyway, here is my short list of things for publishers to consider before sending a new book to the public.

Make small books small enough to fit in my back pocket.

The book I am currently reading is 125 pages with fairly large font (12-14pt?).  It is very thin, but is roughly 6″ x 9″ (I don’t have a ruler handy).  If the book had been reduced to, say, 4″ x 6″, the font reduced slightly (10-12pt), and the pages increased to about 175-200 (making it only slightly thicker), I would be able to carry the book in my back pocket or jacket pocket.  I like to keep my hands free, especially when it’s cold (pockets), or if I am at a coffee shop trying to carry my wallet, coffee, scone, and napkins over to a tiny table.  As it is, the book is sitting in my truck instead of being with me right now. 

Recent Observation: I can’t read a book while it’s in my truck and I’m at my desk.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to large books, such as a book on Design Patterns or VB.NET or Financial Accounting, but if the book is small, make it small.

Include some type of bookmark.

This could be as simple as a paper book cover with “flaps”, or a ribbon sewn into the binding.  Or take it a step further and include a heavy paper (laminated?) bookmark that is printed with highlights from the book, or that has a space for a quick note from the reader.  Maybe I want to remind myself to go back and re-read the section in Chapter 8 about Topic ABCDE.

What if this bookmark had some type of adjustable “pointer” that would remind me where exactly I left off on the current page?  That might not make sense for a technical book that is divided into sections with section headings (a logical stopping place), but it sure would help me when I was picking up my copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy after 6 months of neglect.  When reading “easy reading” books (entertainment or other light reading), I may just stop at the end of a paragraph in the middle of a chapter.  In these cases, it’s not necessarily important that I completely understand the context of the read where I left off — I can probably pick it up as I read along.  However, it’s frustrating for me to suddenly realize after a few minutes of reading that “I’ve already read this”. 

Of course I could solve this problem on my own by buying a stack of Post-it Notes, but why can’t something be included?  As it is, I am currently using a napkin from the local Caribou Coffee shop to hold my place.  I don’t like to dog-ear my books if I can help it.  Especially if I think I might read, or refer to, the book more than once.  I know — I’m weird.  But I’m spending money, so work with me here.  😉

Show examples of completed worksheets.

The book I am reading at the moment has a few worksheets scattered throughout.  They are designed to help me convert to the author’s way of thinking, see the light, understand, figure out what to do, etc.  The thing is, some of the questions are vague — at least to me.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t been paying close enough attention (likely), but, other than the cost of adding 10 extra pages to the book, what would it hurt to add a completed worksheet by a fictional person?  I, personally, tend to learn by examples, so if I saw how John Doe answered his questions, or completed the worksheet, I might better understand how I should be doing it myself to get the most benefit from what the author is saying.

Give me access to digital and/or audio versions.

At the moment, I’m not sure how this would work and still protect from copyright infringement, etc., but it must be possible — it’s 2005, right?  When I buy a CD, I’m pretty sure that I’m allowed to copy it to my WMP, or my iPod.  Why can’t there be a similar “feature” for book owners.  If I have paid for a book, let me have some way to download a PDF, HTML, Word document, or some standardized e-book formatted copy of the book.  Depending on the type of book, let me also download an audiobook format of the book.  Maybe the book should just include a CD that has the e-book and/or the audiobook on it?  Maybe the solution is to include some type of voucher for a deep discount on the e-book or audiobook?  That would keep the cost of the book as low as it is now, but still allow me fairly easy access to alternative formats. 

Of course, the publisher (or whoever decides) probably doesn’t want to invest the money in creating an audiobook before the book is popular enough to support it.  However, the e-book should be fairly easy because, having worked at a newspaper for 4 years in the past, I would be willing to bet that printers don’t do manual typesetting and that the content is already in a digital format.  Maybe some text-to-speech technology can be created to automatically create the audiobook from this existing electronic content (again, it is 2005)?  Or maybe students in acting school can do the readings for cheap, or internships, or class projects, or whatever?  I don’t know if acting schools even have internships, but the point is that it might be feasible to do something.

Give me access to digital versions of any worksheets.

This is basically a combination of the previous two items, but still very worthy of consideration in my opinion.  If you’re going to take the time to create a worksheet for me to complete in the book I just bought, make that worksheet available for download.  I don’t like to write in my books for the most part.  I really don’t like photocopies (they’re always crooked and blurry).  You’ve already got the content, so why can’t you save it off to a PDF and put it on the publisher’s book site.

This doesn’t just apply to worksheets.  This is pretty similar to the way that some coding books will make the sample source code available online.  Certain diagrams may be useful for printing, especially if I need to convince someone (such as my boss) of the merits of what I am reading, but don’t want to give him my book.

So anyway, those are a few of the thoughts I’ve had over the last couple days.  I’m sure that some publishers are already doing some of these things for some of their books, but I think it could stand to be more widespread.  Anyone agree or disagree? What would make reading better (easier, more fun, more productive, etc.) for you?


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  1. Brian Nantz was sitting right behind you in the presentation yesterday… Maybe, with your influence, we can all be walking around with digitized, bookmarkable copies of THAT INDIGO BOOK in our back pockets???


    Addison Wesley does a great job with the Fowler signature series books.

    I would love electronic versions of the books I buy.

  2. Electronic and/or audio versions of the books I buy would be a great thing. I’d be willing to pay a little bit more for the book to get it. The electronic (PDF, whatever) shouldn’t cost much. Its already in electronic format at the publisher (at least it should be). Hire some voice talent, charge me 15% more a book and give me access to all of it.

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