Leveraging our authoring experience in electronic media
The publishing industry is quickly evolving, and with it, the role of an author is changing as well. Where once instructional and academic material was destined mainly for a printed book or journal article, today the landscape looks very different, with electronic media options continually growing. But while these changes can be disorienting for experienced and new authors alike, the new world of electronic media offers many new opportunities for people with specialized knowledge, strong communication skills, and the ability to meet deadlines. Whether you want to supplement existing written work or work in a new medium altogether, the opportunities are exciting – and perhaps the best part is that you don’t need an acquisitions editor to get started!
Videos can be useful supplements for instructional content. In addition, video increasingly stands on its own as a primary medium for instruction.
From a pedagogical standpoint, video is perhaps the most powerful aspect of digital media for authors. In a video, users benefit not just from your words, but from hearing their inflection. And in addition to fixed images, it’s possible to incorporate animations or video clips from other sources to illustrate points.
Videos have become popular among some textbook authors and instructors as supplementary learning aids for students. For instance, one author of a computer textbook I know makes a video for each lesson, showing the screen as she works through the steps and pointing out significant aspects of the process along the way. Supplementary videos combine the benefits of a live lecture with the convenience of users being able to pause and rewind your words, as well as to refer to them again later on.
But video has also taken its place as an alternative to text-based learning materials. YouTube, for instance, is full of instructional videos on academic topics like history and art as well as on everyday tasks like home repair and hobbies like woodworking. Some topics lend themselves especially well to instructional videos. For instance, I’ve created several video courses on computer programming, where I can show the code I’m writing on the screen as I type it, and then demonstrate the result of executing it. But for a wide range of topics, one of the crucial advantages of video is the ability to break learning into small, easily digestible chunks. Instead of a user needing to read or work through 50 pages of a book, for instance, they might accomplish the same learning by viewing 10 five-minute videos that are structured to build on each other.
Webcasts can allow you to connect with the audience for your published material, such as other academics or instructors. You can think of a webcast as a virtual lecture hall that’s available to anyone with an Internet connection.
Although similar to videos, webcasts are different in a couple ways. First webcasts are generally scheduled events that occur on a specific date and time, although they are commonly recorded and available for viewing later. In addition, the live aspect enables webcasts to be interactive. As the presenter, you can show slides to illustrate your points as you talk, much as you would for an in-person lecture. But in addition to enabling people around the globe to attend your virtual talk, a webcast also facilitates limited interaction between you and your attendees. Attendees can generally comment or ask questions in a text chat that’s part of the webcast platform. This can help you identify topics that could use clarification, and can also foster interaction between attendees in areas of mutual interest. Some webcasts also enable users to interact with all attendees via audio/video, turning the experience into more of a roundtable. This isn’t ideal for a large, public talk, as attendee contributions can be unpredictable in this situation. But for a webcast with a smaller group where the attendees are known, enabling video questions can be another avenue to build community among attendees.
Whether you’re self-published or have an army of paid sales staff working on your behalf, a social media presence is an important tool in a modern author’s toolbox. Social media encompasses a wide range of platforms and sites, including text-focused sites like Twitter, photo-centric streams like Instagram, and even multimedia sites like YouTube. In addition to basic marketing, social media enables you to turn your content into a conversation, rather than following the strictly one-sided flow of the traditional publishing model.
The content you post to your own social media feeds can serve many purposes. Original content, from observations to articles, can contribute to your professional brand, over time building a body of content on a specific area and establishing you as an expert. You can also repost other content or post links to amplify perspectives that you find valuable, or to highlight your own work in other areas – for instance, work that you’ve published in other places, upcoming events where you’ll be speaking, or awards you’ve recently won.
On the flip side, the ability of other social media users to respond to your posts provides even more opportunities for an author. One that I find especially useful is the ability to simply hear directly from students and instructors who use my materials. That may be constructive feedback on my approach to teaching a specific topic, or a question on an area, or even a heads up on an error in my materials that needs fixing.
Finally, the interaction of posting and responding can facilitate building professional relationships with other people working in your field, which can widen the impact of everyone’s work, and even provide new possibilities for future collaboration.
The move from printed materials to digital content may appear to be a difference only in the medium where your work is published, but this shift brings with it an array of advantages and opportunities.
When you’re re-imagining material originally destined for print in a digital form, it’s important to toss out some of the limits you may have become accustomed to. Many digital platforms enable you to integrate interactive content with your materials. Instead of being limited to text and images, you may be able to incorporate interactive figures, videos, quizzes with instant feedback, and even a help section where students can search on specific terms or ask questions.
And once you’ve made your content available digitally, the new aspects aren’t over. While a print title generally requires you to maintain a log of changes and updates to implement down the road, based on the title’s update cycle, a digital product can be updated for all current users at any time. This means that you can fix errors soon after you discover them (or hear about them on social media), and you can update your content to reflect new information or evolving best practices on your own schedule, rather than potentially needing to wait years for a new edition.
It can be tempting to see the rapid changes in the publishing industry as a familiar door closing. But by leveraging your knowledge and experience – and maybe taking advantage of educational materials other people have created in these new media! – you can take advantage of some of the new doors that are opening. Pick a new medium and try your hand!