E-book design illuminated: Part 1

The world of e-book publishing today is a bit reminiscent of the World Wide Web of the mid-90s: the possibilities are fascinating, and there’s tremendous promise for new ways of communicating, but the roads there are still unpaved and littered with occasional potholes.

Tantra Illuminated Cover - 2nd ed_noflaps.inddI recently had the opportunity to create an e-book of Christopher Wallis’s Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition, a sprawling scholarly work on the history of early Tantrik thought.

From the outset, I knew this was destined to be an ambitious project. The book itself is very lengthy, with copious footnotes and margin notes—a design that does not lend itself well to the e-book format. In addition, it’s liberally sprinkled with English transliterations of old Sanskrit texts. These transliterations rely heavily on accented characters and diacritics, some of which prove challenging to e-book readers. And it also makes copious use of illustrations, diagrams, tables and charts, many of which have a level of detail that create difficulties for the low-resolution displays on e-book readers.

The project turned out to be far more daunting than I’d imagined, even knowing from the outset that it

Exquisite Love: From ancient text to e-book

In 2014, Talk Science proofread, indexed and designed the second edition of Exquisite Love: Reflections on the spiritual life based on Nārada’s Bhakti Sūtra by William K. Mahony. The Bhakti Sūtra is a set of 84 statements on the nature of divine love. It was written, in Sanskrit, sometime in the tenth or eleventh century.


In Exquisite Love, Mahony translates the Bhakti Sūtra into English and provides commentary on each of the statements. It’s a beautiful book, and we loved working on it. Now we’re thrilled to be converting it to e-book format.

Creating e-books is a challenge because the design isn’t static: readers have the power to change the formatting to suit their needs by adjusting the font size, zooming in and out, displaying the text in columns, changing the screen brightness, and choosing the background and text colours. And given the huge number of devices out there, there is no way to predict the choices readers will make.

This reader control is part of what makes e-books awesome, but it also makes preparing and proofreading an e-book extra interesting. With a print book, what the proofreader sees