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

Client showcase: Thorntree Press

At Talk Science to Me, we’re passionate about science. In fact, some of our favourite topics are things like proteomics, biobanking and landmine-detecting rats. But would it surprise you to learn that Talk Science to Me is about much more than just science?

ttp-avatarAMOne of our major clients, Thorntree Press, is an independent publisher based in Portland, Oregon. Thorntree Press specializes in books about relationships, in particular non-traditional relationship models. Eve Rickert, Talk Science to Me founder and mastermind, is also a co-owner of Thorntree Press, along with her partner Franklin Veaux.

Last year, Eve and Franklin co-authored Thorntree Press’s debut release, More Than Two: A practical guide to ethical polyamory, which has already sold more than 10,000 copies. (It’s also just come out on audiobook!) This was followed by The Husband Swap: A true story of unconventional love and its e-book companion guide, Lessons in Love and Life to My Younger Self, both by Louisa Leontiades. Coming soon are The Game Changer: A memoir of disruptive love, also by Franklin, and Stories from the Polycule: Real life in polyamorous families, an anthology compiled

Working with translations: Version control

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) recently published Trade and Green Economy: A handbook, the third edition of a handbook that examines the relationship between trade and the environment. The third edition focuses specifically on the green economy, which UNEP defines as an economy “that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”

Pages from 20141007 Trade GE Handbook FRENCH - INSIDE Talk Science did the copy-editing, proofreading and design of the English version of this handbook, as well as the design of the French and Spanish versions. We didn’t do the translation, copy-editing or proofreading of the non-English versions, but since we did design for all three, we handled a good chunk of the project management as the manuscript passed through us on the way to the designer.

With this project, we were managing parallel versions of the document, but it wasn’t quite a straightforward parallel: two of the documents were translated from the third, which meant that they were dependent on that third document. Any changes made to

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

Request for proposals: Extreme e-book design

At Talk Science to Me, we often deal with projects that are deceptively complicated. That includes e-books. We’ve got an e-book project coming up that we think will challenge the skills of the most talented and experienced e-book designer. Think you’re up to the task? Please consider submitting a proposal.

Tantra Illuminated cover. © Ekabhūmi Ellik, 2012.The book is the second edition of Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History and Practice of a Timeless Tradition by Christopher D. Wallis. It’s a beautifully designed, masterfully researched 484-page volume based on original translations of thousand-year-old Sanskrit texts. It’s filled with images, endnotes, lists, tables, headers and subheads, cross-references, and diacritical marks—thousands of tiny details that we need to get just right.

Talk Science to Me wrote the index for Tantra Illuminated when the book was first published in 2012. When the original publisher, Anusara Press, folded the following year, we worked with Dr. Wallis to keep the book in print and publish a second edition. It’s been a labour of love for us: the author’s commitment to applying academic rigour and critical thinking to a subject that in the West has so often