NNELS’ Best Practices for Publisher Workflows

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Publishers use a variety of workflow processes, depending on the kind of publishing they engage in and the formats with which they work. While it is not possible to create a generic workflow template that covers every type of publication, there are considerations that can help everyone and offer principles for best practice.

A note on the Best Practices: we recognize that publishers will face challenges as they begin to build a more accessible workflow. To address this, wherever possible, we have included “Alternate Approaches” (i.e. “Second” Best Practices). We hope that, by including options, publishers will be able to identify features and steps that they can incorporate into their production processes. The items in this section range from general considerations, and increase in specificity.

  1. Layout for Print vs. Digital
  2. Fixed Layout vs. Reflowable
  3. EPUB Version
  4. Image Descriptions
  5. Structure & Navigation
  6. Headings
  7. Table of Contents
  8. Tables as Images
  9. Tables for Visual Presentation
  10. Dropcaps
  11. Emphasis
  12. Metadata
  13. Language
  14. Page numbering/Page list
  15. Footnotes & Endnotes
  16. XML-first Workflow
  17. Testing & Quality Assurance

1. Layout for Print vs. Digital

Best Practice: Let go of attempting to replicate the design of the print book in the ebook version, and embrace the flexibility of the digital format, and the potential sophistication and robustness of EPUB 3.

Genres: Applicable to most genres, especially those with text-based books. Books which require a fixed layout such as children’s books or art books may not be able to take this approach.

2. Fixed Layout vs. Reflowable

Best Practice: Use reflowable layout whenever possible. If producing fixed layout (eg. for image-heavy content), publishers should work toward improving the reading experience for screen reader users by working with their designer and conversion house/ebook producer to ensure that phrases/sentences, instead of individual words, are placed within the span tags, as it improves readability significantly.

Genres: Applicable to all genres, but of particular importance for children’s books and other heavily illustrated books.

3. EPUB Version

Best Practice: Revise workflows to produce EPUB 3 files. Offering an NCX navigation file, in addition to the XHTML format of EPUB3, will provide backward compatibility for most legacy reading systems, this factor does not need to be a concern. EPUB 3 has been widely accepted in publication and ingestion sectors across the country, and there is no better time to adopt it in than now.

Genres: Applicable to all genres.

4. Image Descriptions

Best Practice: Publishers should request image descriptions from the author, as they are closest to their content. Explain that these descriptions will be used to enhance the accessibility of their books, which will help them reach a larger audience. Refer them to NNELS’ Image Description Guidelines.

Alternate Approach: If publishers cannot obtain image descriptions from authors, determine who is the most suitable person to provide the alternative text descriptions for images or other graphics (e.g. the author, editor, illustrator) depending on the publisher size and the genre/type of books published, and provide them information on how to do this, as well as why it matters.

Genres: Applicable to all genres, and of particular importance for non-fiction and scholarly content used in educational settings, children’s books and other heavily illustrated books, where the images are key to understanding the text.

5. Structure & Navigation

Best Practice: Revise guidelines for editors to convey the relevance of a sound structure with meaningful semantic tags and ensure designers preserve these elements. Publishers could consider giving their authors instructions about the importance of effective structure and how to follow in-house styles that may already be established. When used correctly, Word’s built-in styles can be preserved when placing the text into InDesign, and then it is simply a matter of editing the paragraph styles to map to the correct HTML tags.

For more guidance on semantic structure, check out EPUB Semantics: Styles.

Genres: Applicable to all genres

6. Headings

Best Practice: Headings give structure to the content, and when used correctly, can make navigating an ebook seamless. Ask authors to use Word’s built in heading styles to create a document structure that can be preserved all the way through to ebook production.

Alternate Approach: Ask editors, or others who work on the book before the designer, to use Word’s built in heading styles to create a document structure.

Genres: Applicable to all genres

7. Table of Contents

Best Practice: The best Table of Contents pages are created during the design stage, before the files are sent for EPUB conversion. Designers should ensure that items in the Table of Contents items link to their corresponding sections, in order to improve navigation within the ebook. Presenting the section links as a list is also a best practice, as screen readers will announce the number of items in a structured list, adding organization and predictability to your content.

Genres: Applicable to all genres

8. Tables as Images

Best practice: Tables presented as images are completely inaccessible. In order to be accessible, publishers can modify the table, or ask their conversion house/ebook producer for properly coded tables; adding an HTML table would be ideal. Another possibility would be adding a link to an HTML table elsewhere in the text, or perhaps even hosted on the website of the publisher or author, which would allow the user to navigate to the table and then return to the text.

Genres: Applicable to all genres, but particularly important for more complex and technical books, such as scholarly non-fiction.

9. Tables for Visual Presentation

Best Practice: Only use tables for tabular data, and not for presentation of other content. Designers should use the formatting capabilities within their design program to achieve their desired visual presentation.

Genres: Applicable to all genres.

10. Dropcaps

Best Practice: Publishers should consider avoiding dropcaps (where the first letter of a line is larger than the rest of the text) in ebooks, or stop using them completely. This visual element does not work well with screen readers, as it will read the dropcap separately from the rest of the sentence, as demonstrated in this video.

Alternate Approach: If it is within the skillset of the designer, there is a complex workaround in NNELS’ Accessible Publishing Best Practices: Dropcaps.

Genres: Applicable to all genres

11. Emphasis

Best Practice: Publishers should ask authors to use the “emphasis”and “strong” styles in Word for text that needs to be read with emphasis, and “italic” and “bold” styles for words that do not require emphasis. If this is done at an early stage, this styling can be preserved from the Word file, all the way to the final EPUB. For guidance on creating and adding appropriate metadata, check out our EPUB Semantic Guide: Styles: Bold/Italic.

Alternate Approach: If the author does not employ these styles, the editorial team could take this task on using Word. It could also be a task for the designer, working in InDesign.

If these styles are not applied correctly, it can be done at a remediation stage, once the EPUB has been created and sent to the publisher. This method is not ideal, as it is likely that emphasis will be missed on some words, and it is also time-consuming.

Additional information: To learn more about how to preserve styles all the way from Word to EPUB, NNELS has written a guide to Working with InDesign.

Genres: Applicable to all genres

12. Metadata

Best Practice: A set of accessibility metadata should be created by the publisher, as they are the most familiar with their content, and this metadata should be shared with the conversion house/ebook producer. The publisher can request that the accessibility metadata be included in the OPF file (a fundamental EPUB file in XML that holds the metadata, manifest, and reading order of the ebook). This metadata can also be included in the ONIX file. For guidance on creating and adding appropriate metadata, check out our EPUB Semantic Guide: Metadata.

Alternate Approach: If it is a service that the publisher’s conversion house /ebook producer offers, publishers can ask them to create and include accessibility metadata. If it is not a current service, it would be an important discussion for the publisher and ebook producer to have.

Genres: Applicable to all genres

13. Language

Best Practice: The designer should note the language of the book in both the metadata and the head for each chapter, or work with their conversion house/ebook producer to ensure these elements. Additionally, phrases that appear throughout the book in a different language should be tagged separately. This avoids a synthetic voice trying to pronounce foreign language words with an English lexicon.

Genres: Applicable to all genres

14. Page numbering/Page list

Best Practice: Use page numbers when there is a print equivalent of the ebook, to ensure that all readers have access to this information. The designer should clearly mark print page numbers, and the conversion house/ebook producer should undertake the page list.

Additional Information: When there is a print-equivalent book it is also important to include the ISBN of the source of the page numbers in the package metadata for the EPUB as well as in the page list in the navigation document. For more information about how to do this, see: NNELS’ Accessibility Features Checklist: Non-Fiction & Complex Content.

Genres: Applicable to all genres, but particularly important for more complex and technical books, such as scholarly non-fiction.

15. Footnotes & Endnotes

Best Practice: Ask authors to use Word’s built in references feature to create linked footnotes or endnotes; this document structure can be preserved all the way through to ebook production. Each footnote in an ebook should be set up with an internal hyperlink, so the reader can jump to the Notes section simply by clicking the appropriate number from the main text. After reading the note, a link back to the point of reading should also be provided.

Alternate Approach: Ask the book designers to always insert linked footnotes and endnotes using InDesign.

Genres: Applicable to all genres which use footnotes and endnotes.

16. XML-first Workflow

Best Practice: An “XML-first” workflow, in which XML tags are inserted from the start, and the document is formulated with XML in mind from the beginning, would be the best way forward for digital content creation when it comes to non-fiction books, particularly for academic or highly specialized content. A master XML file with structure and content can be used to feed any number of different appearances and delivery formats. HTML5, with additional semantics, such as those provided in EPUB 3 may be a practical approach to introducing an XML workflow. The advantage of this is that this type of workflow builds in all the accessibility features at the start, making this workflow truly accessible-by design.

Genres: Applicable to all genres, but particularly important for more complex and technical books, such as scholarly non-fiction.

17. Testing and Quality Assurance

Best Practice: Publishers should expand the testing of their finished EPUB files to include testing for accessibility, if they are not already. This means using the Ace checker, as well as loading their book into an app on a mobile device and using a screen reader, which is how many readers with print disabilities read books. They could do this in-house, or hire accessibility testers (i.e., people who are: experts in using assistive technologies, trained in evaluating for accessibility, and users of alternative formats/people with print disabilities).

Additional Information: For guidance on testing with a screen reader, check out our Evaluating Your EPUB’s Accessibility, which takes you through how to use a screen reader as well as how to work through and understand an Ace Report.

Regardless of factors such as the intended audience and publication purpose (e.g. leisure, general information, academic research), all elements within a source file need to be marked-up so that all readers are given the same opportunity to perceive and understand the content. In order to achieve full accessibility, publishers will need to use different techniques depending on the type of elements in the source file.

Genres: Applicable to all genres.


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