Monday, May 22, 2006

Redesigning books

Books remain the most important vehicle for transmitting information - but most are still designed very badly. Here are three simple ideas authors and publishers of non-fiction books could incorporate, in order to make books more reader-friendly.

1. Design the book in a Q and A ( question and answer) format - after all, good books should be a conversation between the reader and the author , in which the writer answers questions the reader has . Ideally, each paragraph should express an individual idea - but in many books, the reader needs to work hard in order to find out what the idea is. This reflects the fact that the writer has been careless. Redesigning the book in the form of answers to questions will help the author to keep the reader clearly in mind when writing - and this is good discipline for all writers ! There are many books which have used this format, so it should be quite easy to copy ! We have used this for our online book, How to Have a Baby - A Guide for the Infertile Couple - and I find this has improved its readability considerably. Readers can zoom in on exactly the points which interest them, instead of having to wade through pages of irrelevant material.

2. Include a summary for the book at the end. All books have a Preface - which few people bother to read ! A chapter which summarises the key ideas of the book at the end would be very valuable. This will allow the careful reader to review and revise what he has read - and will also help prospective buyers to skim through the book and get at its meat !

3. Provide a website for the book. This will help readers to interact with the writer; share ideas with each other; and create an online community around the book. This could be in the form of a blog. Authors write in order to share information with readers - and allowing readers to return the favour will enrich the experience for both !

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