Write On! Breaking eBook Barriers
By Joel Stratte-McClure

Why did I decide to publish my latest travel narrative—The Idiot and the Odyssey II: Myth, Madness and Magic on the Mediterranean—on Apple iBooks with detailed interactive maps, scores of informative hyperlinks and 200 seductive photographs? I was responding to suggestions by readers of my 2008-published book The Idiot and the Odyssey: Walking the Mediterranean. My eclectic audience vociferously indicated that they wanted colorful photographs, better maps, and additional historical information to provide them with a more intimate sense of my ongoing 20-year walk around the world’s largest inland sea in the footsteps of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

Four years ago, I realized the only way to accomplish this in a cost-effective manner would be to publish and promote an eBook rather than pursue the old school paper route. According to my agent and other authors, I had a comparatively easy ride bringing out a cutting-edge, interactive version of the book earlier this year.

Things began going my way last October when, after the 180,000-word book was written and in the final editing stages, I found an enthusiastic and innovative design team. After continually scouring the universe of ePublishers and speaking to agencies in New York, Paris and London, I serendipitously stumbled upon a young team of innovative web designers and marketers in my hometown of Redding, California. Slingshot Media and Noble Creative had the technical, design and entrepreneurial skills to break new eGround.

The book trailer illustrates their initial enthusiasm about my project. I was lucky that my Idiot II saga—I walked 4,401 kilometers through Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and around dozens of islands to complete 12 tasks given to me by the goddess Circe—had the right material to enable them to develop a unique product that both illustrates the potential of online ePublishing and creates a much-richer reading experience.

To add value to my words, the design team pushed, stretched, and squeezed every ounce of available advanced techy-ness out of the iBooks platform core.  They created zoomable maps that incorporate my GPS locator to allow readers to track my steps around the Mediterranean Sea (there are pictures of my SPOT GPS device at the top of Mount Olympus, on the edge of Mount Etna and at Zeus’ cave in Crete), found embedded audio and video files to bring the adventure into the reader’s armchair (you can hear how Homer’s Sirens sound), and included hyperlinks to provide a wealth of complementary information.

Multiple videos (you can watch Zorba dance), directional icons and photographs taken from Rome to Troy blend a coffee table book with a high-tech interactive reading experience as illustrated by a free preview chapter.

I was particularly delighted, in this do-everything-online age, to encounter enthusiasm, skill, and a comparatively low price tag while enjoying as much personal contact with the designers as I did with my Idiot-ic editors. The entire learning curve during the production process was an enjoyable educational experience and illustrated that, even in the online world, a good working relationship with the right team is key.

For readers who don’t have an iPad, Kindle or Nook the team created a .pdf version for computer viewing, a limited collectors’ edition printed on stone parchment for $9,999.99 and a $35 print-on-demand version without photos, detailed maps, links or other bells and whistles.

Why did I opt for print-on-demand rather than produce the book through a traditional publisher and brick-and-mortar distribution network?

“Why let a publisher benefit from all the work and classy promotion that you’re doing better than they can?” said my supportive agent Felicia Eth. “Why compete with yourself.”

My “classy promotion” includes a revamped website and blog. This evolving sales tool not only updates readers about my trekking progress and status but also includes short and amusing video reviews about The Idiot II and a store selling “Follow the Idiot,” “Walk it Off” and “The Idiot II” coffee mugs, Ts, thongs, caps, iPad covers and other merchandise.

I return to Europe in April to embark on the final installment in my Idiot-ic trilogy and will MedTrek in the footsteps of Alexander the Great from Macedonia in Greece towards Egypt. I look forward, in four or five years, to seeing what new technologies will be available for that eBook when I again muse on life, meditation, literature, art, the environment, Greek gods and goddesses, history, and, of course, the art of walking.

For those considering going the eBook route, here are my eTips.

– Simply putting printed words on a digital page won’t help you find too many new readers. Ensure that your eBook attracts readers with immediately identifiable added value through interactivity and additional information that make it preferable to the printed word.

– Continue to evaluate the many ePublishers, and ePublishing options, because the industry is still in its infancy and creative change is constant. While some aspects of The Idiot II were revolutionary, they won’t be in just a few months and I’m already considering updating the book with additional interactive devices.

– Constantly explore marketing and promotional techniques through social media and remember that competition in the eBook world is more severe, and much less dignified, than in print. Noble Creative, which handles marketing for The Idiot II, had very little luck in their initial mass mailings to bloggers in an effort to generate buzz on social media. We wound up approaching critics and media on an individual basis.

– Although an eBook makes traditional book reading look mundane, don’t forget that many people still prefer paper and that a print option is required. Fortunately print-on-demand options are easily accessible and my $10,000 edition can be personally tailored to a purchaser’s taste and whims.

– Despite the technology, a well-constructed, well-written, well-edited and well-proofread text is still essential. To avoid errors, I not only had editors and dozens of informal readers evaluate the book but also engaged a classics professor who caught any historical or mythical errors.

– As I was told by a bookseller in Tasmania in 2008, “The real work begins when you write ‘The end.’” That’s as true with digital books as it is with paper.

* * *

Joel Stratte-McClure, an American journalist/adventurer who lived in France for over three decades, has been writing about his global trekking and hiking adventures since the 1970s. His work has taken him to over 110 countries and his articles on a variety of subjects have appeared in Time Magazine, The London Times, People Magazine, The International Herald Tribune, Scientific American, Cosmopolitan and numerous other publications.

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