Revising a Pressbooks E-book

The Pressbooks e-book add-on for WordPress is brilliant.  Whether you use their hosted service or roll your own with their open source plugin, it is an easy way to take one piece of content and make it available in multiple ways.  You can present information as an e-book that is Web-based or downloadable as a PDF or epub and other e-book formats.  I’ve now created a couple of e-books with it and it was time to go back and revise one.

My initial thought was to just edit it in place, and why not.  Pressbooks sits on top of WordPress multi-site (MU) and so has all the rich tools that come with that content management system.  If anything, the WP editor has never been as easy to use.  You get a slightly expanded toolbar on the WYSIWYG editor with Pressbooks but otherwise all the tools you’d need to edit the content, as you can see below.

Default WordPress 4.6 editor
Default WordPress 4.6 editor
WordPress editor with Pressbooks functionality added
WordPress editor with Pressbooks functionality added

The e-book I was working on was on confidentiality in law practice.  I’d originally written it in 2012 as a very short Microsoft Word document, in checklist form.  I cut and pasted it into Pressbooks back then and made some minor tweaks to prepare it as an e-book.  My understanding of Pressbooks and the content of the ebook had changed enough that it was time to revise.

I was easily able to make changes to the text, in many cases rewriting it from top to bottom.  Since the text view in the WordPress editor doesn’t have all the HTML tags in it, I used it to clear up some tags that had transferred over from Microsoft Word.  Although Pressbooks supports footnotes, I tend to just use hyperlinks, and so removed the original footnotes.

In fact, it was straightforward to make all the changes I needed inside the editor.  The challenge for me was to then properly proof it.  I have not found the WordPress editor window to be very easy to read in.  It’s perfect as an editor but sometimes you lose context because your view of the text is so limited.

I expect some people print off the pages or open two windows, so the editor is in one tab and the content is in the other.  I used Pressbooks export to create an epub version, then opened that in Calibre, another open source tool.  From there, I converted the epub to a Microsoft Word .docx file which I then opened in Microsoft Word.

The upside to this is that I can use the tools I’m accustomed to for spell and grammar checking.  They are much stronger out of WordPress than in.  The downside is that I wasn’t going to then try to import the resulting fixed document, so I needed to mark where I made changes.  Essentially, it’s the same as the 2-browser-tab approach but with Word.

Revision wasn’t really something I had thought much about when I first created these e-books.  I can imagine that a library or organization encouraging authors to use Pressbooks to create e-books would need to have tried out a couple of different methods of revising.  I was probably 95% comfortable doing the entire revision within the WordPress environment, but liked having the Microsoft Word support.  If I were doing this with others, a couple of alternative approaches (export to PDF for revision on a tablet with markup, for example, or knowing how to open two browser windows and align them) prepared in advance would help in the inevitable updating.

I’ve now revised and updated the shortest e-book, about 7,000 words.  I’m going to move on to the longer one, on law practice technology, next and see if there’s a difference in approach based on size.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.