6.2: Formatting & Release Preparation Overview
After the work of scoping, creating, editing, and review is done, it is finally time to share your OER with the world! As with the other phases of open publishing, spending time to plan in advance will let you immerse yourselves in the celebrations when you finally arrive at this milestone.
This section of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) takes a deep dive into what’s needed to format and launch your OER. Making your OER public requires a coordinated effort, much like the rest of the publishing process. In what follows, we summarize the final tasks that link the creation phases of publishing with those in which you get the word out and the resource into people’s hands. We cover formatting and layout, cover design, final proofs, print-on-demand, and other final tasks to plan for before you announce your resource.
Formatting is the process of converting your content from a word processing file into the format that will be consumed by readers. It’s about ensuring that the features of the resource are functional and the aesthetic is professional and engaging. In the case of OER, content should be made available in a wide variety of formats, including web, offline, and editable formats. While Creative Commons licenses permit a range of uses, actual technical openness is vital to ensure that those uses are in fact possible (e.g., consider the difference between an openly licensed text available solely as a PDF versus one available in PDF, on the web, and in a downloadable, editable format).
Regardless of the book formatting software that you are using, it’s important that you create, at a minimum, one web-based format, one offline, and one editable format of your open textbook. There are many ways in which you can meet this standard, but one of the easiest and most popular in the OER world is to use Pressbooks, an open-source book production software. (In the interest of transparency: As a paying client of the software, we love Pressbooks for how functional and useful it is. We also share a co-founder!) With Pressbooks, you are able to produce professional, platform-agnostic outputs of books in multiple formats. These include: web, PDF (print and digital), EPUB, MOBI, ODT, XML, WXR, and XHTML.
Formatting also includes styling your text, images, tables, and any other parts of your content. Overall it is about structuring and presenting your content so that it can be used and understood by readers in the best possible way. To ensure consistency throughout the resource, we recommend making an inventory of the different types of content you want to have (i.e., learning objectives, case studies, summaries, key takeaways, or other recurring sections in each unit). The simplest way to do this is to provide your editors and proofreaders with a sample chapter & style guide that serves as an ideal model. Not only will this help you create an overall look and feel that is coherent throughout the book, you will also be able to ensure that all types of content are styled and structured the same way, which will ultimately guide and support learners through the book.
The formatting process is about giving your team a common frame of reference for what the formatting across chapters should be. It is often worth the extra time and effort to get organized and clear on the process, and examples can be a good start to help your team determine your own specific workflow. This proposed formatting workflow template will help you see the general trajectory of the formatting process. Though presented within the context of Pressbooks, the general steps laid out here can apply to formatting within any other publishing platform as well.
As with other stages of the OER publishing process, collaboration is key. Collaborate both with your team and any resources you have available to you on campus. If you have the bandwidth and have not yet done so, this is another opportunity to talk with instructional designers & accessibility practitioners/reviewers so that you’re addressing any major issues or concerns while formatting. The goal here is to help your resource meet objectives, and lower the amount of remediation it needs after publication.
Both accessibility professionals and instructional designers can help you refine the usability and clarity of your resource, particularly as it relates to the format and structure. No question is too big or small – so ask about what’s on your mind and you’ll be surprised at how much this dialogue can help resolve problems/challenges around formatting. This means, among other things, ensuring that headings are styled for contrast, size, hierarchy, etc., so as to make them both legible and comprehensible for all readers. Similarly, images need to contain alt text, which acts as a machine-readable placeholder when the image itself cannot be viewed. These are small points, but important to think about during formatting, so as to reduce any remediative work that might need to happen after your book is released. For more information about accessibility best practices when creating your open textbook, we highly recommend the BCcampus Open Education Accessibility Toolkit.
Some people may think that open textbooks don’t require book covers, because they are simply ‘digital texts.’ In fact, covers are an important way to give your OER a face and visually engage potential readers and adopters! What’s more, open textbooks can be printed, just like any other book, and it’s nice to offer more than just plain text on a plain background.
Book covers also help to attract potential adopters by conveying the book’s subject matter and overarching themes. For students and readers who will interact with the book, the cover distinguishes it from other resources, and allows it to show its ‘personality’ up front. While the possibilities are endless, we suggest keeping book covers simple, and dedicating a reasonable but not excessive time to creating the design. Enlisting the help of a student designer or another volunteer who is looking to grow their portfolio can be a good approach, but make sure to give them a clear briefing on what is wanted, as well as a specific timeline and set of deliverables.
As well, put a clear feedback and decision-making process in place, so that the cover doesn’t end up getting stuck in ‘design-by-committee’ delays. When it comes to visual and textual elements, you may want to use open- source fonts and open-license photographs, so that your book cover can also be openly licensed. Public domain image repositories, and open license platforms such as Unsplash can be great resources. Let us know in the Rebus Community forum about your own go-to image and graphic sources – we’d love to share them!
Front and back matter
Adding front and back matter to your book is a good way to include information that complements or supports the main content, without necessarily being central. It can also help round out the appearance of your book and lend it some of that professionally created appeal. Front matter really sets the tone of the book and offers a lot of introductory information to a potential adopter or reader. This is their first point of contact with your work, and what they will skim through before reaching the main content. This section of your OER may help someone make a decision about whether the OER is right for them and their use-case. Back matter, on the other hand, provides supplemental features that support readers and provide additional context for potential adopters or adapters who may be remixing your resource. The table below contains a list of common front matter and back matter elements that you can choose to include in your book.
|Abstract||About the Team|
|Acknowledgements||About the Publisher|
|Copyright Page||Accessibility Assessment|
|Image Credits||Author’s / Editor’s Note|
|List of Abbreviations||Conclusion|
|List of Illustrations||Epilogue|
|List of Tables||Errata|
|Other Books by the Author(s)/ In this Series||Glossary|
|Praise for this Book||Index|
|Preface||Licensing and Remixing Information|
|Recommended Citation||Suggested Reading|
Even if your OER has been born web-based, there’s something to be said about the power of print. Print remains an important option for students, many of whom still prefer to engage with content in a physical format. There are also readers who will opt for print, given that digital and online versions necessitate reliable access to digital devices and an internet connection. Print-on-demand is therefore a good way to support accessibility and choice for students, even if you yourself don’t plan to use a print book in teaching.
Giving your resource a physical presence can also be invaluable for how it is perceived. Some adopters will still prefer to see a printed copy of an OER book: that materiality can make it all-the-more “real” in their perception.
If you’re using Pressbooks, you can easily export a print PDF file that is optimized for printing. If you’re using other formatting tools, you should check the specifications and requirements by the print-on-demand service that you plan to use. Some common providers are Lulu, IngramSpark, CreateSpace, and Kindle Direct Publishing.You may also want to look into the printing options at your campus bookstore, or with local printers in your area, as their rates might be more favourable. For more information, check out the Print-on-Demand Guide that BCcampus has created that outlines how to set up POD in detail.
With open publishing, creators are able to take enough time to ensure their resource is accessible and usable by all students and readers from the moment of release. This means planning for accessibility and inclusive design from the very beginning, and executing that plan during the subsequent phases. Then, prior to release, a final check of the resource, across the various formats you produce, ensures that the original goals have been met. We recommend running through an accessibility checklist to determine how your book holds up to these standards. We find this checklist from BCcampus to be a helpful starting point, but you can also use checklists or standards provided by your institution, state, or national governing body.
Once you’ve completed this work, it’s important to then include the assessment in the back matter of your OER, so that potential users can determine the suitability of the book for all students. There’s also value in surfacing this kind of information for those who may not think of it otherwise, so be transparent and forthcoming with the work you’ve put in, as well as with any known shortfalls.
Preparing for Release
Once you’ve completed the steps above, the only thing left to do is to execute your promotional plan and shout it from the rooftops. As this happens, build in some time for you and your team to celebrate the moment, and pat yourselves on the back for this incredible achievement. Creating an OER is no easy feat, but you’ve done it! Take it all in, and enjoy the calm, before thinking about any next steps.
You may be wondering why you can’t just wrap up this process by using the OER you’ve created in your classrooms and calling it a day. We encourage you to think back to your reasons for wanting to publish openly. The ease of customization of OER is a big benefit, especially when compared to publishing more traditionally. Think also to the challenges you faced when looking for OER to remix — you had specific needs that were not met (hence the work on your projects). Remember the motivators and measures for success you have highlighted in the project scoping phase, and those motivating the work as part of this grant — more adoptions and improving student experiences is at the heart.
Releasing your OER increases its discoverability, visibility, and potential impact – so more people can use what they need and remix it, if desired. It also strengthens two-way communication pathways to improve your OER over time — so the resource can keep being relevant and valuable for students and teachers.
We find it helpful to think of this exciting stage in the form of a checklist, so you can slowly prepare yourselves as a team to reach the final milestone. You’ll put final touches on the book, make sure it’s visible from many spaces, and then shine the spotlight on it!
Once an OER is “out there,” it gets adopted and used in classrooms, opening the possibility up for feedback from students through a classroom review. In doing so, you can determine the impact the resource is having and also look for ways to improve and update the OER so it serves students even better!
An easy way to get notifications of new adopters and adapters is to have them fill out an adoption form. (You can take a look at our Adoption Form as an example.) Forms can be more detailed if you require additional information. Make sure that you link clearly to the form from your book, from the project’s public listing page, and from the release announcement or other communications. The wider the form’s reach, the higher the response rate!
Read on to the Post-Release Considerations chapter to learn more about the whys and hows of adoptions.
Other final checks include a visual test, during which you look at the layout in each format – web, PDF, and ebook – confirming consistency and coherence from beginning to end. (Note that this is not as close a read as you would do during proofreading, but instead, it is a more macro-level verification of the layout.) When you’re checking content that is web-native, it’s good to confirm that external links are all working, that the information about the book on its landing page is clear and descriptive, and that there is a link to your adoption form. Licenses should also be clearly displayed, and contact information can be made available, using email links. Check also that the metadata attached to your book is updated, accurate, and comprehensive – this makes it much easier for your book to be discovered in repositories!
At this point, you may want to have your book proofread (or proofread a second time if you have already done one pass). Someone with fresh eyes can catch little errors that might have been introduced during formatting, or new (minor) edits that you make to the content as you go through all these last checks. Remember, however, that when you’re so close to a resource, it may never seem perfect to you, so draw a line (and set a time limit) when it comes to ongoing tweaks and adjustments. Or, if you prefer, start up plans for a second edition, and feed this work into the next project!
Submit your OER to repositories
To encourage adoptions or adaptations of your OER, it’s crucial that you make your resource easy to find in various institutional and OER repositories. Repositories serve as a key space for adopters to find your OER. This is a key step in the process because you don’t want your release announcement to be the only place where people can find your OER – can you recall how many release announcements you found when you were looking for OER to remix? The answer is probably very few!
By submitting your book in multiple repositories, it increases the chances that your book will be discovered by educators and researchers looking for openly licensed content in your field. We recommend submitting to major OER repositories/referotories such as MERLOT, Open Textbook library, BCcampus Library, and OER Commons, in addition to your institutional repository, or other local or national repositories in your region.
Update & involve your community
Be sure to send a notification to your community regarding the release, and if possible, send a token of appreciation to anyone who has had a particularly significant role in the development. This could be as simple as a handwritten thank you card, and/or a print copy of the resource. Many people helped create it, after all, and it’s generally a small cost in exchange for a lot of goodwill (and another potential adopter!). We also think that the team and purpose behind the OER should be a guiding pillar in how you frame and tell your OER’s story during release. The work of creating OER as you know is shared amongst the team — it’s not the effort of just one individual. Let others know who the authors, editors, reviews, and more are. In your OER’s acknowledgements, it’s a nice gesture of gratitude to include a list of all the team members involved in the project, and those who have been part of its broader community. Knowing who is behind this story humanizes the work, and legitmitizes it too!
If you’ve been sharing updates about how your project is going, there will likely also be a certain amount of anticipation and enthusiasm about the impending release, which you can tap into in a number of ways. For instance, as you’re letting people know that the OER is close to release, take the chance to ask people to share some feedback (a short review, a statement of endorsement, etc.) on the book and/or process. You can use their words in your promotional assets, and follow any recommendations they have about where to share the book (e.g., listservs you might not know about).
Telling your OER’s story through promotional assets
So how do you tell others about the decisions that have informed your story and the OER that you’ve produced? When it comes to promotional assets – you’re really building on the work you started when you articulated the story of your OER in your Storytelling & Communications template and using these pieces to communicate your OER release.
Start by highlighting the unique features in your OER content — this should be one of the key themes in your story! What makes your approach and content different from other books on the same subject? Is there more regional content, real-world applications, new approaches? Are you using inclusive language, identity terms, or bringing in critical scholarship that hasn’t been discussed before? Does the book have interactive elements, activities, ancillaries or other special pedagogical devices that were intentionally designed? Make a list and be sure to let folks know — because what may be evident to you will not be to someone who has not spent as much time on your OER.
As you can see, in order to “release your OER”, you need to tell a story: of how the idea came to be, what the final product is, and why someone should be interested. At this point in the publishing process, the time has come to pull together what you already have into a central document, so that your team can conveniently add any of the missing pieces. You may want to create a detailed promotional plan, with key dates and major events, so you can add momentum over the course of the release. Remember — you have a unique perspective to bring to the OER based on your role on the team, so it is important that you play a small part in finalizing these pieces.
By coming together and collaborating on this project, you’ve all been able to create something that has a tremendous potential for long-term change! As other educators in your area and around the world hear about your resource, they can leverage the content and formats your team has put together to put their own spin to let this OER grow. So in your stories, highlight the adoption form and offer pathways for people using your OER to come share their stories and suggestions to strengthen it further.
With all the care and thought that has gone into creating the resource, it’s only fitting to have a coordinated effort to make as much noise about the release as possible. While there is no limit to the number and kinds of assets you can create, we recommend the following as a minimum:
- a release announcement (with links to the OER)
- a short, shareable description of your OER (you likely have this already in your project scoping docs)
- blurbs or praise for the book
- a book cover or other visual elements to draw folks in (don’t forget to include alt text!)
- short blurbs to share on social media channels (highlight what makes your OER valuable)
Whatever assets you prepare, be sure to share them widely – on a blog or other web page, in key listservs, at major conferences, on social media, within your team, and in the Rebus Community forum. Ask others to spread the word, too, and keep the momentum up so that your release is on the radar for a few weeks.
Start looking ahead
The process of preparing for release is pivotal: your team is finally getting to see the big picture and it’s rewarding to see the resource come together! What’s useful at this phase is to keep a running list of and tick off items as you complete them. The main things to keep in mind is that your book is available in web, editable, and offline formats, and that there’s a short announcement that you can share on release day. It can sometimes be difficult to draw the line with final tweaks and touches on the book, so work with your team to reach a point where you are all happy.
As your resource becomes part of the disciplinary landscape, and communities of practice around the world begin to adopt and adapt it, it may be time to think about a long-term vision for your book. Do you want to create ancillary materials? Is there a series to be created, or a revised edition to be planned? Should the book be translated into different languages? Try to engage the community around you in this planning – they may become part of a future project’s leadership team.