So You Want to Publish Your Academic Work…

A Beginner’s Guide to e-publishing with Scalar


What is Scalar & Why Use It?

As the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture describes it, Scalar is “born digital, open source, media-rich scholarly publishing that’s as easy as blogging.” It’s a tool designed for publishing academic work that combines the ease and convenience of publishing online through platforms like blogs and the look and feel in many ways of a downloadable e-book, from the look of the page to the inclusion of table of content-like menu. Put blogging and e-books together and you have something that is interactive, hypertextual, navigable, professional, and easily shareable.

What Will This Tutorial Teach Me?

Scalar has a pretty good Getting Started guide, as well as instructions for more specific/advanced features, but all of that involves clicking around to different pages to try to find the information you're looking for. This is a condensed setup guide that will show you around Scalar’s basic features. By the end of this guide you should have set up your first book and know how to navigate the Dashboard, do simple visual customization, create pages, edit and explore the menu, and enter text and media. From here, you can move on to tutorials detailing more specific things you want to do.

Can We Start the Tutorial Already?

Sure! Click this link, then click the orange “Learn more” button at the top of the page.

Once you've created your account, you can go straight to the sign in.

Read more about it if you want, then click the orange “Sign up” button at the top of the page.

If you have an idea for a book/project, you can go ahead and enter a working title here. You can always edit this title or add a new book later.

Once in, you should be taken to a page that looks like the one below. This is called the Index. Here you can see your books (if you entered a title on the registration page, it should show up here), as well as some featured books. We want to get to the Dashboard, so click that link it the upper right hand corner.

The dashboard is the hub for making larger scale edits (like the look of your book), as well as creating new books, approving comments, etc. This is basically where your editor will come out to play.

Let’s go ahead and create a new book. If you entered a title on the registration page, you can skip this step. On the “My account” tab, look at the bottom of the page under “My books.” Enter a title where it says “Create new book” and click the “create” button. You should receive a confirmation that your book was created, and your title should appear under “My books.” Go ahead and click on the book you just created and the name of the book should appear at the top of the screen.

If you click over to the “Book properties” tab, you have some options for customizing the look of your book. There are seven built-in themes to choose from, as well as the options to upload a background image, a thumbnail image, and customize with CSS and/or Javascript.

At the bottom of that page, you can choose whether to make the URL public and indexed by Scalar, whether to allow other Scalar users to duplicate your book, enter publisher info, add menu items, and select the scope of your publication, be it a book, article, or project.

I have all of my options set to private right now while I'm editing my book.

In the “Book users” tab, you can easily add, edit, or remove Scalar users to the book, making it easy to collaborate. Note: you will not be able to add someone until they have created a Scalar account, and right now there isn't an invite to join option or anything like that either.

While you are in the Dashboard, there is always an option in the upper right hand corner under your name that says “Back to book.” Let’s click that now. As you can see below, other than the title, there isn’t anything in my book at the moment.

I’ve use the Shale theme.

When we click the “Edit” button in the red bar at the bottom of the screen, we’re taken to what looks like a basic word processor, not unlike the page where you write a new blog post in Wordpress or Blogger. You can enter a title for the page, a description of the content on that page, and your text.

At the bottom of the edit page, you have some options for the view, relationship, style, and metadata. We’re not going to go into this, but you can play around with these different options or find more information about them here.

Make sure to save before you navigate away from the page!

When we click save, we are taken back to the view of the page, so we can see how it looks as formatted.

To create a new page, simply click the “New” button in the red bar at the bottom of the page. This will take you to the same page the edit button did, but will create a separate page from the one you are currently on.

If we want to add media to a page, we have a few options. If we click the dropdown menu on the left and select “Import” we can see the different types of media we can include. Accessing the media is pretty simple, though the process for including media files in pages is a little tricky.

I selected the “Internet media files” option, which takes you to a familiar edit page.

Put in your title, description, and URL.

When we click save we can see the video on the page, but it’s not on a page. I’ll go back to my Chapter One page by clicking the “Recent” dropdown in the left hand navigation bar and selecting the page. Then click “Edit.”

At the top of the textbox, we have several option for importing media, depending on how you want it to be displayed. I’ll choose the second option this time, which says “add inline Scalar media file” when you hover over it with your mouse.

A box pops up, and we can see the video I previously uploaded. When I click on it, it is automatically added to my page wherever I left the cursor.

In the edit menu the video will simply show up as a grey box, but when you click save, it will show up properly in the view menu.

So now that we have a couple of pages, let’s go back to the Dashboard by clicking on its link in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Click on the “Book properties” tab and scoll to the bottom. Click on “add menu item.”

I’m going to click on Introduction and then click “add menu item” again and click on Chapter One. If you want to change the order, simply drag and drop the menu items.

I can now see my two menu items I just added in numbered order on the “Book properties” page.

Click the blue “Save” button at the bottom of the page and then click “Back to book” in the upper right hand corner (scroll all the way up). Now you should see your menu items you just added in that left hand navigation bar when it’s on the main menu option.

Scalar automatically puts in an “About” and “Explore” navigation option. In the “About,” you have Works Cited and Acknowledgments, and you can edit these just like any other pages.

In “Explore” you have the option to view all of the tags in your book, as well as a visualization option, with different options for visuals related to elements of the book like pages, media, tags, comments, etc.

When you are happy with your book, go back into the “Book properties” tab in the Dashboard and make your URL public!

Scalar has a bunch of little customization options for the whole book, each page, the media, etc. that we haven't even touched in this tutorial, so feel free to play around and explore those options. Some of the components, like adding media, can be a bit circuitous and not as intuitive as I would like it to be, and the way the menu is set up is definitely centered toward academics with the works cited automatically included, and less toward maybe self publishing something creative like a short story. Also, while you’re able to customize the URL extension, you are not currently able to get rid of the http://scalar.usc.edu before the title of your book. I wouldn’t quite say this tool is as easy to use as most blogging platforms, but it makes up for that with rich features. Overall, this is a great tool to explore if you are looking to publish academic work to the web!