Why I Read and Write Horror and Thriller Novels

Imagine this: I’m in line at some social function, standing next to a woman who is my mother’s age. We strike up a conversation, and she eventually asks what I do. “I’m a writer,” I say. Of course, she responds with “Oh? What kind of books do you write?” So I begin to describe my books and she hears words like paranormal, vampires, voodoo, demons, zombies… you get the idea. I watch her face turn from a pleasant smile to one of confusion, then to the verge of repulsion. I’m sure she was thinking that I look like a nice, reasonable guy, but somewhere in our conversation things took a turn from that course.

shocked-old-womanTruth is; I am a nice, reasonable guy. A nice reasonable guy who loves to read and write stories that take the reader away from cozy and comfortable, and to a place where life is more difficult and challenging. A place where danger awaits at every bend in the road, and vile creatures exist who have evil on their mind. A world where you have to stay on your toes to survive, and every breath could be your last.

Perhaps there remains in my DNA, some fragment that was passed on from my distant ancestors. Those ancestors who didn’t need a scary story to get their adrenaline pumping through their veins because a saber-toothed tiger just ate one of their clan. They saw it happen, and they know the beast is still nearby-and still on the hunt. Or from the ancestor who went to war with a horde of barbarians who knew no morals and killed and tortured for the sick thrill of conquest. No, those ancestors didn’t need a guy like me to make up stories to tell around the campfire. They lived in a time when being scared and wary was a way of life, and necessary to stay alive. Those who were not afraid in those times had a name – victims.

Saber-toothBut now things are different. We live in a civilized society, and for the most part, we lead pretty easy lives. We don’t have to walk the path in the forest gathering berries to survive, knowing the saber-tooth is nearby and still hungry. The horde of barbarians has gone the way of the mammoth, but we psychologically have replaced them with hordes of fictional zombies. We need something other than exercise to get our pulse rate up. We need an element of the unknown to keep us guessing, and second-guessing ourselves. We need something to scare us other than the price of gas. We need something for our brains to chew on, in which no answer is right, wrong, or even possible.

The lady I mentioned above will go on to tell me that she reads romance novels and poetry. She may mention that if I ever write a romance novel, she would be happy to read it.

Our conversation has lost a bit of the niceness it began with, but I tell her that I have written a romance story.

Her eyes brighten just a bit, and the smile returns to her face. Then I tell her that in my romance novel, the hero is battling an evil vampire who killed his fiancé, and if he kills the vampire he will free her soul from an existence in Purgatory. But the vampire is protected by a Voodoo Queen who controls an army of Zombies…

The confusion returns to her face, then to the verge of repulsion. She says it’s been nice talking to me, then turns to the person in front of her and starts another conversation, probably about romance novels and poetry. Another lady of about the same age taps me on the shoulder. “Do you really write books?” she asks.

Big Foot“Yep,” I reply. “But probably not the kind of books you read.” She goes on to tell me she’s a huge Stephen King fan, and here I was thinking she looked like a nice, reasonable woman. We hit it off, then we go on to talk about Aliens, Bigfoot and Werewolves.

 

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Does Quality eBook Formatting Really Matter?

Under the Dome

Under the Dome

As an Indie Author, I have become heavily involved in eBook formatting. I have spent many, many hours fretting over my eBook titles, making sure that my CSS is set up properly, making sure my Chapters start on a new eBook “page,” and pouring over my eBooks looking for anything that might have gone awry.

If you are an Indie author, I’m guessing that you too, have been there, done that.

Because I’m not (yet) a “Big-Time, NY Published Author,” I feel that I have to make sure I present my eBooks to the reader in a format that is pleasant to read, stable, and as perfect as the platform allows. I believe that ANY author should strive to offer the best formatting possible. If a reader notices or comments on the formatting of an eBook at all, chances are, you have a problem. Good, quality eBook formatting means that the formatting is “invisible” and it’s the story that stands out. Formatting problems will be noticed, and if there are many of them, they become a distraction to the reader taking the focus off the content.

I know this from experience—as both a reader and Indie author/eBook creator. I have purchased eBooks that were simply unreadable. The formatting problems were so overwhelming that I could not stay focused on the story, as I found myself trying to read around some inserted text that obviously should not have been there, or trying to follow the flow of text that ended in the middle of the line and picked up again halfway across the next line down.

Here’s the funny thing: I read many Indie published eBooks, as well as my share of Publisher-created eBooks, and in my experience, I see many of the worst formatting issues from “professional” publishers.

This seems odd to me, and brings up an eBook that I am currently reading, written by one of my favorite authors. The eBook is Stephen King’s, “Under the Dome,” published by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales, Inc (as listed on the Amazon Kindle page).

I’m a huge Stephen King fan. As I sit in my office writing this, I am 3 feet away from a bookshelf that is dedicated to this author and holds a hardcover copy of every novel and non-fiction book he has written. I had not yet read “Under the Dome,” and was looking forward to the experience. By the way, I paid $9.99 for the Kindle version of this eBook, definitely on the pricier side of what I normally buy, but hey—it’s Stephen King. And eBook pricing is a topic for another article…

Hyphenated

Hyphenated

As I began reading the eBook, I first noticed what I thought was some quirky spacing within the sentences. Then I noticed this pattern repeating itself. It appears that there was a space between words and the following punctuation marks, especially question marks and exclamation points. No biggie—it didn’t detract from my reading very much, but it did cause me to pause and wonder why this was happening. Then I ran across a hyphenated word in the middle of my eBook screen. There was no plausible explanation as to why this word was hyphenated, and there were many more of them as I progressed through the book. I also noticed in many cases it seemed like a paragraph break was missing, as dialog from different characters was  jumbled together, making it difficult to follow.

“Under the Dome,” is, by design, laid out in parts, chapters and sub-chapters. I have no problem with that, but it seems that major parts and chapters start on a new page, but the numbered sub-chapters do not, often causing a number to appear at the bottom of the screen I’m on, while the text starts on the next screen. Again, this is no biggie, and the book is readable even with the formatting issues I’ve described.

Broken Lines

Broken Lines

My gripe is that I paid $9.99 for this eBook, and it came from a Big Publisher (with Digital Sales, Inc. in the name no less) and the formatting has some issues. It looks to me like the publisher simply took an electronic document created for print (which would explain the hyphenated words) and then did a quick conversion to an eBook format without really spending anytime to check the results. The spacing issues and unnecessary hyphenation, as well as starting all chapters on a new page could have been done with little effort. Give me 15 minutes with that file and I’d have it fixed—worthy of Stephen King and making the $9.99 price tag more bearable.

I see poor formatting from professional publishers more often than I do from Indie authors. I’ve seen eBooks where the header and footer information, including page numbers, author name, and title are embedded in the flow of the content—page after page—showing up hundreds of times. I find this unacceptable, and will return eBooks formatted like this to Amazon, demanding my money back. When I see these kinds of formatting issues, I know that the publisher simply took the PDF file created for print, and blindly converted it into an eBook format, sans any quality control on the finished product.

In making ready to write this post, I visited the Under the Dome page on Amazon to see if anyone else complained about the formatting for this particular eBook. I did a quick search on the word formatting in the over 1,300 reviews, and found a number of reviews in which formatting was mentioned. Here’s an excerpt from my favorite:

As for Kindle formatting, the publishers must be smoking crack if they think readers will pay $16.99 for such a poorly formatted book (or for ANY eBook, for that matter, but that’s a discussion for another day…). I was completely shocked that such a huge, mainstream book had so many problems. From words that were clearly incorrectly scanned to missing paragraph breaks to basic misspellings, UTD had so many problems that it was actually distracting for me. It was confusing, trying to figure out where one speaker left off and another picked up because their comments weren’t broken down into separate paragraphs.

Apparently, the price of Under the Dome was reduced from $16.99 at some point, so being a little late to this one saved me $7.00.

I know that this Indie author—and thousands of others—spend countless hours making sure that the quality of the eBook they present to the reader is “professional” quality, and can compete with what the New York publishers are putting out there. If the Big Houses continue to put out shoddy eBooks, chalk up another advantage to the Indies.

Ripper's Revenge

Ripper's Revenge

I recently published an eBook titled “Ripper’s Revenge,” with co-author Shawn Weaver. I created a Kindle version, as well as a Nook version, each with appropriate links to my other titles on the respective sites. I checked and triple-checked the formatting, and poured over the results with considerable care.

The bottom line is this: If you rely on a simple “conversion” process to turn an electronic file into an eBook, chances are you will have formatting issues. In the realm of eBook creation, simple, fast and easy rarely equate to quality eBook creation.

In my humble opinion, eBooks need to be crafted, and require as much attention and knowledge as laying out a good quality print book. If you format your own eBooks, learn what makes them work, and what causes them to fail, and spend some time making sure your eBook formatting puts the focus on your story, not on the mistakes that are inherent in simple conversion process. The internet is full of great articles and support forums on eBook formatting.

At this point, I’m only 80% finished with Under the Dome, but I am enjoying it a great deal. As with virtually every Stephen King book I’ve read, not only is the story intriguing, but it’s a lesson on how to write great stories and keep the reader anxious for more. Thank you, Stephen, for another great story and writing lesson. Hopefully, your publisher and others will learn to put some effort into their eBook titles and create a digital product worthy of your ability.

Or, you might consider going Indie, and having some control over a finished product that has your name on it.

If this particular publisher reads any of the reviews for this eBook, I have to believe they know about the formatting issues. Why have they not addressed it? Is it apathy, or something else? Am I missing something here? Have you ever returned an eBook because of the formatting?  Would you?