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?

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Ripper’s Row is Coming Soon!

Ripper’s Row  is a novella that I have co-written with author Shawn Weaver (Sense of Honor and Dragon’s Chest).  Shawn and I met last spring at a local book signing, and shortly thereafter had dinner together.  We discussed writing, publishing and marketing, and then hit on the idea of co-writing a short story.  Our intention was to write a short story and give it away as an ebook just to generate a little buzz and introduce us both to new readers.

We then kicked around some ideas through email, and eventually came up with a storyline that we both liked.  We got started, and within a short time, we were both in love with the story and realized it was going well beyond the short-story range in word count.

A couple of months later, we had a first draft of a novella that we titled “Ripper’s Row.”
Since that first draft was finished, we have both been working on editing and refining the story.  I’m happy to say that the final polish is being done now, and the novella is expected to be released around Halloween of 2010!  Just a few days away as of this writing.

I’m very excited about Ripper’s Row, and hope you will take a minute to click the links and check it out. If you like fast-paced scary thrillers – especially ones with unlikely heroes – the Ripper’s Row should be right up your alley.

TEETH by Timothy James Dean

The Bite done Right!

Teeth by Timothy James Dean

TEETH!

I just finished the novel TEETH by Timothy James Dean and was absolutely overwhelmed by the scope of this story. “Epic” may be too small a word to describe the adventure of a small party of military personnel sent on a rescue mission to the island’s interior during World War 2.
Things go terribly wrong as the mission gets underway, and the small team find themselves stranded among hostile enemy forces. Their initial escape only leads them to even more formidable foes, which include the island’s cannibal and headhunter tribes. But most intimidating of all, is “The Father,” a saltwater crocodile of immense size. The team encounters the Father many times as they follow the great river to the coast, where they hope to be rescued.
The author does an absolutely incredible job with every aspect of this book. The characters are so realistic that you will miss them when the story ends! His first-hand knowledge of the island and its inhabitants lend a level of realism rarely achieved in a novel. His descriptions are cinematic, and the action is fast. His treatment of the primary foe, the “Father,” is visceral and engaging, revealing in a very unique way the thoughts and motivations of the great beast in shocking detail.
This adventure tale reveals much about the honorable men involved, on all sides of this conflict. Perceived enemies can become allies when the common goal is survival. A love story also unfolds under the harsh reality of the world at war, and friendships are forged under the most demanding of circumstances.
My hat is off to Timothy James Dean, and I thank him here publicly for bringing this incredible story to the world. This book now ranks among my very favorites of all time, and I look forward to more from this gifted author.

If you have a spare moment and an Amazon account, please click this link and vote YES! that my Review of TEETH was helpful!

Shelfari

Shelfari

Shelfari

I visited and then joined a new book-lover’s website today.  Shelfari.com.  Described as a “social networking site for book lovers.”  Have to say, I was impressed with Shelfari from the first moment I got there.  I have not had much time to spend there yet, but what I have sen I really like.
You can build your online profile, add your favorite books to your virtual bookshelf, write reviews and other content about the books, make friends,  – well, you get the idea.
First impression is that the site is very well done.  I added my book, Dark Justice, to my virtual bookshelf, along with the book I’m currently reading, “Alter of Eden” by James Rollins.
Shelfari looks like one of those sites you could spend a lot of time on – if you have that kind of time.  I will definitely be getting on this one more often, and I’ll update here when I learn more.

21st Century Farmer’s Market?

Last weekend, while doing some marketing research, I stumbled across an author named Seth Harwood. Seth has recently gotten a novel published, called “Jack Wakes Up.”
I have not read Seth’s book yet, but after reading a bit about Seth, I was introduced to a book publishing concept that I had not heard of – “serialized podcasted books.” It seems that Seth was a fan of audiobooks, and learning from a few authors who had done this before, Seth recorded his book in the form of podcast “episodes.”
A few clicks later in my research, I was directed to a site called PodioBooks.com “PodioBooks” is the term coined to mean POD-cast audIO Books.
Here’s the basic model; an author writes a book, then records “episodes” in the form of a podcast MP3 file. When the episode is finished, it is uploaded to podiobooks.com. From there, listeners can browse from available episodes and download them to listen to at their leisure – for FREE. Users can subscribe to a book, and then set the frequency of the downloads which can happen automatically. Once a day, or once a week – whatever works for the user.
Not all books on the site are completed works. This is indicated to the user while browsing. If the author has finished recording all episodes, then the work is labeled finished. If the author has not yet recorded the entire work, the book is labeled as such.
I mentioned that all of this content if free – but users can donate money for the books they consume, and are encouraged – not forced – to do so. If a user listens to a book and then donates money, they are asked to identify the book, as the author gets 75% of the donation. The remaining 25% goes to the website to help defer costs.
It seems that Seth and others have built a fan base by giving away free podiobooks, which in some cases helps the author get a tradional publishing contract.
After reading about this model, it reminded me of an old-fashiond Farmer’s Market. The farmers work hard to grow their produce, then bring them to market to sell to consumers. They may even give away free samples to the crowd. In this case, the author writes a book, records the episodes, and then brings it to market at PodioBooks.com. Selling to the consumers directly, and perhaps giving away free samples to entice people to buy (or donate) and hopefully generating a fan base for future works.
Nifty idea. I like it. I plan to record my book and submit it to podiobooks.com…

Good Reads

This past week I have become aware of two websites that should be of great interest to up and coming writers.
The first one I want to write about, is called Goodreads.com
Think of Goodreads as a facebook-like social networking site for book lovers. Readers, writers and others in the business should be visiting Goodreads. On this website, you can make friends and join groups, send messages and generally keep in touch with others – based on books.
Each user can stock his or her virtual “bookshelf” with the books they have read, (along with ratings and/or reviews) the book they are currently reading, and books they want to add to their “to be read” list.
If you are a published author they have an “author program” where you find your book, then add your profile so readers can get to know you. Even if you are self-published and your book is not in their database, you can manually add your book and then complete the profile. The “Authors Program” page says that Ebook authors and POD authors are also welcome to join and add their work.
I have not had much time to spend on Goodreads yet, but I can assure you that I will. I’ll be adding my own novel to their database and completing a profile – perhaps even give away a few copies (you can do that on Goodreads as well.)
It looks like a pretty neat site and I think it’s a great idea. Kudos to the folks who put Goodreads together and I hope a lot of people ejnoy and join the site.

Forest Park Booklaunch

Donnie with J.A. Konrath near Chicago

Donnie with J.A. Konrath near Chicago

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend author J. A. Konrath’s booklaunch party for his new Jack Daniels novel, “Cherry Bomb.” JA told his “getting published” story – which is very moving. JA had written something like 10 novels before he got a real publishing deal.
His Jack Daniels series of books, all named after drinks, are great fun to read. I have read several of them, and several of his unpublished novels as well. I have enjoyed them all. J.A. Konrath is truly a gifted writer, and great fun to be around.
J.A. is also very knowledgeable about publishing and always has a lot of good info on his website. P

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