Formatting eBooks

I am going to speak to fellow authors here. We all hear about formatting when it comes to eBooks. The problem is, I don’t think most independent publishers take it seriously enough.

As a reader of a print book, I find annoyances in misspelled words and bad editing. As a reader of an eBook however, there are far more dangerous mines that could drive your readers away.

Besides the basics of bad spelling, grammar and editing, let’s discuss formatting.

Most of the large eBook vendors have specific instructions on how to format your book so that it will look the best in their eFormat. When a book comes out badly formatted, I don’t know if the author did not take the time to follow all the instructions, or if whatever program they used to format the document caused the problem.

So I end up trying to read a book with bad indentions, odd spacing, and some where the lines overlap one another. Well, maybe I should re-word that. I don’t try and read those books. Once I run into more than one or two huge errors, I stop trying to read it.

Now, I am not nit-picky. I can overlook a lot, but when it becomes glaringly obvious the author either did not try to format correctly or even to check the book once it was in the finished eFormat, I am disappointed. A book is not just judged by its cover. It is also judged by what is inside.

True, not all problems can be overcome easily. Sometimes it is best to remove all formatting from your document and start over again. How do you do that? By copying everything, pasting it into a text-based document like Notepad, closing the original word doc (or similar), and opening a new one. Then copying the text within Notepad and pasting it into the new document.

Yes, it takes time, but it will fix mistakes – mistakes you aren’t even aware exist.

For instance, I recently tried to read a new book by one of my new favorite authors. This was her second full-length novel and I had been waiting weeks for it. As soon as I found out it was out, I downloaded it and started reading. I tried to overlook all the bad indentions, but they were everywhere. But, as I love the way she writes, I stopped looking at them and kept reading. Until I couldn’t anymore.

What stopped me? The strangest thing I had ever come in contact with. Invisible links were in the book that took me to a website every time I tapped anywhere on the page. Annoying? yes. Actually, fucking frustrating. I wanted to read the book, but could not, because it wouldn’t allow me to.

Now, I do not think these were put in on purpose. I doubt she even knew they were there.

The book originally was posted online on LiveJournal and I can only assume that when she went to put the book into eFormat, that instead of using her original documents – or maybe she no longer had her original documents – she copied and pasted her work from her LiveJournal account; which unfortunately was filled with invisible links to LiveJournal.

If she had copied everything into notepad and then into word, there would not have been the problem. As it is, I was not able to finish the book. For someone like me, who knows she is a great writer, this was a disappointment, but it won’t stop me from reading her future works (as long as they aren’t filled with links). But if it was a new reader, someone who had never read her other stuff, well, they are more likely to never read another book by her, return her book, and badmouth her to friends.

The last thing you want is that kind of negative publicity.

So, where can you learn to format? Well, Amazon has instructions on how to format for Kindle and Smashwords has a great book on eFormatting to work with their system. The fact is, most ePublishers have that kind of document.

Please, fellow indie-publishers, read, devour, and use those documents. Many in the publishing world look down on us because we do not appear “professional” enough. And when I run into severe errors, I have to wince and agree.

After turning your book into a specific eFormat, demo it and make sure it looks right. Check your table of contents, check any links you have embedded (of which make sure they are NOT invisible), make sure the book looks good.

How can you check it if you don’t own every device known to mankind? Well, neither do I. But – I downloaded the PC versions of things like Nook and Kindle. I also downloaded Adobe Digital Editions as it is a great way to view ePubs.

No, as indie publishers we probably won’t find every problem, but then even books from old-school publishers have problems. But if we can catch most of them before they are available to any readers and fix them, we are already several lengths ahead of the norm.