Thursday, June 6, 2013

Formatting Books the 21st Century Way #amreading #ebooks #giveaway

A Not-So-Short Rant
Reader first, author second

I absolutely love my ereaders, a Kindle 3 and a Kindle Fire—both are used every single day. In fact, because of my vision, print books are beyond me and I can only read on my Kindles. So, from the perspective of someone who only reads ebooks, I learned a thing or two about writing them.

Amazon has a nifty feature called Look Inside that enables a reader to get an idea whether or not to buy the book. But if you have pages and pages of copyright material, dedication, acknowledgements, maybe an author’s note, reviews of that and previous books, you’re not letting the reader get to the story before they give up and go away. Here’s a suggestion:
  • Cover
  • Title page
  • Praise (maybe three brief snippets)
  • Table of Contents
  • Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • Other books out
  • More Praise
  • Author Bio

If you format the book in this manner, then your reader can actually read a few pages and maybe even the first chapter of your book. You want to hook your reader and you aren’t going to do that with anything other than your outstanding story.

A paragraph might not look all that long in a print book or a manuscript — 10 or 12 lines of 12 point text — but that same paragraph will be five or six pages long on my Kindle. Authors, please give your readers’ eyes a break! I use medium-large type size on the K3, and even larger on the Fire. About 160 words is all that will fit on a page. Yes, this paragraph is too long to comfortably read on a Kindle with a larger than standard size typeface.

Contrary to what we hear, poorly edited books come from every class of publisher, from NY to the self-pubs. You can’t tell by the publisher whether or not the grammar will be correct and the typos will be caught. Same with copy errors. I’ve read Big Six books where the hero’s eye color changes, or they ride a horse five hundred miles in a day, or they pump their own gas in Oregon.

Then there are the reissues. I just read a book that was originally published by Dorchester. It was a mess. If I saw an ‘m,’ it was probably supposed to be a ‘th.’ The contractions were all weird and I think a couple pages were missing (can’t know that for sure, but there was a definite continuity break). Someone scanned that puppy and just chunked it into KDP without proofreading — and unfortunately that’s a frequent occurrence. No matter where the book was previously published, please run it by a proofreader before uploading.

I listen to books when my eyes get too tired to read, and if you only space once after a period, there’s hardly any break in the speech at all. Please use two spaces so there’s a pause between sentences. Please.  I'm begging you.

Also, you don’t know where the line break will be — it depends on both the ereader and the size of type. Because of that, em dashes can make the ereader display one word at a time, especially if you’re using long words. Consider this line:
“...Obediah’s constitution—unnecessary refreshments...”
That will definitely look wonky on an ereader. Placing a space before and after the em dash will improve the display, and also create a pause when the reader uses text-to-speech.

End of Rant
My first four books were published before I bought my Kindles, so they have the old-fashioned formatting. I’m going to redo them all. The last book and my short stories have the new format and display much better. And you know what? They look better in print, too. So there you have it.

Two winners!
Yep, two commenters will be drawn and will receive winner's choice of any two of these Kindle books:
Drawing will be held June 7 at 9pm Pacific time.

Hearts of Owyhee 
Where the Old West really happened!
Much Ado About Marshals
Much Ado About Madams
Much Ado About Mavericks


  1. Editing, edit, then edit some more. Nothing brings a reader out of the story quicker than a clunker. It kills me when a reader points out a mistake in one of my books published by one of the Big Six, and I can't do anything about getting it fixed. I couldn't even get them to fix it between hardback and paperback (I asked)and the ebook still carries the mistake. Here it is years later and it still bothers me.

    1. And with you, that would be especially annoying because you know how easy those things are to fix. I would bet money that the books you scan and reissue for Western Fictioneers don't have the OCR issues that the book I just read has. It was a great book but had I not already read it years ago, I'd have given up on it at the end of the first chapter.

  2. I love my Kindle3. I like being able to adjust the font size. I mostly like the non glare screen as I am light sensitive. It really helps when doing alot of reading. I agree with the double spacing after the period. It does help readers see the start of a sentence better. Great article!

    1. Thanks, Shirl, I'm glad you stopped by. Yes, my Kindles are a godsend, and anyone with vision issues can relate. As for two spaces after a period--I agree it also makes reading much easier. I see no reason for a publisher to make the readers work any harder than they need to!

  3. I appreciate your article Jacquie, very informative. Good luck on reformatting your older books. As readers we appreciate the lengths authors go to to put out a good final product :)

    1. Most publishers still go with one space after a paragraph and the standard front matter. That's so unnecessary with a Table of Contents. Luckily, my publisher is progressive and I can pretty much do what I want. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Uh oh, Jacquie. I didn't know that about an em dash. I also only space once after a period. Big sigh. So much to learn, isn't there?

    1. Yep, times change and formats change. I don't know about other reading devices and other text-to-speech paradigms, since I only read on Kindles. (The Fire doesn't have text-to-speech, I don't think. I use my K3 for that.) But it's hard to get used to the notion that an ebook is only one very long page. We've been page-oriented for hundreds of years!

  5. From what I understand, the formatting process removes the second space no matter what you do. Am I wrong? I'd be so happy if I was wrong...

    1. I'm not sure about that. Maybe Smashwords does--I haven't read any Smashwords books using text-to-speech. I will say that Amazon did a terrible job with it. If there's a period, there should be a pause no matter how many spaces you put there. Same with an em dash. I can understand why there wouldn't be a pause with an en dash, but an em dash??? Duh. Also, there should be a pause at any occurrence of Enter. As it is, there's no pause between the log line and the beginning of a scene. Very annoying.

  6. As a reader I not only want a great story, but one that is formatted and edited very well. A great post thank you.


  7. I have seen typos to descrepancies in the story line in books of all kinds including big traditional publishers. Most of the time it is infrequent in a book, but others are so frequent it's distracting and annoying. As time goes by, it seems to happen more often. I am so surprised by the lack of editing that seems to occur more and more often.
    A very thought provoking blog, Jacquie. I love your Much Ado series.


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