Oh those pesky ebooks

I’m going to admit right off the bat this morning that I am operating under a handicap. No, not the usual one of not enough caffeine. My beloved ROG laptop has decided to become the bane of my existence. The battery, overnight yesterday, decided not to work. Now the keyboard is lagging and, at times, not registering keystrokes. Since it is out of warranty with Asus, I’m dealing with the extended warranty through Squaretrade. That means it gets to be sent in for repair. It also means I have to move all my work over to the backup machine (now my family knows why I always have at least one other working laptop as well as a tablet on hand at any time). So, if there are weird missing letters, that is the cause. I’m trying to catch them but. . . .

Anyway, back to being a Mad Genius.

First things first. If you are registered for WorldCon, you should have received notice that the Hugo packet now available for download. Fair warning, some publishers sent only extracts of their nominated works (Ancillary Justice and Skin Game come to mind). John C. Wright’s work is all combined in one file and not necessarily listed in all categories where he is nominated. So it is a bit of hunt and place for him. At least there is a note with the packet that explains this. So, if you are voting this year, start reading. There is a lot of material to get through.

Now, on with the show, so to speak.

Despite all the attempts made by traditional publishers (Baen excluded) to convince readers that e-books are nothing but a novelty that will soon disappear, it is clear they are here to stay. It is also clear that readers are becoming more and more discerning about how e-books look. I’m not just talking about covers but about the interior of the e-book as well. They want the “printed page” to look as professional as the printed page of a physical book. In other words, they want it to look pretty. Or, more simply put, they want it to look professional.

What am I talking about? Joe Konrath talks about it over on his blog. If you scroll down, you will see two examples. The first is pretty similar to most e-books you find out there right now. There is nothing really wrong with it and it is certainly a far cry from those early e-books that had to be hand-coded. But it is simple, almost plain. It is workable but, let’s face it, it doesn’t look like what you expect a printed page to look like.

Now scroll down and look at the second example. I’ll admit that it is a bit too fancy for me but it serves my purpose of illustrating the difference you can have with just a little thought and work. The only thing I would probably do differently is lose the drop cap. I’ve never really liked them and they don’t, in my opinion, look right on dedicated e-book readers. On tablets, they are much better. Trying to read an e-book with drop caps on my phone is problematic at best because of the small screen. But remove it, keep much of the rest, and you have a “page” that looks more professional. Well, it looks fancier and that, to many readers, means professional.

Several books ago, I changed the way I format my e-books to start utilizing small caps on the chapter headings as well as the first line. I removed first line indent on the first page of each chapter. I used special font characteristics (such as bold and italics) to set off the text of the chapter headings and the first line. The key with doing this with e-books is not to small cap and bold or italics the entire first line because of the way readers can alter font size. You don’t want three lines suddenly bold or italicized. So I decide going in if I will do only the first X-number of words or the first clause. Then I follow it throughout the book. Consistency is the key.

What I have found since doing so is I get fewer reviews that focus on the fact my books are indie published. Even though I have no concrete proof that the change in formatting is the reason, I can reasonably make that assumption because of the timing. Those comments stopped, for the most part, around the time I changed my formatting. So, here’s my suggestion, find a publisher of books of the same genre as what you write. Look at their formatting of their print books. Now try to duplicate what their page formatting looks like. The benefit to doing this is two-fold. The first is that your book will, as stated before, look more “professional”. The second is that those readers who follow that publisher will pick up your e-books and there will be a familiar feel to them because they look like those of their favorite publisher. Both can help increase sales.

Since I already touched on reviews — the bane of all authors at some point in their careers — if you haven’t heard already, Amazon has decided to go after paid reviews and has sued several of these review mills. This is something we should all welcome. Now if they would just do the same about the sock puppet reviews. . . .

Anyway, Anne R. Allen has a very good post about why we shouldn’t pay for Amazon customer reviews. Read it. Think about it.

I think her post rang as strongly with me as it did because I was talking with my writers group Sunday about reviews. The newer writers looked at me like I had grown a second, or maybe a third, head when I told them I welcomed the occasional negative review. They couldn’t understand why any author would want to see a one or two star review on their work. Wasn’t that like admitting your baby is ugly?

I explained that, as a reader, I am suspicious when there are nothing but five-star reviews for a work. That’s especially true if there are a lot of reviews and the vast majority are five-star with only a very small percentage of any other ranking. It makes me wonder if the author or publisher didn’t stack the deck. Then I explained that there have been a number of times when I’ve seen books with nothing but five stars that I’ve looked at the sample and found anything but a great book. For me, at least, the three-star reviews have been more reliable than the vast majority of reviews on either end of the spectrum. That said, yes, you do want those four and five star reviews, especially if you are trying to be accepted by a lot of review sites because many of them have a requirement of the number of reviews/level of reviews you must have before they consider your work.

Go read the article and let me know what you think. There’s more I’d say but I am about to throw the laptop across the room, so I’ll stop here. What are your thoughts about e-book design and reviews?

 

 

63 Comments

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63 responses to “Oh those pesky ebooks

  1. Unfortunately, as long as promotional services require a minimum of X reviews with a rating average of Y%, then people will be tempted to buy reviews. I hate asking for them, personally, but i did yesterday and it made me feel guilty. 😦 On the other hand, I’d never buy a review. Maybe give a review copy…

    • Jim McCoy

      Speaking as a reviewer who does NOT accept cash in exchange for reviews, I feel like submitting a review copy is the best way to go. Honestly, if someone gives me a book to review I’m much more likely to read/review it than something I have to pay for. That’s just my two cents, YMMV, take it FWIW, etc.

      • I have done this in the past, but most of the time I find that the copy vanishes without a word in return unless I send it to a trusted pro. Speaking of which… I should send you a book, shouldn’t I?

      • Agreed. I’m trying to work with my higher-ups to get e-books included in our review process (I review for the oldest, largest YA librarian review group in the US. Some of the selectors in attendance have million dollar budgets. No returns.)

        Whot Amanda said. It may not be fair, but your librarian reviewer will be comparing you to the printed text (and if you’re writing nonfiction, heaven help you ifmyou index is khreppe) You also can’t count on them to do the legwork for you to get your e-book set up in a public library accessible format (unless it’s me, because I love Indy authors like pancakes)

        And you want to be bought by libraries. Not only does it replicate the Baen “first hit is free” model, do you know how many times I’ve tossed out the $3.99 or thereabouts to get my next fix because I wasn’t willing to wait “on hold” for the next available e-book copy.

        Also, if your e-book is available at the library, it can be book-talked. How would you like to have a professional storyteller do a spiel about The Awesum That Is Your Book to 700+ teenagers?

        While librarians can sometimes seem to prefer the soft fuzzy and well-rounded edge of computer technology, it’s not a given. You can make it easier for us by following Amanda’s advice. Be as professional as the dead-tree version. Eschew typos. Maximize readability. And remember: if you’re writing for the youth market, the librarians can and do hold you to much higher standards than the adult services ones do.

        Godspeed

    • I know. My problem has been when I give copes for reviews, most of those copies seem to disappear into thin air. Oh, I hear from those who got the copies about how they liked the book and would I keep them in mind for future books for reviews, but the reviews never seem to show up.

      • The problem with review copies, IMNSHO, is that they are not a priority. Example: I was reading a friend’s book. . .and then the Hugo Packet came out, and took priority. And then the latest Peter Grant came out yesterday, and I needed my Maxwellverse fix.

        And suddenly, that friend’s book.. . . is WAAAAAAAAAAAY down the queue. . .

        One reason I never accept review copies: constantly shifting priorities. . .

      • Jim McCoy

        In related news, you’ve never sent a book to me…

        I”m just saying. I’ll admit that it takes awhile for me to post a review sometimes because I have a small queue, but I DO get to all of them eventually.

        • All you need to is ask, Jim, and I will when the next book is ready for release. I don’t mind the time delay. I know how that goes. In fact, I was talking to Cedar about it yesterday. It is when nothing ever gets posted and yet the so-called reviewer asks time and time again for more freebies.

          • Jim McCoy

            Yeah. I can see where that would suck. I’ve never failed to review a book that I received from an author. There are a couple I’m still getting to, but I will get there eventually.

          • Oh, and I’m looking forward to it. My err… social graces aren’t what they should be I guess.

  2. Timid1

    Interesting. II agree that the second format in the example (and thanks for the link to the site) is a bit fancy. But it addresses a point: E-Book formatting can be a huge pain. Even the HTML-generated Word documents are bloated with code, and this can sometimes cause issue. With a little HTML and CSS background (emphasis on little), I’ve cleaned up the text on manuscripts for gifts and some public domain for personal use, but things like properly displayed chapters in Kindle can be a huge pain.

    The upshot is that if you haven’t the time to format manuscripts for e-book publication, services that do make a great deal of sense. You’ll also be doing something even the traditional publishing houses don’t seem to grok, as some of their e-books have cringe-worthy formatting.

    It’s surprising that 52 Novels has run into authors who want to continually change their books on the fly. It seems obvious that sending your manuscript to a formatting service is like sending it to the printer: At that point it should be a done deal.

    This does bring up a proof-reading “trick:” Change the text and it’s surprising what pops out at you.

    • On your comment about wanting to keep changing the manuscript, that is a problem I see with a lot of indie authors, especially new ones. Because the e-book is so easily amended, they think they can keep going in and making changes long after the book has been published. Some are even proud about how they keep doing it. When they don’t seem to realize is that folks are starting to twig on to that and there are starting to be negative reviews — and certainly negative feelings — with their readers.

  3. The Skin Game excerpt only and a stupid 3in. by 2in. Penguin watermark every page. I don’t know if I can read it.

    • The Random Penguin strikes again!

      • I have a simple rule for the Hugos: If I haven’t read it, I don’t vote it. So Ancillary Sword and Skin Game aren’t even going to be considered.

        And, yeah, the watermarks on the Graphic Novels make them almost unreadable.

        If major publishers are THAT worried about piracy from the Hugo Packet. . . then perhaps it’s time for them to go into that good night. . . .

        • Gotta agree with you, Keith. As I noted — at least I think I noted it — publishers acting that way aren’t helping their authors one bit. At least not where I’m concerned.

    • I looked at the graphic novel submissions last night and at least one of them was badly watermarked. Made it almost impossible to read because it kept interfering with the reading experience. Dumb, dumb, dumb, imo.

  4. Draven

    Well, I gave Witchfinder an honest review when i bought it last week, I really enjoyed it.

  5. Martin L. Shoemaker

    When I was soliciting reviews from friends, I begged them for honest reviews, good or bad. Honest reviews sell more books.

    • I agree. There is only one reviewer I have a problem with. This particular one has two issues. They don’t like indie books and they don’t think women can right sf or fantasy. They never come out and say it but a look at their reviews shows this tendency. So I always cringe when I see their name come up on the list of my reviewers. Frankly, I get a kick out of some of my negative reviews because I wonder if they even read the book I wrote or if they got my book confused with someone else’s.

  6. I’ve been given review copies of folks work… Don’t know about others but if they hadn’t been amazing I’d have probably not given them a terrible review, just not reviewed them at all. Fortunately for me the work I’ve been offered to review was terrific!

  7. I’ve had a good degree of luck with the “call to action” at the end of my latest book. I basically say “Please consider leaving a review, it might help someone else find a book they love.” It puts the focus away from me, and helps readers think of it as telling someone *else* about the book, and away from the dreaded book report memories from school 😉

    Another thing to consider about ebook formatting–some of the clever tricks to look like a print book are graphics-heavy. Every graphic file increases the total size of the book, which can cut back on the net profit due to the download fee. Not saying “don’t do it”, just be aware of cost/benefit analysis. (or if you do use graphics, try to minimize the file size).

    • Do you include links to the Amazon/Goodreads/whatever pages for your books in your “call to action”?

      • sabrinachase

        Of course! My “Also By” section is completely clickable. And in books where I add a free sample chapter of another book, the link to the rest of it where it can be purchased is at the end with “Go here to keep reading”. Always make it easy for the customer to give you money 😀

        • Laura M

          Do you do the clickable Also By’s as hyperlinks? Or, just block and copy the link from the bar above the book you are linking to?

          • I make the title of the book the clickable link. For one thing, on the vintage Kindle there isn’t a lot of room or mobility in selecting links, and Ye Olde Wall-O-Code is offputting to some. Even me, and I code for a living… I try to balance a clean and tidy presentation with ease of use.

            I also have a link to my website and the mailing list, enticing readers with whispered promises of early notifications and Cool Stuff(tm)

    • I have the active links to other work, along with blurbs. I need to remember to put in the call to action for reviews at the end. Thanks for the reminder!

      And yes, you have to watch graphics size. That’s a lesson a lot of us learned early on in the process, but it is something we need to be reminded of from time to time.

  8. Max

    I’ve commented a fair bit on the idea and driving force behind people avoiding high-reviewed books on Amazon, and I have to be honest:

    I don’t like it. It’s a poor way to gauge a books value, and devalues the book to boot. The more someone reinforces that they won’t give a book with Five Stars a look, the less value Five Stars has. And suddenly, Five Star reviews are as unhelpful to the actual sales of a book as One Star reviews.

    Except it shouldn’t be that way. That’s the whole point behind Five Star reviews: to let you know that a book is good. And yes, people are gaming the review system, but let’s be honest, it’s usually pretty easy to tell when someone is doing so, either with paid reviews or otherwise. Fake reviews of such nature are generally pretty simple to spot.

    Yes, they’re bad (and personally, any author who engages in manipulating their reviews like that doesn’t deserve an ounce of success until they start playing honorably), but avoiding books with Five Stars simply because one believes the book can’t be that good? Once you fall into that cynical line of thought, it might be time to start looking for a new hobby. Because if all you want to do is settle for “about average” but never want to take a chance on anything good, well, that’s what you’ll get. About average or worse.

    Personally, in my own experience, when people start making excuses like “Well, it can’t be that good” when looking at a work with good reviews, the truth is that they’re doing just that—making excuses. Which is why I started replying to such commentary with “Well then read it and prove those reviews wrong.” Because it doesn’t seem to matter how many high-reviews I get from customers that loved my work, there’s always those people will argue that :”It can’t be that good.”

    People fake reviews. We know this. We also know though (and this is why Amazon has such success pulling them) that they’re pretty easy to spot. It’s not uncommon to be slightly suspicious of a newer book or an indie book with Five Stars, but at the same time, it’s not much effort to look at the reviews and go “Hey, this looks legitimate” or say “Wow, 100 Five Star reviews and all in a day, none of which talk about the actual book. Hmmm…”

    Fake reviews suck, but personally, far too many people are using them as an excuse to paint indie authors with a negative brush and put down their work regardless of how good it may actually be. When we start looking at books with high reviews and saying “Nope, can’t be that great” what are we actually accomplishing? Are we walking away from the next Wool without ever looking?

    Five Star is Five Star. Same with Four Star. Let’s not let that become too tarnished.

    Disclaimer: I am an indie author with Five Star customer reviews (and if you don’t think those reviews are accurate? Well, like I said: buy it and prove them wrong).

    • Holly

      I don’t have money to buy all the books I want: I’m sure as heck not going to support someone I believe is lying to me by buying or getting their friends to write false reviews.

      For me, if I bother to look at Amazon reviews, it depends on who the reviewers are, how many reviews there are, and what the spread is.
      If there are ten reviews and all are five star, I’m suspicious that they are fake, so I scan the reviewer names. If one is Pat, at that point I figure they’re accurate–or, at least, I trust Pat’s reviews, so the rest of the reviews don’t matter. (Pat’s not the only reviewer I trust, but y’all know Pat.) If there are seventy-five reviews, there’s a couple one or two star, four or five three star, and the rest four and five stars, I figure they’re valid reviews–whether or not I’m on the side of the five or the one star reviewers depends on who shares my tastes, and I’ll read some of each to find out. I think most people don’t bother to review something they dislike or feel neutral or good about. Only if the book has evoked hate or love is it going to get many reviews, and usually you get hate by mismatching book and reader and overcharging, so I might find a book others hate well worth my dollars.

      But for the most part, reviews don’t matter to my book buying. At least, Amazon reviews don’t matter. Reviews on the blogs I frequent matter. Reviews from my real life friends matter (often negatively, because honestly, some of my friends enjoy being seen to enjoy the current literary hot item–I’m not sure if they actually enjoy the books, but they sure enjoy being thought to enjoy them, so close enough–that kite runner book, yuck, and the one with the kid and the tiger on the raft . . .). Reviews from my virtual friends matter the most, because I know already that we share the same tastes: this is why a positive Pat review on Amazon is a buy sign.

      I think what Amazon wants is to get people to accept the reviews of strangers as being equal to the reviews of friends. That’s the marketer’s goal, after all. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s a societal phenomenon, but it seems like the more I see the more I ignore it. They’re turning signal into noise.

      So for the writer, the circle of other, similar writer friends, and their associated fans and friends, is the way to advertise. I don’t know how many Mad Genius books I’ve sold by pushing them to friends, but I’m trying. I think writers need to ask their readers to do this, and I think we readers need to get off our duffs and do it whether or not we’re asked if we want to keep our favorite writers writing.

      • Max

        I don’t have money to buy all the books I want: I’m sure as heck not going to support someone I believe is lying to me by buying or getting their friends to write false reviews.

        While most of what you said I don’t disagree with, and neither do I technically disagree with this quote, I think there’s more that could be said about it. How do we know?

        Because that’s the real trick, isn’t it? You point out that you look at multiple reviews, but some of these review sites now offer a spread at a higher price—delivering mostly five and four star, but some even come with lower reviews to add authenticity (and before you ask and infer, Ars Technica did a story on these a while ago that included screenshots of the various services, so that’s how I know).

        So the mentality of “I want lots of reviews” and “I turn away from smaller review numbers that are positive” isn’t actually doing anything but verifying those fake reviews. It’s helping them, and proving that their system works. Because you’re going right for what they’re selling—a huge number of reviews, mostly positive, some not—and supporting the author who spent money to garner their reviews.

        But when faced with a smaller, fresh, new face that’s been well-received, if one turns away (or at least, from your comment I would assume you are). they’re actively .making the system work in the favor of those who purchase reviews.

        That’s the point of samples and reviews in the first place. To give us an idea of what’s good. And if we don’t trust those reviews in the first place, well, what’s the point? You might as well give up.

        And while searching books from friends and family is good, there’s problems with that too. Someone in that group has to try the new works, someone has to take that jump of trust and give something a shot. Otherwise, the system becomes stagnant and dies out, closed to anything new.

        And it’s not as if authors are making it hard to try out their new works. Well, okay, admittedly there are a few that are peeing in the pool, writing ridiculously short stuff to try and take advantage of sample-size restrictions and whatnot. But when the Amazon offers the first 15% of a book for free to look at, and that book is 300 pages long, that’s 45 pages—a decent chunk of of the book. As was pointed out in the initial post, a good peek at the sample is easily enough to make an educated estimation of whether or not the reviews are fraudulent or biased in some manner.

        Have I bought books before and been burned? Sure. I bought one fantasy novel that had several thousand reviews, of all stars, with a 3.5 star average, all without ever glancing at the sample. It had lots of reviews, was on sale, and was from a major publisher.

        It turned out to be pretty bad. I made it about 20% of the way into the book before just flat out loosing all interest. And I’ve bought indie novels with 4.5-star reviews that have turned out to be great reads, and have landed the author on my watch-list.

        Basically? Sure, we can spot fake reviews. But all too-often, I feel that as a result of some authors peeing in the pool, far too many readers have become alarmist, looking at legitimate reviews and shouting “Fake! Fake! There’s no way it could be that good!” while deigning to give it a look and discover it for themselves.

        And ultimately? That’s bad. For the industry as a whole, that hurts everyone. Readers, authors, fans … really everyone but the people who have the power to say “Official review.”

        I understand we don’t want to be burned, but come on, let’s be honest. There are plenty of ways avoid wasting money on bad books. Authors giving out freebies online. Authors making their books free (Baen does this, and indies do as well). Samples. And yes, reviews.

        As readers, let’s be a little more reasoned with our witch hunts and make sure we’re not doing collateral damage to the next Hugh Howey or J.K. Rowling by dismissing their basement/garage start-up as “lying” without taking a proper look.

      • Laura M

        “Reviews on the blogs I frequent matter.”
        Hear, hear. I found Sabrina Chase and Andy Weir over at According to Hoyt. My reading tastes line up with you lot much better than with the tastes of most of my friends who I can eyeball in the physical world.

        • Laura M

          …in addition to all the Mad Geniuses, of course. Cedar was the very first one after Sarah who I read.

    • I’m not so much against highly recommended books. However, my suspicion is raised when a book has nothing but 5 star reviews. No matter how good the book is, if the reviews are “real” and not bought or sock puppet reviews, there is going to be a bad review. You can’t please everyone. Heck, I have 5 star reviews. For almost all of my work, I’m lucky to have more 4 and 5 star reviews than anything else. But there are lower reviews as well.

      • I’ve been lucky in my reviews so far–mainly because the contents of Company Daughter are congruent with the blurb and the cover, and only people who were attracted enough to put down $4.99 have read it so far. I think. Anyway, I’m familiar with this suspicion, so I deliberately offered a review copy to a friend who doesn’t really like my work. She’ll be good for a three-star review.

  9. annerallen

    Thanks a bunch for the shout-out for my post!

    I agree with Max that we can’t ignore the reviews entirely. I wish BookBub and the other newsletters didn’t give so much incentive to game the system. But the system can still work if everybody makes an effort to leave honest reviews. (And I’d sure like Amazon to do something about their resident trolls!)

    • Welcome to MGC. I agree. We can’t ignore reviews but I am glad to see Amazon taking action against some of the more abusive ones, be they paid reviews posing as customer reviews or the ones where reviewers are attacking the author and not reviewing the work. Personally, I do look at reviews, but I pay more attention to the 3-star reviews unless I know the reviewer and have found I can usually rely on what they say.

  10. MDV

    Not about reviews, but formatting. I have bought books simply because I liked the font and the publishers layout. I love the font and the layout Scholastic did on the hardback Harry Potter novels. I think that it makes them easier to read, and pick out the puns. I think the paperbacks are harder to read. I do not read much on E-readers except while traveling, and poor font choices and wonky formatting is much of my displeasure. Admittedly most of my “reading” is in audio format lately due to the fact I can read while on the clock at work.

  11. Holly

    I preferred the first version of the example book. Unless you’re selling illuminated manuscripts, let’s not make difficult to read artwork out of books, okay? The second one doesn’t look clean and professional, it looks like a kid doodling to make it pretty in the hopes of distracting his parent from the fact he only wrote half the sentences he was supposed to, and then protesting “But there wasn’t enough space,” when called on it.

    That said, I’m one of those super-fast readers, the kind who doesn’t vocalize in her head. Let me have my page chunks or whatever it is I read as a unit and I’m a happy reader (pages, paragraphs, I’ve seen different descriptions of how my sort of reader reads). And yes, if I’m editing, I actually read backwards.

    • I thought the second one was a little too “fancy”, but it was a good illustration of how you can make an e-book look like the print version. And, let’s face it, that has been one of the big criticisms of e-books by those who haven’t been early adopters. They don’t think e-books look like “real” books. So anything we can do to make our e-books appeal to those readers, the better. That said, I don’t use fancy fonts — you have to remember a lot of the older e-book readers won’t support them.

    • Alan

      Yep – formatting tricks that slow or interrupt the flow of the story just leave me cold… no matter how pretty they may be.

  12. I’m a also fast reader, and prefer the page not to be made elaborate. Give me readable text, and I’m happy.
    If I find I can’t give a book a good review, I contact the author and tell them why, and will give them the option of having a negative review posted. NOTE!!! That doesn’t mean they get to change the review, because that’s creepy.
    As I’ve stated before, one of my main purposes on writing the review is to provide feedback to the authors. Y’all put a lot of yourselves into writing these books, and frankly, I don’t think a review that says “5 Stars! Great!” is very effective in providing feedback. I will forever remember the ‘seems fine’ feedback I got on a minor literary effort some time back; it was right after that when my reviews started in earnest. You deserve more than ‘seems fine.’
    Almost everything I review is from KU; the exceptions are loans or review copies, which come from authors and fans as well, and I always mention that up front when I write the review.

    • Believe me, Pat, we appreciate both your doing reviews and your detail and honesty. And yes, a five star with “great book” is about as helpful as a single star “thiz buk sukked!” or “I ordered the wrong book by mistake so I’m going to one star this because it’s not the book I thought I was ordering.” (Or a great one-star I read today based on . . . the contents of one foot note. A footnote about a topic that is less than four pages of a 350+ page book.)

    • Pat, speaking for myself, I have very much appreciated your reviews. You are doing a great service to writers like myself. So thank you!

    • Pat, I appreciate the detail and effort you put into your reviews. They really help other readers.

  13. Uncle Lar

    I would also vote for the plainer version of text. The fewer distractions the better is my choice.
    Just finished beta review of a friend’s latest. She sent it to me in classic edit format, double line space and wide margins. I immediately went into copy edit mode and started redlining spelling, grammar, and usage issues. Necessary, but not what she was looking for, what I believe she was really looking for was my assessment of continuity and flow as well as an overall impression of the entire story. In order to do that I found that I first had to reformat the book as plain text. Then I could actually treat it as a story rather than an english assignment I was grading.
    Kick ass tale by the way, fans of hers should love it.

  14. Geoffrey Kidd

    Just curious, how do you do small caps for eBooks? The browsers and every ebook reader I know of don’t have a CSS effect for it.

    • Uncle Lar

      You can use HTML with browsers. MS Word has a utility, at least version 7 did. And WordPress has a plugin, though it hasn’t been updated in a couple of years.
      But like Amanda points out, drop caps do not translate very well into the most common e-book reader formats. All in all, it’s a lot of trouble to go to for an effect. and one that really adds little or nothing to the content of your text.

      • Geoffrey Kidd

        I’ll be damned. CSS can do small caps. font-variant: small-caps;
        Ignore my question.

        • Martin L. Shoemaker

          I hate the syntax of CSS. Too terse and cryptic for my tastes. But I’ve seen very few stylistic things it can’t do if you master that terse, cryptic syntax.

          • Timid1

            Shrug. It’s a sheet defining styles, so it’s not verbose. Real handy for HTML coding. But while there’s a lot of formatting on web pages these days, it still raises the question of whether e-books need their own mark-up language.

        • LOL. CSS is a pain but one we have to deal with these days.

        • Timid1

          CSS can do it, but can the e-book formats interpret the CSS? Maybe and depending on the format. It was other issues, but I ran into problems between MOBI and AZW.

    • I do it using Word and then verify it made the conversion. If not, I hand code it in. That said, understand that some dedicated e-book readers will not support it and it will come out looking like regular text. But for the more advanced dedicated e-book readers and for those who read on tablets, etc., it usually does.

    • The standard version is font-variant: small-caps;
      Trouble is, it’s a toss-up whether the reader program will (a) ignore the setting, (b) use ugly scaled-down capitals, or (c) use the proper small-caps version of the current font. Oh, and if you’re using an embedded font there’s a decent chance that there will be an unscheduled font-change when you switch to small-caps. ☹

      EPUB3 promises that font-feature-settings: "smcp" on; will work—but it also promises that EPUB3 itself will work, so YMMV.

      • That should have been

        EPUB3 promises that font-feature-settings: "smcp" on; will work—but it also promises that EPUB3 itself will work, so YMMV.

        Also, see the thread Small caps on the MobileRead forums, where some of the gotchas with small caps are described.

  15. Pingback: Nocturnal Lives » Wednesday morning thoughts

  16. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    First things first. If you are registered for WorldCon, you should have received notice that the Hugo packet now available for download.

    Ah, yes, Worldcon. I wrote an article about what is wrong with the Hugos that no one seems to understand. Maybe it ill make sense to someone here.

    What am I talking about? Joe Konrath talks about it over on his blog.

    And Joe knows his stuff. Great article, thanks for linking to it. I though Joe had quit blogging a while back, I’m going to have to dig through everything I’ve missed.

    Since I already touched on reviews — the bane of all authors at some point in their careers — if you haven’t heard already, Amazon has decided to go after paid reviews and has sued several of these review mills. This is something we should all welcome. Now if they would just do the same about the sock puppet reviews. . . .

    Fantastic. It’s about time. Now if Facebook, Twitter, etc. would go after Fake Followers and Fake Likes my day would be complete. Don’t want to much, do I?

    I explained that, as a reader, I am suspicious when there are nothing but five-star reviews for a work.

    And there’s a problem. Someone I know had a bunch of books on Amazon. This person, who shall remain anonymous managed to upset some people on Goodreads. They decided to trash the writer’s books with 1 star reviews.

    Because of the fun we had, I have a tendency to rate books on Amazon and Goodreads higher than I would IRL to make up for the 1 star specials.

    Another issue is the upper and lower bounds problem. I’ve gone over reviews of books by name writers and you’ll see a lot of 5s, fewer 4s, almost no 3s, more 2s, and a fair number of 1s. The reviews are biased to the upper and lower ends. I don’t know if rating super high or super low is easier. Maybe it is. Maybe there’s another reason for this. I have no idea what the answer is.

    My solution has been to rate high (or low). Which is really no solution. The average book should come out with 2.5 stars. Let’s take David Weber’s ‘On Basilisk Station’ which has 927 Amazon reviews (2002 edition), and 4.4 stars. Most of you have probably read the book, and know it is the weakest of the series. Which doesn’t mean it is a bad book, I’d rate it a 3.

    Scroll down, look at the chart:

    5 star – 571
    4 star – 226
    3 star – 77
    2 star – 30
    1 star – 23
    927 customer reviews

    I’m not seeing the sort of dispersion that I’d expect (sorry if the words aren’t making sense, it is 2:00 AM and I should be in bed).

    Then look at Shadow of Freedom – I’d give this one 5 stars myself.

    5 star – 144
    4 star – 87
    3 star – 65
    2 star – 38
    1 star – 17
    351 customer reviews

    That is a far more normal looking dispersion pattern (and yes, my ‘5 star’ review is probably part of it). But you’ll see a lot of really weird dispersion patterns for reviews, on far too many books. I really hope Amazon will fix the problem.