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?