Reader Expectations: What’s Inside

This popped up at the Passive Voice the other day:

Do your books look like books? No, not as in they have cover, pages, copyright info, table of contents, but if you borrowed someone else’s e-reader and compared your book to a Big 5 or small press book, does yours scream “Hi, I’m a bad Word to HTML conversion?”

If so, you might consider re-working the file and re-uploading it. We indie writers are trying to sell to people who also read print books, and Big Publisher books, and we need to look as good as those do.

Some of the article’s tips lean toward print rather than e-book, because readers are going to select font, font size, and other things that can affect pagination. But others had me stop, blink, and say, “Ah, yes, that’s a good point,” especially after I pulled a few print titles off my shelves and glanced through them.

Having a program like Vellum or Jutoh does make a lot of the e-book formatting much easier, but I have caught a few rough spots in for-print formatting. And there are more tutorials and guides appearing for using Word, Caliber, Scrivner, and other word-processors to set things up so that when you convert to EPUB, MOBI, or PDF, your files come through safe, sound, and good-looking.

Ideally, the story in the book is so good that readers will forgive or miss completely awkward margins, wandering page numbers, and the occasional header in strange places. But if you are hand-selling a book, and someone flips through the copy, the book needs to look familiar. It has to mimic a professionally formatted title. I know, because I’ve picked up indie books, thumbed through, winced, and put them right back down, not even reading the first page, because the formatting was so poor.


    1. I’ve never used it, so I can’t say if there are problems or not. I know that converting from Word 2016 to HTML to MOBI was an interesting experience. I did not use styles, avoided other things people have had problems with, and it still took four tries to produce a clean version in MOBI. I’m glad it was a short story and not a novel.

    2. I use it just fine, and it functions as any other word processor does, except it’s not as bloated as Word is these days. I used very basic styles (Title, chapter headings, page breaks) but that took me a while to learn properly. It’s easier to migrate to LibreOffice now from Word, IMO.

      I wrote a quick post about LibreOffice some time ago, and it still is pretty valid. Hopefully it helps.

        1. You can dive into LibreOffice using what OS you are currently using; and you won’t need to uninstall your current office suite to do so until you feel comfortable in doing it. There is no need to install Linux just to run it either; if you run Windows, LibreOffice runs on Windows; ditto Mac, or BSD, etc.

          I’ve found that LibreOffice actually runs much quicker than MS Office.

          The portable Android version of LibreOffice also is able to write documents now; I haven’t tried it yet so I cannot personally speak to that, but I was rather excited when I heard about this, because this means I can make story notes on something that’s easier to port out, without the needing a constant connection for a Cloud (though, apparently there is a LibreOffice Cloud suite and some other functions that’s supposed to make multiple-person collaboration work easier.)

  1. I bought two C++ books where the formatting was just horrible… fun things like tables being split across pages…

    1. Doing layout for technical books or text books is a large step up in difficulty from novels. All of those tables, diagrams and charts need to be placed correctly. Footnotes need to be on the right pages.

      Then getting that into an electronic form with working zoom and text reflow is even harder.

      1. yep i realize that, but two books by two different people on the same topic that can’t reflow properly?

        well, one of them the charts didn’t really work at any zoom level…

  2. 1-4 are fairly easy to avoid, though running heads is a colossal pain with MS Word. Seems no matter how many times I set up my templates, next time around I still have to futz around with section breaks to make things look just right.

    5 is . . . wow. Honestly, that seems a little OCD to me, heh.

    1. He’s a professional lay-out person, so things that drive him crazy may seem a little odd to us. But I’ve tossed popcorn at the screen at movies for historical errors, and was silently correcting someone’s grammar this morning, so I’m not going to throw too large of a stone.

    2. Oh, that is not OCD at all. That’s been a standard for hundreds of years. If you reverse it, you will have cases where pages will fall out and seem to count backwards, and now I’m twitchy.

  3. Just out of curiosity, does anyone know of a good LaTeX template for doing e-books? I’m still a long way from the point where I need to worry about typesetting and making everything look good, but I’m pretty familiar with LaTeX and figured that when I wanted to do something that looked nicer than Word, I would do it there.

    1. Do you mean for LaTeX→EPUB translation, or a template for readable PDF e-books? I haven’t seen any of the former I’m happy with; for the latter case, see the Memoir package’s “ebook” option: 6″×9″ layout, small even margins, no blank pages; and use a large-ish font.

  4. I’ll add an e-book issue I saw in a few books: end-of-scene separators at the end of a chapter. One book used a fancy graphical scene separator at the end of each chapter, and 25% of the time I’d turn the page, see only the end-of-scene separator, then need to turn the page again to start the next chapter.

    1. I’ve seen that – except it wasn’t very “fancy”, just a slightly prettier version of >>>

  5. The end-of-scene and/or chapter separators are a pet peeve of mine. I almost always read with white text and a black background with low brightness levels and so many of them translate to a glaring white blob that I hold my hand over to read the surrounding text.

    Second on peeve my list are font coloring choices that look fine with black text and a white or light background but are unreadable with a black background. I have no idea what causes them to appear but they really disrupt a story and if one is already iffy can get it returned to KU unfinished.

  6. For technical books, LaTeX handles layout excellently. However, technical books in ebook format can be a bit flaky; equations can turn out wrong. As the reader can set the font size, equation breaks will tend not to turn out well.

    For ebooks, his Point 4 is deprecated by Smashwords, which warns that right justification will often look poorly in an ereader.

    1. Coming to this late, so I hope the interested people checked the box…

      I had to dig through my returned KU book list for this one (I’ve gone through how many???).

      KF8 doesn’t have support for MathML (the preferred way to do equations, at least for HTML5 browsers) – but the last two Kindle Formats do support SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). The book describes other ways, compatible with earlier Kindles, to get math equations to work decently – but SVG is apparently the way to go if you aren’t worried about backwards compatibility.

      Just looked, and there is apparently an app referenced in this book that will convert LaTeX to SVG. No notion of how well it works, though; I don’t do equations. I am fiddling with getting maps into SVG, with mixed results so far – not a problem with the Kindle implementation, I think, but with my files; complex linear art with SVG is apparently a bit more finicky than the proponents of it advertise…

  7. > “Hi, I’m a bad Word to HTML conversion?”

    Sadly, not just an “indie” or “small press” problem…

    “Hi, we’re Major Publisher, and ebooks are just a flash in the pan, so we’ll put forth the absolute minimum of effort while gouging our customers…”

    1. Thomas Sowel’s _Vision of the Anointed_. All the commas got changed to periods when they scanned it for conversion, and no one double checked for OCR mis-reads.

  8. One that annoys me is the whitespace between lines of text. Usually, it’s stable, but in some e-books it scales up with the font size, which creates very short pages.

    I ALSO don’t care much for the “start each chapter with a random number of capital letters” thing that seems popular.

    IT IS JUST so arbitrary and adds nothing. I can tell it’s a new chapter because it has “Chapter X” in the middle of the page.

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