Friday 21 June 2013

Poor formatting in e-books by bigger houses

With some distress recently I read a Kindle version of a novel written by a writer I know and respect. It was published not by one of the Big Five, but by a medium-sized press that was commercial enough to charge over £3.00 for an e-book, the paperback equivalent of which retails for £6.99. So, we’re not talking a self-published book being all but given away at 99p. I actually appreciate publishers who charge a decent amount:  it shows respect for their writers and the IT people who have spent a long time developing the technology.  However, this particular example shows little respect for the reader.
Surprisingly, actually, the 99p self-published book more often than not has less formatting mistakes than  those texts supplied by the big houses. Possibly this is because these books are published only in this format so the “publisher” has taken the time to do the job properly.
So, what exactly was wrong with this book?
Well, it was formatted web-style – rather like what you’re reading now. It didn’t feel like a book because there were no indents.  The text was blocked, but the blocking hadn’t “taken” everywhere, so there were some disturbing gaps at the end of lines.  These took you out of the film in your head and reminded you that you were looking at words on a page.  
A couple of chapters had a heading followed by a blank page.
I noticed a couple of issues that a copy editor should have picked up. I’m sure I only noticed them because the poor formatting made me conscious of the words on the page.  An “its” should have been “it’s”. There was some unexpected capitalisation at the beginning of some words. 
Why does this happen?
We know “kindling” can be tricky.  You can check your book in three different formats and it will look fine. Then when it’s actually out there things you’ve not been able to see creep in.
But guess what? It actually only take a few minutes to take the book down, correct it and load it back up. It’s not like correcting a print run. We notice the odd post-e-publication blip and fix it as soon as it’s pointed out.
Too many bigger publishers simply upload the same file they used for the print version. No, you need to do a little more work than this – especially if you want to charge almost as much for the e-book as for a hard copy.
How should we react to this poor formatting?
My first instinct was to put a 1 or 2 * review on Amazon. But I didn’t want to damage the author. I have instead written to the publisher and pointed this out. I’m tempted to claim a refund as I’ve been sold an inferior product. I’m bracing myself to contact the author and say that she needs to take the publisher to task. If we could all go for zero tolerance on this we might get better formatted books.           

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