by Vinnie Kinsella, collaborative editor, designer, and publications consultant
As a lifelong bibliophile, I took little interest in ebooks when they made a splash in the late aughts through the introduction of the Kindle. To me, a book was a book, and an ebook was simply not a book. The idea of reading an entire story on a screen like Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed unnatural, almost vulgar, to me. However, I knew it was inevitable that one day a client’s project would force me to deal with ebooks. So, I bought a Kindle for work and challenged myself to read just one book on it in its entirety.
The book I chose was The Hunger Games, because it was on sale. As I began to click through the pages (let’s not call it turning), the wonders of ebooks opened up to me: instant gratification when I wanted a new book, an extensive library always with me, and no more paperbacks I had no intention of rereading taking up shelf space. I became a fan of the experience (a bit to my own dismay), and in less than a week, I had downloaded and devoured the entirety of Suzanne Collins’s dystopian young adult book series.
Having transitioned into an ebook lover myself, and now also being an ebook designer, I can say with assurance that there are such things as bad ebooks. I’m not referring to content (bad content is bad content in any book format). I’m referring to the actual formatting of the ebook. So, in the interest of making my musings about ebooks relevant to you, the reader of this newsletter, I offer my top four ways to make sure your ebook isn’t garbage.
- Respect the fact that readers are paying for your ebook. Many authors and publishers take the shortcut of automating the conversion of a print book to an ebook without ever considering how the final product will turn out. The result is often an ebook that is so devoid of any of the features readers expect that they will feel cheated out of the money they spent. Words can be broken in odd places, formatting can be out of whack, and there can even be font changes or complete loss of some content—all of which distract readers, making the reading experience less enjoyable and often influencing them to stop reading. If you are going to offer an ebook, don’t just run it through some conversion software and hope for the best. Hire a person who knows how to properly code a book for readability and maximum compatibility across devices. It’s not the cheapest option, but it sure beats getting lots of complaints about the ebook from your readers.
- Take full advantage of the functionality ebooks offer. Does your book have URLs in the reference section? Make them clickable in the ebook. Does your book have footnotes? Make them clickable as well. Does your book reference a song? Embed it in the file so that readers can listen to it (assuming you have the rights). There is nothing more frustrating to an ebook reader than seeing where an ebook can be interactive but not having the option to interact with it.
- Revise content that works for the print version but not the ebook version. For example, if your print book invites readers to fill out a worksheet on a page, you should be aware that readers of your ebook won’t have that ability. To assist them, you could offer them a link to workbook pages they could download, print off, and fill out on their own.
- Proofread the dang thing! Most often, an ebook is created after the print book is laid out. During the conversion process, errors can easily be introduced. Although these are typically errors in coding that result in things such as odd paragraph breaks and inverted punctuation marks instead of content errors, they can still pile up. Just taking the time to click through all the content once on each type of ereader can reveal plenty of problems that would otherwise get passed on to the reader (such as misoriented images or numbered lists that failed to get formatted as lists). Just one round of proofing your ebook can be a big benefit to you and your readers.
Even if you are not an ebook reader yourself, if you intend to release your book in digital form, the above advice is worth taking to heart. After all, just because you don’t read ebooks doesn’t mean your ebook should be anything less than stellar for those who do.
*Ebook image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
In addition to being an editor, designer, and publications consultant for Indigo, Vinnie is the publisher of Eldredge Books and the founder of the PDX Late Bloomers Club. He’s also a writer, a public speaker, and a volunteer editor for Street Roots. Keep up with his projects, perspectives, and events on Twitter.