There’s a certain artistry to formatting a book, a certain amount of design and poise and ….whatever…to making the interior of a book look nice. When a person opens to the first pages of your book, you can really set the experience for them rather quickly. If you have a well-formatted book, well, to be honest, the reader might not even notice, unless of course, your book is so beautifully designed that they can’t help but notice, due to the use of graphics and blank space and whatever else.
But a terribly formatted book is noticeable almost instantaneously. When you find misaligned margins, or text that doesn’t wrap around an image correctly, or even when page breaks aren’t where they are supposed to be, you will immediately take notice and the rest of the book immediately loses some credibility.
Formatting a paperback edition of your book should be relatively easy, at least if you have a basic knowledge of formatting techniques within standard word processors. Obviously, taking your book layout to the next level with something like InDesign is probably a good idea, but just knowing how to set margins, use page breaks, and create permanent indents will go a long way toward making your book look professional and neat.
The real problem with book formatting today is with ebooks. You see, ebooks can be read on any single device out there, making it almost impossible to give the reader a consistent design experience. Sure, you can do the basics pretty easily by making sure all those concepts mentioned above are in place, but you can’t ensure that there won’t be just one word on the last page of a chapter or that the larger text for your chapter headings won’t wrap in an ugly manner. At least, you can’t ensure that will be the case for all devices.
There are some nicer options for getting things to look more like what you’d want out there, but they aren’t all perfect. The Kindle platform does a fairly nice job of taking a word document and crunching it down into their multitude of formats for all devices and keeping things look tidy. I’ve never come across anything that really appears to be too out of place. In fact, I tend to start by uploading the exact file I upload for a paperback, do my perusal of the online previewer and making relatively few changes to the file to make it appropriate for that sales platform.
But let’s say you want to explore your options outside of Amazon. To be honest, most sales will come through Amazon, it’s a pretty well documented fact, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to have your options open. This is where things can really start to get out of hand.
One of the most popular methods for getting your ebooks out onto all of the different sales platforms out there is smashwords. They’ve got a fairly nice set up. You upload your file, formatted to meet a fairly strict set of specifications that they lay out quite easily for you, and then their software, called something along the lines of “The Meatgrinder” takes that document and makes it happy for all of their different formats and devices. The real problem here is that the only method they can really allow you to do this with is through taking out any form of design to your book at all. Blank space is a complete no-no, as it will cause their process to create blank pages where they just plain aren’t supposed to be.
There also seems to be an issue with page breaks…an issue that can be quite unnerving for any perfectionist book creator.
They do allow you to submit pre-formatted epubs, which actually does a fairly better job of taking what you’ve submitted and allowing the final version to look similar, but then you are also limited in what all is provided for the people picking up your books. They can’t get all the formats they might want, which really detracts from one of the main reasons you would use such a service as this.
And here is where the real problem for any author begins. If you want to go it your own and ensure that your books look beautiful no matter how your readers get them, you’re really required to put in a great deal of extra effort, formatting again and again for each specific sales platform you want to submit to, and then actually directly submitting your book to each of those platforms individually, verifying that the books do look the way you want them to afterwards, and still realizing that there are a multitude of devices that any given reader could use to read your books…
In other words, you can be quite screwed if you’re wanting to ensure the same reading experience for all readers, unless you’re willing to limit who can actually find them.
Many authors have taken this issue as an excuse to forego any actual formatting to their books, making them very little more than extremely long blog posts where even paragraph sizes don’t concern them. It can really make the reading experience quite atrocious.
I’m not stating that I haven’t failed on this at all. In fact, I will admit that I currently have some versions of my books out there that I wish I could get to look more in line with the way I have envisioned…and I’m not one who does much for book interior design. But when I look at my books on an ereader, I get rather disappointed in the lack of something as simple as just some blank space.
It might seem dumb to you, but just a little blank space on the page can really make the difference between a book looking amateur and a book looking professional.
Luckily, I’ve found that many of the pro ebooks aren’t much better at this either.
Here’s hoping a better method for delivering ebooks will arrive in the future. For now, there’s just a lot of compromises that have to be made…which is sad, if you ask me.
Just one of the many reasons paperbacks really won’t ever disappear…they just look nicer.
Alright, I’m out. Have fun out there!