Awful ebook formatting and how to avoid it as an author

Ebooks are not printed books on screens. They are quite different and need to be formatted for screen reading.

Ebooks are not printed books on screens. They are quite different and need to be formatted for screen reading.
If you have read a few ebooks, chances are, you’ve been confronted by several awfully formatted examples. The kind which give ebooks a bad name. Ebooks with tiny print which cannot be made larger. Page widths so wide they don’t fit on your screen, forcing you to scroll each line as you read. And these are comparitively minor faults. What about the ebooks with only a few lines on each page, resulting in an ebook full of empty space and a page count ten times higher than it should be. The ebooks where the formatting is so messed up you feel duped by the author or publisher.

I would urge any author to test their ebooks in the most popular readers. Test on a Kindle and Nook device if you have one available. Amazon also has a free Kindle Previewer for desktop testing. It takes 5-10 minutes to download, then install and scroll through your ebook. Do the same in Kindle for PC and on your mobile phone or tablet. Then get the Nook apps and test there also. For EPUB and PDF, use Adobe’s Digital Editions and Acrobat Reader.

All these applications are free. Especially Amazon does a great job of providing free tools for authors and keeping them updated. These tools are specifically for ebook creation and testing.

When I produced my first ebook it was in order to test the mechanics of self-publishing. I manually wrote the HTML, then created a mobi file with Amazon’s “kindlegen” tool. This will not be for everyone, it’s quite technical. However, it gives you the most formatting control. Since I included images and fancy chapter headings, I needed to do that. It may not be necessary if your ebook is just plain text.

If you cannot create the source files yourself, which is quite technical, then you can hire a professional ebook formatter for under $100. That’s for an average length novel with plain text. Do a little research before hiring. Ask other authors who they used. You don’t want a lazy amateur trying to make easy money by using an automated tool which you could have used yourself for free. Make sure they manually edit the source files.

Most importantly, test the results in all the major readers, both devices and apps. Do this even if you have a publishing house doing this for you. Big name authors have had badly formatted ebooks created by their multi-million, or is that billion?, dollar publishing houses.

If unsure, you could ask the formatter to send you a 10-20% sample of your finished ebook for you to test, before paying them. That will sort out the wheat from the chaff amongst formatters.

If you don’t have the money to pay a professional, then learn how to format yourself. When you download Amazon’s kindlegen tool you will find source file samples. It won’t be easy going unless you have manually written HTML/XML before. You will need a few weeks if you are starting from scratch.

It’s up to you whether you spend your time or money. You just spent three to twelve months, or longer, writing a book. Why not spend 2-4 weeks making sure your ebook reaches the reader looking as closest to the way you intended as possible. If you don’t, you risk angry readers who never even get to comment on your writing because they are held up by the ebook’s formatting.

Do you frequently encounter badly formatted ebooks and how does it make you feel?

4 thoughts on “Awful ebook formatting and how to avoid it as an author

  1. Great article, Marcus. It’s kind of incredible that the pub houses wouldn’t screen for this (you’d think it be part of the responsibility for offering a product that remains easily readable across the different platforms available). The extra (formatting) steps are more than worth it for an author, but really shouldn’t be expected. The new ebook platform should be step up for writers (or so it should be given the houses moving to it). I mean, in the old days, there was no expectation on authors to know how to set type on presses, now was there? Good read.

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