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A few months ago I eagerly looked forward to reading a novella collection by some well-known authors. This e-book was published by a major publishing house. I opened the book on my Kindle and…stopped cold. It was like slamming into a brick wall and just about as painful.

The entire text of the book was center-aligned. Every now and then, there would be enormous blank spaces mid-paragraph. Words were randomly broken mid-sentence. Surely there had to be some mistake. I checked every chapter. Nope. The nightmare went on and on.

I made it about two pages and tossed (deleted) the book. No matter how great the writing might be, my eyes simply couldn’t process this visual atrocity.

Then I read reviews other readers left for this book. It wasn’t just me or my Kindle. This was simply ghastly formatting, and I wasn’t the only one bothered by it. If this had been a fluke, I’d let it slide, but time and again I’ve seen bad e-book formatting, ranging from mildly distracting to downright irritating. (The worst one to date was an entire novel that was one run-on sentence. There were no paragraphs!)

I’d hedge bets that 50 percent of the joystick jumps don’t work on the e-books I get, even from the big houses.  (The jump feature is what lets Kindle users jump entire chapters forward or back with the press of one button).

Darby recently wrote a great article here about publishing snobbery.  Part of that attitude towards e-books may be derived, perhaps rightly in a few cases, from these kinds of egregious formatting offenses. I, for one, do judge e-books by their formatting, far more than their covers.

Sure, you can demand your money back on a badly-formatted e-book, but that doesn’t save the next unsuspecting buyer (or dozen) who stumble into the same snare.

To their credit, some authors have re-uploaded e-books with corrected formatting, but whenever I get that notice from Amazon (in one case, five times from the same author and on the same book, all several weeks apart), I have to shake my head.

Guess what. I ended up not reading that 5-time fixed book at all. It was too exhausting to think I might struggle halfway through the book, only to get another half-arsed version a week later.

Where all crappily-formatted e-books belong. You know it's true.

But we can’t pin bad formatting just on self-publishers. I’ve seen the worst offenses from major publishing houses that should know better and have the big bucks to do it right.

If I had been one of those authors whose novella had been mangled in e-form by that “Top 10” publisher, I would have pitched a fit until they made it right. Maybe those poor authors tried, who knows. At any rate, it still hasn’t been fixed months later.

Is it indifference? Sheer laziness? Cheapskates not hiring competent staff to format e-books? It’s like a return to the early 90s when everyone thought they could make a website and, unfortunately, they did.

Remember those painful neon colors, blinking/flashing icons, and perpetual “under construction” signs? Or my personal pet peeves, the auto-play music and damned cursors that trailed stars, butterflies, or cosmic pixie farts.

That era even spawned a clever idea, “Web Pages That Suck,” where the worst websites were reviewed, mocked, and gleefully savaged by the masses. Entertaining and apropros. (And it’s still around, listing the worst offending websites each year.)

Well, some of us are now getting “E-Books that Bite.” Should we publicly name these new-era offenders and likewise expose and verbally flog them? It’s sure tempting.

The message for all publishers is get it right the first time.

Even if you have to spend days, weeks, or months learning how to do it yourself. Even if you have to pay someone to format it properly. (By the way, Darby is imminently rentable. Her formatting is flawless!)

So now I’m wondering…

What’s the worst e-book formatting sin you’ve seen?

~Brit

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