Friday, August 24, 2012

A Reader's Perspective: Indie Publishing: Formatting

(Reminder: this post contains my opinions on what I want to see in indie books as a reader.)

Number 2 on things that affect me as an indie reader: formatting.

Obviously I've never formatted anything to be indie-published, but I know people who have. I know there are people who will do it for a modest fee (or an exorbitant one), and there are programs that will do it. If you can't figure it out yourself, get help somewhere.
When I read a book, I want great characters and a great story, sure. I want writing that entertains me and keeps me hitting the page button. But I also have certain expectations of professionalism. I've read tens of thousands of print books, single spaced with consistent margins, paragraphs indented, quotation marks and em dashes where they belong, chapter headings consistent. To me, that is the standard of publishing, so I expect it from all books.

Most of all, I want consistency. If you choose not to indent your paragraphs but to put an extra blank line between them, okay but do it that way on every page. Don't indent here, skip it there, then indent it over on that page. And don't fail to indent without that blank line between paragraphs. It makes each chapter read like one great big paragraph and it's hard to follow. Don't give your reader even one small reason to put your book down and never come back to it. Make it as easy for them to read as possible.
With italics, again I want consistency. Some authors use them, some underline, some will bold and some will use all capitals for emphasis. While I hate seeing all caps, I can live with them. I can live with anything as long as it's consistent.

A table of contents is necessary in digital books. When I sit down to read, I want to concentrate on the story, not try to figure out how to get from here to there and back again. Confession time: I'm an end-of-the-book reader. I'll read a chapter or two, then flip to the end and read the last chapter or two. Make it easy for me to get back to where I was.
I'm also a bio reader. After I read a few pages of Chapter 1, I get curious about the author and jump to the bio. Again, make it easy for me to return to where I left off.

One thing that drives me crazy mad: when the book's flowing along just fine, then suddenly the left margin jumps over a couple inches so that you've got basically one half-width column running down the right-hand side of the screen. I'm sure it's some coding mistake, which we all get. Just don't live with it, or expect your reader to. Fix it.
There are so many things out there demanding a reader's time. Don't give her an excuse to turn to something else because you didn't get your book formatted properly.


  1. Formatting can be a bear! BUT if you are an indie-published author, then do your homework. Mark Coker and Smashwords have an EXTENSIVELY detailed formatting booklet that will take you step-by-step through the process. The first time I did it took 3 days and that was before they recommended putting in a Table of Contents!

    In fact, I had to refer back to it with TROLL because I forgot how to hyperlink/bookmark my chapters.

    And thanks for reminding me that I forgot my Author Bio at the end of TROLL! GAK!

    Even with all your 'i's dotted and 't's crossed, converting into the approved formatting can gwark it up. The converting happens on the other end, but if they have issues they are supposed to let the author know before it goes live, which doesn't always happen.

    Now the fun starts again because formatting for print copy is a whole nuther beast! Grrr . . .

    1. I know formatting can be a %^&*. Back when I used to be a newsletter editor, I spent tons of times just undoing the little quirks different programs/computers/email would put into articles.

      But I think everyone should make their best efforts. I read a lot of Kindle books that are perfectly formated, so we know it can be done, right?

      I'm so excited that you're doing print on your books! I love my ebooks, but there's something really special about a shelf full of keeper books.

  2. Argh...had a bunch of headaches formatting my book.
    Love the perspective!

    1. I can imagine. I've heard that Scrivener - a writing program - will do the formatting for you, but don't know anyone who's actually used it for that.