Chele Cooke

Formatting, spot the Self-Publishing

As pointed out in my previous blog post, eBook Formatting Part 1, there are people that feel you can immediately tell a self-published book by the formatting of the text. In some cases, they may be right. You possibly can. But is it always the case? Personally, I don’t think it is. I think you can avoid this stigma of being an amateur simply by researching, especially by researching within your genre.

With the creation of the eReader, the style of reading, for many of us, has changed. Even if you still love the paperback or hardback, and adore filling your bookshelves more than you enjoy filling the fridge, if you own an eReader, most likely, you will try out a new author on that first. Let’s face it, a book on your eReaders doesn’t take up any space, it doesn’t have to be packed when you’re moving house.

However… even though the eReader may have turned things digital, you’ll notice that most eBooks look remarkably similar, if not identical to their print counterpart. The cover is the same, the chapter titles have the same squiggly images (if they have them) and yes, the formatting is the same as well.

From this, we can assume that in order to give the impression of a professional book, it should look as similar to a print copy as possible.

With eBooks, there are distinct differences. Some authors will put their acknowledgements, etc, at the back so that readers get as much to read as possible on the ‘Look inside’ option on amazon. Same goes for table of contents. However, here I am talking about the body of the text, the reason people pick your book up in the first place.

Take a look, for example, at these three images.

hungergame-prv-9-327470 9780007489978_3_Zshowbiz-harry-potter-first-edition-sale-2

The three books above, if you don’t recognise them, are (in order) The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Look at the text on all three images. You’ll notice some distinct characteristics.

  1. The chapter does not begin at the top of the page.
  2. The font is justified, straight edges on both sides of the text.
  3. There are no gaps between the paragraphs, except for the slight scene change in Lord of the Rings.
  4. The first line of the first paragraph is not indented.

I am relatively sure that this image of the Hunger Games is of the eBook because the margins are the same on both sides and the background is ridiculously white, but I do own copies of the Hunger Games, and the print layout is exactly the same. The same chapter graphic, the same formatting.

Now, for argument’s sake. Here are three of the top five in the Amazon Kindle chart right now. I took a screenshot of the the ‘Inside the book’ page.

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The books above are Game of Thrones by GRR Martin, Inferno by Dan Brown, and Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith.

You’ll notice that apart from the fact Game of Thrones chapter title is a link, and a large letter has been used for the start of the chapter, all the same formatting rules are applicable as they were for the print books. Justified text, no indent on first paragraph, no spaces between paragraph, chapter not at the top of the page (a little harder to see when you’re not actually looking at it on an eReader.)

They look professional, they look like real books that just happen to be on electronic devices.

Now look at these… I have minimised them so that the books cannot be identified.

formateg1All have elements that are right about them. None have the spaces between paragraphs, for example (and believe me, I found some that did, I even found one with spaces between paragraphs and first line indents. It almost made me cry a little.)  They all give space above the chapter heading. Number 3 got the justified in there, number 1 got the lack of indent but not justified. Whatever they got right though, none of them look quite right. The right hand jagged margin just reminds you that you are not reading a book, you’re reading an eBook.

There will be people who disagree with me, who believe that you should leave your right hand margin jagged so that you’re not stretching the text when people mess about with the font sizes on their eReader. There will be people who think the first line should still have an indent. However, my opinion is that this should look as much like a print book as possible. Self-Publishers/Independent Authors should be making themselves as indistinguishable from Traditional published product as they possibly can.

Isn’t that the point advocates for Traditional publishing make? That you can tell a self-published title because it’s not as good, whether in writing, layout, or design?

It might just be me, but I really want to prove them wrong!

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