Friday, 21 June 2013

Poor formatting in e-books by bigger houses

With some distress recently I read a Kindle version of a novel written by a writer I know and respect. It was published not by one of the Big Five, but by a medium-sized press that was commercial enough to charge over £3.00 for an e-book, the paperback equivalent of which retails for £6.99. So, we’re not talking a self-published book being all but given away at 99p. I actually appreciate publishers who charge a decent amount:  it shows respect for their writers and the IT people who have spent a long time developing the technology.  However, this particular example shows little respect for the reader.
Surprisingly, actually, the 99p self-published book more often than not has less formatting mistakes than  those texts supplied by the big houses. Possibly this is because these books are published only in this format so the “publisher” has taken the time to do the job properly.
So, what exactly was wrong with this book?
Well, it was formatted web-style – rather like what you’re reading now. It didn’t feel like a book because there were no indents.  The text was blocked, but the blocking hadn’t “taken” everywhere, so there were some disturbing gaps at the end of lines.  These took you out of the film in your head and reminded you that you were looking at words on a page.  
A couple of chapters had a heading followed by a blank page.
I noticed a couple of issues that a copy editor should have picked up. I’m sure I only noticed them because the poor formatting made me conscious of the words on the page.  An “its” should have been “it’s”. There was some unexpected capitalisation at the beginning of some words. 
Why does this happen?
We know “kindling” can be tricky.  You can check your book in three different formats and it will look fine. Then when it’s actually out there things you’ve not been able to see creep in.
But guess what? It actually only take a few minutes to take the book down, correct it and load it back up. It’s not like correcting a print run. We notice the odd post-e-publication blip and fix it as soon as it’s pointed out.
Too many bigger publishers simply upload the same file they used for the print version. No, you need to do a little more work than this – especially if you want to charge almost as much for the e-book as for a hard copy.
How should we react to this poor formatting?
My first instinct was to put a 1 or 2 * review on Amazon. But I didn’t want to damage the author. I have instead written to the publisher and pointed this out. I’m tempted to claim a refund as I’ve been sold an inferior product. I’m bracing myself to contact the author and say that she needs to take the publisher to task. If we could all go for zero tolerance on this we might get better formatted books.           

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Check out your publisher - don't speculate

The greatest thing about being a publisher is that … you publish books. You also see some great writing. There are some other things that we have to do that are less pleasant. One activity is somewhat tedious, often very rewarding and occasionally heart-breaking.
Checking presence on the Internet
Yes, it’s that narcissistic activity: Googling yourself or a particular book. You’ll often find a great review or a pleasing sales ranking. Sometimes you’ll find a mediocre review and a more modest sales ranking. And occasionally you’ll find a very poor review with maybe one star and worse still, it may appear to have been written by a  troll. In the greater scheme of things, the latter isn’t actually all that worrying. There are bound to be some poor reviews occasionally and frankly, personally, if I see a one star review I’m likely to buy the book – it won’t disappoint. In fact it’s highly likely to be better than one would expect from one star – especially if there is a troll element. This was probably someone with a personal grudge.  
Perhaps a more believable review may have a negative effect on a book. Not always though. One book I really enjoyed was Melvin Burgess’ Doing It. I only read it because I was curious about what had upset Anne Fine so much in her famous Guardian review.
Negative speculation
Sadly, I’ve come across this twice this week. There’d been a call for submissions by a small press company I know. Some writers speculated about how reliable this company would be. They appeared to have done their homework. However, they’d made a ghastly mistake about one of the team in that they’d said that one editor had “no experience of the publishing industry”. This was absolutely not true. The person in question had decided to set up on their own after being disillusioned by the big five.
The other example was about one of my own projects. Again, the folks had done their homework and had misinterpreted some of the facts they’d established. They’d found one name associated with three projects. Yes, we use the same web-master who had secured the sites and domain names for us.
Okay, there are crooks out there. But actually, not many. As I am also a writer I’ve worked with fifteen publishers, all sizes. Only one has really let me down. The one who has sold the most of my work actually started operating out of a small industrial estate near Bristol. They first published me in 2001 and I’m still getting royalty cheques.
A world of book-lovers
Publishing books is not big business. Not even for Bloomsbury post JKR. Yes, they have a huge turnover. But put their business acumen into virtually any other business – maybe not farming – and they’d make even more. Even amongst the big successful publishers with grand offices in London there is, perhaps, before all else, a love of books. Thank goodness.
That is what keeps us all going.
I’ve not yet been proved wrong. Even the publisher who let me down did it more out of incompetence than out of any maliciousness.  
I’ve just come back from Hay and this was clearer than ever there again.
What I would say to all writers
Yes, of course, it is important to be sure that your publisher is the general article. I’d encourage you simply to ask. If they don’t reply or don’t give you a satisfactory answer – move on.