Friday, December 5, 2014

How to Lose a Reader in 10 Pages or Less: E-Book Formatting

E-books have changed the book world into something entirely new in the past 10 years.  They have allowed authors to publish independently with ease, readers to carry hundreds of books around in their pocket, and (in many cases) lowered the cost of a single book.  These are all amazing and fantastic things, but for an author it does pose a not so small issue.  The audience of book readers hasn’t changed their reading habits.  They are purchasing the same number of books (if not less) than they always have.  This means that an author must work that much harder to lift their book out of the crowd to attract a reader – and once they have one, they really need to keep them.  Because with so many other books and authors to choose from, once you lose a reader you may never see them again.

One of the biggest ways to turn a reader off in an e-book (outside of the story itself), is to present a product that is not visually appealing.  Now, I’m not talking about having a pretty cover or nice pictures scattered throughout.  I’m talking about the way your words look on the virtual page. 
Most authors do not format their e-books themselves, but that does not mean you can wash your hands of the finished product.  This is your baby!  Even if you work with a publisher, it is very important to make sure your baby is going out into the world looking the best it can.  Here are a few of the things to look for (pictures have been created to demonstrate what we are trying to describe and are not actual examples):

Not everyone reads with a white page using the default font and size.  Take your e-book and play with the backgrounds, the fonts, and sizes.  Make sure they all look nice.  In the image below you can see how the formatting has turned small portions of the text from the sepia/parchment background to white. 

It looks like someone took a highlighter to my book before I even had a chance to read it.  It’s very distracting and gives the impression that last minutes changes were added that weren’t worth the time to format properly.  I have played around with books that have this appearance, and on some backgrounds (usually if you turn the page to black), the words completely disappear as the text stays black as well.  Remember, your readers want something that looks complete, not something that looks used or pieced together at the last minute.

Another mistake I have found is the author that uploads a book straight from a word or PDF document into an e-book without going through any formatting process.  At least this is the impression given by what I am looking at.  You get something that looks like this:

The text in this example is incredibly difficult to read.  The sentences are broken up and the spacing between lines appears to be fairly random.  This is not fun to read at all.

While I don’t have a picture of the next example, it is fairly easy to replicate with typing:

Do you find this distracting?  Perhaps a little difficult to read?  Please make sure your text size and font are consistent.  Changes to italics or bold for emphasis are one thing, but random changes are not pretty.

Now I know you can’t constantly format every time you edit or progress with your book – it would be far too expensive.  Just keep in mind that if you are sending a review/ARC copy to someone, and it may not be completely formatted, make sure to let them know!  I generally assume an e-ARC may not be formatted completely, but I can’t speak for everyone.  By telling the reviewer ahead of time, it prepares the reader for these issues, and knowing they may occur ahead of time makes them much easier to read through when we get to them.

As a reviewer, it is also important to let your authors know if you find things like this in a finished copy.  This doesn’t mean writing a scathing review of how bad their formatting job was.  It can be a nicely worded sentence in the review or even a quick email to the author or publisher.  They may not realize their work isn’t formatted correctly.  They may be using a formatter that isn’t doing their job very well, or it could just be an oversight that can be easily corrected.  It’s nice to let them know in a professional manner that you have found a problem in their product.

Readers, please remember that if you are re-formatting a file using programs such as Calibre or sending a PDF through Amazon to your Kindle, the formatting will most likely not transfer correctly and this is through no fault of the author, but an occurrence that often happens when transferring a file this way.

So that is a reviewer’s perspective of e-book formatting.  I would love to see what authors or professional formatters think of the process and how they check their work to make sure it meets their standards.


  1. Great article ladies! I totally agree. Formatting issues in finished books is a big turn off and extremely annoying! Care about your end product as much as you do about the story!

  2. YES!!!! Everything you said.

  3. I agree!! I love this post, because I feel like there are times that I will turn a book away if I have a hard time reading it due to formatting.

  4. Thanks Angela. I love knowing that it might have been helpful.

  5. Yes! And formatting isn't always the author's work, they may not even realize it. That's why it's so important to check everything over.


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