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Old 10-01-2010, 07:16 AM   #1
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Awful, just AWFUL formatting in ebooks

We've just downloaded our first eBook (well, second really) and I'm stunned at how rottenly awful the formatting is and I have a very strong suspicion that it won't be the last one.

It looks like in the conversion to mobi format the person forced hard breaks between sentences rather than leaving it to be just on paragraphs.

Do people even check the output of their conversions on Calibre's e-viewer or such?

I was wondering why we were being complimented on our eBook's formatting and now it's starting to become clear to me.

Is this sort of thing systemic throughout eBooks at the moment?

Paul.

(btw, the book was from Smashwords - I'll write a message to them later to let them know).
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Old 10-01-2010, 07:31 AM   #2
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Was it in Smashwords' Premium range?

I hope you mentioned it in a review. It's bad for all epublishers when ebooks are badly formatted, and indie authors should be particularly careful if they don't want to spoil the market for our books.
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Old 10-01-2010, 07:37 AM   #3
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I'll have to go check on my wife's SW account - the price was premium enough, $4.99 (that's even more than our "Tree of Life" @120,000 words unlike the 67,000 of this 'bad book').
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Old 10-01-2010, 08:09 AM   #4
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I've just looked at your trailer for Tree of Life. It's very good.
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Old 10-01-2010, 08:17 AM   #5
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Thanks for the compliment. We probably went a bit wild with the whole media production around the book, perhaps spent a tad too much (but we have some nice merchandise that we send out now to compliment the books).

Of course, what really matters is the story

Still waiting for Elita to finish reading, then I'll dig into what's going on. It really looks like the person either did a bad scan+OCR or used a very poor input format. We were quite fortunate that we started out with a good system that has let us generate various output formats without hiccup.

Paul.
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Old 10-01-2010, 08:22 AM   #6
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Yikes! I've read a number of authors' posts who are thoroughly confused by the formatting aspect of publishing an ebook. The only instructions I've seen assume writers use MS Word, and I think many do not, so they may not be familiar with the concepts used in those formatting guidelines.

IMO, it's something a self-publishing author MUST get right. If I download a sample (and I always do) and see that the formatting isn't right, I absolutely will not buy the book. There are far too many books to read and far too few years left to put up with frustrations like bad formatting.
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Old 10-01-2010, 08:31 AM   #7
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Kcmay,

Got to agree with you there. I think it was a cheap lesson for us - we did look at the 'preview' but where I think things went wrong is that we viewed it on the PC with a wide-screen, so the text would have naturally formatted 'fine' by virtue of the fact that it had ample horizontal space so as to not wrap. Put it on the K3 and all of a sudden that 72 character width is no longer available.

I'm not sure what everyone else uses for their manuscript development; we use LyX on Ubuntu - takes away almost all of the formatting issues. Of course, what we use isn't for everyone and not everyone likes the odd style it uses (you don't see the formatted output until you generate it - until then it looks rather bland). None the less, we've been very happy with our choice, as we were able to use the same file to produce our drafts to the editors (double spaced, single sided, broad margins), print-ready PDF to the publisher, and now eBook output without having to change the actual content or "formatting".

Paul.... who hopes that he hasn't mangled the formatting somewhere now that he's made a big soap-box stand.
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Old 10-01-2010, 11:58 PM   #8
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...Interesting. I think I do a terrible job of formatting, but then I hadn't heard anyone complain (yet) from my attempts with Got Poe.

For the most part, I've left everything in Scrivener standard MS format, exported to M$, ran it thru the Lit conversion then used Calibre to make real digital files from the Lit source. I'll have to check out your (wife's?) book to see what "good formatting" really is. I think typesetting is an invisible art.

Well, with the exception of the ePubs at SmashWords. Even I know they're badly formatted.

Last edited by jaxx6166; 10-02-2010 at 12:13 AM.
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Old 10-02-2010, 01:03 AM   #9
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Jaxx,

I think a lot of books have to be 'mutated' a bit to make them work nicely in eBook format. I've noticed there's a strong popularity for line-height breaks between paragraphs rather than simply indenting with leaving the line-height break to be for between scenes. This may be more important on LCD display devices rather than eInk. No doubt there's going to be a surge of research into this.

Personally I'm going to go over ToL's formatting again now that I've got it on the Kindle3 but at least it's not suffering the torture of the new-line-per-sentence breakdown.

I agree that typesetting is an invisible art - which is why I leave it to LyX (alas that falls apart when it's converted back to HTML).

Paul.
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Old 10-02-2010, 01:39 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrPLD View Post
We've just downloaded our first eBook (well, second really) and I'm stunned at how rottenly awful the formatting is and I have a very strong suspicion that it won't be the last one.
You're perfectly correct. Some commercial ebooks are very well formatted, and some are just awful - I would be ashamed to let some of the commercial ebooks I have read go out over my signature.

Could you be a bit more specific, though? What was the book? Who was the publisher? The reason I ask is that some time ago I started a Hall of Shame thread in which I reviewed the book and sent a copy of the review to the publisher. Very few replies, and not many people joined in. But I still think we need to actually do something like that rather than just complain on the forums. I don't think publishers will bother to have their books proof read or insist on high quality unless we make them.

Regards, Alex

Last edited by AlexBell; 10-02-2010 at 04:10 AM. Reason: Fixed a typo
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Old 10-02-2010, 02:50 AM   #11
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I believe it's called "The Immaortals" [sic] ( yes, the misspelling is right :\ )

I didn't want to weigh in yet because my wife's not finished the book. I admire her stamina though because I'd have popped in the head after the first chapter.

Even the title in the meta-data (when showed up on the K3) is "THe Immaortals" - that makes me think of a scanned/OCR failure.

Paul.
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Old 10-02-2010, 08:14 AM   #12
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I've noticed there's a strong popularity for line-height breaks between paragraphs rather than simply indenting with leaving the line-height break to be for between scenes. This may be more important on LCD display devices rather than eInk. No doubt there's going to be a surge of research into this.
I've just started setting up a project and I noticed that I was getting that space between paragraphs too. There was *nothing* in the code that was forcing it. So I set both the top and bottom margins for paragraphs to 0, and that fixed it. This is when viewing the output from the HTML on a PC, not sure if the spaces would carry thru to the Kindle, but it may be a source of that issue. People may not know how to fix it.
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Old 10-02-2010, 08:23 AM   #13
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Jaxx,

I think a lot of books have to be 'mutated' a bit to make them work nicely in eBook format. I've noticed there's a strong popularity for line-height breaks between paragraphs rather than simply indenting with leaving the line-height break to be for between scenes.

Paul.
I prefer space between paragraphs, and will always change it to that when it isn't already. Between scenes you should put * * * (or similar). Mainly because some ebook readers will strip out any extra spaces you put in.
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Old 10-02-2010, 08:31 AM   #14
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I believe it's called "The Immaortals" [sic] ( yes, the misspelling is right :\ )

I didn't want to weigh in yet because my wife's not finished the book. I admire her stamina though because I'd have popped in the head after the first chapter.

Even the title in the meta-data (when showed up on the K3) is "THe Immaortals" - that makes me think of a scanned/OCR failure.

Paul.
Is this it?
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/25388

These are the lines that cause the weird formatting (for the epub -- under the heading western2):

font-size: 0.88889em;
line-height: 200%;
margin-bottom: 0.14in;

It looks to me like she's just dumped a double spaced manuscript into Smashwords. If you convert it with Calibre it should fix it for you.
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Old 10-02-2010, 09:44 AM   #15
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That's the one. I'll reprocess it later. Still rather frustrating that it is done like it is by default :ick:

As for scene breaks, this is one area where it's a bit of a pain when converting to eBooks, because with the formatting we use on a normal pBook one tends to add in the *** when the break occurs in an ambiguous situation near the end or start of a page (LyX manages this for us, we don't actually choose) rather than each scene break. I for one will probably start forcing LyX to generate them for every break when I create the eBook output.

Paul.
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