Formatting ebooks is a funny old game. Download some offerings from top-flight publishers and big name authors and you’ll still sometimes get a book that looks like it was typed by a two-fingered toddler copying the monkey in the next cage.

This is partly down to the impossible complexity of ebook creation, but mostly down to cost-cutting. Why pay a professional to do the job when an intern can bang it out? It’s only an ebook, not as if anyone will notice. The same attitude seems to apply to proof-reading and line editing, particularly of mid-list authors. Publishing is an expensive business, I’ll grant you, but I fail to see the benefit of cost-cutting if it means you put out a sub-standard product.

My first attempts at creating ebooks were perhaps not much better. I tried my hardest to produce something that at least looked like it had been read before being set free, but all the instructions I could find included making a table of contents – fine if you’re writing a cookbook or have meaningful chapter headings, not so useful when you just use numbers and there’s more than seventy of them. In this case, a table of contents is a bit of a waste of time, but ebooks have to have tables of contents. It’s the law.

So I settled on the compromise of just indexing the first chapter, middle chapter and last chapter and having a table of contents that read Beginning, Middle, End. That sort of worked, although it attracted a few sarcastic comments. What it didn’t allow was for the reader to jump forward a chapter at a time, as there were only three reference points in each book. Still, it allowed me to get the books out, which was a start.

I’m not one to leave something half done though, so I set about finding out how to format ebooks correctly from scratch to produce the kind of reading experience I wanted. It took a while, but I think I’ve finally cracked it. All my books still have the Beginning, Middle, End table of contents, but individual chapters are marked so that readers can jump ahead or back a chapter at a time. Each chapter heading is also a link back to the table of contents, for those fancy readers with touch screens. I’ve also worked out how to do natty little drop caps for the opening line of each chapter and generally cleaned up all the code which Word (and indeed all other WYSIWYG word processors) splatters all over the place and which trips up the ebook conversion software something rotten. For instance, I used to have a lot of this:

<p style=”MsoNormal” align=”center” style=’text-align:center;text-indent:0cm’><b><span lang=”EN-GB” style=’font-size:18.0pt;color:black’>&nbsp;</span></b></p>

all of which looks much nicer as just this:


I’ve worked my way through all of my books, weeding out the unwanted <span> statements and other rubbish, as well as correcting all the typos my keen-eyed readers have spotted (Errol suddenly finding himself chained to a post in the circus in The Golden Cage, for instance – it should have been Benfro. Oops.) The .mobi versions for kindle have been uploaded to Amazon, and in a few days time the .epubs should appear on Kobo. Unfortunately all my other outlets – Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony and others are distributed through Smashwords, and their meatgrinder system does it’s own thing. I’m not too happy about that – the perfectionist in me twitches uncontrollably – but the only way to sell directly through those outlets would be to move to the States and set up a bank account there. I’ll do a lot for my art, but not that.

So if you’ve been putting off buying any of my books (or downloading the free ones) because you were worried about the reading experience, now’s the time to dip a toe, so to speak.

Go on. You know you want to.




2 Responses to Housekeeping

  1. jenni c October 6, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    to say how much I have enjoyed your novels. I believe that ebooks have huge potential for liberating writers from the publishing machine. Free or cheap – well libraries have done that for over a century so what’s the difference?

    • jameso October 7, 2012 at 8:21 am #

      Thanks Jenni, I quite agree. Some writers bemoan the cheapening of books by people flogging them for nothing or even giving them away. I think it’s important that people understand the work that goes into a book, but it’s equally important that they be available to the widest possible audience. That said, Natural Causes won’t be free forever. I’ve got to eat!

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