Ebook Formatting: Lest They Forget

So, last night daughter-in-law showed me what an ebook looks like on an iPad (I had never played with an iPad before). I suffered a moment of pure, unmitigated envy. The pages were set up to look like printed book pages–including the author’s name and the book title on opposing pages.

I want my Kindle to do that.

You can’t format a header into an ebook. That would really mess things up. The technology is in place for automatic headers, though. When I first open an ebook, the bar across the top shows the book title and author name. As I page into the book, the bar disappears. I wish it wouldn’t because I am terrible with remembering names and titles. I’m not the only one.

My problem is not around the details of the story line specifically, but the name of both the author and the ebook itself, both of which I find I always forget by the time I have read about 10 pages or thereabouts.  I am pretty sure that this is caused by the fact that one misses the reinforcing clues of seeing the cover of any paper book you read every time you pick it up and start reading it.  With an ereader, once you are past the title page, you no longer see the title or author’s name ever again while reading the ebook – Thus unless it is a particular favourite book of yours, there goes the title and writer’s name…

That’s from eBookAnoid in his blog post titled, Do You Remember the Name of the Ebook You Just Finished Reading?

Is this a huge problem? An earth-shattering problem? No, not really. I know it annoys me when I’m reading and realize I have forgotten completely the author name and title, then have to GO TO the beginning or toggle HOME so I can see it on the main screen.

In the reformat I did for Marina Bridge’s Pickers & Pickled Punks, I tried something new:

This is a collection of four short stories. On the title page for each story I inserted a mini-header with the book title and author’s name. (10 pt font, centered) Here’s how it looks on the Kindle.

It’s not nearly as good as having the author and title on every page or every other page, but it’s something. This method would also work on a novel by putting a header at the start of each chapter.

But, here lies danger. Conversion programs such as MobiPocket and Smashword’s Meat Grinder now automatically generate tables of content. This is a good thing since getting the links right can be a pain in the butt. The programs want to use the first line of text on the page after a page break to insert the link in the ToC. With Scrivener this is no problem. I break each chapter/story/section into a file and give the file a name. Scrivener’s ebook generator uses those file names to create the ToC.

Notice how in the ToC I tagged the recipes with “Recipe:” to make them easy to find. In the book itself, I omitted the “Recipe:” and just went with the title.

I haven’t figured out yet how to do this in MS Word. If I were to insert running title/author heads, the conversion program would pick that up for the ToC. I tried doing a manual ToC with links, and that appeared just fine, but then the conversion program generated one, too. Which was very confusing and none too neat, or nifty.

I think it’s worthwhile to figure this out. Discoverability and name recognition are important to indie writers. Every chance we have of locking our names in the readers’ minds has to be a good thing.

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19 thoughts on “Ebook Formatting: Lest They Forget

  1. Hm. Conundrum, especially since I use Smashwords. I wonder if that auto-generating TOC is an option that can be turned off or keyed to specific words (such as, “chapter”) rather than the first words after a break? Or what about inserting it as a graphic rather than text?

  2. I want I want I want. I agree. I want my name and the book title on every page because Kindle does not make it easy to remember. Don’t we all want to be remembered?

  3. If I don’t end up going with a traditional publisher, I’m just going to hire you to do my next book 🙂

    I love your enthusiasm for experimentation and attempting to make the Kindle experience more pleasurable for the reader.

    Oh, and I too have heard of these iPad things, although I’m not sure exactly what they do. Maybe one day.

    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • Those iPad thingies are pretty cool, but awfully big and way too many distractions on them. I like my thingies simple. 😉

    • You keep racking up awards for Smile Of The Day, Tom. Now that makes me all the more determined to figure it out. The iPad will NOT make my Larry the Kindle look bad. Nuh uh, no way.

      By the way, agree muchly on the reading outdoors thing. I was trying to read a print book outside today. The sun glare on the pages was too much for my eyes. I can read the Kindle screen outdoors for hours without growing fatigued.

  4. With my Kindle 4, if I ever forget what I’m reading (which I generally don’t), I just either bring up the in-book menu, which makes the header come back with the name of the book, or I just go back to the main menu where the book I was just reading appears at the top of the list. Not as fancy as an iPad, but if I’d wanted an iPad I’d have gotten one. I don’t really see the need to make e-books look more like printed books. They’re not printed books, and people need to adjust to that.

    • Hi, Twisted. I think any small thing publishers can do to make ebooks look better, read better and better accommodate the readers is a good thing. My philosophy is, give it your best shot and then do a little bit more, and then keep raising the bar. Publishers have barely begun to exploit the ebook format. The technology holds the potential to do all sorts of interesting things. Right now it’s a convenient alternative to printed books, but aesthetically it’s kind of the ugly cousin. I want to see it acknowledged as BETTER than printed books, to be the preferred method of reading across the board.

  5. What about putting the author name after each short story? Like in a footer? Not as elegant, but does remind the reader right after they read the short story. Not sure how that would work in a novel…

    • I thought about that, Nila. Do something like:

      Chapter Ten
      Best Novel Ever
      ME

      Center it all. If you’re using 12 pt font for the body text, do the chapter head in 14 pt bold, then the book title and author name in 10 pt bold. It would look fairly tidy, keep the author’s name in the forefront and shouldn’t mess up the table of contents. Will try this in the project I’m currently working on. If it looks decent, I’ll let you all know.

  6. Your problem is strictly a matter of the e-reader client you’re using. I have an Android tablet, with the Kindle app – and yeah, it does what you describe. Though simply touching the screen brings up the title, and the location bar so I can see how far I am. CoolReader, on the other hand, shows author, title, and progress in a very small bar at the top. The Nook program keeps that information at the top, as well.

    Send Amazon a feature request. Some people want every pixel of the screen to be words from the book, others want the reminder of what they’re reading and how far they are. It’s all a matter of taste. One might even suspect publishers of long ago having set up page numbers & headers/footers as a way to increase page count and justify higher prices!

  7. The Kindle reader on the iPad uses the meta-data in the Mobi file to auto-generate the title and the author name as headers. The best way to do it on the Kindle itself would be to get Amazon to make the change, I bet. And given that they have done it that way for the iPad Kindle reader, it might be coming.

    • I know, Wyndes! And I’m horribly jealous about the way books look on an iPad (not jealous enough to get one, though, heh)

      You’re right, I hope. i love my Kindle, wouldn’t do without it, and do not want a tablet or pad or anything other than a dedicated ereader, BUT, I do want something that isn’t homely. I don’t want to give up e-ink technology either. It is so very easy on my eyes. I’m talking to several people about this very subject. I do believe that the next generation of ereaders will take into account the total reading experience.

  8. Some of us are reading on things smaller than a Kindle or iPad (I use the Kindle app on an iPod Touch.) I’m fine reading on a screen that size but it would annoy the dickens out of me if space was taken up on every page with author/book info. When I’m in the middle of a story, I don’t want that stuff in my face. If I really want to know, a quick tap of the screen brings up the book title. Save the reminder of who the author is for the end of the book with the author bio, links to other books, etc. Don’t take up valuable screen space for info that isn’t relevant to the story I’m reading, please.

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