And Yet Something Else To Obsess About

So last night I started reading an older Michael Connelly title, The Black Echo, on my Kindle. (If you’re not a Harry Bosch fan, you should be. Just sayin’…) Even though most ebooks “start” at page one of the story, I like to start at the beginning beginning of the books. Since I happened to be reading on my Fire (I usually read on the Paperwhite) I went to the cover (Covers look great on the Fire!). Then I tapped the screen–and it took me to the “If you enjoyed this product, would you consider leaving a review” page.

navmapThat was annoying.

Doubly annoying since I’m of the mind that if something screwy happens with a gadget, I assume it’s because I did something bone-headed, so of course I did it twice (okay three times) before realizing it was the book and not my fumbling fingers.

I know what happened. The ebook producer managed to list the cover as the very last item in the play order in the toc.ncx. You’re not really supposed to do that with mobi/KF8 books. When those files are properly set up, the cover is listed in the GoTo menu, designated as “Cover.” It doesn’t show up unless the user toggles a specific command, but if the user does want to see the cover, it will be at the very beginning.

This little incident, of course, triggered my worry-gene regarding my own set ups, but not concerning the placement of the cover. It’s the Table of Contents. A table of contents is kind of a screwball thing in a novel. A long list of chapters, blah blah blah. With the Fire and the Paperwhite Kindles it’s redundant–if the toc.ncx is properly set up and designated. In older Kindles the producer generated table of contents is essential. There is also the problem of the sample features offered by retailers. Readers who are considering purchasing a novel don’t want to have to page through sixteen pages of a chapter list only to discover there is not enough of the story to properly sample.

(By the way, if you are writing/formatting a non-fiction book it’s wise to put your table of contents, as detailed and useful as possible, right up front so it’s part of the sample. Potential buyers want to know about subjects covered.)

Now I worry that my policy of placing the ToC in the backs of the books could annoy some readers. They are tapping, swiping, thought-controlling along, and all the sudden they are out of the book altogether. No bueno. I could deal with the issue by inserting a THE END page with a little note along the lines of “Thank you for reading this book. Come back soon!” I’ve also considered greatly truncating the ToC so that essentially it says: Front Matter, Story, Back Matter. Readers with the latest models of ereaders and tablets wouldn’t mind that, since their GoTo features gives them a very complete ToC (if the ebook is properly built). Readers with older devices will lose some navigation ability, and that’s no good.

Isn’t this fun? Now I can obsess about the reader’s impression of the very last “page” in the ebook.



10 thoughts on “And Yet Something Else To Obsess About

  1. It’s something I struggle with, too. I’ve asked my formatter about tucking the TOC in the back, in order to make the sample larger up front. No-can-do he says. A great compromise is to simplify the table of contents. Does a novel reader really need upfront navigation to chapter one, chapter two, etc? Nope. Just front matter, story, backmatter. After all, one of the great things about ebooks is that they are searchable!

    • No can do? Pfft. You can put the producer generated ToC anyplace you want to. I’m with you, though, regarding the usefulness and desirability of a print-book style ToC for a novel. Ebooks have powerful search and navigation capabilities. Heavy user/readers quickly learn them. PLUS, the increasing use of smart phones and tablets make the ToC redundant and even annoying.

      And so my experiments continue… (cue mad scientist laughter here)

  2. Abbreviated TOC at the start (with a pointer to the full one), Full TOC at the end. Works for EPUB and MOBI readers, all kinds, without overwhelming the sample size problem.

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