I Had To Go All Gordon Ramsay On Their Ass

“You, you, you, you! Get out!”

GR angrySo this morning, I reached my limit. The final straw. I returned an ebook for a refund.

It upsets me. I’ve only gotten a refund once before and that was because I bought the wrong book, and realized the mistake the second after I clicked the buy button. I support authors. I hate when authors have to take the hit for their publisher’s mistakes. This was one of my must-read authors and I want to read this book and usually I’ll grit my teeth and ignore the nonsense as best I can in order to read an M-R-A.

But… damn it. I can’t take anymore.

Maybe it’s just me. I spent all day yesterday trying to figure out if a new technique will work properly on devices I don’t have ready access to. That’s a lot of work and nitpicking and frustration. Maybe it’s because the internet is crawling with information about how to properly format an ebook, but I still keep finding ebooks that are broken or ugly or amateurish or just plain careless. Maybe I am just fed up and tired of being tolerant and I’ve read too many poorly formatted books here lately. Maybe I expected that at this point in the game publishers should have figured out the basics.

So Dear Angry Robot Books, please learn how to properly design and format an ebook.

  • Do NOT ever center paragraph blocks. Amateur hour! It’s messy, ugly and the only thing missing are hearts and smiley faces dotting the ‘i’s.
  • Don’t compound the ugliness by italicizing the centered text and calling even more attention to how hideous it is.
  • Justify the body text. Left aligned looks like a manuscript. Use it only in special circumstances.
  • Whatever the hell you did to screw up the font size controls so that I was left with a choice between “squint at the screen” or “six words per page”–do NOT ever do that again. Ever. I mean it. Don’t.
  • Use scene break indicators! Want to know what happens when a blank line meets the bottom of the screen? It disappears!
  • Do a proper indent on the paragraphs. That extra narrow indentation is a cheap paperback device to save paper costs. It looks like crap in print and it looks like crap in ebooks.
  • When the ebook is formatted, look at it! Load it up on an ereader and LOOK AT IT. Would you want to read something that is broken and looks awful and is distracting and looks like a 7th grader built it during study hall? No? Then do it over.

So that’s it. I have finally learned my lesson. No more auto-buys from even my most cherished writers. I don’t care if I’ve been salivating a year in anticipation of a new release. Everything gets sampled. Like Gordon says, “Your menu, my standards.” Meet the standards or lose the sale.

Ya donkeys.

 

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25 thoughts on “I Had To Go All Gordon Ramsay On Their Ass

  1. Oooh, you sound so British! Tom’s gonna like this post! I like it when you get all hot and bothered – it’s the new not so nice Jaye. Gives me the shivers!
    I haven’t returned a book but I sure as hell have bought some that I refuse to read once I get a look at the awful formatting!

    • I swear, Julia. I am so sick of publishers putting out ebooks they haven’t even looked at. And they can’t be looking at them, because if they did, they’d go, “Oh shit, that doesn’t look right.”

      I am very cranky today.

      • YES! I don’t get quite as worked up as you do about some smaller details, but when a book is just plain broken, I want to bang a head against a wall. Not my head.

  2. Jaye-

    I have been getting your posts for a while now, and this one made me laugh! Half the time, I have no idea of wha tyou are talking about (center paragraph blocks–huh?) but it doesn’t matter. I have had a very bad 16 hours (my boss informed me that he needed to cut my pay by 25%) and this is the first thing that put a smile on my face since then.

    If I ever get my wish to not be gainfully employed, but still be able to live, I may be sending you some of the stories I have written for your editing, etc.

    Thank you again for the laugh!

    Wanda

    Date: Wed, 29 May 2013 14:36:45 +0000 To: wandakather@hotmail.com

  3. Oh, heck, and this is for an author you loved, that was an auto-buy. If publishers can’t please a true fan, they certainly can’t please a casual reader. That poor author is going to lose sales and have no idea why.

    It stinks when big publishers can’t be arsed to properly format a book. It stinks even more when they bat around words like “unprofessional” to describe indie books, even when those books are better formatted than theirs.

    • Readers deserve better and writers deserve better. ESPECIALLY when it is relatively easy to redo an ebook and repub it. I get making mistakes. Do it myself. And some mistakes are tough to find–hence having to go through nutrolls to make sure the files work on multiple devices. You find them, you fix them. But what I’m seeing is just plain shoddy work. They aren’t mistakes, they’re carelessness. Today is a day I just can’t take it.

  4. LOL. It definitely sounds like you’ve hit the ceiling on something. However, I have to say that the justify text is a personal preference issue. I emailed B&N when I couldn’t get a book to NOT fully justify because whatever they’d done had set it in stone and I couldn’t make it left justify like the Nook app on my phone allowed at the time. I thought it was a bug in the software. Turns out it was a formatted ebook that had forced full justification. This was before I started publishing so I had no clue. I hate justified text in ebooks. 🙂

    • I’ll grant your preference, TLE. Truthfully, I’ve read some ebooks that did not have justified text, but the overall design was such that it didn’t bother me much. I won’t kick a book for that alone. But pile on the other nonsense…?

  5. Oh, Angry Robot Books. Those people drive me nuts. They have some writers I love to read, but most of their ebooks look like total crap. The weird thing is, once or twice, I’ve gotten a really nice looking one from them.

    • I love their authors, hate their ebooks. What’s really frustrating is that their print books are fabulous. Right now, ARB is vying for #1 on the shit list, right next to Harper Collins.

    • Hi James, that’s good advice for someone who needs to DIY but doesn’t have time to delve deeply into learning how to format. First priority should be a readable, working ebook. Plain vanilla is a safe way to do that.

      Ereading devices can do some astonishing things and do them well. Tapping into their capabilities takes a lot of learning and experimentation.

  6. So, Jaye… please, don’t hold back. Tell us how you really feel.

    I frankly agree with you 110%. Do these people not look at their e-books before releasing them? They’d sure as hell look at printer galleys! Are they afraid of the e-book format?

    I keep thinking about that one fanficish book I shared snippets of with you. I’d thought it was the ultimate in formatting trainwrecks, but the book you’ve described seemed to have taken its place.

    They’ve got the Darwin Award for folks who contribute to the gene pool by removing themselves from it; what, I wonder, would be the e-book equivalent? 😉

    (It also makes me shudder to think what you thought of my formatting attempt. 🙂 )

    • Hi Jon,
      YOUR formatting is graceful and attractive and best of all, you took the time to make sure the Kindle book worked. As we both know, the damned devices contain, if not landmines, then potholes that can trip up formatters.

      The major problems with the book in question were the design choices the formatter made. Ebooks are not the same as print, but the same design principles apply. Formatters have to learn to work within the constricts of the devices and be aware of the user preference controls and how they work. The most useful thing any formatter can do is to actually do a lot of reading on a device. It’s the only way to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I thought I was the only one who hated those tiny paragraph indents! Readability on an e-reader is very different to readability in a paperback. Could I add that loooooong paragraphs are awful on the eyes as well? Sometimes a paragraph just has to be long, but honestly, it’s rare that a long paragraph cannot be split. I know this point is more to do with the author than whoever formats the e-book, but it’s something I’ve discovered in my own work, and it does make a difference. Well said!

  8. Jaye, PLEASE start an award – for great formatting, and a certificate for competent (ie, transparent and/or basically non-irritating) formatting.

    I’d buy a book ‘certified by Jaye.’

    Oh, and I think you should set up an eternal income stream by sending an email to people – with your fee list – who ‘publish’ unformatted stuff.

    I always recommend you when I decline to buy a book and the author seems nice enough to listen to feedback.

    • Thanks, ABE, I have thought about formatting awards.

      If I have an indie book with formatting issues, I will email the writer and let them know. (People have returned the favor for me–I made a lot of mistakes when I was first learning how to do this and I’ve made some friends that way. 😀 I still make mistakes, darn it.) Every single writer I’ve contacted has been receptive. Bigger publishers ignore me. That’s especially frustrating since trad pub ebooks tend to be more expensive.

      But there’s no way I’m soliciting work. I’m already slammed. I have thought about running some specials, though, on file clean ups and Word formats for those on super tight budgets. Nothing fancy, but at least their ebooks will work.

  9. By the way, I just discovered why so many of legacy publishing’s ebooks are done poorly. Most of the big publishers outsource all of the “easy” stuff AND they don’t do any quality control. I think outsourcing to India and other overseas places could work, but not if you never check the work. Of course, the bigger the publisher, the more incentive they have to make crappy ebooks because they need to sell print books. Are crappy legacy ebooks a bug or a feature of their system? I’m not sure.

    • I’m going to call it what it is, William–contempt. Contempt for the writer, and contempt for readers. Some of the big publishers get it. Off the top of my head, I can think of two: St. Martin’s puts out nice ebooks and Orbit puts out nice ebooks. I feel confidant with those publishers that just as much as care was put into formatting and design as they do for their print editions. But the rest are all a risk. A lot of mid-sized and small publishers are pretty bad, too. I suspect they snag some intern or low level assistant who happens to be a relatively computer proficient and tells them to whip out ebooks.

      I’m not putting it up with it anymore.

  10. Heh. I agree ALMOST completely. There is one thing that MAY or may NOT be pertinent here, but nowhere else, and that’s the issue of justification.

    It may be pertinent here IF you were reading on Kindle because Kindle justifies everything by default, and so in order for it to be ragged-right, it would have had to have been deliberately coded that way.

    However, in the other formats (e.g., EPUB), forcing justification angers some readers the way you are angered over the ragged-right. Most ebook reading software is coded so that the user can select his own settings to some granularity. One of those is justification. If justification is not specified, then the reader can do what he wants. If it is specified, then you’ll piss off half the people.

    There’s a reason, as @James F. Brown notes above, that we keep ebooks as vanilla as possible, and that is to allow the end user as much freedom in his reading preferences as possible.

  11. Good point, Moriah. I do my best to NOT interfere with user preference controls. Easy for me, since I have different models of Kindles on which to test the ebooks. Not so easy with all the other ereaders in existence. I’d love it if someone with multiple types of Nooks would do a guest post about how the user controls on the Nooks work, and what might cause the ebooks to break.

  12. “Nook books” are EPUB files with some asinine DRM applied to it. So let’s talk about EPUB, since most of the rest of the world uses that format with any number of reading apps (I use Bluefire Reader) (because Amazon Kindle is not precisely the most worldwide thing ever).

    So, IMO/E (is this where I show my street cred? I do ebook formatting for a living) the Nook itself is not, relatively speaking, a huge part of the market, but it doesn’t matter. Keeping things vanilla allows for all apps/devices, and so the limitation is ONLY your device/app.

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