How To Make Your Ebook Look Like It Was Published by the Big 5

quinn-snotSo a client tells me this morning that he wants to make sure readers can’t tell the difference between his book and one published by the Big 5.

This is easy.

  1. Hire somebody who uses InDesign (because it’s really big and expensive and therefore the best tool available). Make sure the editor in charge is totally dazzled by all the drop caps and floating text and other touches that look fabulous on iPads, but totally fall apart on eink readers. Render all user preference controls utterly useless, especially line spacing. Who needs line spacing anyway. Extra points if the ebook is littered with unreadable characters and question marks.
  2. Do not proofread the ebook. Don’t let anyone check that the chapters are in the right order. It doesn’t matter if a few chapters are missing altogether. Extra points if the ebook displays all your discretionary hyphens.
  3. Include no less than 10 screens worth of front matter (not including the Table of Contents) and make that copyright notice as hostile as possible.
  4. Author bios are optional, but three or four pages about the PUBLISHER are mandatory. And that damn well better be proofread and perfect or heads will roll!
  5. Don’t forget DRM.
  6. Slap on a $14.99 price tag.

Voila! Now nobody can tell the difference between your self-published ebook and one from Harper-Collins.

27 thoughts on “How To Make Your Ebook Look Like It Was Published by the Big 5

    • Yep. I just love “fixing” InDesign files. Takes less time to capture the text, clean it up and start over from scratch. Doing an ebook in InDesign is like flying an F15 fighter jet to the corner store to pick up a gallon of milk. Yeah, you’ll get there, but….

  1. Saw just the headline in my RSS feed and was thinking “but I don’t WANT to add typos and botched formatting.”

    (Which reminded me of a review ebook I got from a publisher, not the Big 5, who was re-releasing authors’ backlists. The book was fine, but the formatting was terrible, so botched that I considered writing about it. Fortunately, I checked the sample downloaded from Amazon and found they had corrected it. What I’m still puzzling over is, if they had the correct version, why not risk sending it to me so that I didn’t have to puzzle over a side issue. Or at least tell me, “this is a botched version so you can’t pirate it”?

    • There’s no excuse for sending out a poorly formatted ARC. I make them all the time, and I have a few little tricks to make it so they are unattractive to pirates. Reviewers are readers, too, and just as easily distracted and/or annoyed by poor formatting as anyone else. Shees.

      • Hi James,

        For digital ARCs, I lay a strip over the cover that says ADVANCE READING COPY, NOT FOR RESALE. Then on the title page I put a notice in a box about how this is an ARC and provided to reviewers for their use only and the book is not for resale. In the metadata I make the title “ADVANCE READING COPY Book Title.” Sometimes I put the notice in the back matter, too.

        Does this make them pirate-proof? No. But it does make the ebook unattractive to anyone who doesn’t believe he/she is a pirate.

    • Widdershins, whatever makes the client comfortable. There’s no such thing as 100% security with a digital file. But most people are honest (or relatively so). It’s a risk sending out ebooks for review, but compared to the price of print copies, it’s a worthy risk.

    • I don’t get paid enough to produce Big 5 quality ebooks, Jerry /snark/

      In all seriousness, my heart just breaks for the authors who have no control over the production of their ebooks. Readers don’t just balk at the high prices, they are balking at the poor quality of the high-priced product. The real shame of it is, ebooks are super-easy to update. It’s not like redoing a print run.

  2. Like bpeschel above, I read the headline and went, “Nah….” Then I read the whole post and went, “Oh, snap!”

    “May your book look like a HarperCollins book” should be the curse that writers put on those they dislike. You know, sort of like, “May you live in interesting times.”

  3. The snark is strong in this one.

    I hope you don’t mind – I just stole your idea for MY eARCs – modified a bit (I’m incapable of not putting my stamp on things, as you already know), it will go out on the review copies.

    Assuming I EVER get over the final editing.

  4. Don’t forget to thank your publisher profusely in the Acknowledgments like they were the second coming of Lord Buddha. Also, make sure you acknowledge the low-level employee who just finished an English undergrad you corresponded with briefly.

  5. Nice!

    To be fair, I do use InDesign to do my work. But not to create layouts! Instead, to strip out all the exact junk you’re talking about. All the formatting from the original print layout files, or Word files with no styles, and whatever other source files. Nothing is more powerful to me than INDD’s GREP search and other capabilities that help me get the cleanest possible text, from with I can then build my mobis or ePubs.

    • ID is not one of my favorite programs. I love the results I get, but I don’t like what I have to go through to get them. (Truly, I admire those folks who can use the program with ease and skill–reaching that point takes dedication.)

      For me, when it comes to file cleaning, nothing beats a text editor. It truly is WYSIWYG. If it’s not on the screen, it doesn’t exist. And I never have to worry about the program “helping” me. I can take the nastiest, gnarliest, most bloated Word file and clean it up in about ten minutes.

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