Adventures In Self-Publishing: Making ereader Navigation Easier For Readers

It started with a head’s up post from PG over on The Passive Voice blog leading to dbasch’s blog where he talks about how Amazon has drastically changed the way he reads book. (very interesting post, though I disagree vehemently with his justification for piracy. Theft is theft, folks, no matter how badly you want something.) Anyhow, at PG’s blog I left a comment about how the Kindle and Amazon has turned me from a voracious reader into an outright glutton. I also made an off the cuff comment about Tables of Contents:

My biggest weakness is short fiction. .99 cent stories are better than chocolate. I am falling in love with short stories all over again and discovering a lot of really good writers to boot. My only gripe is that I wish authors of collections would do a better job across the board of clickable Tables of Contents. There is also plenty of room for a short description of the stories along with the title to help those of us with minds like steel colanders to find a favorite again.

To my surprise quite a few people chimed in about the subject, which was actually kind of off topic, so I thought I’d address it here.

If you own an ereader you’ve probably noticed that navigating an ebook isn’t as easy as paging through a printed book. Sure, there’s a search function and on a Kindle you can make notes and leave bookmarks. I’m actually learning how to use those nifty functions. What often happens is this. I’m reading along, engrossed in a story, finish it, set it aside, then later realize I want to share something with someone. Or there was an interesting passage or quote I would like to copy or post in a blog or reference in a review. That’s when I have to use my memory (which is fabulous when it comes to useless facts and trivia, worthless for dates, names and titles).

Here’s how it works with a printed book. Can’t recall the title, but know it’s a red book–oh yeah, that one! Loved it. And the passage was in the last third of the book, near the beginning of the chapter. Flip flip flip. Found it.

Here’s how it works on my Kindle. Okay, stuff is organized by categories. It’s a novel. Fantasy… Okay, is that the one? Right. That’s it. The desired quote is somewhere around the middle of the book. No bookmark, damn it. Page, page, page ad nauseum yawn page page. What was that quote? Didn’t it have an unusual word in it? It might have, but what was it? Shit. Page page page. GO TO: Chapter Fifteen. Ah ha, middle of the book, and I remember this scene. Go back a few pages. Page page page. Damn it! Why didn’t I remember to use the bookmark! Ah ha! There is it. Found it at last.

It gets even harder when it’s a short story collection or an anthology. Some time might pass before I want to reread a story or share it with a friend or family member. Then I have to remember which collection it was in and then find the story again. That can take a while.

I don’t expect authors to accommodate my flaky memory. I’m working on making a Kindle bookshelf to hang on my wall (color printer? Should I invest in a color laser printer? Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely… I digress). There is, however, one thing authors can do that would add a bit of extra value to their ebooks and all it would cost would be a little time.

A Table of Contents that makes navigating the book easier. That means clickable links.

What I know for a fact is that if you use Word, clickable links are very easy to create. The Smashwords formatting guide (Smashwords Style Guide, free to download from Amazon) gives easy to follow instructions for doing it. Then when you upload your book to Smashwords, it mostly works though it might take some hair-pulling and tweaking as it goes through the Meatgrinder. If you use Word and convert using MobiPocket for Amazon, the internal links convert pretty well, too. I’m sure other word processing programs and HTML have the same capabilities. It’s all doable and if a non-nerd like me can learn how to do it, so can you.

The great thing about DIY is that you can take advantage of the programs’ capabilities and you don’t have to worry about extra costs in your P&L. With that in mind, you can turn your Table of Contents into a truly useful navigation tool.

For novels: Go beyond Chapter 1; Chapter 2; etc. Go for chapter titles, too. I’ve always had mixed feelings about chapter titles or headings. They often struck me as silly little affectations. As a navigation tool, they can serve as memory prompts to readers. I might see: “Chapter 12–Where our intrepid hero learns the real truth about his twin.” I can click the link and easily find that cool factoid about DNA or that funny bit of dialogue to quote in a review.

For short story collections: Again, go beyond story titles. Put a log line or even a short blurb about each story in the Table of Contents. Than I, Ms Holey Memory, can spot right off the story I want to read to the old man or push on a friend or talk about in a blog post.

For multi-author anthologies or short story collections: You can have two Table of Contents. Easy peasy. At the front, do a regular ToC. At the end, in the author bios, you can also link back to the individual stories.

create link from ToC——->STORY TITLE

create link from author bio—–>AUTHOR NAME

A little bit of effort in making your book easier to navigate on an ereader can pay off big in reader appreciation. Anything you, the author, can do to make your work more memorable can pay off in future sales, too.