Is Good Enough, Good Enough?

A while back Darling Daughter #1 and I went to a restaurant that had just opened in our neighborhood. It’s part of a big chain (Rhymes with Billy’s) and our expectations weren’t high, but what the hell, we might be surprised. As per corporate policy regarding female diners we were seated way back in a dark corner and our server, also per corporate policy, treated us like shit (this is based on hard data proving that female diners do not tip well, so might as well treat them like shit from the get-go because you know, they don’t tip well). The server failed to bring my cheese toast. I asked her for it, she gave me a blank look. I asked again, she sighed–I must have been keeping her away from texting “Wurk sux” on her cell phone or something–and she finally returned twenty minutes later with a plate of two charcoaled pieces of toast. I asked her, “Would you eat this?” Another blank look, a slight shrug, and she wandered away to ponder if she’d put in enough hours to qualify for unemployment compensation.

Needless to say, I haven’t been back to a Rhymes with Billy’s restaurant since. I never will eat there again. Neither will DD1. If friends or family ask for a recommendation, part of my response will include, “Just make sure you never go to Rhymes with Billy’s.”

The irony is, this chain of restaurants spends millions of dollars advertising on television. If they’d put those millions of dollars into training employees and maybe printing a sign that says, I dunno, DO NOT SERVE BURNT TOAST TO CUSTOMERS, they wouldn’t have to advertise.

What does this have to do with ebooks? Plenty if you think about it.

This week Mark Coker wrote an article for the How to Successfully Self-Publish site: “Amazon Is Playing Indie Authors Like Pawns,” says Smashwords founder, Mark Coker.” The main point Coker makes is a good one. Writers should not limit their market to Amazon. (My feeling about KDP Select is that exclusivity is a good idea for some books, but not for others, so writers should do their marketing research, and no I don’t want to discuss it right now, so take any conversations about it elsewhere, m’kay?) Coker unfortunately misses another big point, namely that the ebooks his Meatgrinder produces are burnt toast. When a writer jams a Word file through Smashwords, the very best result they can hope for is a generic, bland looking block of text. Try anything visually interesting and the ebook will break or wobble. (This writer, me, refuses to use Smashwords anymore because ebooks generated with Word offend my sensibilities)

It’s good enough for some folks (the bland, generic part, not the wobbly or broken part).

It’s not good enough for me.

Bland and generic ebooks are born of the same attitude and self-fulfilling prophecy that many restaurant servers have about women. Everyone knows women don’t tip, so it’s okay to treat them like shit, and they should shut up and be grateful they’re even allowed inside the restaurant. Too many writers and publishers seem to have the same attitude about ebook readers. The cheap bastids don’t care about real books, so it’s okay to give them crappy looking ebooks. They should shut up about quality and presentation and be falling-down-on-their-knees grateful to have anything at all to read on their Kindles and Nooks and high-tech toaster ovens in the first place.

Yet the same publishers putting out those lousy looking ebooks are spending a lot of time and effort ADVERTISING and MARKETING and endlessly tweeting and facebook spamming BUY MY BOOK!

Sorry, folks. The book, the story, the writing, that’s the meal in this scenario. Presentation matters. If you don’t care how it looks, how it feels, neither will your customers. At best they won’t give your next book a shot. At worst they’ll tell their friends, “Oh that one? Sucks. Don’t bother.” (There are entire publishing houses from whom I will not purchase ebooks–no matter what the price and no matter who wrote the book–because their ebook formatting sucks rocks, and yes, I do tell friends to not bother)

This is new territory for everybody. Mistakes will be made. Ebook producers are still learning. Right now many consumers are still in the delighting in their devices stage and not being terribly picky about content. ‘Ware, though, to the publisher who blithely believes consumers will happily keep picking up the tab for “good enough.” Once that device-delight wears off, consumers will not be satisfied with a dark corner and burnt toast.

I told you before and I will tell you again why I am spending so much time and energy on learning how to properly format and design ebooks. It’s because I love books and I think ebooks are real books and I truly believe ebooks can be as beautiful in their own way as printed material.

I don’t accept “good enough.” If you really care about your books, you won’t either.