Back in my traditional publishing days it was always a big cause for celebration whenever a writer got a hardcover deal (I never got one). It was a sign that the writer was moving up, that the publishers took her more seriously, and that the book itself was important. Bigger price tag, more room on the shelf, and readers who not only read, but collected. It was a Big Deal.
Or was it? Words is words and stories is stories whether they are bound in cardboard or paper. Right? What real difference does it make when a mass market paperback reads the same as a hardcover?
I don’t know about the rest of you, but it is a Big Deal. There is an aesthetic beauty to a well made hardcover book. From the binding itself, to its weightiness, to the extra care taken in typography and layout. It is that “experience” I’ve talked about before. How the look and “feel” of a book can affect how readers experience the text.
You can make a strong argument for “words is words” and the format doesn’t matter. But it’s not an argument that works with me. For instance, I’ve produced a lot of manuscripts. I have read a lot of manuscripts from others. When I am reading a manuscript it makes no difference how good the story is, the reading experience is Work. My inner editor flips to ON and there is no way to turn it off. If I want to read for pleasure, which means getting sucked into the story-world and engaged with the characters, I want a book–in some form–and not a manuscript.
I’m strongly affected by how my ebooks look, too. While getting this post ready I searched through my Kindle for examples and realized I have very few poorly formatted ebooks and not many serviceable-but-plain ebooks either. It’s because I download samples before I buy. If the sample doesn’t appeal to me visually, I probably won’t buy the book. Here’s one I did buy because I happen to like the author’s stories very much, but I absolutely hate the formatting.
The problem with this format is that the start of the book looks exactly the same as the rest of the book. Every time I Go To the beginning, this is where I land, then it’s swipe, swipe, click click, trying to figure out where the real beginning is. Even though I enjoyed the story, the lack of visual clues and the text-only formatting bugged me.
Contrast that sample with this one:
Any questions that this is the beginning? Turns out this ebook is actually ‘broken’ so I was forced to read it in ugly font and couldn’t change the line spacing, but despite that the formatter made a real effort to make the book look interesting.
The next example is from an ebook that truly did it right, on every level.
Contrast that with an example from a sample that I did not buy.
Not only is this ebook badly broken–none of the user features work–but the layout looks exactly like a manuscript. In fact, I suspect the person who formatted this mess took a Word document with manuscript formatting and ran it through MobiPocket.
My mother was never one for good advice, but one thing she said stuck: “Nobody is going to care more about you than you care about yourself.” That applies to books, too–print or digital.
Go back to hardcover versus mass market paperback. The format proclaimed the hardcover as the better book. The more important book. Readers might not articulate it, or even consciously realize it, but they trust the hardcover more. The fact that a publisher cared enough about the book to produce it as a hardcover automatically made it ‘better.” This is perception, not reality. We are talking about taste where perception matters very much and reality takes a back seat.
One reality, reading devices are getting better. I’ve started using color in my formats. Why? Because it’s fun and it’s visually interesting and because it makes the books look fabulous on a tablet.
Because I’m too much of a derp de derp to figure out how to take screenshots off my Kindle Fire, you’ll have to take my word for it. The above example has a hot pink header. It looks fabulous on the Fire.
Now, does your ebook have to be all fancy pants, tarted up like it’s heading to the hottest club in town? Of course not. Different styles for different books. Take a look at the following example. Simple, elegant, but serious to match the tone of the book.
As reading devices improve, readers will grow increasingly demanding about the quality of ebooks. Not only will they expect (and they should!) that the ebooks work properly on their devices, but they’ll start expecting the ebooks to look better, too.
Writers need to ask themselves: Do they want their work perceived as a “cheapie throwaway” or is it “hardcover worthy?” The more YOU care, the more others will care in response.
What about the rest of you? How much does style matter to you?