Monday 24 September 2018

Traditionally Published E-Books Are Sometimes So Bad

I'm reading The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. It's the second instalment of The Strain trilogy.

I'm really enjoying the book, but I'm reminded of something I heard David Gaughran say in a video once. In it, he asked a question: as an indie author, what's the first thing we do after uploading a book to a retailer?

The answer is pretty obvious. We download a copy for ourselves so that we can check that it's formatted correctly. It's the very least we do.

Traditional publishers, though, often don't even bother with that simple step.

And that's the problem with this book. The story is enthralling, and the world is expertly detailed, but the formatting is terrible. I'm reading the one published by HarperCollins UK, which I bought from Google Play. A couple of niggly things include missing quotation marks and italics, and the fact that accented characters (like the French é) are garbled, but that's not my biggest problem....

A linked Table of Contents is, in my opinion, critical for an e-book, even in fiction. Without one, you can usually tell how far you are in the book overall, but you can't tell how far you are in any given chapter, or sometimes even how many chapters you have left. What's worse, though, than the complete absence of a linked Table of Contents, is a broken one.

And boy, is this book's TOC broken. Firstly, only every tenth chapter or so actually appears in the table (and there's no discernible pattern as to which ones those are), but Google Play reckons the book is only fifteen pages long! Oh, it's plenty more than fifteen pages, because it takes a week to read a single one of them. Consequently, I have no idea how close to the end of the book I am after two weeks of reading, and I can't update my Goodreads progress, either.

Now you might say that this is Google Play's fault, rather than the publisher's. Google must've messed up the formatting and page numbering, you say. Fair enough, but there are millions of e-books available on the Google Play store, all with perfectly fine page numberings and Tables of Contents.

Google could've messed up the formatting because the publisher did something particular with this book's epub file, or it could just have been a glitch.

If whoever uploaded the book had bothered to simply download it from the store and check, they would've identified and fixed the problem in minutes.

This also goes to prove another commonly spouted adage by indie publishers: nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to care as much about your book as you do. And why should they? They're probably making bucketloads of money off the print version of that book. Publishing the e-book is simply an afterthought.

People often complain about the poor quality of self-published books. They may be badly formatted or poorly edited, it's true. But when that happens to an indie book, it's often down to (unfortunately) lack of time or finances on the author's part. Not that that's an excuse, it's just the way it is.

There is, however, no excuse for a massive publisher like HaperCollins UK, with their near infinite resources, and the pitifully low royalties they pay their authors, to not do the legwork in making sure their product is as polished as it can possibly be. It comes down to pure apathy and laziness.

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