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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Writing Wibbles

The Pickups and Pestilence launch party is over, the prizes have been handed out… and White Pickups is still 99¢. I think I’ll wait for the holiday weekend to finish before resetting the price. If you’ve been sitting on the fence, you still have a few more days to get it at a discount!

I’ve finally begun the post-beta phase for Water and Chaos. The final third of the title describes the situation pretty well… maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but there’s a fair amount of work to be done. One of the beta readers went in deep, and found a lot of things that the editor would have caught… but the tighter everything is before edit time, the quicker that should get turned around!

Formatting eBooks has suddenly become a hot topic in the last week or so—it’s shown up both in a Goodreads forum I frequent, and in my Twitter feed. Strange, how all this is coming together all at once… I’m working on a “Best Practices” document for work, right after diving in and producing optimized files for Pickups and Pestilence. I thought I’d share the beginnings of some general principles for setting up eBooks here. Be warned: I do get somewhat dogmatic about this stuff. Most of you who read this blog are younger than I am, and you guys are supposed to be the generation that “gets” computers. ;-) Just sprinkle IMO, IMHO, or IMNSHO as needed.

So… what I call the First Principle of formatting eBooks, is widely known in programming circles as the Principle of Least Surprise, or the Principle of Least Astonishment. When producing eBooks, this simply means Respect the defaults. All of them. People expect to be able to set their font, type size, spacing, and so on, in their eBook readers. You need a very good reason to override that expectation—children’s books and comic books are two good examples. Fortunately, this makes your job easier, too—your CSS (styles) is shorter and easier to maintain.

This leads to the second principle: KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly!). A work of fiction isn’t a complex technical document, and I’ve formatted many of those in my day job. You have paragraphs of body text, section breaks, chapter titles. Plus a few special things you’ll do in the title page, and various highlighting in the body text. Each of these gets a “class” name. You should have a dozen or less, all told, including the classes used only on the title page. The other part of KISS is to eliminate anything that isn’t absolutely required to format your book.

More to come later. Lots of eyeball-melting details.


  1. Sounds brilliant. I'm intrigued that a book typically takes a dozen styles or less including the title page text -- that makes sense when I think of a typical novel's formatting, but I thought there would be some "gotchas" in there. I guess I'll have to wait for the next instalment.

    I may have to show this post around at the day job re: the Principle and KISS. Usually I get told, "Oh you, you're so opinionated" as if I make up this stuff. Or that it doesn't make any sense on its own.

  2. I love deep betas. They tend to be the most observant and find the most structural issues as well. I cherish them.

    I agree with your KISS-principle on e-book design. If it doesn't improve functionality, the deviation could well detract.

  3. Here's to deep betas! Formatting it all goes over my head, I leave that to the husband ^_^

  4. Hiya Larry,

    All of the formatting is over my head also. For some reason I thought it would be easy. Like get any word processing program, pick the font and then start writing. I know nothing is that easy, but from the sounds of it it sounds very difficult.

    Hope you're having a good day.


  5. The more complicated something is, the more it reflects the needs and desires of the producer, not the consumer. If those align, great. If not, it's a disaster.

    Also, it's the fancy stuff that breaks first.

  6. Morning all!

    Katherine, there might be occasional add-ons—like in your #FridayFlash last week—where special formatting conveys part of the story. Feel free to show it around—if it gets someone to re-think something they've made overly complicated, it's a win.

    John, there were definitely some issues that needed addressing. I don't know if I got lucky with this round, or have been lucky up to now (i.e. nothing needing serious work before), but there it is. I was at least vaguely aware that things needed fixing, but couldn't see how to do it until someone else pointed out their presence.

    Helen, here's to you! ;-)

    FM, the formatting part is easy. Or should be. My co-op partner was complaining last night about how the formatting is getting away from her on her current book. No matter, I'll do some script-fu and clean it up nice and pretty. :-D

    Tony, definitely. Not to mention that it increases the size of the finished product and (for 70% royalty Kindle books) cuts into your royalties. If you plan to sell thousands, pennies per book adds up quick!


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