Last week I posted the first half of an interview with Guido Henkel, who did the interior formatting for my novel, The Ground Will Catch You. Here, as promised, is the second part.
Putting aside indie authors for a moment, do you think traditional publishers’ ebooks are up to standard, or is there more that could be done?
I am honestly shocked by the poor quality of some of the ebooks released by traditional publishers. I recently read a book from one of the Big Five publishers and they didn’t even have proper curly quotes or apostrophes. I mean, really? Can’t they afford to hire a formatter with the most basic understanding of digital typography?
It is a problem I see all too often, sadly. It may have something to do with the fact that these publishers would rather see ebooks go away, because the digital revolution has completely wiped out their modus operandi and business model. I would not be surprised to learn that they intentionally degrade ebooks to create the illusion that they are simply not up to par with print books – which is a lot of baloney, of course, particularly in the fiction genre.
I’ve also seen ebooks from traditional publishers that bleed over the edge. They use features that are not universally supported by devices, resulting in ebooks that look great on some but are absolutely broken on others. So, clearly, there is a lack of understanding about the technical side of ebook formatting.
Naturally, it could all be resolved if they took it a bit more seriously. Just like they spend money on professional book-layout specialists and book binders for print editions, they should begin to realise that it requires a certain set of skills to create quality ebooks, which comes at a price. As long as the illusion prevails that it is as simple as pressing a button, we will see shoddy ebook editions, even from major publishers.
Yes, it is clearly on the rise, and it gives me headaches. As I mentioned before, for one thing there are the technical problems, where every device manufacturer is brewing their own thing, not following specifications properly. The way to play video, for example, differs entirely from one device to another. The way to create fixed layout and comic books is altogether different on different devices. Even though standards for these implementations exist, they are all too often ignored by manufacturers, making it very hard to create any kind of interactive content.
In addition, interactive content often makes the assumption that all readers are automatically connected to the web, which I find is not the case. And even if it were true, I am not sure everyone is comfortable with having an ebook arbitrarily use up all the data bandwidth of their carrier plan. It quickly becomes as much an ethical question as one of feasibility. Interactivity for its own sake doesn’t do anyone any good.
To make matters worse, distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are using business models that are still stuck with the ‘ebooks are mostly novels’ kind of thinking. As long as they charge authors high delivery fees for ebooks, a lot of the cool features they built into the latest devices are virtually useless. I’ve had clients approach me with book projects where the delivery fee alone [due to the amount of data] would have exceeded $25 per sale. It shows how ambitious projects are simply not possible yet.
What are your ambitions for the next five years?
Typically, I take things one step at a time and decide on the spur of the moment. I am not someone who carefully lays out plans for the future. I learnt a long time ago that plans are useless unless you can properly control the conditions. Since we are not masters of our own fate, I take the cards that life deals me and see what is the best hand I can build with them.
Finally, I always like to ask – what great books have you read recently?
I haven’t read nearly as much of late as I would have liked, but one of the better books I’ve read recently was The End of Enemies by Grant Blackwood. I’m also reading Dragon’s Ring by Dave Freer, which I’m enjoying.
A big thank you to Guido for answering my questions. You can find out more about his work at guidohenkel.com. And I’ll say it one more time: if you’re as fussy as I am about the content and functionality of your ebook, he’s your man.