Bad Formatting

I’ve read a bunch of books now on my Kindle. I didn’t know if I’d get used a e-book reader. Apparently I have. I like how I have a huge range of books to choose from, whatever I need to fit whatever my mood may be. And I have it all in a single device.

This is not to say that I don’t still love a good book book, because I do. But the Kindle, ah, the Kindle! So lightweight, so full of books, so many of them free (you can find all the good classics on Amazon for free). And many of them correctly formatted.


One of the things you find once in a while is a badly formatted book. What do I mean? I mean that, as you’re cruising along, enjoying your purchase, suddenly you come to a bock of text that is tabbed wrong or inconsistently justified with the rest of the text. Then, BAM! you’re thrown out of the story and all you can focus on is how the  formatting is off.

(Or maybe it’s just me. But when I come across bad formatting, it drives me bonkers.)

Over the last year or two, I’ve been making my way slowly through Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan. It’s a sort of syrupy story, a kind of New England confectionery fiction. It reminds me of the kind of comfort food reading people turn to when they want to escape the real world, but not to a different world of intense peril. Sure, there’s conflict, there’s drama, but never so high-stakes that you actually ever worry about the characters. But at $0.99, it’s not a bad story.

The story behind Mill River Recluse is pretty interesting. You can read how it became so successful in this article in the Wall Street Journal online. This article is one of the reasons I bought the book. I wanted to see what self e-publishing looked like.

The goal here is not to bash Ms. Chan. For from it. She took matters into her own hands, self-pubbed, and found success. All of us self-pubbers should be so fortunate. However, one of the things I noticed in “Mill River Recluse” was that the formatting is inconsistent. So, since I noticed it, I thought I’d write a bit about it.

Primarily, the bad formatting centers around the tabs and indents. To illustrate an example, I’ll use this block of text from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal In Bohemia (sorry, I had to do this as a jpeg):


This is how you would normally expect to see the formatting. This is how the formatting is for most of the time in “Mill River Recluse”. But sometimes, it comes out like this:


So what’s the lesson here? The lesson I think is that, if you plan to self e-publish your work, then, once you have finished, proofed it, and formatted it, load it up into your Kindle and go through PAGE BY PAGE. Yeah, I know, a page by page review of formatting sounds like a sucky way to spend a Saturday. But not everything we do as writers is a joy. Carefully reviewing and re-reviewing the formatting will give your work a look of professionalism, which is an extra edge we all need. The added bonus is that you’ll keep your readers from getting tossed out of the story when they hit a block of bad formatting.

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