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The Battle Lines of Writing

I’ve been reading some blog posts lately about EBooks and how some of them look unprofessional. This can be caused by many reasons, from poor editing to poor formatting to just being a shoddy piece of work. As a writer, we hope the last reason is always somebody else’s fault and never our own, so let’s assume that what you and I write is top shelf material and move on.

Poor editing? It happens – especially if it’s self edited. It’s no indicator of your ability as an editor, it’s a simple fact that it’s exceptionally hard to self-edit. The best way to do it is to read it aloud, but even that has failings. For example, when reading to my kids at night I often reword the stories on the fly to make them sound better to me. The problem with that is I am still reading the story, so I see the missing information and still process it as context. My children don’t see that and miss out, thus the story is incomplete or confusing to them. Well that and my daughter has confided in her grandparents that sometimes daddy takes shortcuts when reading stories. Ah, children…

So the solution is obvious! Read the story into a recording device and play it back. I bet that sounds like a wonderful thing for every person out there! Who doesn’t want to listen to take the time to read aloud a story that you already wrote, as well as turn around and listen to your own voice reading it back? Yeah, that’s going to be a fail and we all know it. Or at least 999 out of 1000 of us know it. That one person might have the discipline to stick with it, but for the record I don’t know that guy or gal!

Next up is printing it out and reading it with a red pen handy. I’ve done this plenty of times and caught a lot of errors. The problem is there are still some left behind. It’s infuriating and unbelievable, but it happens. So do it a second time? Sure, if you can, but the odds of catching something on that second go-round is much worse.

Clearly the best option is another person. But to really spit-shine a story, you need multiple stages. Self-edit, then a second party for content and continuity, then a third party for line editing (grammatical mistakes and the sort), and finally I’d recommend having you go through it again yourself just to make sure nothing was missed. It’s time consuming and frustrating, but you only get one shot at a first impression, so why risk screwing it up?

Then there’s the bane of all writer’s in the EBook publishing world – formatting. Formatting the document for the EBook type isn’t that big of a deal. Sure, it can be a pain but if you start out keeping that format in mind it becomes a lot easier. No the problem is that no matter what your intentions and how hard you try to make it look perfect, it’s never going to convert properly that first time. If the average writer isn’t there by now, this particular problem is the one that will make you want to drink. Heavily.

The solution? Well, there’s no pretty one, it’s a case by case basis. The best bet is modifying it in HTML but that requires knowledge of said HTML. Sounds ugly and miserable, doesn’t it? Well, by the time a writer has gotten to this point they’ve realized that it’s not an easy process – and some of the hardest and most frustrating work has yet to begin (marketing).

As a reader, I’ve been amazed at some of the mistakes I’ve seen in EBooks – especially when I’ve also read a print version of the book. Having seen those mistakes I recognize that sometimes the error is in translation and I don’t let the errors bother me. I may be in the minority though, I’m not sure. I’d love to see more robust formatting and conversion tools and I’m sure we will see them in time. Until then, as a writer I remain frustrated and constantly whittling away at the little quirks that pop up, even if I can overlook them as a reader.

So there is no answer, just a constant battle against the evil Emperor Typographicus and his dark queen, Lady Grammaticus.

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