Posts Tagged ‘crash and burn’

Graphics Caution: Formatting eBooks

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

I was reading this book I’d been really enjoying and then, with no warning at all, the book crashed and burned in a big way. I was so annoyed I stopped reading — as in forever– that book, but I still had 20 minutes to go on the treadmill. I went through my Kindle and in a moment of vicious glee began to delete books that pissed me off. Well, I removed them from the device. It felt good. Really good.  I really think Amazon should have an “up in flames” option for when you remove a book you hated. There’d be a whoosh and then flames consuming the book….

Anyway, then I reached a book I hadn’t read yet, and it was like finding gold. Only, as it turned out, not. There were strange and odd language errors and then some careless ones and I started to feel sad.

I was reading in the Kindle app on the iPad. So far, I haven’t messed with any defaults, which means I read black text on a white background. The story opened with a chapter header like this:

White Background

White background

This is the default setting of a white background with black text. At first, I thought, hey, that’s kind of cool, plus it fits with the tone of the book. But then I wondered what would happen if the background were black with white text? Well, it looks like this:

heading on black background

Set to a black background

This is probably not the intended effect. The edginess is gone and now it just looks kind of lame.

And what if the background were sepia?

Sepia background

Sepia Background

Oh. Wow. That’s just. Ick.

I’m pretty sure that the rendering engine doesn’t have access to the reader/app settings so you couldn’t prevent these two unsightly results by swapping in a different color combination depending on the setting. I Googled to see if it was possible, but didn’t find anything after not looking all that hard. I expect the answer is no. That would likely end up being a security hole. (If you can look at the reader settings, you’re that much closer to changing them. Then again, I’m not the engineer. Maybe that’s OK.)

This is what a lot of writers don’t get; the user’s preferences can mess up your notions of how your eBook should look. (That, by the way, is a sly hint that perhaps a different notion is in order.) What’s more, those user preferences might rise to the level of need. Google quickly got me to a page where a user with macular degeneration noted that a very large font plus gold text on a black background made reading easiest.

Not to mention, this header is an image. It does not re-size up or down with the text. Therefore, it’s quite possible that a user will find that header image unreadable. They will not know this is the prologue. Or Chapter whatever because the information is contained in an image that is not available to them.

And that is why an image is a very poor choice for conveying textual information.

A more elegant solution to this issue is html and css. I’m pretty sure I stand by my earlier musings that gray might be an appropriate choice for something like this. You could put a css border around the header text and achieve a similar effect. I think.