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The Perfect eBook

Thiago Alves

Since I start using an eReader, I notice that not all eBooks are equals. Sometimes even eBooks with the same format and from the same editor have differences.

I know that some of these differences are a meter of taste and here I'll share what I think the perfect eBook should be.

Basics of Basics

As a user of Nook and later a Kindle the first and by far the most important feature on an eBook is compatibility!

Unfortunately, I don't see Amazon abandoning their proprietary format for, the almost standard, open format ePub. You can argue that the new Kindle Format (AZW3) is an ePub embedded in a zip file with Amazon compression, but that fact doesn't make my Nook simply read an AZW3 file, nor my Kindle to read an ePub.

With that in mind the first step for the perfect eBook is multiple versions of the book, and to be more precise we only need two different versions of it:

  • ePub
  • Mobi

Why I choose a Mobi file? Well, if I opt for the AZW3 format, old Kindles will not be able to read them, and any new Kindle will likely support the Mobi extension.

Formatting

Fonts

Here is the first point that I'm pretty sure a lot of people will disagree with me.

The first thing I did when I got my eReader was to choose the font type and size that most pleased me and, guess what, some books insist in change that!

I know that some eReaders give me the option to force the use of my font instead of the editor's choice, but some eReaders don't!

In my opinion, it is important to respect users' choice and, on the eBook world, forcing a font user didn't choose, is the first step to not have that.

Paragraph

Another personal taste, but I realized that when a book has an extra line between paragraphs, I can keep up with the reading better.

Also, an important thing is NOT to use justified text. Please, don't mess with letter spacing on my book!

Chapter

I see lots of books with badly defined chapters or even changing sections without any visual clue.

The perfect scenario is to have a page break, a numeration and a title for your chapter.

I know that there are books (e.g. The Da Vinci Code) that have short chapters and, in that case, I wouldn't consider those pieces of text "chapters." They're more "sub-sections" of a chapter, and they can be formatted that way.

The important thing is that the text separation (chapter, part, sections, whatever) needs to be well defined. I can't remember a paper book where there are no chapters represented, so why this shouldn't be the same for eBooks?

Add-Ons

First, let me define what I consider an "Add-On" for a book:

"Add-On" is anything that is not part of the book's story.

Even though, here are the ones I consider a must have.

Table of Content

Shocking, right? You would be surprised how many eBooks don't have a table of contents. And by "table of contents" I mean, TOC that can be recognized by my eReader as a TOC.

Some eBooks have a "chapter" as TOC, but when I try to use my eReader to navigate that book, the native TOC is completely empty!

Also, if your eBook has a TOC recognizable by the eReader, it doesn't make sense to have the same information duplicated on the book content!

Yes, I believe every single eBook should have a section dedicated to its copyright. This section should contain the editor, author, ISBN and any "technical" information relevant to the book. This section would also include the book's version (or edition), original title, etc.

I don't have a high opinion where this should live, but I believe it's fair to put it, before the story so the reader could see the copyright before starting the book.

Cover

Another jaw dropping here :)

Believe me, when you borrow eBooks from libraries or when you get public domain books they always have a crap cover, they almost look like a kid used Paint Brush to come up with some art to represent the book title, and that's it!

Compare those books with new releases from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and you'll see what I'm talking here.

Another thing to notice is; usually, an eBook includes a cover as the first page of the book. Like the TOC, I believe this is redundant! Some eReaders choose to show the cover before the book, and this makes me look to two different covers, one after the other.

So, a good cover and no replication of it on the first page!

Author's Information

I see this on very few books, but it's always nice to have the author's information after finishing a good story. I love to check other books by an author I like and also is nice to have some background information too.

For instance, when I read Eragon, I thought the book was OK, nothing more than that. But when I find out o 17 years old kid wrote it, it became way more interesting when I thought about the potential of this author. Don't need to say that this fact alone made me continue the saga :)

Appendix

Here is a feature that lives in a gray area, between an add-on and a story content. An appendix can contain many things, like a glossary, a name dictionary, places descriptions, maps, etc.

One of the best implementations of Appendix I saw so far is the X-Ray from Amazon. That is what I think an eBook should have. If you want to see the same thing in a paper book, then you can look to "The Lord of The Rings." Its last book contains a remarkable appendix with tons of extra information from book characters as well from characters merely mentioned in the story.

Conclusion

All these characteristics I mentioned here should be implemented on ALL eBooks regardless of story, editor or author. Of course that each book can have its identity like "initials," chapter separator images, illustration and so on, but the core of an eBook should be the same.

I have a personal goal to make my library conform to these definitions I came up here but, since my library has hundreds of books this might take a while, and I also wants to come up with an automatic process for all this before moving on.

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