Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Have It My Way

Dashboard of the Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ned is thinking of getting a new vehicle and at dinner the other night, one of our friends talked about the new Ford Fusion dashboards.   Apparently the new Ford Fusion dashboard is highly configurable, allowing four different types of displays.   Users are pushing for the dashboards to be opensource so that people can customize the color and content of their dashboards such as this dashboard by Yakazi.   (Ned, of course, wants a weather app).

Burger King‘s famous slogan is “Have It Your Way”.   Starbucks has a promise that no matter what you want to drink, they’ll make it, even if it is not on the menu.    With iPhone software update 1.1.3, users were able to customize the order icons appeared on the home screen of the phone.   If everyone took a photo of their desktop and shared it, I would guess that no two desktop photos would look the same.   We are all snowflakes.    We all like things our own special way.

This is one area in which publishing needs to give way to the reader.   It used to be that a big part of publishing was designing the look and feel of a book.   Each book, in fact, would indicate what type of font was used and sometimes, it noted what type of paper was used (although I haven’t seen the latter reference in a long time).   When you talk to people in the business, they might say that “Twilight” was published beautifully and this would refer to the packaging, the look and feel of the book, along with how it was marketed and sold.

In the digital book world, though, readers want to have it their way.   They want to be able to choose their font, change the color of the background, font, and links.   They want to dictate how big the chapter headers are in relation to text.   They might even want to dictate whether the images appear on the right versus left side of the page.   As digital book platforms grow and more information may be available within the book, these features should be able to be turned off and on, at the user’s preference.

One of the biggest mistakes by publishers would be failing to utilize the great  panoply  of features that digital platforms can offer including allowing the reader to choose the way to interface with the novel.   In providing feature rich books to readers, publishers must remember that some readers will not want all the bells and whistles and that they will just want to read the text and only the text, in the way in which the reader best sees fit.

I see all the talk about enhanced books but this is like the publishing industry trying to fly before it can walk.   Get basic ebooks rights by providing us with well edited, cleanly formatted files that we, the readers, can manipulate in the way that best fits us.   Allow us the ability to control the way in which we interact with the text, instead of forcing your ideals upon us.   Suggesting that the text is best read in Georgia, 12 point font, with the light beige background and dark grey text is perfect but don’t require that by embedding your choice of fonts and colors.   Suggesting that the book is best cataloged as Author FName, Author LName in our ebook library is also perfectly fine but allow us to change that as well.    Give us a baseline description including the name of the major protagonists and the setting of the book right up front, but allow us to add our own notations in the way that suits us best.

Allowing readers to have it their way is a good way of making us believe that publishers care about the reader as much as they care about the reader’s money.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 06:06:45

    That makes eminent sense. I have poor eyesight, so I already change a book to my requirements, if I can, enlarging or reducing the print size, depending on which glasses I’m wearing, and sometimes stopping to look things up on the Net. Since I use a netbook or my ipaq to read, I can do that really easily.
    So yes, that would be nice if publishers did that, perhaps including little extras like fancy fonts or a bunch of illustrations. Always liked picture books, lol!

  2. Estara
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 06:45:44

    First of all, I’d be happy to have as good copy-editing and layout on any screen size as I have in the print books – which means supporting reflow when I change font size, acknowledging that some readers are smaller than others and making your book readable on any size reader (even if it doesn’t look pretty).

    Everything else is just nice but not necessary gravy for me.

    As long as I’m not able to write myself, I’ll buy books however I can get them ^^.

    Also @Lynne Connolly: Eyton! *squee*

  3. Maria Schneider
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 08:43:03

    Eloquently put.

    (As for the car dash, just tell me if the oil is okay, the gas is okay and how slow…I mean how fast, I’m going.)


  4. Shaheen
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 09:37:23

    I totally agree. Especially about the cataloging. I e-read on my pc, and I have very limited choice of how my library is displayed, either by title or author. I prefer author,but it’s very random – sometimes by first name, and sometimes by last name, and occasionally by some weird internal logic that I cannot fathom. So far I have not figured out a way to change this. It’s very frustrating when I want to re-read all the works by one author to have to chase up her works all over the place.

  5. Melissa
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 09:43:20

    Publishing can also use POD technology (like the Espresso Book Machine to provide a reader a customization choice, esp in the area of covers.

    It would also prove an interesting experiment, if a reader could choose a stylized cover (a la Twilight) versus the clinch, which would be more popular? For me, I might be intrigued to pick up a book and read the blurb because of a particularly… intriguing…. clinch cover, but would prefer to purchase a more sedate cover to carry about.

  6. Laura Kinsale
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 11:05:07

    This is one of the places where digital books are different from digital music.

    A book DOES read differently in different formats, fonts, etc. I’ve noticed this since I started writing on legal pads. The same book (mine) reads differently from the screen to a print-out on paper to a printed, bound galley to a book.

    I have found this to be true with the ebooks I’ve tried to read. The same book does not read the same in digital and print. I’m still not sure how much this has to do with the screen and how much to do with the format.

    I think it’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked. It is a part of the reality of ebooks. A free-for-all in the formats does have repercussions for the reader.

    There are professionals trained and experienced in typography who know that font, hierarchy and structure do make a difference in the reading experience.

    So I don’t disagree at all with Jane’s premise (in fact I use something called Readability to read this and other blogs) but I do think that yes, digital books should walk before they run, and walking in this case means figuring out how to create a typographic structure that works for various formats. Either by giving specific pre-formatted choices, or by somehow creating software that is sophisticated enough to do what a good typographer does in any format. I have no clue if it can be done, but it would be well worth the effort.

  7. DS
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 11:10:17

    I might get over my hatred of Ford (despised since 1979) enough to test drive the Fusion– Aside from the fact that my next car is going to be hybrid or equivalent in mpg, I’m really attracted to that leaf on the dashboard thing!

    And the selling point for eBooks for me was the ability to increase (and decrease)font size, because my vision tends to come and go. I’ve never been tempted to use the sepia background color though.

  8. Leigh Royals
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 11:50:50

    I have read e-books on my PC, but I much prefer them on my ereader. I have a no bells and no whistles, with the exception of font change. And I’m okay with that. I need it simple. I like, however, that should I change my mind, as women are wont to do, I can. It’s reassuring to know that I do have those options.

  9. Keishon
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 12:12:50

    Looking at another vehicle as well but it has to be a hybrid. The configurable dashboard is nice :-))))

    Edited: Meant to add that Kindle app annoys me. It doesn’t let me configure it my way at all. Sucks.

  10. Castiron
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 14:16:52

    That crashing sound you just heard was a thousand book designers having coronaries….

    But yes, absolutely. When I’m reading an ebook, I want to be able to change the font and colors to what’s easiest on my eyes. I’m happy to see what the designer thought it should look like, but if their idea of aesthetically cool is my idea of illegible, I want the power to change it. (Especially since I can’t easily browse the book in advance, or return it if I really can’t read it.)

    Melissa, theoretically POD can absolutely do that; in practice, I’m pretty sure Lightning Source would require you to set up the two versions with different covers as different ISBNs and charge two separate setup fees for them, which means most publishers would only do it for a few very popular books. I don’t know about other POD printers, though.

  11. Saranna DeWylde
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 19:29:31

    I love the idea! Just like you said, no one’s desk top is going to look exactly like someone else’s and these things are customized for our pleasure, so too should your reading experience.

    I’ve bought books based on the packaging. I found a copy of Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence bound in lavender leather. It’s on my bookshelf right now.

  12. Susan
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 23:35:34

    I’ve been trying to convince Mr to test drive the Fusion hybrid. He’s interested.

    @castiron, lol, I was thinking the same thing about book designers.

    Choose your own cover is a lovely thought, though I’m imagining paying for rights to more than one cover image, and paying a designer for more than one design and seeing the costs of making a book going up up up. :)

    Design is tough. For instance, font choice and choosing whether text should be justified or ragged right are deliberate choices by designers and I wonder if many readers would spend time making these customizations, then hating the reading experience and not realizing that their design choices impacted their enjoyment of reading the ebook.

    Today, my wants are small (and yet they seem so far away…): I want a file format that crosses platforms and devices, so people can read their book when they want, on any device they own, with well-formatted, error free, proof-read text.

  13. Carolyn Jewel
    Jan 25, 2010 @ 10:04:44

    Oh my yes. eBooks have a way to go before they’re solid just for basic reading. I have a couple of eBooks that are so poorly formatted they’re just unpleasant to read.

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