Ebooks. They are beginning to scare the dickens out of publishers and book stores. Librarians are biting their nails. What is going to happen to books – real books? The kind with stiff covers that you hold in your hands, the kind which require you to turn the pages. The kind that take up shelf space in your house and have to be dusted. The kind which harbour silverfish that blink and slither out when you take down a book that hasn’t been touched for months or years.
I have spent the last week revising and reformatting the writing manual I wrote two decades ago, so that I could publish it as an ebook. The manual was out of date, and a bit creaky here and there. It mentioned pens and paper and tape-recorders and sticky tape, and barely acknowledged the existence of the personal computer. There was advice that was no longer relevant, and there were also, shame on me, typos. So I read the formatting guidelines from smashwords.com and set about bringing the manual into the 21st century.
My eyes glazed over chasing up the spelling mistakes. I went cross-eyed sorting out the curly quotes, the straight quotes, the single and the double quotes, and trying to maintain consistency. Removing inappropriate material sometimes meant that the sense went with it, and I had to rewrite whole passages. Deleted text boxes and page numbers – can’t have those when ebooks are read on so many different gadgets including phones. Hyphens – so old-fashioned – poxed the text and had to be grubbed out. Took out the screamers (exclamation marks) – not one of my regular guilty habits but there were one or two just the same. The patient friend who helped to proof-read found more faults. We sometimes bickered about them but arrived at a consensus.
That wasn’t however the end of it. While reading through one more time before uploading to smashwords.com I kept finding things I wanted to change, including the beginning of chapter three. At last, I was done. I designed a cover and pressed the upload button. But when my patient friend inspected the product on screen for the world to see, there, near the beginning of chapter three, was a bleeping “b;ank”.