Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Reviewer Rant - Electronic Advance Reading Copies (eARC)

This post may come off as a pedantic rant with an air of entitlement.

As an SFF book reviewer/blogger, I wasn’t sure whether or not I should write about this issue. However, I’ve communicated with a few of my peers in the SFF reviewing community about the issue and I know I’m not the only person to be frustrated by this position/situation.

Badly formatted electronic advance reader copies (eARCs).

We book reviewers are accustomed to ARCs being formatted differently than the final book, but this usually comes down to a generic cover and lower paper quality used in the manufacture of the ARC. For the most part (in my experience), nearly every physical Advance Reader Copy I’ve received passes snuff as a better than decent readable copy. In other words, aside from the often boilerplate cover, the book could very easily rest on a bookstore’s bookshelf. To the strongest extreme, the ARC I was sent for Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings looked better from a finished standpoint than some published books I own.

Electronic Advance Reader Copies, well, that’s a different kettle of fish. To put it mildly, formatting on the files for some of these books is not up to the same level as many physical ARCs I’ve read and received. This should be a simple thing, to just to layout the text in a readable file, right? Not so. I realize I spent a decent portion of my career proofreading, formatting, and line editing text so my eye for such things may be more sensitive than most. Or to use one word, you might say I can be pedantic. However, for a decent number of eARCs I’ve received, the text formatting looks like a seven year old got a hold of the file and formatted the text like a serial killer’s ransom note. eARCs like this have paragraphs broken at irregular intervals, letters in the middle of words are capitalized, while other instances proper names or the first word of a sentence are not capitalized. I’ve got more than one electronic ARC wherein the formatting looks something like the text below, which I’ve pulled from my Derek Jeter post on Monday:

I have been a fan of the New York Yankees my entire 

life, I may 
have been three yEars old when my paRents took me to my first 
game and
I recall going to 
during a 
very rainy day as one of my first bASeball memories 
and memories overall. if I was tHrEe years old, then that puts 
my first Yankees game in 1978, when they were in the midst of their second Championship season in a row. 
it was a loNg time before they would return to the 
and win it in 1996, the intervening years were not that great, to put it mildly. there were some highlights, for sure. dave righetti’s no-hitter against the Boston reD sOx

If publishers want reviewers to read their eARCS, then the publishers need to make the product they are offering to us not give rise to migraine headaches due to the formatting. What is surprising is that a recent eARC I read (or tried to read) was from the publisher whose parent company makes the leading eBook device. I think this specific book may have been a one-time blip because other eARCs I have from this publisher are just fine. But other publishers, a couple of them with a significant place in the SFF market, have the formatting problem I’ve highlighted on multiple books.

When publishers make this awful, painful formatting their feature rather than a blip on the radar, my decision on which book to read becomes all the easier. I won’t request eARCs or read books from the publisher in electronic format any longer when multiple files I’ve had are that painful for me to read.

I won’t go into too much of a side rant about reading PDFs on my kindle except to say that I have to zoom into every single page in order to read the file. So no more PDF eARCs for me.

I realize I might be doing a disservice to the author by using the file formatting as one of my criteria to eliminate their book from my reading queue. In the end, though isn’t it incumbent on the publisher to make that connection between author and reader as few barriers as possible?

With that negativity pointed out, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, Angry Robot Books as a publisher whose eARCs are usually the best formatted and most readable files I get as a reviewer.

Any other reviewer/bloggers experience this “ransom note format” issue and if so, have you contacted the publisher or gone the passive aggressive route I’ve so glibly outlined above?


Paul Weimer said...

I won't read PDFs on my kindle for this very reason. They come off horribly

RobB said...

Have you informed the publisher who wanted to supply the PDF? In the past, I've personally told the publisher I prefer non PDF files.

Paul Weimer said...

I won't read PDFs on my kindle for this very reason. They come off horribly

Bob said...

Yes, PDFs are the bane of the reviewer's existence. There are a small few that are formatted properly, and which convert nicely in a program like Calibre. Most of then, though, are formatted for print, which means you either zoom endlessly or get dropped characters, headers, footers, and page numbers dispersed throughout the text.

I've rejected more than a few eARCs because of formatting, and left notes as to that on NetGalley or Edelweiss.