Eye On Life Magazine

Lifestyle * Literary

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Interview With Non-fiction Author - Lis Sowerbutts

Normally, I primarily review and interview poets and fiction authors, despite the fact that I buy more and read more non-fiction books.  With so many ebooks, self-published, and newly emerging small press books on the market – these are exciting times of what may turn out to be the best and the worst of book publishing both for authors and for readers. 

Transient

Recently, I read two non-fiction books by the same author, Lis Sowerbutts.  Both books were wonderful examples of the best of ebook publishing when it comes to a non-fiction reader experience.  The first book, titled:  Vacation Packing Guide:  Ditch the Vacation Packing List & Save Your Back, Time And Money (Non-Boring Travel Guides)  delivers in ways that many so-called travel guides fail to – with her common sense approach to the art and science of packing for your trip, so that you don’t end up frazzled and fatigued upon arrival to your destination.

The second book I found even more exciting, largely because the topic of book formatting is one that is constantly being battered around in Amazon.com reviews of all genres of books.  Lis Sowerbutts’ Kindle Non-fiction Formatting Guide: Solve Your Non-fiction Formatting Problems, offers real solutions to the struggles ebook authors are having in trying to understand complex formatting instructions.  

Transient

Sadly, despite best efforts and best intentions there is a glut of poorly formatted ebooks on the market – both non-fiction and fiction.  There is also a lot of information out there for would-be or already self-published (and small press published) authors when it comes to Kindle formatting – yet despite all that wonderful advice and how-to’s – there is mass confusion and horrendous mistakes when it comes to this learning curve in ebook publishing.  So therefore, I thought some words of advice from author Lis Sowerbutts is a much needed breath of fresh air.

Interview With Non-Fiction Author -- Lis Sowerbutts

Author Lis Sowerbutts © 2012

Author Lis Sowerbutts © 2012

JW:  Let’s start with your guide to formatting for Kindle.  One of the things that I like about your Kindle Non-Fiction Guide is, unlike most other books it is focused on non-fiction.  Was it a moment of pure inspiration to write this book or a moment of frustration?

LS: Well, I've always heard you should write the book you want to read, and after days of frustration with sorting out formatting for one of my travel books, I really, really wanted to read the book I ended up writing - 'Kindle Nonfiction Formatting Guide'! 

JW:  Another big plus for me, was that despite a clear level of expertise with computers you wrote this book so that even those with limited experience and understanding, could follow in a step-by-step manner and experience success.  A lot of times when I’ve worked with technical minded individuals like you, they don’t always get that those of us without this gift “either you’ve got it or you don’t” – need very plain non-technical explanations.  Your straight forward approach and plain talking made this book much easier to read than other so-called Kindle guides, in my opinion.  It was a huge eye opener for me to think outside the computer user norm and consider giving up Microsoft Word for formatting.  Why should authors care more about formatting and why isn’t using Word always the best choice? 

LS: Basically Word is the standard for many authors purely because it's familiar. It's actually not particularly good at the writing side of things either (I prefer a little program called Scrvener http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php); or for formatting for either print (OpenOffice will allow you to save straight to PDF for print proofs); or for HTML --  which is what is required for eBooks.  The vast majority of books formatted from Word just doesn't look good – that’s because Word just doesn't create very good HTML, which is the basis of all eBook formats.

Many authors will spend countless hours and money on professional editing and stunning book covers - and then ruin the effect by having a poor eBook format. More than once, I've seen book reviewers on Amazon give a low rating for a book with a comment along the lines "the book was good, but the formatting was distractingly bad." To me this is a tragedy - to write a great book takes real talent, to have a well edited book takes time and usually money, why throw it all away and leave a poor impression on your reader, just because you don't spend a little time on the formatting? It's a bit like going to a prom having spent a lot of money on a nice dress, a fancy hairdo and great make-up, but wearing a pair of grubby old shoes -- all the time, money and effort spent on the overall effect, is wasted. 

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JW:  Why do you think there is so much confusion when following Amazon instructions?

LS:  Amazon is good at lots of things, but its instructions to authors aren't that great. Why?  I don't know. They seem to have some very simplistic instructions - assuming a simple fiction book with no sub-headings or bullets, plus they also provide some very technical documentation which is more appropriate to programmers.  What is missing is the bit in-between, the place where most of us are at!  In that, we aren't doing super-fancy stuff like graphic novels or kid's picture books, but we want to have some control over the "normal" stuff of non-fiction such as  images, bullet points, and a Table of Contents accessible from the menu bar. 

JW:  Share with EOL Magazine readers some of what makes a well-formatted non-fiction book?

LS:  For me well-formatted non-fiction is similar to a well-laid out webpage. It needs to be "scannable" - readers need to be able to scan through a book using a detailed table of contents and find the chapter that fixes their problem. They need to be able to scan through a chapter using prompts like multiple levels of sub-headings and lists (either bulleted or numbered). They need images were appropriate (remembering that some readers will only display shades of black and white, and that too many images results in a large file, and Amazon puts the download charges onto the author.

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JW:  Do you have any plans for more How-To Books? 

LS:  Yes,  I have a number of travel books on the go, but I would like to do some more "how to" books for indie authors, maybe something about setting up a website or marketing. Watch this space!