An American Editor

April 25, 2012

Are eBook Authors Unwittingly Losing Sales?

In a recent article at his blog eBookAnoid, another blog that I regularly read, Tony Cole asked this question: “Do you remember the name of the ebook you have just finished reading?” Although I have not written about this topic before, I have often thought about how I rarely remember either the author or the book title of the ebook I am currently reading or have just finished.

My experience is that I can tell you the storyline of the ebook I am reading, and if it is particularly well-written, I can name and describe many of the characters. Some good examples are The Promises to Keep quartet by Shayne Parkinson and many of Vicki Tyley’s mysteries (see, e.g., On Books: Murder Down Under). Long-time readers of my blog know that I cannot say enough good things about the books written by Shayne Parkinson, Vicki Tyley, and L.J. Sellers (see, e.g., On Books: Detective Jackson Grows and Grows). These are three authors whose names and books I can still recall, even though, for example, it has been probably 2 years since I last read anything by Parkinson.

Yet since reading their ebooks, I have read hundreds of other ebooks. Out of those hundreds, I can recall the names of a handful of additional authors, but all the others, no matter that I enjoyed their work, I cannot recall. I could look them up and have my memory triggered, but that is not nearly as valuable as recall. The ability to recall means the ability to talk about.

I asked my wife if she remembers, and her answer mimicked mine. I then asked some other ebookers I know the same question, and got the same answer from them. It is not that they never remember; it is that 95% of the time, they do not remember.

When I read a pbook, I have to physically pick it up. It is usually in closed form with a bookmark indicating where I left off the day before. When I pick it up to continue reading, I can easily see the book’s title and author, which acts as a reminder of what I am reading. In addition, pbook authors and publishers learned decades ago — if not centuries ago — about the value of constantly reminding the reader of the author’s name and the book title, and so invented the running head (or foot), the place on every page of the pbook that information about what I am currently reading can be found.

In contrast, ebook authors and publishers tend to view the ebook as a continuous flow document and so disdain the use of running heads. True, there are some ebookers who also complain when an ebook has wide margins, blank lines between paragraphs, running heads, nonjustified text, indented paragraphs, and anything else that might make it easier for the reader to read the story. Because someone else (Tony Cole) openly asked the question, I realized that I am not alone in not remembering book titles and author names. That made me realize that ebook authors have missed an important lesson to be learned from pbooks (and marketing in general): You must remind the reader of what is being read and who wrote it constantly. That reminder, especially if the reader likes the ebook, will induce the reader to speak about the ebook and look for other ebooks by the same author.

I am aware that ebooks are not intended to mimic pbooks; if we wanted a duplicate of the pbook, the solution would be PDF. But that doesn’t mean that when creating the ebook, things that enhance the readability of the ebook and that act as good marketing should be ignored just because they are in pbooks. Rather, authors and publishers should be looking at pbooks, which have a long history of success and still constitute 80% of all book sales, to discover what important design elements should be adopted for the ebook. To my way of thinking, the most important element is the running head, which will constantly remind the reader what is being read and who wrote it.

It strikes me that the one thing any author wants is not to be anonymous. An author wants readers to remember their name and look for their books. After all, is not getting one’s work read the purpose of writing and distributing? Yet ebook authors fail to do the one simple thing that would reinforce their “brand” (i.e., their name) to their audience — they fail to include (or insist that they be included) running heads in their ebooks.

Okay, as I noted before, some ebookers will complain (although I suspect that the vast majority would not). But so what. To complain about your book means they remember it and they are speaking about it. Few people would refuse to buy an ebook because it has running heads; fewer people would likely give much weight to a complaint that had nothing to do with the story or the writing as opposed to because it has a running head.

Authors need to sell themselves constantly. They need to do those things that make people remember them. Most authors are not going to write that ebook that everyone praises for clarity, style, craftsmanship, and the like; rather, they are more likely to write what is a good read that numerous readers can enjoy — think of it as the difference between To Kill a Mockingbird and The DaVinci Code. In the case of the former, the author and book are remembered because of the craftsmanship; in the case of the latter, the book and author are remembered because the book was a popular read even if not particularly memorable.

Adding a running head that repeats the book title and author name is an easy and proven method for getting readers to remember what they are reading and who wrote it. It is good marketing. I suspect that authors are losing sales because readers do not remember their name or the ebook title. This one little step could make remembering happen.

18 Comments »

  1. Certainly a very interesting consideration to make. I agree that running heads are probably the best way around the problem, and I don’t think I personally have a problem with them. I think for someone like yourself, who is conscientious and considerate of the issue at hand, the answer is to try and review those titles that you have really enjoyed as oppose to moving onto the next title without pause (and that goes for everyone I guess). That way, you don’t feel like you’re ‘short-changing’ the author and denying them the sales that positive reinforcement of an author by word of mouth can promote.

    Certainly something for me to consider when my debut novel, The Hunter Inside, is released shortly. Thanks for the post, very thought provoking. Did I mention the name of my novel..?🙂

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    Comment by davidmcgowan — April 25, 2012 @ 4:40 am | Reply

  2. I noticed while reading my second ebook that I couldn’t remember the author’s name. Titles came next on the list of things I couldn’t remember about the ebooks I was reading and I can only think it is because I don’t see the cover everytime I pick up my ereader. I also have more trouble reading an ebook by an unknown, to me, author because once it is on my Kindle I don’t have the blurb on the back to read, a cover to jog my memory as to why I bought it, and I don’t normally scroll through all of my titles to find a book to read. I have well over 350 books on my Kindle and I’ve probably only read 12. And please don’t ask me which ebooks I chose. I admit that my memory isn’t what it once was, but I don’t have this trouble with print books.

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    Comment by Mare F — April 25, 2012 @ 5:35 am | Reply

  3. This essay puts a finger on one of the things that has been bothering me about e-books, and why I continue to hesitate about buying an e-reader. While I crave the advantages of the device, some part of me feels like I’d be capitulating to peer pressure and dropping my standards. But that doesn’t seem quite right, either. Now I better understand my hesitation. The physical qualities of a book serve more purpose than just holding it in my hand and feeling the paper, etc. Those continual prompts of cover, blurb, finding one’s place, type style and book design (including running heads and footers) do in fact send subliminal messages about the book, the story, and the author that vanish in the e-book format. Even if I enjoy an e-book, I still feel like I had a virtual experience after reading it. There’s definitely something to be said about tangibility!

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    Comment by documania2 — April 25, 2012 @ 6:33 am | Reply

  4. How true! My husband was given a Nook but I always see him reading a pbook. It may be the warmth of the way a pbook looks and the feel of it in his hands.

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    Comment by marie — April 25, 2012 @ 7:58 am | Reply

  5. I’m also one of those that has noticed my some-timers acting up when it comes to ebook titles; I recieved a kindle two years ago on Fathers day, but I have been reading ebooks since the late 90’s on my computer with Calibre. I also select a pbook over an ebook because I’m just one of those tactile people that feels more comfortable holding a pbook, and my some-timers (sometimes I remember, sometimes I don’t) isn’t as bad when I’m reading a pbook. I still use Calibre quite a bit and at the top of the frame the ebook title appears with the format. Funny that I remembet that, but I had to double check my Kindle to verify no title or author; I also remember the last pbook I read with no problem. Good article, a real eye-opener!

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    Comment by David Beals — April 25, 2012 @ 1:49 pm | Reply

  6. An excellent heads-up as I finalize the layout of a mystery book that a colleague plans to self-publish both in print and electronically — thank you!

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    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — April 25, 2012 @ 4:30 pm | Reply

  7. I’m curious — on what device are you reading your ebooks? I read them on my iPad, in both the Kobo app and iBooks, and running heads featuring the title (in Kobo) or the title and author (in iBooks) are present in both. The presence or absence of running heads may not be up to the author (save in AER files) and may be entirely dependent on the software/device. I actually found it quite annoying having the running heads taking up valuable screen space in the Kobo app (along with the page X of Y progress bar along the bottom) and wished I could turn them off.

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    Comment by Catherine — April 26, 2012 @ 1:16 am | Reply

    • I use a Sony 950, a Sony 505, and a Nook Tablet. My experience one each has been that some books have the running heads and some don’t, which makes me think it is not device dependent but how the ePub files are created.

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      Comment by americaneditor — April 26, 2012 @ 6:49 am | Reply

  8. I agree with all you say, but as Catherine comments, the running heads is currently out of the author’s/publisher’s control. With the Kindle app I use, there is no header or footer of any description. Neither does the eReader app for PDB files nor the Stanza app for EPUB files. The iBook reader has the book title as a running header.

    (Many thanks for the mention. :))

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    Comment by Vicki — April 26, 2012 @ 3:28 am | Reply

    • I have never used (other than for a quick try) a Kindle or any of the apps designed to allow reading on one’s computer. As I noted in my reply to Catherine, at least on my 3 ePub devices (the Sony 950, Sony 505, and the Nook Tablet) some books have running heads and some don’t. I noticed this morning, for example, that my daily New York Times, which I read on the Nook Tablet, has running heads. And the book I am currently reading on the Nook Tablet displays a running head at the beginning of each chapter, although not on every page. But even that is enough to remind me that I am reading Daniel Abraham’s The Dragon’s Path.

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      Comment by americaneditor — April 26, 2012 @ 6:54 am | Reply

      • Ah, but the Kindle version of that book doesn’t have that header.

        I do know that Kindle publishing process does strip out a lot of metadata. That said, I am going to research it some more.

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        Comment by Vicki — April 26, 2012 @ 7:21 am | Reply

        • You cannot, as an ebook author, be Kindle centric. Worldwide, there are more non-Kindlers than Kindlers. If you sell outside of the Amazon eco system, then you should prepare your ebooks to maximize your chances. If Amazon ignores or strips out such metadata, that is no excuse for not including it in ePub.

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          Comment by americaneditor — April 26, 2012 @ 11:09 am | Reply

          • Goodness, I am anything but Kindle-centric – why else would I have multiple ereader apps? (Nor do I own a Kindle.) That was just an example and as I said, I need to do more research. The sample of The Dragon’s Path I checked on my Nook app does not have the book title in the header. It does, however, have the chapter name, but that’s the same for all Nook books. Can you please post a photo of your Nook showing the header? From the middle of the book if possible. Thanks.

            P.S. My books are available in 10 e-stores.

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            Comment by Vicki — April 26, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

  9. If the eReaders have no running header, then the author should make it part of the book’s text/content at the top in smaller letters and with an underline under it to set it apart. Or this will still not show once the book format is converted to ebook format?

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    Comment by marie — April 26, 2012 @ 5:21 am | Reply

    • I think the way to do it is to include the information in the metadata. The problem with the way you suggest is that it may “float”, appearing in the middle of 1 page, near the bottom of the next page, etc. It also seems to me that if something like Smashword’s “meat grinder” conversion process doesn’t allow for running heads, that authors should start bombarding Mark Coker (CEO of Smashwords and a very accessible person) with a demand that it be fixed to include a running head.

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      Comment by americaneditor — April 26, 2012 @ 6:57 am | Reply

  10. Then prepare the book to maximize chances in and out of Amazon or sell only via those who will show running header.

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    Comment by marie — April 26, 2012 @ 11:18 am | Reply

  11. Reblogged this on LynnLovesEditing and commented:
    This is a great post for ebook authors and those who are self-publishing! Who doesn’t want to be remembered for their work?

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    Comment by lynnlovesediting — April 27, 2012 @ 12:50 am | Reply

  12. […] An American Editor wonders if ebook authors are losing sales because readers seem to quickly forget …. (I must admit that his idea of including a header with title and author throughout the ebook to help readers remember would really annoy me – I hate it when pdfs are formatted like that.) […]

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    Pingback by Stumbling Over Chaos :: Left behind linkity — April 27, 2012 @ 2:50 pm | Reply


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