The digital revolution has changed many things, not only the way we do things but the way we measure things as well. Remember when digital clocks began to outnumber analog clocks? You could always tell what kind of watches people had on their wrists. If they looked at their watch and said, “It’s almost 1:30,” they had analog. If they said, “It’s 1:24,” they had a digital. Another of these insidious changes is how we measure the amount of a book we’re reading. No longer do we say, “I’m on page 101,” or “I’m almost half way;” nowadays, most of us will say, “I’m at 44 percent,” because that’s the way our eReaders show our progress.
No big deal, right? It’s just a matter of getting used to something new and letting go of the old way that is no longer applicable.
Except for one thing.
In the old paperback days, it was common for the story to be followed by a page or two, maybe three, of other books by the author, a bit about the author, or other books by the same publisher, but that was about the extent of it. If we looked at the book in our hand, we could easily see that we were about halfway through it, and we knew it would end either at the back cover or very close to it.
Not so today. We no longer have to worry about the size and weight of our tomes; they’re all the same size and weight as our eReaders, so the “page count” doesn’t matter. Therefore it’s easy to load up the back end of our books with lots and lots of other material. At the very least we can tack on our bio and a list of all our books. We can expand on that and add descriptions of all the books, even links to Amazon so readers can scoop up other gems that look inviting. More and more authors are now including sample chapters to really pull the readers in to the next book.
Why is this an issue?
Let me back up a bit. A couple years ago, I got a new Kindle Fire, and I gave my old Kindle to my husband. He’d never been much of a reader but wanted to try out some of the old classic Westerns: Zane Gray, for example. I began to load up the old Kindle with free and cheap Westerns. In doing so, I created a monster.
My husband read 160 books last year. He’s already read 20 this year. He devours these things, sometimes in a single day. It’s a good thing I’ve joined Kindle Unlimited so I can feed his voracious appetite.
But very often I hear complaints. He’s not a writer like I am, but we’ve discussed editing and typos and such enough so that he’s become more aware of sloppy writing. He’ll often bemoan typos and misspelled words to me. What he complains the most about, however, is the false sense he gets from the percent read on the Kindle. There have been times when he’s finished a book, but the Kindle says he’s only at 93%. He was really savoring the story, savoring that last 7%, but then suddenly — it’s gone. Nothing left but the back matter.
You know what that’s like. That’s like when you’ve got a small pile of chocolate chip cookies sitting at your elbow as you read, and you read and munch, read and munch. Until that moment when you reach for another cookie and — they’re all gone. You’ve eaten the last one and you didn’t even know it. Wah! There’s nothing worse than not knowing you were eating the last one!
That’s how it feels to have 7% left on a book when it ends.
I never thought too much about it until my husband began complaining about it. I’ve loaded up the back end of my digital books with lots of stuff: my contact info on social media, descriptions of my other books, my web page and blog addresses. Now I’m wondering how many readers are cussing me for giving them a false sense of more story to come. Of more cookies to come.
What do you think about this? I’d love to hear from readers and writers, get perspective from both. How do you feel? Big deal? Small potatoes?
28 thoughts on “EBooks: 95% Done — But Are You Really?”
As you say, paper books often have extras at the back as well as e-books. Readers who enjoy a book like to see what else an author has written. But, as with so many things, moderation is the key. E-books give us the opportunity to load far more than we could with paper. Hence the disappointment with that 7% shock. I add a short bio, my links, and a half page description for each of my books. That amounts to likely less than 2%. I do the same with my paper books. I’ve see paper books with sneak peeks of an author’s other books. I rarely read them. What’s best? I really don’t have a solid opinion.
Yvonne, I agree with you that moderation is the key. Yes, we want to give the readers more info if they want it, but not deluge them (or pad the book size). I’d like to know if most readers do read the after material. If not, maybe we’re all putting too much effort in there for little return.
I include an author’s note, my bio, links to my other books and to social media — all of which takes two pages — and usually the first chapter of the next book in the series. I like to think my readers are pleased enough with the way I’ve ended the story that they’re happy to have that chapter to dive into. But maybe I’m wrong about that.
As a reader, I’m more annoyed with back matter as its percentage increases relative to the rest of the book. Seven percent might be a tad excessive. It also depends on the content of the back matter; if it’s a sample chapter *and* a book club Q&A *and* an author interview *and* blurbs for the author’s other books, well, that stuff adds up.
I think you’re right; TMI is not necessarily a good thing. I might just check all my books, see how much is left at the end of the story. I hadn’t made a point to do that yet. I’m hoping some readers will chime in on how they feel about it.
As a reader, I can understand the writer wanting to entice me into her next work, and I also can agree that lots of back matter seems superfluous. I wonder if there might be a better digital choice: Instead of just a list of the writer’s other books, including a brief blurb and the link to the Look Inside page could be more than just superficially enticing since it’s a lot easier than searching for it on my own.
Kae, you make a good point. I think most of us include links to our books in the back material; at least I do. Maybe, in this case, less is more? Thanks for commenting.
To be honest, I rarely look to see how much of a story I have left. If the writing is good, I’m too busy reading to care. If the writing isn’t good I’m likely to stop reading long before the back matter, um, matters.
That said, I do enjoy reading some of the back matter. Again, though, it depends on the story, If I enjoyed the story I often want to know if I can get more from the same author.
I guess all things are relative. lol
I find it interesting that you don’t notice how much of the book is left. If it’s really grabbing me, I’m anxious to get to the end (and want less of the % showing), but I also want to savor it so it doesn’t end too soon. If it’s boring, then I’m really watching the %, waiting for it to go down. Different strokes, huh?
I have run into that percentage problem a couple of times, and it bothered me even more because I knew I was getting snagged for the next book.
But let’s see: my last ebook was about 300 Kindle pages. 15 pages of back material is 5%. I’d think 5% of your book being advertising is pushing it quite a bit. Under 10 sounds fine.
To my mind, 5% sounds like the max I’d want in back matter. More than that just seems like over kill. Thanks for giving us a number to bat around.
I am always very aware of where I am in a book I am reading. If that info disappears on me, I get aggravated. (I am not really sure why.) I enjoy a lot of the back matter, especially if it includes a chapter or two of the next book in a sequel. I also appreciate finding the author’s website in the back matter.
What I do find annoying are stories that end abruptly, with no real conclusion, or with a cliffhanger I wasn’t expecting.
Sorry, I don’t seem to have been able to answer your questions. But it sounds to me like perhaps your husband wasn’t satisfied with the endings of the stories he was reading than anything else.
I’m with you–if the percentage disappears, I’m immediately swiping and prodding to get it back. And I’m definitely with you on cliffhangers, especially if that was not indicated somewhere in the description. That’s when I feel manipulated, when I have to buy the next book to find out what happens. Grr. But, no, I think my husband was actually enjoying the books and was savoring them, then felt caught short when the book ended with 7% still to go. I think it was that cookie thing I mentioned in my post. Like when you settle into your favorite chair, a cup of tea and a cookie at your side, ready for a nice long session of reading and–DONE! I hate that.
I read more print books than e-books. I’m always aware of the thickness of the part I’ve yet to read. Sometimes the TOC has fair warning that there’s an extended author’s note, resources, book club questions, etc. I’m more often blindsided by authors who include the entire first chapter of the next book because that’s often a lot of pages.
The plus side with e-books and the percentage thing is that the publisher cannot make a think book appear thick by using thicker paper, wider margins, more than normal spacing between lines and larger type. When they do that with print, one gets done faster than they expect even if there’s not much crammed into the backmatter section.
I’m more likely to get e-books for reference, so I haven’t noticed a high percentage left when the end suddenly appears.
Er, that should be “thin book” not “think book.”
Malcolm, you make a good point about the TOC often showing if there is additional material at the end, however with my novels, I seldom have a TOC. I suppose it might still be a good idea to indicate there is back material with a link, though. Thanks for bringing that up.
Isn’t the simple answer to publish your ebook, note at what percentage the actual book finishes, then add a note under the ToC “For readers who want to know where they are in the story, the novel ends when your kindle shows this book as xx% read”.
I read a free novella which I set aside to go to sleep on about 73%. Next night, I finished it on something like 75%. If I had known, I would have carried on!
Wow, 75%! That’s a lot of back material. Interesting idea to include a note about the percentage of the end of the story, though. Thanks for adding that.
It was midnight, I was tired, and I needed to go to bed. I still had 10 percent of the ebook yet — maybe the equivalent of 30 or 40 pages of a paper book. I called it a night, because I needed some sleep. I got up the next morning. I read three pages. The book was over. The rest was backmatter (Q&As and crap). I was so mad. I would’ve just finished the book had I realized exactly what was there. I suppose I could’ve checked the TOC (but my thinking wasn’t clear at midnight).
I think backmatter is fine, but it’s a bit harder when it’s an ebook and people don’t get the normal cues you get in paper books. Lots of time, the book cover has a sticker that says: “Sneak preview” or “Bonus story” at the end. A lot of times, you flip to the back of the book to just see where it ends, to spot where the backmatter starts (the bio). Then you have a mental note.
I’m less bothered by extra back matter when it’s a series. If you’ve got a three book series and book 1 previews book 2, I’m fine with that, because I’ll read it if I liked book 1, and if I didn’t like book 1, I’ll be thankful it’s done, and I got a reprieve from what I thought were more pages (“Phew, dodged a bullet there,” I’ll say.)
However, for unrelated content, authors have to be careful with how much extra content they add. In a lot of instances, it won’t matter to readers. But, to those of us at midnight debating whether to stick it out for a few more minutes or call it a night, it matters.
I think that’s the one thing I hate about e-readers, RJ: not being able to fan thru the pages and see what page the book ends on. We could, of course, swipe thru to the end (putting a bookmark where we start from), but it’s not as easy or as quick as just flipping thru pages. I have almost always done that with print books, so it irritates me that it’s not as easy with e-books. I’m going to think harder about giving my readers some kind of head’s up about this.
As an author, I give contact info for me & my books, plus a chapter of an upcoming book. It’s called marketing. Since we already have the readers attention, we need to make good use of that time.
As a reader, It doesn’t bother me. I like reading chapters for the next book int he series. I’ve also found that the % on the bottom isn’t accurate anyway. Depending on how the book was formatted, sometimes the % never changes until I’ve turned tons of pages. So, I’ll look at the %, but don’t really trust it.
Sahara, I think you bring up a valid point–that we may use the back material features as a writer that we enjoy as a reader. You like to read first chapters of new books; I seldom do. I’m much happier reading blurbs and deciding if the book looks interesting. Obviously lots of different ways to do this, different things to consider. Thanks for commenting.
In a paper book there are prelims. If, when preparing a Kindle sample (I don’t know how it works for other ebook formats) you leave all the prelims where they are, then the sample of one’s own, fabulous, words can be very small (especially if it’s a short book). So obviously it’s A Good Thing to put them at the end. And as they’re at the end it’s a good thing to expand on them a bit as Melissa and others have said. I do agree with Mr Bowerstock: I often find that ebooks end, apparently, abruptly with the several percent of the book still to be read being not-book. But I have experienced the same with paper books: it’s not exclusively an ebook thing. It may be more of a self-publishing thing?
BTW: do people really reckon up how much of a book they’ve written in percentages, or even pages? I always stick to words – eg “I’m 60 thousand words in”. For one thing I write in A4 pages, and then convert to book pages later.
Judi, I honestly don’t know of any authors who write by percentage; I’m with you and write by word count. I may have a feel for whether I’m one-quarter done with the book, or three-quarters, but I still go by the word count.
The only things I add at the end of my books are the acknowledgements, my author bio, and my other titles. It used to be three screens, but now it’s four because my back catalogue is increasing. 🙂 That’s all. I don’t add any excerpts, even if the book is part of a series. I never read them, and while I know not everyone is like me, if a whole book didn’t convince them to read more of my stories, then a few extra pages won’t change that. Shrug.
I’m inclined to go more with your model, Ioana. I have never included sample chapters (and I have not yet done a series), so my bio, contact info and a paragraph about each of my other books seems sufficient. But you’re right about the back list–mine keeps growing, too!
When I finish reading a book, I should know that it’s over–the last chapter should do the job. I never pay attention to what’s left, percentage-wise, on my Kindle. In the eBooks I write, I have a TOC in the front. It shows that my acknowledgements, bio and links, and excerpt follow the story. If a reader is interested, she can go on; if not, she can start another book on her reading device. What’s most annoying to readers, I think, is too much “front matter.”
Which, no doubt, is the reason the Kindle (and others?) opens a new e-book on page one of the story. If you want to see the front matter, you’ve got to scroll back. I find that mildly annoying, as I like to refresh myself on the cover and read any front matter, but that’s just me.
I’ve had a couple of occasions where I’ve been disappointed to hit 90% or so and suddenly the story is over and the author has inserted 20 pages listing every book they ever had and a few samples chapters (I’m exaggerating :)). Authors inserting a lot of back matter into their ebooks does annoy me though. It comes across as filler. I’m with your husband on this complaint.
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