Sunday, June 14, 2009


Jim Duncan, a fellow writer who I chat about the biz with regularly over at my group blog, posted the first three chapters of his fantasy novel, Order of the Nine ~ The Stonebearers over on (he also posted an entire paranormal suspense novel, Dead World, if you're looking for a free book to read. *Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

The unusual thing about Jim's partial novel is that it's not the usual black and white e-book with color cover art. It's all in color, with the pages lightly tinted to look like parchment and headers and footers printed in dark brown to contrast with the black story text. He also included some maps of the story world as well as interesting story bits in sidebar boxes with a different colored background and font. I've never seen a fiction e-book like it, and I thought it was very different and quite attractive.

The idea is definitely ahead of our technology -- at the moment I believe all the e-reader devices on the market simply have black-and-white screens (and I don't own any so please correct me if I'm wrong.) The only way to appreciate an e-book in color like Jim's would be either on your computer or a device with a color screen that can display electronic text (I might try to download this to my Palm and see if I can view the colors on it.)

We all know how insanely expensive it would be to print a fiction book in color; we leave that privilege to the children's and nonfic authors. For fiction writers, everything other than the cover art has to be in black and white. But looking at Jim's innovative work makes me wonder if we really have to stick to the B&W rule for fiction e-books. What is stopping us from adding a little color to our electronic reads?

Now, I'm not proposing that everyone go crazy with color and publish e-books with electric blue fonts on hot pink pages. Whenever you use color in conjunction with something you have to read for an extended period of time, or that will be read from a digital or electronic device, less is always more. But Jim Duncan's example has me thinking of ways I can use color beyond the cover art. I'd probably start out lightly tinting the pages and see what effects I can get.

What do you guys think? Good idea, bad idea, something to play with and see what happens? Let us know in comments.


  1. I think it would make a change, but I like reading hard copies in my hand, so B/w ink is ok by me ;0

  2. Anonymous6:50 AM

    Selective colouring has worked well in a few novels in the past (House of Leaves, for example, although that was far from a standard novel). But it can always backfire - I worry that the rise of pdf ebooks will also give rise to some truly garish page designs - I want to read a novel, thanks, not decipher a Voynich manuscript worth of illustrative lettering.

    How appropriate, the blogger capcha is "terifyin". A neat sum-up of the possibilities in overly-elaborate colourised manuscripts.

  3. Things can get pretty out of hand if the author has no color or design sense. Order of the Nine looks quite lovely though.

    I prefer black text on a white background. It's easier to read (especially for old eyes) and unless it's a kid book, I'd rather not be distracted with interior illustrations--color or otherwise. I have my own ideas on how the scene plays out and sometimes illustrations ruin that.

  4. Something to play with! Especially for fantasy.

  5. Books that I buy from have that kind of background that you said Jim had. It bothered me a bit at first but now I'm used to it.

  6. I like it! - Both the color and the textured/parchment look. Would love to see what you do with the concept.

  7. If you're looking for ideas about how to format an e-book, check out It takes George Eliot's "Middlemarch" and, by changing the style box in the upper right hand corner, show what it would look like using different designs. They're published under a Creative Commons license that allows you to use them (if you credit the designers).

  8. Personally don't want color-anything that distracts my eyes is going to interfere with reading.

  9. Black text on a white-white-white background tires the eyes faster than black text on a slightly brown or slightly green background. That is why many notebooks come with slightly colored paper. It is easier on the eyes.

  10. Anonymous11:27 AM

    This is a bit of an experiment, and I appreciated folks feedback on the project. Obviously, my goal here is not to make something useable on the iphone. On the big computer screen, I'm one who suffers eye strain if I read vast swaths of black text on glaring white background. When I work on my novels, I tint the background a bit to soften it. I've also never read a book on my computer. This is mostly due to comfort level and too many distractions going on in the house around me.

    My goal here is to explore the possibilities. If I'm just going to read, I like a real book. On the computer, I want something more to interact with. I envision the day, not long in the future, when ereader books will have access to (whether you use them or not) all sorts of extra features: quality audio, author interviews, web interaction/commentary (flag a spot in the book, and post questions/commentary immediately), character interviews, and in the case of spec fic there's maps, diagrams, dictionaries, histories, alien food recipes, etc.

    The possibilities I think are endless. Ereading can be more than just a reading experience, if you want it that is. I don't think people should start making ebooks where every page has some added on content. It could easily be tabbed in a table of contents. I think this kind of formatting holds more interest in speculative fiction, but even simple things, like soft background colors, artwork in the chapter headings, and so on, can make for a more enjoyable digital experience.

    This isn't an either/or sort of situation. They are different sorts of reading experiences. My brain is in a different frame of mind if I'm reading at my computer compared to curled up in bed with a book. It's almost an apples and oranges thing. If people think of it that way, I believe the reading digital public will embrace a more interactive reading experience. And I'm looking forward to the possibilities I've read about with the upcoming Google Wave.

  11. Wow I love the cover art! And posting the partial in color is really appealing!

  12. parchment sounds kinda cool.


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