Why Is Simple eBook Design Good Marketing? by guest @Alexandria_SZ

By Rachel Thompson | #NaNoProMo

May 21
Why Is Simple eBook Design Good Marketing? by guest @Alexandria_SZ via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo

You’ve seen those websites promising to make you a bestseller — if only you let them design your e-book. They assure you that you could do it yourself but insist you have to use paragraph formatting styles or templates with pre-made themes, the least of which cost $75 each while leaving you to do all the work of formatting and designing the e-book. After giving you all their best suggestions, most companies then get to their real message: we’ll do it for you and save you all the trouble.

Before you commit to their services, they might be kind enough to remind you that your “great e-book” will only be really great if you have all these important elements:

  • great content and a
  • great title and a
  • great cover and
  • great people downloading your
  • great book and all those
  • great people who downloaded your
  • great book sharing it with all their really great friends.

Strange. None of those things mentioned by these companies to ensure your e-book’s greatness seem to have anything to do with the actual design of the e-book. Of course, you need to tell a great story to have any potential sales, and you need a good title as well as a good cover to even get people to glance at your book, whether it’s published in paper or as an e-book. But surely no writer could honestly believe that the e-book design could possibly lead to bestselling status.

On the other hand, poor e-book design could lead to poor reviews from frustrated customers, which in turn could lead to decreased sales, so it’s important to pay attention to your e-book design.

Traditional publishers have designed paper books for a long time, and some of them are very good at it. With the advent of e-books, traditional publishers were forced to branch out into the same new book-design territory that Indie authors had pioneered. You see, paper book design doesn’t translate well into e-books, if only because tablets and e-book applications allow readers so many choices that change the original design.

From typography style and font size to margins and spacing, from background color to landscape or portrait mode, an e-book gives readers something a paper book simply cannot: their own choices in how to read their books.

E-Book Design Choices

Traditionally, serif typography (with lines at the end of each stroke) has been used in print books and magazines, while sans-serif typography (without lines) is more often used on the Internet.

Why Simple, Consistent eBook Design Is Good Marketing by guest @Alexandria_SZ via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo

I prefer reading serif fonts, even in e-books, perhaps because I find it more attractive, but also because I grew up long before the Internet even existed, and I’m simply used to reading serif typography. It doesn’t matter what typography style an author or the publisher prefers in e-books, however, since readers can change the typography and then pick from multiple fonts within the serif or sans-serif families. Here are just a few of the fonts available in iBooks, Kindle, and Nook (L-R):

Why Simple, Consistent eBook Design Is Good Marketing by guest @Alexandria_SZ via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo

All e-book readers offer a choice of typography with multiple serif and sans-serif fonts, so there’s little sense in trying to control these two aspects of e-book design. Readers get to choose how the e-book ultimately looks. Once the readers have chosen a font, they can then make it as small or large as they need for their viewing comfort.

While they’re at it, they can change margins, justification, and spacing between the lines of print, too. Here are the smallest versions of a font in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, shown here in iBooks, Kindle, and Nook, respectively.Why Simple, Consistent eBook Design Is Good Marketing by guest @Alexandria_SZ via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo

Here is the same font from the previous example, this time enlarged to its maximum size in each e-book reader, showing the same page from the opening of Pride and Prejudice, in iBooks, Kindle, and Nook, presented from left to right.Why Simple, Consistent eBook Design Is Good Marketing by guest @Alexandria_SZ via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo

As you can see, iBooks presents the largest font size for its readers, while Nook’s largest is still relatively small compared to the iBooks and Kindle fonts. Nook’s largest font size gives readers more text to read per page, but its smaller size on the same device may not please readers who need very large print e-books.

Worse, the center images of the boxed Chapter 1 from Pride and Prejudice above is an example of an intended design that didn’t work once converted to Kindle. The C of Chapter is far too close to the outline of the box, and this design flaw remains no matter what typography style, font size, or margin settings are chosen.

In some font variations, the C runs right into the outline of the box. Even more dreadful is the position of the 1 in the larger Kindle font: it ends up in the middle of the word “chapter” when the font is enlarged, and this misplacement happens at the mid-range of the font size, not just in the largest size pictured above.

There’s no automatic hyphen in the center of Chapter when it gets enlarged either, as appears in the image at the far left, from iBooks, when that font is enlarged. This missing automatic hyphen is an even more dangerous design mistake since it could happen throughout the book when the reader chooses a larger font than the publisher used when formatting the e-book. Such a mistake could make the readers think the author was illiterate.

E-Book Design Involves HTML

The hardest part about designing an e-book is learning HTML: hypertext markup language. Yes, the same code that helps designers standardize websites and blogs so they look virtually the same no matter the browser is the language behind e-books. That means if you already know HTML, you could already be on your way to designing your own e-book. HTML for e-books is more limited than that on websites, so you don’t need to know as much.

You can use bold and italic text, for instance, and you can make the links active so that readers can go right to an author’s Twitter account or website from within the e-book. Do anything much fancier in your design, though, and you run the risk that it won’t get converted correctly in the e-book (see Chapter 1 in the enlarged Kindle version above).

In e-books, you also can’t prevent widows-and-orphans — as a single line of text from the beginning or end of a paragraph is called in traditional print publishing — because the appearance of widows-and-orphans will change for the same e-book depending on the size of the font, margins, and spacing chosen by the readers, as well as on each different device — smartphone or iPad Pro, for example — that the same reader is using.

This means that the HTML is to display some very basic font styles (like italic, bold, and bold italic), to make the content of the e-book look similar on multiple e-reading devices, and to make the navigation of an e-book more closely mimic that of a paper book.

#NaNoProMo #21: Why Is Simple eBook Design Good Marketing? by guest @Alexandria_SZ - and be sure to comment to win a FREE eBook Design and Format (Value: $350)!

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Clean and Consistent E-Book Design Is Good Marketing

Since readers can change virtually every single aspect of any e-book design, the best thing you could do in designing an e-book is to give your audience a clean and consistent design, one that will not interfere with the reading experience. As an author, you have control of the quality of your product by telling a story that’s so great the readers can’t put it down. Beyond that, it’s the readers who have control over an e-book — not the author or the traditional publisher.

Final Thoughts on E-Book Design

Keeping an e-book design simple, clean, and consistent is good marketing. Poor e-book design will annoy readers when they can’t change to their favorite font or preferred margin width. Broken Table of Contents and Chapter links won’t allow readers to “flip” back and forth as they would with a paper book. Poor e-book design will remind readers that they are reading by constantly jolting them out of the story you’re telling. Worst of all, poor e-book design could lead your audience to think that you are illiterate, simply because your readers want larger fonts than you do.

Think of your audience when designing any e-book. Keeping the design simple, clean, and consistent is good marketing because the readers will concentrate on your great stories instead of on that quality of the e-book itself.

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Day 21 Giveaway

Comment below to enter to win Alexandria's #NaNoProMo prize: E-Book Design and Format (150-300pp), a $350 value!

Alexandria Szeman...

…is an award-winning author who founded her own publishing house after retiring from University where she was a Professor of Creative Writing, World Literature, and Professional & Technical Writing. After learning book design and distribution, Alexandria began publishing other authors. The advent of e-books allowed Alexandria to put her own out-of-print books back into the market while allowing her to continue to publish fellow literary authors in all genres.

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About the Author

Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: How to energize your book sales in a month - created to help authors market their book. She is also the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader's "Best of 2015" top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival), and the multi award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post IndieReader.com, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly. Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs,  #BookMarketingChat (co-hosted with Melissa Flickinger) and #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish all live Twitter chats. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

Leave a Comment:

(47) comments

Jennifer Gilmour May 21, 2018

What a fantastic blog post and a fantastic giveaway! x

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Kelly Wilson May 21, 2018

“Since readers can change virtually every single aspect of any e-book design, the best thing you could do in designing an e-book is to give your audience a clean and consistent design, one that will not interfere with the reading experience.”

I forget how much we readers can change so much in an ebook. Thank you for the reminder!

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Karen May 21, 2018

Great post. Pinning for future reference. And great giveaway. Big thanks to you both, Alexandria and Rachel.

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Renae May 21, 2018

Very helpful article. The HTML information is interesting.

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This was a big takeaway for me, too – “Since readers can change virtually every single aspect of any e-book design, the best thing you could do in designing an e-book is to give your audience a clean and consistent design, one that will not interfere with the reading experience.”

Seems so obvious, but it really isn’t. But it IS smart and important.

Great post and great giveaway. *crosses fingers*

Thanks!

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Steven Malone May 21, 2018

Good common sense information we all needed to remember. The HTML was most helpful. And, I certainly forget that design is part of marketing. Thanks.

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Dana Lemaster May 21, 2018

Thanks Rachel and Alexandria, for this post. I found the info on HTML especially helpful. Ebook design is an important topic for authors, but one that might be overlooked without posts like this one.

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Rosanne May 21, 2018

Thanks for sharing these tips. I’ve done print books before, but I will be doing my ebook soon. This was super helpful!

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E-book design is something I have struggled with. Not that I am unhappy with how mine have turned out and haven’t gotten any complaints so I apparently did the right thing and kept it simple lol. However, I see a lot of ebooks in my genres with pretty fancy and fantastic designs and wonder if I am missing out. Making sure my ebooks are consistent has been a bit of a struggle and a pain since I am not very good at HTML code so I end up going through a very long and complicated process. SO thanks for the advice and this will give me a better idea of what I should and should not be doing.

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Tom Bentley May 21, 2018

I have struggled to make cleanly formatted ebooks—the curse of a tiny (and thus dangerous) understanding of HTML. The font info here is intriguing—I hope I can incorporate some of this knowledge into my next attempt. Thanks!

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D.Avery May 21, 2018

I think I need to read this again. And again, and bookmark it because E-book formatting has kicked my ***.
Thank you for this article.
D. Avery

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Jennifer,
Thank you for the compliment. Very glad you found it helpful.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Kelly,
The first time I ever saw an e-reader was in a restaurant: a man by himself at the next table was reading and I asked him if he liked it. He showed it to me: the font was so large, it had only about 1-2 paragraphs per page. My guy’s eyes widened when he saw it, and the owner said, “I can read it without my glasses,” and then he showed us how it worked. I never forgot that. And when I began designing ebooks, I kept that man in mind.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Karen,
Thank you. I’m glad you found it helpful.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Renae,
HTML is the core of websites and of ebooks. If you can design a website, you can do ebooks. Glad this was helpful.
Alexandria

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Kay Castaneda May 21, 2018

I’m glad that I read this post from Alexandria. Her clear explanation about Serif and Sans-serif fonts is easy for me to understand. Confession****I didn’t know readers could change fonts on ebooks! Thanks

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Lisa,
I never thought of it till I saw an e-reader for the first time, and the man had huge print so he could read it without glasses. I realized that ebooks were even more for readers than traditional publishers realized.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Steven,
Design is such an important part of marketing that traditional publishers, who used to have all in-House designers, hire (mostly freelance) book designers who do nothing else. Literally. Glad you liked the post.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Dana,
I’m very glad you found it helpful. Many blogs that tell you how to format ebooks don’t tell you why the design is so important, which I tried to emphasize.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Rosanne,
If you’ve done paper book design before, then you’ve had the more challenging task, but you also have more freedom — with fonts, and with making the design be exactly the same for all readers. Ebooks take all that away, so, if you know HTML, ebook design is easier in that it limits the designer’s choices in order to give the readers more. Glad it was helpful.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Michael,
Some of those fancy design elements in ebooks, especially those gorgeous fonts, are actually jpgs (you can check by changing the background to a non-white: the jpg with all those lovely fonts will be sitting in a white square in the middle of your page). Not that there’s anything wrong with the jpg-designing: it looks pretty. And if it transfers to all the readers’ font choices and sizes, I’m good with it. Mostly, those jpgs don’t transfer well, so it’s best to keep the HTML simple and clean. You only need the most basic HTML for ebooks, so perhaps you’re trying to do things that won’t show up anyway?
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

Tom,
The best font to use is Times New Roman 12 and keep the entire book in that. You can make chapter headings Times New Roman 14 if you wish. Beyond that, the readers are in control and if you try to control too much, it’ll wreck the design as soon as the readers change it. I knew HTML long before e-books ever came out, and before they made websites with templates, so I guess I can consider myself lucky that I ever had to learn it in the first place. For your books, I suggest simple, clean, and consistent.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 21, 2018

D.Avery,
I hope this post helped you enough that the e-book formatting will stop kicking your butt! LOL
Glad to help out.
Alexandria

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Barb Drozdowich May 22, 2018

After spending years struggling with formatting, I was happy to discover Vellum. Even though I design websites, HTML is not my forte, and I’m sure something that scares off most beginners. Vellum allows me to create a beautiful ebook, and now paperback, readable on all e-readers and up-loadable to all retailers in about 10 minutes. Total lifesaver! Have never looked back!

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Alexandria May 22, 2018

Kay,
I wouldn’t have known about the ability to change fonts if the man at the restaurant who showed me his Kindle hadn’t had a HUGE font on his e-reader. When I got my first e-readers, the first thing I looked for was the font size, and that’s when I found all the different font faces. I changed mine to a serif-font because it looks like a paper book. Glad this post helped.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 22, 2018

Barb,
I’ve tried Vellum, but it wouldn’t upload my ebooks in the right format. Even with HTML. Maybe because I was on the “free” version. Very glad you found something that works for you
Alexandria

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Jon May 22, 2018

This would have been really helpful for my first book! Great tips – I’ve got work to do now.

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Lexi May 22, 2018

I had totally put this in my “too difficult” pile. Great blog, and Wow! This is an amazing offer.

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Alexandria May 22, 2018

Jon,
Sorry I didn’t have it written in time for your first book LOL. But at least you can use it now, right?
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 22, 2018

Lexi,
You mean doing your own ebook was in your “too difficult pile”? Doing an ebook is time-consuming and tedious, but I wouldn’t say it’s too difficult, especially if you know HTML. Hope this article helped.
Alexandria

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Barbara May 22, 2018

I answered this once but my reply went to the wrong spot, so this is a new reply. I honestly did not know about HTML and ebooks and how what I call line slippage, is not the fault of the pagination, rather the fonts used to read. On top of that the difference between Ibook,Kindle and Nook readers,plays a big part too. What I liked , that in all my years of writing, I confess I never knew, was Serif verses San Serif.Im a serif gal for sure, it’s that tiny touch, a poetic whim disguised as a simple font, but with a touch of glamour.My fiction short story book I am working on? Old fashioned Times New Roman. That glimpse of class,never cheeky, pure and simple design.

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Alexandria May 22, 2018

Barbara,
Ah, now your comment is in the right place!
I love serif fonts, perhaps because I was almost 40 before the Internet was widely available so I’m not used to reading online/non-serif fonts. I love the way printed books look, so I always change my ebooks to serif fonts to imitate them.

“Line slippage”? You mean widows-and-orphans? Those cannot be prevented in ebooks. Do you mean L-justified, so that there are ragged edges? That’s because the designer didn’t Justify the margins, which ebooks can display perfectly well.

I would say my favorite font for designing paper books is Garamond, and for ebooks, you should do Times New Roman because it has the fewest conversion problems.

Alexandria

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McKenna Dean May 22, 2018

It never occurred to me that readers would actually change the font of something they were reading–this was a real eye-opener for me!

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Alexandria May 22, 2018

McKenna,
In the beginning days of e-readers, there were very few font choices. Now, each time there’s an update, there are more fonts. Even some crazy ones that I find very difficult to read. There are technological innovations, too, that allow ebooks to more closely mimic paper books, like Kindle’s (and Kindle app’s) Page Flip feature, which I love.

Readers contact my publishing House all the time when they want to change fonts but don’t know how. That’s why I learned to help them out by making the ebooks fit their needs instead of my own designs.

Glad this was helpful.
Alexandria

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Melissa May 22, 2018

Thanks for sharing this blog. I will have to file it away for future reference. Thanks for the giveaway too.

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Melissa May 22, 2018

Thanks you for the informative article here. HTML formatting is something I have not done ever. Thanks for the giveaway.

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AJ May 22, 2018

Great info here! Many thanks!

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Alexandria May 23, 2018

Melissa,
Glad the information could help. Happy publishing!
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 23, 2018

Melissa, #2,
(Just in case this is a different Melissa)

You could probably do some of the most basic HTML in Word by clicking B for Bold, or I for Italic, for example, and you might be able to put the hyperlinks in. But if anything doesn’t work, you have to be able to read the HTML to find the errors and fix them. Therein lies the rub. Hope this was still helpful.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 23, 2018

AJ,
You’re very welcome. Glad I could help.
p.s. Love the cloche!
Alexandria

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BC Brown May 23, 2018

Great advice! Poor e-book formatting on my first book led to many frustrated readers (and quite a few poor reviews based solely on first and not story), so this is a good article for authors. Realizing the importance of good e-book formatting is overlooked by most readers (and authors) until it is done poorly.

Take this advice, everyone!

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Erica May 23, 2018

Thanks for the advice. Currently designing an ebook for an anthology with some folks and it’s a first. Never knew how hard it could be.

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Alexandria May 23, 2018

BC,
Though I’ve never given a book a bad review based on its ebook design, I’ve certainly seen those sort of bad reviews. So sorry you got some. Ebook design is challenging if you don’t know any HTML, if only because you will be unable to fix any errors that show up in the conversion process. And any flaw in any book design — ebook or paper — that detracts from the reading experience will be bad news. Glad this was helpful.
Alexandria

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Alexandria May 23, 2018

Erica,
If you know HTML thoroughly, ebook design can be relatively simple. If you don’t know it, however, it can be very challenging and frustrating. Of course, all book design takes practice. Don’t give up.
Alexandria

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KJ Waters May 25, 2018

What a great article. I have published for a few years now and didn’t know this info. There is so much to learn in this business and I’m glad to have you as a resource now.

Thank you for sharing your information and services with us!

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Alexandria May 25, 2018

KJ,
Very happy to be of service.
Alexandria

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Wow, Alexandria–this is a great resource and I am inspired by your own quick bio. Rachel, thanks so much for sharing these and the other tips. Thanks for helping us all connect and collaborate–ideas and victories. <3

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