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.
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):
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.
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.
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)!
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.
Day 21 Giveaway
Comment below to enter to win Alexandria's #NaNoProMo prize: E-Book Design and Format (150-300pp), a $350 value!
…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.