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Some Tips to Make Your Ebook Look Great

18 March 2016

From Digital Book World:

In my previous post, I offered a few ideas on how to make ebooks feel unique by taking advantage of some visual design cues.

But I neglected to mention one crucial step: test, test, test your EPUB and MOBI files on multiple devices and apps.

A simple example: try using a very light blue for a chapter title. How does it look on ian Pad and on a Kindle Fire? Probably nice. Now how about in night mode? Or how about on an e-ink device, like a Kindle Voyage? Is it legible, or is it too light?

You can use a media query to target e-ink Kindle devices and use black instead. But I would recommend just starting out with a color that works everywhere. Simpler is better when dealing with the large universe of reading systems, as you don’t know how many readers are still using Nooks or legacy Kindles. You don’t want their books to break, which a media query might well do (especially on older Nooks).

So always test your ebook in as wide of a range of environments as you can. And don’t forget: don’t try to sideload your MOBI on iOS devices (iPad, iPhone). You need an .azk file, which you can create with Kindle Previewer. Here’s a guide on epubsecrets.com that describes how to move it to those devices.

. . . .

I also advocate designing the inside-the-book table of contents instead of leaving it as a plain-vanilla list. Amazon requires the contents listing, so you might as well make the most of it.

Since my last post for DBW, Amazon has decided that it will reject books if the contents listing is at the end of the book.

Some ebook makers think that a simple listing of a book’s chapter numbers doesn’t need to be in the front matter and would be as useful in the back. After all, it should be discoverable from a reading system’s navigation tools, and a long, boring list of Chapters 1–63 won’t eat up the sample that is available on retailers’ bookshelves.

But a book with chapter titles and subtitles should go in the front, as these titles can give potential purchasers a good idea of what’s in the book as they peruse the sample.

Without getting into too much arcana, Amazon wants (demands) the listing near the beginning of the book. Plain and simple. So, that’s even more reason to pay attention to its design and integrate it with the rest of the book.

. . . .

Plenty of designers—and readers—complain regularly about awful ebook typography. We deal with what seems like an endless variety of apps, devices, generations of apps and devices, reading system preference choices, algorithms, enhanced typesetting features, etc. that we can’t control. Is there any hope? Should we even bother?

. . . .

I’ve got friends in the business who avoid trying to fix horrible typography: em dashes landing at the beginning of a line, ellipses breaking across lines. If that’s how the reading system operates, that’s how it operates. If a user chooses to read her book at a huge font size, we should allow for that and keep text flowing with no impediments.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG recently read an NYT bestselling history of the Pacific Campaign in World War II from a major publisher on a Kindle Paperwhite. Each chapter began with formatting like this:

Chapte
r
Fiftee
n

It didn’t interfere with PG’s enjoyment of the book, but some readers might be irritated.

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27 Comments to “Some Tips to Make Your Ebook Look Great”

  1. “A simple example: try using a very light blue for a chapter title.”

    Why would you be doing that in the first place? Good contrast is easier to read, ‘fancy’ doesn’t make a story better and can make it harder on the eyes …

  2. Note that Amazon has clarified it does NOT insist the TOC be located at the front.

    https://kdp.amazon.com/community/ann.jspa?annID=991

  3. Barbara Morgenroth

    Plain vanilla formatting. Maybe in the future we will be able to be more exciting but not now. IMHO.
    Save your exquisite design techniques for the paper version.

  4. Plain is better. I cannot stress enough how much you do not want to use fancy fonts and font sizes. Readers using ereaders like to modify their books themselves. If you set something they don’t like, watch out. They can’t change fonts or styles that are preset.

    • Also, embedded fonts make the book file bigger, and increase delivery charges. There’s rarely a good reason to use them, unless you need a weird font for a demonic message or something.

  5. @ PG

    “PG recently read an NYT bestselling history of the Pacific Campaign in World War II from a major publisher on a Kindle Paperwhite. Each chapter began with formatting like this:

    Chapte
    r
    Fiftee
    n”

    C’mon, PG. Don’t leave us in the dark. Name a name here! 🙂

    …So we can have another snarkfest at TradPub’s expense!

    • What intrigues me is how even a trad publisher could screw up something so simple. Presumably they were trying to be clever, which when it comes to the technical is not really their forte.

      Simplicity is what I want as a reader: just start the chapter on a new page (not everything on my Kindle manages this) and give me the chapter number (+title if there is one) in plain black text.

      And PG you must give us the title so we can “look inside” and share your experience.

      • I’ve seen many tradpub ebooks with broken formatting. The “look inside” is of a print edition.

  6. PG

    Did you click the link to report poor quality or formatting for your NYT bestseller? It would be nice to see a tradpub book or two withdrawn from sale for quality reasons.

  7. “Some Tips to make your EBook look Great.”

    VELLUM.

    The end.

  8. Scrivener makes fantastic .epub and .mobi files.

  9. My ebooks are formatted in a simple yet effective manner. For testing, I use the Kindle Previewer, and then download epub and mobi files from Smashwords. I check them out on the desktop apps. This is vital. Since I’ve been on disability for over 23 years, I still don’t have any kind of ereader, and I don’t have a cell-phone or a tablet. We do the best we can with what we’ve got.

  10. If a user chooses to read her book at a huge font size, we should allow for that and keep text flowing with no impediments.

    Yes! Do not force the reader to read the way you want her to, or the way you think All True Readers Read. Just get out of the way. I was visiting a website a little while ago where the text was too small at the default size. So I did my usual CTRL + to make it bigger. I was astonished to see the little bastard had a snarky pop-up to scold people for enlarging the text, because it messed with his design. Well, if what he had to say was important he would have made it readable, so screw him.

    It never pays to insist your readers have to read the same way you read. You’ll deserve every one-star you get.

    Don’t use too-tight line spacing or a specified font-size (use ems, not pixels so the text can be resized). I had to report one publisher of a bestselling novelist because the margins were so wide only three words could fit on a line. Just no.

  11. What in the name of suffering cats is a media query? Asking your local newspaper a question? I’ve got three indie books out and I never asked anything except of my editor and my cover artist.

    • I think it is a way for the html file to determine which stylesheet to use. So an eInk reader would use a different stylesheet than a tablet. IMO, too much futzing. Keep it simple. Good readable text that flows nicely, especially at larger sizes (Hint: keep it left justified.)

      • Is there anything that shouts “amateur and non-pro” more than a left-justified book, even ebook ?
        OK, many things in fact, but still.

  12. Simple, simple, simple is always the best. And I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book and said “I like how this is designed, I think I’ll read it.”

  13. I wish more formatters would take text-to-speech into account. I listen to a lot of academic works and the numbers for numbered footnotes are read aloud. It used to be distracting, hearing randomly inserted numbers popping up, but now my brain has been altered to tune them out.

    This is a wee bit disturbing.

    If the endnotes or footnotes are just source credits they really don’t need numbering since they are hotlinks. Asterisks would indicate a link and wouldn’t be pronounced.

    • The numbering of footnotes is standard for academic works, because it allows things like nesting or the indication of multiple sources for the same wording.

      Also, if you have to use asterisks, you pretty quickly find yourself using more than one to five asterisks per page, and with nowhere to go. You cannot expect all ebooks to support the dagger or the section heading or the other old-fashioned things.

    • The numbering of footnotes and endnotes is standard for academic works, because it allows things like nesting or the indication of multiple sources for the same wording.

      Also, if you have to use asterisks, you pretty quickly find yourself using more than one to five asterisks per page, and with nowhere to go. You cannot expect all ebooks to support the dagger or the section heading or the other old-fashioned font symbols once used instead of numbered footnotes. But every ebook allows the use of numbered footnotes.

      • Ideally, text-to-speech would be smart enough to simply not speak the numbers. My kludge would be that the endnotes themselves are still numbered, but not in the main text; because the text is hot linked there is no need for either numbers or more than one asterisk. The asterisk just visually indicates the presence of an endnote. Click the hotlink and it takes you to the endnote, which has the number & usual information. No information is lost for academics and the book is a pleasant listen.

        Differentiating citations on a page visually via numbers or symbols is the technology of paper so the reader can make the appropriate links.

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