I often hear or read this request from authors: I want my ebook design to look exactly like the print version.
I understand, as print books are beautifully designed, and often the author has gone to a great deal of time working with a typesetter and book designer to achieve a specific layout and design.
But ebooks are not created in the same way as print books. Behind the ebook, what you don’t see, is a complicated code (similar to a website) that tells the e-reading device how to render your ebook. Some things we see in print are not possible to render with code. And furthermore, some e-reading devices are not designed to understand and render certain details.
eBook Design & the Role of e-Reading Devices
Every device renders ebooks differently. Even ebooks rendered on e-reading devices by the same company will look different. In general, newer devices will offer more features, though not always. Some devices support only reflowable ebooks, while others may support some features of a fixed-format ebook.
Let’s take the example of an image displayed to the right of the text. In a reflowable ebook rendered on a Kindle e-ink device, it is simply not possible to place the image in alignment beside a text selection.
Carefully selected fonts and font sizes will render differently on every Kindle device. Neither will they look the same on an iPad, a Kobo device, or in the Google Play reader. These devices each render ebooks differently.
All e-reading devices offer user options. These devices allow readers to make choices regarding fonts and sizes.
There are many different elements that affect the final display of an ebook. Suffice it to say that ebooks are designed to be flexible so that, regardless of the device used, your ebook will look terrific. You can read more about formatting ebooks that will look great on all devices in KISS Method for Formatting eBooks
Reflowable vs. Fixed-format eBook Design
You do have some options that can help you get the “look”, or ebook design, you want. You may choose between creating a reflowable or fixed-format ebook. What’s the difference?
A reflowable, or fluid, format works well for mostly text-based ebooks. The content flows in a linear fashion. Most fiction books fall into this category and some non-fiction books.
The advantage of reflowable ebooks is that they are easier to format, which means they are usually less expensive to create. Reflowable ebooks can be rendered and read on all e-reading devices.
If you’re looking for an ebook that closely mirrors your printed version, you probably want a fixed-format ebook. This type of ebook design is great for picture books and books with multiple columns.
With fixed-format ebooks, you control where the text and images appear and how they are placed on the ebook page. Children’s books, comic books and photo books work well with fixed format.
But there are some distinct disadvantages to fixed-format ebooks. First, they are usually more expensive to create. The coding is more complicated and they take more time, although there are some tools, such as Apple iAuthor and Kindle Comic Creator, that allow non-coders to easily create fixed-format ebooks. These tools are free.
But beware: only a very few devices will be able to “read” these fixed-format ebooks. You’ll be limited in your distribution options.
Another downside is that fixed-format books may have larger file sizes, which means the download fees charged by some distributors may cut into your profits significantly.
Tools that Create Code for eBook Design
You don’t need to know how to code to create an ebook. Many tools allow you to work with the text and images only and create the code behind the scenes. I included a list of tools in this article: Publishing ePUB Books.
But it is good to at least understand how the code works to render your ebook. That way you’ll know what is possible and what won’t work. Understand the features that are supported in ebooks will also help you learn how to use these tools to achieve your desired “look.”
While I can code, I use tools to create ebooks. I only go into the code when necessary. Why? Obviously, it’s easier and takes less time to use a tool that just shows text and images to create an ebook. That way, I can focus on design. But I also know how to use these tools to get the desired effect. On my Workshops and Webinars page, you can find resources for learning how to use some of these tools.
Download this FREE PDF “Testing Your eBook With FREE Apps” that I created just for you. You’ll get a list of free apps and directions for how to add your ebooks to these apps on your computer, iOS, or Android device and test them.