e-Publishing: KISS Method for Formatting eBooks

By | October 2, 2015

Formatting books for e-publishing requires a very different approach. In this post, I share my method for formatting ebooks that look great on all devices.

How to Use the Kiss Method for e-publishing

When I teach courses on e-publishing, one of the topics that creates the most discussion is the use of fonts and styles in formatting ebooks, especially among those accustomed to designing documents for print. In a PDF we embed all of our fonts and formats; but e-reading devices allow the reader to choose the font, size, and line spacing of the text. That means a reader can re-format our carefully crafted ebook design. This can be frustrating for those who expect more control over the design.

When designing ebooks, I use what I call the KISS method: Keep It Sweet & Simple.

Keep It Sweet

Let’s stop for a moment and think about reading books from the reader’s perspective.

With a traditional print book the reader picks up a book and expects to see a beautiful cover. Next, he or she will turn the book over to read the back cover or the inside flaps of a hardcover book. From there the reader will flip through the title page and copyright page and may stop to read the dedication and peruse the table of contents. The reader often flips through the book, getting an overall impression of the look” and feel of the book without consciously recognizing this reflective process. The book has clean lines, headers and footers, and page numbers. If the print is small, he or she may grab a pair of reading glasses or look for a large print version.

How to use the KISS Method for e-publishingMost readers don’t think about the design that has gone into the book, but they are subconsciously aware of the quality and careful attention that has made that book beautiful and easy to read. The reader may even think about how nice the book will look sitting alongside the rest of his or her book collection.

Readers of digital books go through a different process. They’ve already browsed covers and descriptions online and added the ebook to their digital collection. When they open the ebook they go right to chapter one and start reading.

The text on the mobile screen may tire the reader’s eyes, so he or she clicks an icon at the top of the screen and increases the font size and screen brightness. The reader notices that the font can be changed, so he tests a few fonts to see what he prefers.

You see, in an ebook, the reader has choices. He probably selected and purchased his e-reader based on the options it offered. The reader now has expectations about his reading experience. Be sweet; let the reader choose.

Keep It Simple
in e-publishing the ebook designer has choices too, but they are not the same choices as when designing a print book. Rather than first thinking about the book’s size, margins, fonts, and paragraph styles, the designer’s first decision is whether or not to embed fonts and create an aesthetic design of your own choosing or whether to allow the reader to make those decisions.

There are two thoughts on this decision of reader choice in e-publishing. Some designers prefer to embed fancy fonts when formatting ebooks. Others believe this frustrates readers who are accustomed to choosing how they will read an ebook. I follow the later philosophy: let the reader choose.

Once you’ve decided to let the reader choose, the job of designing and formatting ebooks becomes much more simple. Select standard fonts and don’t embed them. I use two fonts in most ebooks: one serif and one sans-serif.

I typically use a serif font such as Times New Roman or Garamond for the body text. These are standard serif fonts found on most e-readers. Indie Designz has an article on the Best Fonts for eBook Formatting.

The only fonts I embed are the fonts for the book title on the title page and sometimes chapter headings. I like to use a san-serif font for book titles and chapter headings. You can add design to your ebook by embedding these title and chapter fonts and yet still allow the reader to choose the font for the body text according to his or her preferred reading experience.

Sweet & Simple Paragraphs

The same applies to paragraph styles. Most e-readers will allow the reader to choose line spacing. In fact, the e-reader device often imposes a certain line spacing. When I open a MOBI file on my Kindle, I notice that the line spacing is greater than the spacing for the same book opened in iBooks. I output both files from the same source, but the e-reader renders them differently.

Many print books have indented paragraphs, but in e-publishing it’s common to see block paragraphs with an extra line of space after each paragraph. As a reader, I prefer the block paragraph in an ebook. It makes reading on-screen more comfortable. The space between paragraphs gives your readers’ eyes a break and makes it less likely they will lose their place in the text.

Do not use extra paragraph spaces to create separation between paragraphs when e-publishing; it creates too much space and e-reading devices don’t like empty paragraphs. You may get unexpected results. Rather use the styles function in your software to create padding after the block paragraph.

Using Styles for e-Publishing

Many amateur book designers don’t take advantage of one of the most basic and efficient functions of word processing and document design software: styles.

Styles allow you to create consistency in your document, tell the e-reader how to format your ebook, and make it quick and simple to make changes throughout the document by editing one style. They are useful in print and e-publishing.

Chapter headings should all have a chapter style. You can decide if you want the heading centered or left justified, in all caps or first letter capped only, or whether to include a page break before the new chapter heading.

Likewise, you should apply a style to the body text. If you decide to change the body font later, you can simply change the parameters of the style and all body text will change with it. You can even create a different style for the first paragraph of each chapter and include a drop cap. Many e-readers will recognize the drop cap. Some won’t, but it doesn’t hurt to include this in your paragraph style. At worst, it will just be ignored.

You probably want to use italics and bolded text in your book. That’s okay. Use a character style to add these elements. A character style overrides the paragraph style and the e-reader will recognize the character element.

Blogger and author Molly Greene has a great article on using styles for formatting ebooks: Simple eBook Formatting Using MS Word.

Give Your Readers a KISS

Be sweet to your readers. The simpler you keep your formatting, the happier you will be with the outcome and the happier you’ll make your readers. Adding fancy design elements could produce unexpected results when rendered on various e-reading devices. Standard fonts and simple paragraph styles will keep your readers focused on your story; and that’s the best reason for creating a well-designed ebook.

Leave a comment below and tell me how you like to control your e-reading experience.


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