It used to be that book design was a discipline where we had defined page sizes. For print, that is still the case, but how long will print be with us? When I design for print, I decide ahead of time what the size of the end product will be. It’s either 8.5 x 5 inches or it is 9 x 6 inches for a trade paperback. There are cases where I might want a different size (mini books for example) but 9 x 6 or 8.5 x 5 covers most of the cases. The margins get set predictably, with a large inside margin to account for the spine of the book. The Chapter headings start in a predictable place, and I can count on a page with 300 or 350 words per page. All those assumptions change when designing for electronic formats.
The largest change, for me, is the one in our mental model about how a book looks and feels. Instead of the design being in the hands of the producer, the choices about the ‘page’ move into the hands of the reader, literally. The person reading the book determines the font they want to see, the size of the font, the color of the page and even the brightness or contrast. It is the ultimate in user centered design experience.
There are things we can do to get in the way of the reader making their choices, but we should not do that. We need to get with the program, get onboard, and drink from the fountain of experience. There’s no putting this particular djinn back in the bottle. When we prepare our manuscripts for digital reflow, we need to be aware of the things that help our readers have a good experience.
- Put a section break in the word document before the chapter titles. This means each new chapter starts at the top of a new ‘page’, just like it does in a paper book. This is familiar and expected, and is therefore comforting to a person reading the book. Starting a new chapter just a couple lines after the end of an old chapter fails to give the reader pause to notice that the subject has changed. If the subject didn’t change, I have to wonder why there is a new chapter at all?
- Use chapter titles that are not too long. If they are long, they get ugly text-wrapping.
- Use a maximum of 18px size for your chapter titles to avoid line-wrapping
- Check that lists do not become tiny 2″ wide strips. Don’t indent them.
- Remove the font tags before publishing to kindle OR use a kindle-supported font like Georgia
- Consider putting some of the front-matter in the back of the book so a reader gets to the content as soon as they open at the title page
- Put your back cover blurb right up front after your cover image so a reader can see it again before reading the book. Makes a real difference to how many people engage with your book after buying it
There are likely other things you can do to help make your book more reader-friendly in digital format, however, these are a good place to start.
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