Three great ebook formatting tips, part II

Ebooks follow different formatting rules than books printed on paper. That’s because a book made of ink on paper is a different platform for presenting information than a book made of digital bits on an electronic screen. Even though the same content (your book) is being presented, the platforms will need to be handled differently, just as certainly different production methods are used for a play presented on stage and on a television screen.

Because of that, there are a number of things you might do when formatting a paperback but never would do when constructing an ebook. Following are three tips about what to differently.

Drop caps
Usually drop caps won’t work in ebooks, so they’re best avoided. As the reader can alter the font and font size, the drop cap typically will float above or drop below the line it just appear in front of. As most ebooks don’t support text wrap, converting a drop cap to an image isn’t viable either. You can create a poor man’s drop cap by making the first letter of a chapter boldface and two or three points larger than the regular text, but this generally doesn’t look as good as the elegant drop caps used in paper books.

Font size
Most ereaders will allow you to vary the text’s font size (aka point size) but within strict limits. Because of this, the paperback might be able to handle a font size of 48 points, but the ereader won’t. That’s because ereaders and tablets have a limited screen size, so going too large means all of the letters of a word won’t fit on a single line. If varying the font size, do so only with the headers and limit yourself to just a couple of changes. Typically, 18 points is the largest (and accepted) size that looks good in an ebook. So the title of the book might be 18 points boldface. After that, the most important heading – say for a chapter – would be 15 points boldface. The next heading – say for a section of a chapter – would be 12 points boldface with the text 11 or 12 points regular font. Subsections of a chapter section might be the same size as the text but in italics.

Don’t place text, such as page numbers or the book’s title, within the footer section of a word processing document. Typically this information won’t show up in an ebook, making your work for naught. Sometimes (and worse) it will show up, placing text where it shouldn’t appear in the ebook. Remember, ebooks don’t use page numbers, and most automatically will place the title of your book at the top of each screen page that the reader of you ebook sees.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.