Three ebook formatting tips, part V

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.

Headings
Most ereaders will allow you to vary the text’s font size (aka point size) but within strict limits. The paperback might be able to handle a font size of 48 points, but the ereader won’t 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.

Line spacing
Line spacing is the amount of space between lines and paragraphs. Fortunately, adjusting the spacing between lines is easy enough in a word processing program; simply go to the line and paragraph spacing menu and adjust. Usually 1 or 1.15 is good enough; any more, and the paragraphs will be difficult to read.

Long dash
Avoid using long dashes, which occurs when two short dashes are typed and after the space bar or enter key is hit magically converts into a single long dash (and typically is used with no spaces between the dash and the word before or the word after it). Long dashes typically make ebook text less readable. That’s before the ereader views the long dash and word before and the word after it as a single word. The result is odd spacing as most ereaders automatically distribute your text evenly between the margins. The solution is to use a single dash that expands in length when the enter key is hit and to leave a space between this dash and the word before and the word after it.