Great question! This is a topic that I cover with my authors quite frequently. I’ll outline some of the basic differences between a print book and an ebook so you know what to expect. They’re not quite the same – that being said, there are quite a few things that can be done to make an ebook look as much like the print book as possible. So, let’s get started, “What is an ebook?”
Headers, footers, and page numbers – oh my!
Headers, footers, and page numbers are irrelevant in an ebook. Because of varying screen sizes and the ability of the reader to change font sizes, words will “reflow” to the next page. This is an improvement over viewing an ebook as a PDF. Instead of needing to scroll from one part of the screen to another to view more text, text will move to the next page instead. Using automatic software to convert from PDF to ePub retains headers, footers, and page numbers, so be aware that paragraphs will need to be rejoined from one page to another, and that headers, footers, and page numbers will need to be removed manually.
Index or no index – that is the question
In my opinion (and many people would disagree), an index is a print book relic. I sometimes will link an index on an author’s request (which costs quite a bit more), but for the most part, indexes can be removed from ebooks. It’s not that the index has no value, it’s just that an ebook’s search feature is so much more robust and more intelligent than a linked index can be. It finds every instance of that search word or term in the ebook, and includes the surrounding text, so that the reader knows the information in context.
Are you married to your fonts?
While it’s a good idea to embed fonts in children’s books, for most books, specifying a font is not recommended. There are a few reasons for this: if you don’t specify a font, you’re allowing your reader to choose the font they like the best. That’s one easy way to honor your reader. Secondly, many fonts do not allow for embedding in their licensing. You need to do the research, and possibly pay more, for fonts you can legally embed. Lastly, an embedded font increases file size and complexity with very little benefit. Because you are paying more in delivery fees (for Kindle) with higher file sizes, you need to weigh the need to use a specific font very carefully. Just because you love it, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your ebook or your reader.
Pictures, captions, color, and page breaks
I put these items together because they frequently come up at the same time. Color is ok – the newer ereaders will show pictures and text in color, and older ereaders without color capability will show in grayscale. Pictures are ok. Captions sometimes stay with pictures, and sometimes go to the next page, based on screen size and font size. (The only way to prevent this is to make both the picture and the caption a single image.) Page breaks are things that you cannot predict. It’s possible to code for page breaks, which ereaders will sometimes ignore (page-break-inside:avoid) and honor (page-break-before:always). For the most part, it’s advisable to let breaks happen where they will, with the exception of breaks before chapters. Those we can control.
What about my table of contents?
This is where ebooks are more functional than print books. The reader can reach the table of contents (TOC) from any part of the book by going to the TOC link in the ereader. Then, from the TOC, they can click the chapter link to go to any part of the book. Speaking of links, it’s possible to link to a website, another part of the ebook, or to an endnote – click to them, then hit the “back” button to go back to the text.
Every book can be a large-print book
One fun benefit of an ebook is that any book can be large print. The reader has the ability to change the font size at their discretion. Because of the “reflowable” nature of the ebook, text simply reflows to the next page.
Under the hood
Finally, if you were to look under the hood of an ebook, you would find several folders containing different types of files: html files containing the text, various image files including the cover, and then files that tell the ereader what kind of file it is and what to do with each part of it. An ebook is structured quite a bit like a simple html- and css-based website. It can do many of the same things that a website can do, provided that the ereader can do those things, too. One big benefit of having your ebook professionally designed is that we know what the ebook can and cannot do, we’ve experienced many different scenarios in ebook design and functionality, and we’ve hand-coded literally thousands of ebooks.
While ebooks and print books can be quite different, the need for beauty and functionality remains the same. Formatting is yet another way, just like editing and great cover design, to set your book apart from other writers. At the end of the day, great book design honors your hard work, and, ultimately, it honors your readers.
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