Book Design for eBooks

Book Design for eBooks

Most book design and typesetting conventions exist to make it easier for readers to make sense of the words on a printed page. However, many of these traditional book design and typesetting rules and conventions do not apply to the design of eBooks. One of the most obvious differences is that there are no right (recto) or left (verso) pages in an eBook.

When I design a book that will not be printed and will be sold solely as an electronic PDF book and/or EPUB eBook, the first thing I do is to center the main text block on the page. There is no need to leave extra white space on the inside margins to allow for the book’s binding, but I still leave a generous amount of white space on either side of the main text block of the PDF for ease of reading. The margins of the EPUB eBook are determined by the reader’s settings.

A typical eBook layout might have the running head text centered at the top of the page and the page number centered at the bottom of the page. Another option would be to place a rule (line) below the running head followed by the page number all in a block at the top (or bottom) of the page.

For printed books, I usually begin chapter openers on right-hand (recto) pages unless the publisher wants to keep the page count to a minimum. There are many reasons for starting chapters on recto pages aside from the fact that readers can more easily find the chapter openers.

From a typesetting/layout perspective, if author or editorial revisions made to the typeset pages at the proofing stage cause a single or odd number of pages to be added or removed, the left/right orientation of the remaining book pages will shift. This creates extra work for the typesetter and for the proofreader/editor, as all of the shifted pages have to be carefully checked. If all chapters begin on recto pages, it’s easy to renumber the subsequent pages without changing the recto/verso orientation of the rest of the book.

To make all chapters begin on recto/right pages, a blank verso/left page must be added to chapters that end on recto pages. Some books are designed as 2-page spreads, with the chapter openers on the left/verso pages. This design can be used for aesthetic reasons, because the designer or publisher wants something a little unusual, or to allow for a chapter opener that is preceded by an accompanying photograph appearing on the verso page.

For a PDF eBook there’s no need to set most (or all) of the blank pages that are traditionally used in the frontmatter (title page, contents, preface, etc.) and backmatter (notes, references, index, etc.) to make opener pages all begin on right/recto pages. The reader of a PDF eBook has no need for these blank pages and may be distracted or confused by them.

I almost always use recto page openers (or 2-page verso/recto spreads) for the frontmatter pages, but it’s more a matter of custom than necessity. I do not begin chapters (other than chapter 1 or the introduction) on new right pages in electronic PDFs if it means having to add a blank at the end of the preceding chapter. When I design and typeset a book that is also going to be printed, the PDF eBooks will include blank pages and recto openers as in the printed edition. I can make a PDF eBook without blanks and other artifacts of the printed book, but it requires some reworking and reproofing of the pages.

Recto and verso pages are often designed as mirror images, with elements such as page numbers and extra white space appearing on the outer margins of each page. Print book designers are used to thinking and working in terms of recto and verso pages. I find it distracting to read a PDF book that uses a different (even if mirror) design for opposite pages. Some people may be viewing books on large electronic screens with 2-page verso/recto spreads, but at this time most people are reading books on smaller screens.

The best and proper use of hyphenation is one of the major issues in book typesetting. Page layout programs such as InDesign and Quark XPress give designers a lot of control over how text is hyphenated, including how many hyphenated lines can appear in a row (I always set the maximum to 2 hyphens in a row), and how many letters can come before or after the hyphen (I prefer to have 3 letters before and after hyphens, but I will set the text for a minimum of 2 characters before and after hyphens for text with short columns or when trying to reduce a book’s page count.

Some publishers are okay with a left/verso page ending with a hyphen, but I never typeset a book with a right/recto page ending with a hyphen.

When I first began typesetting books 25 years ago, the editors and designers I worked with spent a lot of time and effort on typographical concerns, including whether the space between words or letters was too tight or loose, or if 2 lines of text in a row ended or began with the same word. Some publishers still won’t accept typesetting unless each paragraph ends with at least 2 words. I don’t always follow the 2-words-minimum rule, but I do try to balance each paragraph in the best way possible, regarding hyphenation and the tightness or looseness (tracking) of the text.

Every publisher has different standards and requirements for the design and typesetting of their books. My goal is to surpass everyone’s expectations, and to apply the best of everything I know  to each of the books I work on.

Thank you! Andrea

%d bloggers like this: