Giving your e-book the professional edge

I thought I’d share a few tips about page layout today. Professional publishers work hard to give each book an individuality, even if it is a text-only paperback.

Self-publishers should too. There are a few rules – which apply irrespective of software. These days most word processing software will do layout to some extent – Microsoft Word, Open Office, Scrivener and so forth. The up-side is that you don’t need to learn the technicalities demanded of a professional typesetting package like InDesign or XPress (usually misnamed ‘Quark’. which is actually the manufacturer). But there are still pitfalls even with word processors-as-typesetters. Here are a few tips

1. Font. Keep the choice simple. Don’t mix-and-match dozens of them. Two will do –  a serif for text and sanserif for header, or vice-versa (think Arial and Cambria, for instance).

2. Font sizes. Text has to be legible. Don’t go for a microscopic size. Typically, professional books use 9 or 10 point main body text, with 12 or 14 point leading (the space between lines).

3. Column widths. If you make the column too wide, readers won’t be able to track the line. It’s worse on screen than on paper. The font and size you select for your main text usually defines the column width; an e-book format re-feeds to suit the screen size; but if you’re preparing for PDF, figure out a width that gives you no more than 14-17 words (average word length is 4.5 characters, don’t ask about the half).

4. Margins. In traditional print, pages are offset left and right by a small amount known as the gutter. This is the space taken up by the binding. If you are aiming for print-on-demand as well as e-publication, you’ll have to account for  this.

5. Paragraphing. By default, programmes like Word work like typewriters – if you want to separate paragraphs, add a line space. Professional typesetting is different. You can make Word and most other software do this, to a certain extent. Often, a professional typesetter creates no extra space between paragraphs and differentiates, instead, with an indent.

6. Headers and footers. Most royal trade (C5) size paperbacks have page number and other information at the bottom of the page, or the top. Not both. Typically the information is perhaps book title (left hand side) and chapter title (right hand side) with the page number either centred or placed in left or right hand alignment with the columns.

Ultimately there is no absolute right or wrong, but applying these rules can help give a professional edge. Applying them creatively can help create a professional advantage.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

5 thoughts on “Giving your e-book the professional edge

  1. Matthew, I’ve got draft one of an air war novel approaching completion…so this is very timely from my perspective! I really appreciate this sort of thing, it’s the nuts-and-bolts stuff that will trip you every time if you aren’t careful.

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