Formatting ebooks the old way or new way

I helped beta test a new site that sells ebooks even though I’m exclusive to Amazon and can’t sell there. I did it as a favor, and my novels were taken down before it went live. Now that it’s live, I checked to see what was for sale (using their version of Amazon’s Look Inside) and found that every author formatted their ebooks differently. That led to a discussion on the site’s forum.

I format my ebooks like traditional publishers do their print and ebooks. Don’t indent the first paragraph in a chapter or scene. Indent all other paragraphs. Don’t have a blank line between paragraphs. Justify text (straight right margin vs a jagged right margin with left justified).

However, I find that hard to read on a computer screen so I add a little white space between lines and 6pt (which is half a character height for a 12pt font) between paragraphs. I believe the white space makes it more readable.

But is formatting it the old way right? I’m considering not justifying the text. The webmaster told me that he reads on his phone and justified text looks awful — too much space between words on the tiny screen. The other problem with justifying is I don’t have the typesetters traditional publishers use who put spaces in the right places and hyphenate words.

And now to the big one. If you read something on the web, like this forum, you won’t see indents, and paragraphs are separated by a blank line. As I said, I have half a blank line between paragraphs with indenting. But why do we do it that way? I found this on wikibooks:

Indentation exists because it was cheaper for early printers to do that than to add strips of lead between paragraphs, thus increasing the total number of pages required per book and increasing costs per unit.


As e-reader devices overtake paper book sales, book design aesthetics will evolve as well. There is little reason to maintain the printer’s status quo when there is no longer a printer involved. As with all good design, use common sense, have a reason for your choices, keep things consistent, and don’t be afraid to break a few so-called rules.

I only do ebooks so I wouldn’t have to deal with different formats for print and digital. So what do you think? The traditional publishing industry is slow to make changes. Should indie publishers follow their archaic formatting or move into the digital age where the rules are different, like webpages, blogs, etc.?

I have no opinion one way or another about indenting, but man, I can’t stand that wall of text in printed books! I hate books where the text all runs together and the only indication of a new paragraph is the indent, so all my ebooks have two spaces between paragraphs. Full justification looks terrible to me too so I’d never do that, but other people seem to like it. I format my books the way I’d like all books to look. I guess it’s all subjective and every writer does what looks good to them. ¯\_(ﭢ)_/¯

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My OP was pretty long. This is what I’m asking.

Epub supports stylesheets, and has for at least 7-8 years as does Kindle, allowing the text to be written unformatted (XML) and have CSS apply the format on the device. The idea being, that the reader may change the styles to their preference. I much prefer this methodology to the publisher imposing their own ideas of aesthetics upon the reader. Unfortunately, next to no e-reader applications support end-user CSS, except for a few microscopic tweaks, making my point pretty much moot. The industry has certainly had time enough to comply but decided not to.

By the way; as rules go, please try and understand why they are there before breaking them. There could be a reason. There are countless disorders and disabilities that require special attention when styling. And, yes - common sense is a very good starting point :wink:.

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Sure, the reader can change the font size, but not everything. If the author indents, the reader cannot not indent. If the author justifies the text, I don’t think the reader can make it left justify. If the author doesn’t provide a space between paragraphs, the reader can’t add that space.

I have difficulty reading a book on my laptop when it is single spaced and indented with no space between paragraphs. When we discussed it on another forum, I was not alone. That was the general opinion.

What works on a printed page doesn’t work on an electronic device. Otherwise this forum and websites and people’s blogs would be formatted that way. What I’m saying is the current rules are wrong. Part of the quote above is: “e-reader … book design aesthetics will evolve.”


That is my point, exactly. CSS allows changing absolutely everything, provided that the source document is well formed XML, which it almost never is. But even if they were, almost no devices or apps support client side CSS.

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