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.?