We Are Gods: Inventing eBook formatting

We are. The writers. And we have a new medium used in news ways and different things to consider. There is no “traditional” eBook format guide. We’re writing it. You and I. We are our own formatting gods.
Recently a writer I respect very much made a case for:
… adhering to publishing world standards … [it] speaks to upholding tradition and consistency … of respecting all the author’s work who’ve come before us ...
My own beliefs are diametrically opposed to his. Which does not mean I think his viewpoint is “wrong.” It’s simply a different way of thinking about these issues than my own. 

Indie writers are the "publishing world." A portion of it, anyway. We are publishers.
Paper book publishers all have their own formatting guidelines, often different from others. Those guidelines evolved, different in the 30s than the 60s than the 00s. 

As for respecting author's who came before, they just did what publishers required. Besides, if Shakespeare showed up today, he’d be Stephen King or Spielberg, not recreate the Globe theatre.Trad standards, developed for print books, aren't about tradition. 

They're about making the book work for readers while making a profit for the publisher.

That’s what new eBook standards will also be. What is new, now, will be traditional in a decade.


… limited to a minimum number used … one, two at most.

I agree. A bunch of fonts confuses the eye if they are too different from one another. But what’s a font?

Books, Trad or E, are limited by physical parameters. And devices change how much can be fit on a line. You might use Open Sans for most text and Open Sans Narrow for chapter titles because the font allows more characters per line. 

Or, you might use a font like Deja Vu because it has serif and non-serif versions. This can distinguish chapter titles from subtitles. 

… eReaders [render unpredictably] ... a font that may look fine on an iPad may not render the same way on a Kindle or other device…

Absolutely. The question for me was, what’s the program doing? I have a test title on Amazon and I load all kinds of variations of stuff in there to see what it looks like on multiple devices.

The choices seem to be based in these factors: 
  • serif or non 
  • normal or italic 
  • relative size

I create all my titles on Google Docs in Georgia because the program jumps from 14pt to 18 pt. Nothing in between. The 4pt difference is best for the way I format a time jump and usually shows up well no matter what I view it on.

I don’t have Word. I download an rtf file and upload to Amazon.

Spacing is an issue, also, as different programs can smoosh your lines together for a solid black body of almost unreadable text. Yeah, not user-friendly.
I got these numbers from an article on eBook formatting:
Line spacing 1.39
Add space after paragraph.

And I got this formatting from the same source:
left justify
no first line indent

All paragraphs should be indented. ...

Print books are indented to save paper. If there’s a space between graphs, it adds a significant number of pages. If there's no space and no indent, the book is one long paragraph. 

Indenting looks really bad on most cell phones or readers. IF you keep the extra spaces between graphs like Amazon does, it’s not terrible. But most programs don’t. 

Here’s a comparison between a Draft to Digital rendering and a Kindle rendering. -right click, open in new tab for full size-

The indent fatigues the eye, because we go back to the beginning, find the correct line, and then move in. Three processes. The block with space is less tiring because we go back and start reading, one process. 

We are our own publishers, we need to make these choices based on e-readers and our eBook readers. And what we see in other eBooks that works.  
Limit [word emphasis] to the use of italics. … removing all underlines, bolds, and CAPS.  

A page of print is a visual medium. I had a wonderful ARC reader send me 41 total pages of corrections on Dancing Men. Many of her corrections were about these issues. I ignored most of them. 

In my case, I write a lot of thought and memory. My stuff already has a lot italics. So I look for options because this can also fatigue a reader.< br/> Sometimes, you must emphasize a word in text or dialogue because it literally changes the meaning of the sentence:

"Don't give him any money."
"Don't give him any money."
"Don't give him any money."
I do use underline, because these days programs are subtler with the line and it gives me another way to communicate with my reader. I use it for strong emotions.
“Stop,” she said. “Stop. ... Stop it!”
I don’t have to resort to a dreaded adverb to convey her emotional state. We might be overhearing this and not know why she is saying or feeling what we hear. That last underline might prompt a character to get off a bus bench and peer down the alley. 

These are my personal emphasis parameters:

-Italics for memory - indent all of it

-Italics for thought. As normal text

-Italics for clarity. Emphasis indicates a change in tone in dialogue.

--Underline strong emotion or more intense action. Whap-whap! Whap!
Don’t underline punctuation like periods, commas, question marks. It’s confusing because it obscures spaces and ends. If you underline straight-backed for some reason I’m unable to imagine, do the whole thing. It’s one word.

Italics have traditionally been used for sounds. Bzzzzzzz. I write BDSM. There’s whappage. And shwipping. And cop stuff. There’s a lot of BAM! BANG! Comic book sounds. I like those, they give a fast visual to the reader.
Italics are visually softer. Underlining is stronger. I’m not italicizing pounding on the door unless it’s way escalated and it’s in addition to all caps and exclamation points and underlines.
But italics can also be insidious. Stephen King is a master of the insidious italicized sound. tap-tap-tap
These things are part of communicating story to the reader. These are our tools. 
Font color - One: black
I agree, unless you are writing non-fiction (even then) or a children’s book, maybe? Use black. Why? 

Because cutesy stuff like having the word 


in red as if it will be ... what? Bloodier? It’s the writer inserting themselves into the story - you come between the reader and the world you created. 

IMO. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, too. 

Back to color: I don’t believe it has to be the same shade of black. 

One of the best uses of tools I’ve seen was the chapter/section titles in the ebook of a very successful author who used grayscale quite effectively.

That’s one of those things I stole.

I’m going to avoid grammar and wind up, except to give my version of texting:

GRAMMAR: My grammar guidelines are: be correct in text and do what the hellever in dialogue. The best choice is the one that conveys clearly and sounds best in your reader’s ear.
I have willfully used a construction I knew violated some technical grammar “rule”—those evolve, too, you know—because my character would not speak that way or the text would be off-tone for the POV. Or I just don’t like it.
Drama advances with technology.”
From Drama 101. At first, stories were told around a campfire. You couldn’t move around too much or you’d be outside the light. Or you could go outside the light and make spooky noises. The first stage wings!
Jump forward. Moving pictures. No sound. Talkies. Color. Advances in special effects. Is there a visual we cannot show today?
The cell phone advanced storytelling and interfered with it. These days if you want to strand a character, you must explain away their cell phone.
We have new technology, new freedoms, as well as new restrictions, and we will evolve new forms.
Whatever you do, put the story first along with the reader. Strunk and White and your ego come last.
Mostly - never stop writing. And never let this kind of stuff stop you. Ever.

1 comment:

  1. Just finished Psychic Men - loved the book - hated the color of the print. So gray that I had a hard time reading it. I've noticed it in your other books when you were doing a memory passage, and wished then that you didn't. But this was the whole book. I hope you use black in the future.