Having a nice looking ebook increases the chances of it being read by a factor of one gazillion.
Lately, I’ve been doing more ebook designing than any other type of work and it’s been a total blast.
But I’ve noticed a few questions keep coming up over and over in regards to technical terms, layout ideas, etc. I’m going to cover some of those basics in this post, both for general education purposes and also as an aide to potential clients as to what kinds of things are possible with their own books.
A couple of the things I’m going to cover are very basic common terms from the world of print. Well, basic to some people, but brand new to many others. I hope this post can serve as a good introduction and an idea generator.
We’ve all seen a lot of ebooks, some good, some bad and some absolutely atrocious. The bad ones have jumbled text that can’t be read, awful color schemes (if any color at all), poor graphic choices, etc.
The good ones are visual candy. They flow well, are harmonious and balanced, and are ultimately easy and fun to read.
The Absolute Bare Minimum
Regardless of anything else that goes into an ebook, whether it’s busy or subtle or full of color, the book has to be legible. If it can’t be read it’s 99% useless. Any book that leaves my shop has the base-line requirement of being easy on the eyes.
Portrait & Landscape
These are fairly common terms that we’ve probably all dealt with at work from time to time.
Portrait orientation, say with a standard 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper, is taller than it is wide. Landscape, think of an actual outdoor landscape, is wider than it is tall.
Each has its own look and benefits, but I generally create ebooks in landscape format. The reason for this is obvious: computer monitors are also in landscape format. A book in landscape format fits on the screen more naturally without getting chopped off.
Some fonts are easier to read than others, so some are well used for main body copy while others are best reserved for chapter headings, pullquotes or any brief area of emphasis.
The two basic choices for the main body copy font are serif and sans-serif. Serif fonts have little serifs, or tails, on them like the image to the left.
Serif fonts are often considered better used for body copy, as the serifs act as trails or pointers that lead the eye from character to character. This can reduce eye strain and make the reading little smoother.
On the other hand, sans-serif fonts (“sans” meaning “without”) do not have the tails.
Sans-serif fonts can also work well for body copy, but because they lack the serifs, they often appear to be closer to together and jumbled. This, if not done well, can make for eye strain and tough reading and that’s no fun. So generally the sans-serif fonts are bumped up in size a bit, to increase legibility.
Personally, I find that as long as the font size is adequate, serif and sans-serif fonts work equally well and the choice comes down to preference.
Here’s where we get to have a bit more fun. Chapter titles, for example, can be funky or grungy or any style at all. And since they’re only used for a sentence or two and are of larger font-size, we don’t need to worry about eye strain and legibility.
The exact style of font, of course, comes down to preference but it should at least fit the subject of the book. A business book wouldn’t use a title font that looks like barbwire or graffiti, although that would be perfect for an ebook on tattoo art.
Dropshadow is just a fancy word for shadow, and I’m sure you’ve seen a million examples of them online. They’re insanely popular and I’m sure they’ll continue to be until the end of time because they’re an excellent way to give depth, realism and visual interest to the page.
Since they obviously obscure adjacent text a bit, they’re reserved for larger fonts and not body copy.
The “T” at the beginning of this sentence is a dropcap, so called because it drops below its own line of text. It’s a nice, elegant way to introduce a body of copy and, again, break up the monotony of a large text block.
“The First Five”
There’s probably a professional trade name for this, but I’ve always referred to it as “the first five.” Many books use this convention, whereby the first few words of a chapter are styled with bold text, a larger font, etc. When coupled with an initial dropcap, this is a really slick way to introduce a chapter.
Pullquotes & Blockquotes
The terms pull-quote and blockquote are often used interchangeably, but I generally distinguish them as follows:
A pull-quote, also called a lift-quote, pulls something out of the body copy for re-emphasis. If you’ve got a great quote or statistic you want to reiterate, you can pull it out and give it emphasis as a pull-quote. And once I pull the quote out, I’ll tweak it and play with its margins until it looks cool and fits in with the surrounding text fields.
A blockquote, while basically the same thing at heart, has a couple minor differences. First, it’s called a blockquote because it’s arranged more in a block, left-justified.
This is a blockquote.
All my shiznit is left justified, yo.
That’s how we roll.
Seems a little more blocky, yes? Little more traditional than the pull-quote. The second reason it’s a blockquote and not a pullquote is that you don’t have to pull text from the copy. You can say anything you want in a blockquote, even useless drivel like I did.
Regardless, both are usually formatted in a bigger, bolder and more interesting font, and often appear in an entirely different color. It’s a perfect way to break up the visual monotony of a long span of text and add some graphic interest. And of course it’s a great way to emphasize a point.
Folios & Numbering
A folio is a great way to mark every page with an identical symbol or brand image, like “The Next 45 Years” in the corner of the image to the left.
A folio can be page numbers, a logo, a URL or any combination of elements. One of the cool things about using folios with ebooks (which are usually .PDF documents) is that you can use them to link back to your site. That way, no matter where your book ends up, your readers will be able to track you down by simply clicking on the folio bit in the corner.
I love the finishing touches and ornaments and little things that really give your book personality! There are two methods I use all of the time, if the client wants them of course.
One method is to take the first letter of a sentence or title and then duplicate it in the background. But the trick is to use a more scripty or ornamental font and lighten it a bit, so it ends up as just a ghost of a letter in the background. Depth, baby, depth! Looks great and can help reduce the blockiness of the page…check it out.
The second method is to just use flourishes, ellipses and dingbats at chapter’s end. In the image to the left, that top one there is a dingbat. Yup, that’s what it’s called! Whatever you call it, they make a nice finishing touch and brings resolution to the end of the writing.
So, all in all, there are quite a few ways to distinguish your ebook from the 16,000 others that were published while I was writing this sentence. When done right with proper typography, colors and layout, an ebook can become a very special item indeed. In fact, quite a few bloggers and writers are publishing collector-type ebooks. They’ll produce a series of ebooks, perhaps one per month or season. And while each is similar, they can be individualized with different covers, color schemes or even seasonal ideas.
Special thanks to Alex Blackwell for letting me use images from the recently published ebook he and I designed. I’ve done quite a few ebooks recently, but I have to say that Alex’s book was a real treat to work on. Not only did he allow me quite a bit of artistic freedom, he’s also a top-notch writer. I highly suggest going to Alex’s site to pick up a copy of his book. You’ll be quite inspired, I’m sure. Plus, you’ll see what’s probably my best ebook design ever.
So…you want a sexy ebook? Let me know if you do and I’ll get to work on it!