Interior Design Alert: E-Book Vs. P-Book

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January 2015
by Joel Friedlander

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When people get started in book publishing these days, their projects usually include plans for both print books and e-books. And that makes a lot of sense. With the growing popularity of devices that can deliver books in digital formats, it’s important to ensure that a book you’ve worked hard on is available to readers no matter which format they prefer.

But it’s also important to remember that there are big differences between print books and e-books. For instance, a print book can be manufactured in different sizes and proportions for, say, a hardcover edition and a paperback edition, while most e-books are just text files. And some fonts or layouts that work well in print books will be largely lost in e-books.

The most important difference, though, may be that the basis of the design of print books is quite different than the basis of the design for e-books.

The basic form of the traditional book comes from binding pages together inside a cover. What this means is that pages in a printed book are connected to each other. When you open the book, what you see is two pages side by side, or what we call a two-page spread.

The page spread has historically been the basis of book design. Good book design uses lots of design elements to help readers navigate, and many of these elements are based on the two-page spread. Here are some examples:

  • Putting running heads at the outside margins of the pages makes a book look more solid.
  • Putting running heads at the inside page margin gives the layout a very open look because of the negative (empty) space on the outside at the top of the pages.
  • Centering running heads and putting folios (page numbers) at the bottom outside margins of the pages gives them a classic look.
  • Using running feet, which are exactly the same as running heads but placed at the bottom of the page instead of at the top, creates an unusual look.
  • Combining running feet with folios on the same line but with the folios at the outside margin and the running feet at the inside margin creates a unique look.
  • Creating sidebars by enlarging the outside margins lets you use a thin rule under running heads to help unify a page that includes a text box spreading into the sidebar or a page with an illustration that runs full width, protruding into the sidebar.

As you can see, a lot of variations are available when you design for the two-page spread. All these possibilities use the symmetry of the spread as the basis of their design.

Of course, most of those elements don’t apply to e-books. In the e-books we have today, the basic unit of design is the screen.

This makes sense because both the hardware that’s needed to display e-book files and the software that interprets the text for a specific device determine how an e-book will look.

Something that looks like a two-page spread can be displayed on some e-book readers and tablets, thanks to software designed to make the transition to e-books easier for people who have been holding bound books in their hands for their entire lives. But the spread is unnecessary and artificial in e-books, while a single page fits the screen perfectly, and most e-readers, including Kindles, were designed quite intentionally to mimic the size and proportions of a trade paperback book page.

All of this means that the basic unit of design for e-books is the single page, not the two-page spread. As a result, publishers who plan to issue a book in both print and e-book editions need to realize that a lot of the design we do based on the two-page spread must be thrown out in the e-book conversion.

When you’ve paid a professional to design the interior of your book for printing, or taken the time and trouble to teach yourself enough to design the interior of the book, this might be disheartening. But it’s part of the book production workflow now, and dual production streams have become the norm for almost all books.

If you constructed a print book with the sole intention of making it easily convertible to e-book formats, you’d likely end up with a book that doesn’t look the way it would have if you had designed just it for print. It wouldn’t have any two-page spread design elements, or any sidebars. Material you might have put into a sidebar would be styled within the flow of the text.

So think about what formats you might offer well before you move a book into production.

If you’ll be selling print books exclusively or primarily, design with the spread in mind.

If you’ll be selling e-books exclusively or primarily, design with a single page in mind, and forget about spreads.

If you’ll be selling both print books and e-books, plan to use a different design for each.


Joel-2014-headshot 300x copyJoel Friedlander is a self-published author, an award-winningbook designer, and a well-established blogger. The founder of the Self-Publishing Roadmap online training course and a frequent speaker at industry events, he wrote a version of this article that was published at CreateSpace, and he offers book design templates for Microsoft Word at BookDesignTemplates.com. To learn more: thebookdesigner.com.

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