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The 10 Most Common E-Book Design Mistakes

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As e-books become more and more popular, their design problems become more and more obvious. Design mistakes can be very costly. Often, they result in expensive returns. Also, they represent lost opportunities to establish a distinct and memorable brand that would pre-sell future offerings from the same author and/or publisher.

All too many e-books suffer from one, or more, of the following 10 design problems. Avoiding them will help you reduce returns and increase reader pleasure, leading to bigger future sales


Mistake #1. Long lines of type

Most e-books are hard to read because type extends from left to right in a single unbroken column across the width of the page. As a result, left and right margins are very narrow.

The combination of long lines of type and narrow margins makes for difficult reading. It’s all too easy for readers to get lost making the transition from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. Often, doubling (re-reading the same line) occurs, and a reader’s hands may obscure some of the text in a printout.

Besides being difficult to read, pages filled with long lines of text and limited margins fail to project a unique image.


Mistake #2: Default line spacing

For easy reading, line spacing should be based on the typeface as well as the line length and type size. Readers depend on the white space between lines to create “rails” which guide their eyes from left to right.

Very seldom is the default, or “automatic,” line spacing appropriate for easy reading. Although line space can be adjusted in e-books created with Adobe Acrobat, few e-book publishers take advantage of this capability.

Remember: Long lines of text are hard to read–especially when set in a sans serif typeface like Arial or Verdana instead of a serif typeface like Times New Roman.


Mistake #3. Failure to number pages

Page numbers are omitted on many e-books–even those published using formats like Adobe Acrobat that permit publishers to number pages accurately. Under the best of circumstances, the lack of page numbers can be frustrating. Under the worst of circumstances–when a reader drops a printout–it will be time-consuming as well as intensely irritating.


Mistake #4: Insufficient subheads

Many e-books lack subheads or format them in a way that limits their effectiveness.

Subheads are a necessity in all books, especially those intended for on-screen reading. They encourage reading by breaking long topics into a series of short, bite-sized chunks. Subheads convert “skimmers” into readers by “advertising” the text that follows.

When subheads are present in e-books, they are often poorly formatted. Do not set subheads in the same typeface and type size as adjacent body copy and simply italicize or underline them. Instead, choose a typeface and type size that forms a noticeable contrast with the text type. For example, if you are using serif text for body copy (like Times Roman), choose a bold, sans serif typeface (like Arial or Arial Black) for the subheads. Also, make sure to set them off with extra space.


Mistake #5: Lack of headers

Few e-books help readers keep track of their location in the book and their progress through it. Without section and chapter numbers and titles, it’s hard for readers to locate, or re-locate, specific chapters and specific topics.


Mistake #6. Oversized footer information

Often e-books use the same typeface and type size for body copy and for information repeated at the bottom of each page. Instead, the publisher’s address and copyright information should be smaller and less noticeable than the text on each page.

Worse, often the author’s or publisher’s e-mail address appears as a bright blue hyperlink, the only color repeated on each page. This bright blue distraction gets attention far out of proportion to its importance.


Mistake #7. Poor navigation

Without a page number on each page, the table of contents can provide only a rough outline of the e-book’s sections and chapters. This problem is compounded when there are no headers to indicate sections, or chapter numbers and titles.

Many e-books, including those in formats that permit internal hyperlinks, fail to make it possible to go from the table of contents directly to a desired chapter or topic. Effectively used, links and anchor tags greatly simplify locating desired information.


Mistake #8. Boring covers

Few e-books contain a distinctive cover that not only effectively advertises the topic, but also sets the book apart from its competition. Rarely are blurbs or testimonials from satisfied readers included on e-book covers. Properly used, testimonials could reduce returns by reinforcing the buyer’s choice in purchasing the e-book.


Mistake #9. Text wraps

Photographs and visuals in e-books are often placed within text columns, or where they interrupt adjacent columns. Either alternative is wrong, because the visual creates unsightly text wraps where the lines of text next to the visual are shorter than the other lines in the column. This forces readers to readjust their left-to-right eye scanning rates.

A better alternative is to make the visual align with the edges of a column.


Mistake #10. Borders and graphic accents

E-book pages are often boxed with lines of equal length at the top, bottom and sides of the page. This creates an old-fashioned look. A more contemporary image could be created by using rules, or lines, of different weight at the tops and bottoms of pages.

Pull-quotes rarely appear in e-books. As short passages that are set in a larger size than the body copy, pull-quotes repeat important ideas contained in the text and add visual interest to pages as they drive points home. In the absence of page numbers, they also help readers locate desired ideas.


Summing Up

Design is as important to e-book success as it is to the success of printed books. In both cases, the goals are:

  1. Making reading easier and more pleasurable, and
  2. Creating a unique “look” that distinguishes the book from its competition.

Technological limitations are not an excuse for dysfunctional e-book designs.

Roger C. Parker is the author of the classic “Looking Good in Print” (now entering its fifth printing) and 31 other books. Download his free e-book design checklist at www.NewEntrepreneur.com/ebookchecklist.





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