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What You Can Control About E-book Design

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Full-color covers must work well on various electronic devices, whether or not the devices provide color. Shown here: a cover in print, on an iPad, and on a Kindle.


Selected graphics and font styles can maintain the overall character of a print-on-paper book in its electronic versions, as you can see when you compare the iPad screen on the left with the corresponding printed page on the right.

What You Can Control About E-book Design

by Tamara Dever

In general, good design is good design. That means the designer always keeps the presentation media, end use, and end user in mind throughout the creative process. When a book’s cover and interior are designed properly, it should work in all media with few alterations, and the close resemblance between your e-books and your traditional books will strengthen your brand.

Still, some things will make a smooth transition to e-book format easier. I recommend starting with the assumption that each book you publish will be translated into e-book formats, eventually if not immediately. There are always exceptions, but that’s a good way to start.

Cover Pointers

Before full-color printing was the norm, we used to be very careful about making sure book covers would reproduce well when they were reduced in size and shown in black-and-white. Many designers have forgotten (or never knew) that era.

Today, many e-book readers show color, but plenty still don’t, which means that books with covers (or interiors) printed in full color must work well in black-and-white on electronic devices. This sometimes entails adjusting brightness, contrast, and gray levels for readability and to show a design at its best.

All covers still need to look good when they are reproduced at small sizes. That means every book title must be readable when viewed thumbnail-size at an online store. If it isn’t, you will have to count on the rest of the graphics to be so compelling that a potential reader perseveres despite not instantly knowing what the book is called.

Remember that special features can be problematic. If the printed version of a book cover relies heavily on printing/finishing techniques such as embossing, foil, or gloss/matte combinations to convey a message, that message will probably get lost in the electronic version.

Elements Inside

Designing interior pages for easy transitions to e-formats is a bit more challenging, but the pages definitely don’t have to be boring.

While e-reading devices and the preferences of people who use them will determine font and “page” size, designers can use graphics and font styles (bold, italic, all-caps, etc.) adapted from the print version to maintain a book’s branding and overall character.

For instance, designers can make use of:

• a drop cap, small caps, or all caps to begin chapters

• graphics for section intros and chapter intros

• graphic dividers that separate pullquotes (aka callouts) from the main text

• photos, illustrations, charts, and graphs

• graphic elements known as dingbats that are often used to separate thoughts within the text or to

signal the end of a chapter

Don’t overdo the use of photos and other graphics, though, as this will cause the e-book file to be too large and/or make the e-book screens refresh slowly.

Hiring Help

If you don’t have a designer or designers on staff, you may want to hire a professional. You can get a good e-book conversion for around $500, depending on your book’s length and amount of graphic content.

Before you hire anyone, ask to see samples of relevant material to make sure each candidate has done the kind of work and the level of work you’ll be requiring. Many e-book creators aren’t well versed in including graphics in the files. Nearly all online automatic converters will do nothing of the sort.

Of course, you can also learn to do this work yourself. It’s not horribly difficult if you understand Web site coding, but it is time consuming. You’d probably be better off spending the money on a professional and using your time for marketing and sales.

No matter how you have your books designed, preparing for both print and electronic editions shouldn’t be an add-on. Thought and planning for different formats is essential from the very beginning. Remember that every time someone sees one of your products, you are perpetuating your brand. Do it well and with purpose.

Tamara Dever is owner of Narrow Gate Books and TLC Graphics, award-winning publishing assistance and design firms, respectively, based in Austin, TX. For more information or to view their design portfolio, please visit TLCGraphics.com.

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