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Jeff & Joy Miller | Five Js Design


Professional Services:

ebook design


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As professionals who see a lot of ebooks, what do you think sets the great books apart from the okay ones?
Editing is the most critical issue surrounding not only ebooks, but written manuscripts of any kind. So often, we see manuscripts that have not been edited properly, if at all. Those who self-publish are often on a limited budget—one that doesn’t include hiring a professional editor—but if authors can scrape the money together for proper editing, they’ll likely find it’s more than worth the cost.

How important do you think that good design is to the success of an ebook?
Good design—both the cover and interior—is crucial to an ebook’s success. Sure, there are always differences of opinion as to what makes a good cover, but a well-designed cover can often make or break the success of a book. Design that appeals to the reader, design that is appropriate for the genre, and clearly readable typography are important. Fair or not, books are judged by their covers.

What mistakes do you see people making the most often when they format/design their ebooks on their own?
Some mistakes can’t be overcome. Someone either has an eye for design and the skills necessary to implement their design, or they don’t.

But for cover design, problems we’ve seen include using poorly-chosen or low-quality images, being too heavy-handed with drop shadows or effects, choosing overused fonts (Papyrus, Bleeding Cowboys, Zapf Chancery, etc.), making the fonts difficult to read (the font is too small or scripty), incorporating too many different fonts, and including so many elements in the design that the cover is too busy and has no focal point. Obviously, there’s more to creating a book cover than finding a vaguely related image and slapping some cool-looking fonts on top.

For interior design (mainly for PDF ebooks), some problems might include margins that are too small, line height that is too dense for readability, headings that don’t have enough contrast with the body text, the use of too many different fonts (best practice is to use no more than two different fonts), and inserting images that are low resolution.

How can ebook authors best prepare their original document to be converted to other ebook formats?
The best practice is to keep it simple. Prepare your manuscript in the same way you might for submission to an agent or and editor at a publishing house. Don’t worry about fancy fonts or formatting. Stick with simple text formatting like bold and italics, and then inform the person doing the conversion of any special formatting needs.
Other best practices include:

  • Avoid the tab key—learn how to set up automatic first-line indents in your word processor.
  • Don’t double space after periods. This is a holdover from the old typewriter days, and is no longer necessary with modern digital typesetting.
  • Put page breaks at the beginning of each chapter or book section.
  • Don’t worry about text justification. Ebook devices take care of justification on their own, so it’s not necessary to set a particular justification. If you’re having your book converted to a PDF, or it’s being typeset for print, your layout designer will take care of proper justification for you.
  • If you’re using images in your book, make sure you have the proper permissions to do so. If an image is under copyright, you must obtain permission from the copyright holder; simply crediting the source of copyrighted material in your book is insufficient. When in doubt, ask for permission, and be prepared to pay the copyright holder for the rights to reproduce their intellectual property.
  • Make sure you give attention to the front and back matter you’d like included in your book. These might include things like the title page, copyright page, foreword, dedication, acknowledgements, author biography, appendixes, bibliographies, indexes, and glossaries. Your layout designer may be willing and able to help you with these issues, but don’t assume they’ll just take care of it for you.

How far in advance should ebook authors contact a designer for a cover design/formatting/conversion/etc?
At Five J’s Design, we will not quote on an ebook conversion until we’ve seen the final manuscript, so obviously the manuscript needs to be complete (or at least ready for the editing stage) before we can quote on a project. Other designers probably operate similarly.

As for cover design, we’ll work with the author at any point during the creative process to help them with the cover they want. Consequently, even before the manuscript is complete, authors can usually contact a designer about cover design.

In either case, because designers might have full schedules and may not be able to fit client projects in immediately, the more lead time before the anticipated publication deadline the better. It’s also important to realize that even if a designer says the turnaround time is only a couple of days, issues can sometimes arise—usually related to editing—that can greatly increase the amount of time from receipt of a manuscript to completion of the project.

So as a general rule of thumb, we recommend not waiting until the week before the anticipated launch date to contact a designer about securing their services. Plan on allowing at least a month before the launch date to contact a designer about getting the design and formatting done.

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