eBook Formatting Tip: Read an eBook!


It’s strange to say, but a lot of the questions we get asked about eBook formatting and conversion seem to stem from the fact that many writers have never read an eBook. Many authors are unaware of the benefits and limitations of digital books. They have not seen how text behaves on various eReading devices.

For those of you who are uncertain about how line-spacing, font size, pagination, and word-count work in eBooks, I highly recommend going to Barnes & Noble or Best Buy or a Mac Store and trying out an eReader. You don’t have to buy one, of course. But just a little experience with a Kindle, Nook, iPad, Kobo, or Sony Reader will probably answer 75% of your basic formatting questions.

Plus, they’re fun! We like fun.

-Chris R. at BookBaby

Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."


  1. Good tip – I should take a look at ebooks. I started with the Kindle version of my own novel and found that a lot of the text has been transcribed as gobbledygook. No wonder I haven’t had a call from Steven Spielberg.

  2. I have a nook color that I take with me everywhere!
    I can order and download a book at Barnes and Nobel, or any WiFi location,.any time of the day or night. (I can order and download from home via my Virgin Mobile MiFi). If I want to read a book, I shop, purchase, and download my new book onto my nook color in a matter of minutes. Most of my purchases have cost $9.99 or less, but I have purchased a few new best sellers for $12.99.
    I have found some books on writing topics available as ebooks! On nook color I can read, highlight, and make notes in the book as I read. Additionally, I can highlight a word, then click “look up” to find a meaning of a word I don’t know. I have downloaded some classic book titiles at no charge.
    You can purchase book covers and other accessories for nook color, as well as all nook books. You get a charger with your nook.
    You can use email, play games, and do lots of other things on your nook color. Your nook color has a non-glare light, so you can read when it is dark.
    I really enjoy taking my library with me to read what I want to read wherever I happen to be!

  3. The ebook world is a little more complicated than even a year ago, but there are a few basic concepts to keep in mind. PDFs, typically, do not paginate well. That is, on most ereaders, the page number is unchanged for two or three page advances, and some pages “end” in the middle of the screen. Books formatted for ereaders in formats like PRC, MOBI, EPUB, PDB, and AZW (these are all formats based on HTML) have fonts that you can change and size, making them much friendlier to ereaders. Unless you’re into reading magazines and comic books on an ereader (just use a laptop or desktop!), a black-and-white ereader is best as the text is clearer, sharper, and you can read in almost all circumstances (bright light, outside, etc., though inside at night you’ll need a light), and even graphics show up in nice grayscale.

    For authors, use a format that is based on HTML (PDF is not the best), use graphics only if you have to (and they need to be graphics that are clear in grayscale and in small sizes), and don’t make long paragraphs, as they can take up a whole page on an ereader.

  4. I am a published author of twelve books for children and I own an e-book reader. The problem I find is that e books are still only taking off in America and I live and work in Australia.I have had endless problems down loading books because most of those advertised say I cannot down load to Australia. The Australian e-book sites price their books at as much or more than a hard back. Also the text on my e-book reader is too small.If I change the font to a larger one then all the formatting changes and my e reader only holds the change for one page at a time. I have really tried to like this machine but it sits unread on my bedside table while I dive into a new book leant to me by a friend.

    • Liliana, the eBook market is growing exponentially every year. If Australia isn’t quite on the cutting edge for eBooks, it’ll catch up soon. As for the font/formatting stuff, that sounds strange to me. If you have any specific questions, feel free to write books@bookbaby.com and they can check it out.

  5. Last October I purchased an iPad 1 and since then, I haven’t purchased any paperbacks, only eBooks. In the same month, another author told me about Kindle’s self-publishing program. Five months later, I have a sci-fi eBook novel on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders and the Apple iBookstore. I used a free ePub conversion program on the web and then laboriously tweaked it using HTML. It took a lot of time and patience. I tested each one on the iPad using various individual apps (Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks) to work out any issues. Then I uploaded the ePub to all the big retailers.

    Having done this myself, I agree that PDF is NOT THE BEST format to start with. It means significantly more tweaking will be required at the ePub stage. If you can’t do the HTML stuff yourself, then expect to pay a service to do it for you.


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