Top 5 Book Design Layout Errors Illustrated

by Joel Friedlander on June 10, 2013 · 65 comments

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People often ask me, “How can you tell if a book has been designed by an amateur? I mean, it’s just a book, right?”

This reminds me of the author whose book I was designing a few years ago, who asked me, “Book design? What’s there to design? You just put the page numbers on, right?”

Well… no, actually.

Most of us have grown up with books, becoming familiar with them even before we could read. They become such commonplace objects in our world, they seem dead simple.

It’s not until you try to create a book of your own that the complexity starts to rise to the surface.

Questions about how to lay out pages, what fonts to use, which pages go where, and lots of other niggling details can begin to overwhelm the unprepared.

Ah, but you are reading this blog, aren’t you? That means you don’t want to be unprepared. (That also means you can pick up the freebie I’ve linked to at the end of this article. It will solve all these problems.)

So to help out, I’ve gathered together what seem to me to be the 5 most common layout mistakes that authors make when they start to design their own books.

These are the screw-ups that I see most often in self-published books. Just be eliminating these errors, your book will start to stand out from the tidal wave of indie books being published every day.

So here they are, with illustrations to match.

Top 5 Book Design Errors to Avoid

1. No hyphenation

interior book design layout

This is a problem you see over and over again with books produced in a word processor. In the thousands of lines in a typical print book, there will be some that have to open huge spaces between words, like those shown here, to get the lines to justify. Those big holes are unsightly and a sure sign of an amateur production.

2. Rampant running heads

interior book design layout

Unfortunately all too common, it looks like the author couldn’t figure out how to have running heads on some pages and not others. Or, they thought every page should have one, but display pages, like this chapter opening page, don’t need and shouldn’t have, a running head.

3. Unblank blank pages

interior book design layout

Yep, here it is again, that running head that just won’t quit. This error is surprisingly common, but the rule is easy to remember: if the page is blank, that means it’s blank and nothing—not a page number or a running head—should appear on the page.

4. Mangled margins

interior book design layout

Sometimes it looks like the author was trying to save money at their print on demand (PoD) supplier, since most PoD vendors charge by the page. But this isn’t the way to solve that problem. It can also happen if you only ever look at your book on screen, where the pages probably look fine, and never see the bound book. But type that disappears into the gutter (spine side) or that leaves no space for fingers to comfortably hold the book, doesn’t show your work very well.

5. Rag right composition

interior book design layout

I know some will disagree, and I don’t mean to say there are no books that can be set rag-right instead of justified. Art books, poetry, cookbooks, and others can be set rag right with no problems. But your typical book that’s most or all text should be typeset with justified margins. If you don’t believe me, walk over to your bookshelf and start pulling books off. I’m betting it’s going to be long time before you find even one (not printed in Europe) that’s set rag right.

Okay, there are all 5, illustrated and explained. To avoid this kind of thing, pick up your free copy of my Book Construction Blueprint, you’re going to like it.

And if you think I’m all wrong, or if you want to nominate your own “worst offenders,” let me know in the comments.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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    { 62 comments… read them below or add one }

    Spencer Bowden June 21, 2013 at 12:07 am

    Out of curiosity I picked up another book next to the bed, Anna Karenina, and it too is justified, uses hyphenation, and also has many instances of larger spaces on lines of text.

    As a reader, and naturally I caon,y speak for myself, I have never in my 43 years found myself thinking ‘oh look, this line has larger spacing, how unprofessional.’ I have never heard anyone else mention it, and I live with a ferocious reader. My suspicion is that as writers we get hung up on things that actually don’t matter to readers. Perhaps we should ask them? As a reader, I personally don’t care about slightly larger spaces between words on lines of text; it is the story I am interested in. It’s like going to someone’s house and having them say ‘I spent hours tidying up before you came’ and you say ‘I came to see you, not your house.’ Obviously with a book it needs to have some kind of recognisable form; let’s not get too anal over it though.

    Reply

    Colin Dunbar June 21, 2013 at 1:06 am

    Hi Spencer

    “I have never in my 43 years found myself thinking ‘oh look, this line has larger spacing, how unprofessional.’ I have never heard anyone else mention it, and I live with a ferocious reader.”

    And therein lies the reality… :o) I totally agree with you (in 53 years).

    Reply

    Colin Dunbar June 21, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Something interesting happened today at work. I was chatting with a colleague, and somehow the topic of justification came up. Him not being in the publishing/book design field in any way wasn’t too phased about justified or ragged right. While chatting, I realized, having read many Dummies books, I couldn’t remember whether they were justified or ragged right. Naturally, as soon as I got home I checked… low and behold… ragged right.

    Reply

    Spencer Bowden June 20, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    I have a copy of Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace sitting next to the bed and it has hyphenation; however, it also has many instances of larger spaces on some of the lines of text from justification.

    Likewise, I just grabbed a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince off of the shelf and page 167, second line, has massive spacing from justification. That was the first page I turned to; the book has many other examples. I imagine that J K Rowling and her £500+ million bank account care not for those spaces.

    Reply

    Ian Thomas Healy June 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Joel, should chapters always begin on the right hand page with a blank to the left if required? My (former) micropress said that’s not necessary, but I do it when producing print works myself.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Ian, it’s not necessary for chapters to open on right-hand pages, although this is usually the case with nonfiction books. In fiction it’s more common to start on the next available page, left- or right-hand, and to eliminate the blanks between chapters entirely. But in the end, it’s more of a personal choice than a rule.

    Reply

    Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) June 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    The worst offender I see is uneven bottom margins.
    That’s a common problem when using CreateSpace templates. It looks messy and reveals the amateur effort. Interestingly, some allegedly ‘professional’ book formatting services also fail to align the margins at the bottom.

    Reply

    Dave June 19, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    One error I see in self-published books is a scene break denoted by an asterisk or pound sign, and the first line of the next scene indented just like any other paragraph. Unless I’m mistaken, a scene break should be denoted by two blank lines and the first line of the next scene left-justified.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Dave, good point. However, these text breaks are not always simply a blank like, and represent an opportunity to provide some graphic relief when used with discretion. Obviously, this also depends on the kind of book you’re dealing with. More here: 8 Solutions to the Text Break Dilemma

    Reply

    Michael W. Perry June 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Good points all. I’d add another: having more that 65-70 characters on a typical line. In a few cases, you can get away with more than that, but in general, lines that are too long make it hard for readers to retrace their eyes to the next line. That makes a book tiring to read.

    If you need to pack a book into fewer pages to keep the cost down, consider a wider format with double columns. I did that with four William Morris books (with Tolkien ties) that I published in two reasonably priced volumes.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Excellent point, Michael, thanks for adding to the conversation.

    I know Morris mostly from studying the revival of the book arts and his Kelmscott Press. He was a real innovator when it came to bringing elements from the early days of printed books into the books he was creating.

    Reply

    Alicia Young June 12, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Hello, could anyone help me with my Q above, please?
    Perhaps you’ve come across it too? I’d really appreciate it. I’m wondering how best to use the ebook header, which has the book’s title. Should I include a byline, or a website?

    Many thanks,

    Alicia

    Reply

    Nancy Beck June 12, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve uploaded 3 short novels and a mini-short story collection, so make of that whatever you want. :-)

    But I would tend to agree with Joel. If I had to endure a book with a link to your website or your byline on every page, it would drive me nuts (and I would tune it out, too). Now, if you want to include a link on the last page of a chapter (I bought one ebook that does this), I don’t have a problem with that.

    In fact, I can’t think of any ebooks, fiction or non, that I have that does anything like this. IMHO, put your website at the very beginning might be your best bet (when you consider sampling, which typically includes the first 5-10 pages or so). But I put all of my website stuff at the very end, near my author bio.

    All of this, of course, is just IMHO.

    Reply

    Alicia Young June 11, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks Joel,
    Great post – and oh-so-timely for me! I’m just reviewing my ebook layout, and I’m wondering how to make best use of the top line on each page, please, which says “The Savvy Girl’s Guide to Grace”. Should I add “by Alicia Young” – or how about my website?

    I like the idea of the website, as (a) it might encourage people to click on my blog, and (b) because in the future it will be the platform for more than one book.

    But when the epub people make the link live, I wonder if the bright blue line would be distracting for readers?

    Your thoughts much appreciated!

    *THANK YOU* for helping me get to the finish line! Your advice – here on the site, the Roadmap course and during our phone sessions, have been utterly invaluable for both my book … and my general sanity!

    Cheers,
    Alicia

    ps: Just found out The Savvy Girl’s Guide to Grace has won the 2013 New York Book Festival prize for How-to/Self Help!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 12, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Congratulations, Alicia, you’ve worked hard to produce the best book you can, and that will pay off.

    Keep in mind that most ebook readers in circulation are still black and white, so there won’t be any “blue lines” on the screen.

    As a reader, I would find it distracting to have the same link repeated hundreds of times on the tops of pages and would probably tune it out, which isn’t the result you’re looking for.

    As long as you include links where readers expect to find them, for instance on the copyright page and at the end of the book where you are adding a call to action, people will be able to find you.

    Ebooks specialists may have other opinions on this.

    Reply

    Tina Chan June 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Another thing I would like to point out: many self-published novels have their indent/tabs set to .5″ since that is the default. However, most traditionally published books have their indents much smaller–like .2″ or so. Just an fyi :-)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 12, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Good point, Tina. Word processors, which many self-publishers use to format their books, take their cue from typewriter days, and the .5″ indent is typical of business correspondence set on letter-sized paper. Typographers use a whole different system, and the most typical indent is one to one and a half ems. An em is is the square of the type size. So 12 point type would have an indent of 12 to 18 points.

    Reply

    Amelia Mello June 10, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Thank you so much Joel. I have been learning a lot with your blog. This post have saved me from using rag right composition. I am making a children’s picture book using inDesign CS4, which I am learning with YouTube tutorials. I am choosing not to hyphenate and I am going through the book to find big spaces and rivers and adjust each line individually. Do you think this is a good choice?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Ameilia, if the book is for small children and you have text opposite illustrations, I think rag right would be better. My comments above mostly apply to trade books for adults.

    Reply

    Andrew Claymore June 10, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Usefull tips, as always, Joel!

    What are your thoughts on larger initial caps? Drop caps seem a bit too finicky for eBooks, but there’s a lot less code behind a simple enlarged intial cap.

    FYI for those of us who are already subscribed to your feed, your book construction blueprint isn’t downloadable. It turns us away with an ‘already subscribed’ warning.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Hey Andrew, thanks for letting me know, I should have thought of that. I’ll put a link out to email subscribers in my next email.

    Love drop caps, initial caps, stand-up caps (like when you just increase the size of the first letter) as long as they are handled well, and particularly on books with long chapters where you’re looking for a little relief in between. I’m typesetting a novel right now with small 2-line drop caps which is working because there are lots of chapters and they don’t interrupt the author’s flow very much at all, more like visual punctuation.

    Reply

    Andrew Claymore June 10, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    I love the idea of drop caps for physical books, but in eBooks, you kind of have to rebuild the file every time Amazon tweaks the Mobi format. I’ve been using stand ups, which scale nicely if the reader changes font size.

    Reply

    Maggie Dana June 10, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I’m tossing in two more typesetting blunders: widows (last lines of paragraphs at tops of columns/pages) and unbalanced spreads. These, plus the ones Joel mentioned, take me right out of the book, be it fiction or non-fiction.

    I’ve spent 30+ years designing and typesetting books for major publishers and DIYers, and I can’t bring myself to allow widows at the expense of balanced spreads and vice versa. I will spend hours tweaking paragraphs until I eliminate both. This is especially tricky with my own books that are for middle-grade kids with lots of dialogue and short paragraphs.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Maggie, I definitely spend time on widows and orphans, right around the same time we’re fixing bad breaks. But I’ve done so many nonfiction books over the years that inevitably have unbalanced pages due to illustrations, subheads, and other elements on the page, I’m no longer quite so adamant about that one. But yes, they do take you “right out of the book” particularly fiction.

    Reply

    Ruth Schwartz June 10, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    All good points, Joel, and I am thrilled to see that I don’t do any of those in our Nifty Paws Press or my client interior layouts. Of course, I have had great templates to work from, namely your awesome new product available at bookdesigntemplates.com.

    I also want to mention that I bought a book on book marketing for self-publishers last year sometime by someone who I thought knew what they were doing. The interior layout included at least two of your five: very narrow margins and ragged right justification. Given my many years in publishing, I immediately lost confidence in this person’s content, and have yet to read the book with any intent to follow the advice.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Very interesting, Ruth, and ample evidence that these things do have an effect on readers and buyers. Thanks.

    Reply

    Colin Dunbar June 10, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Hey Joel

    I must disagree on #5. For fiction, it’s not a big issue, in that the text can be justified. But with non-fiction, and especially with material that’s going to be learned, e.g. how to, textbooks, etc., it actually aids memory retention when the text is ragged right.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Colin

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Colin, I would be curious if there’s any evidence behind your statement that rag right composition “aids memory retention.” Usually when clients want to go this route, I send them to their bookshelves for a reality check. And remind them that it’s highly likely that all the books that have educated, influenced, or moved them over the years have been typeset according to book publishing conventions.

    However, self-publishing does give one the opportunity to do it the way you think best, and I’m always interested to see how authors re-imagine the book when they actually get to create one of their own.

    Reply

    Colin Dunbar June 10, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Ok, I need to put my money where my mouth is. Going to try and find it. I had it in a textbook of some years ago… I’ll be back (I hope) :o)

    Reply

    Colin Dunbar June 10, 2013 at 11:48 am
    Bruce Triggs June 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    If it had only been printed ragged-right it would be easy to remember where it was.

    Not just a snarky comment, because I’m actually interested in this issue. I think I prefer unjustified text, certainly when I’m writing it seems helpful.

    One could probably sell a number of books on bad book design with debates about some issues. Has anybody ever printed books all in italics? Because it’s all important!!!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    You wouldn’t believe the stuff I see, truly. How about a book in all caps? I kid you not.

    Alastair Mayer June 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I’m not sure I’d agree about that. I just reached over to my shelf of programming books to look. The ones I prefer, published by O’Reilly, are left and right justified. The Osborne/McGraw Hill book is ragged right. I don’t like it.

    Now, there are enough other differences in the layout and typesetting that the ragged right may not be the only issue. (The McGraw Hill book uses a heavier font, with less leading. In general it looks “denser”, the opposite of what I want when approaching something new.)

    Reply

    Frances Caballo June 10, 2013 at 9:59 am

    You make an excellent case for either hiring a graphic artist to layout a book or purchasing one of your templates. This was a great post on why Indie authors should not try to layout their own books without some help.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Thanks, Frances, and for the template plug, too. I think a lot of authors are going the template route for exactly those reasons.

    Reply

    Nancy Beck June 22, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Trying to decide on a font, etc., for the print edition of my first fantasy series had me practically tearing my hair out. Which is why I finally decided to purchase one of your Word templates, Joel. :-) I opted for the combo ebook/print, which to me made the most sense.

    Why bother reinventing the wheel when I can have a design pro help me out? It cost a pretty penny, but in the long run, I think it’s going to smooth out my worries…and allow me to keep my hair intact. ;-)

    Reply

    Sharazade June 10, 2013 at 8:20 am

    In Example #1, on hyphenation, that first line… what, then, is the remedy? You can’t hyphenate “this” on the next line.

    I agree that ragged right margins are rare in books. But I do find them easier to read.

    Reply

    The Book Design Blog June 10, 2013 at 10:18 am

    The easiest solution would be to increase the spacing between each character on that line by a tiny amount until the line looks neater. Alternatively, you could reduce it and force a work from the next line up, but you run the risk of making it look cramped.

    Reply

    The Book Design Blog June 10, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Whoops, I meant ‘word’, not ‘work’.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Sharazade, InDesign would likely make several changes to this paragraph to make the spacing work out better, because it doesn’t just correct one line at a time, it looks at the entire paragraph to arrive at the best solution overall. We can also set parameters in InDesign that control exactly how much or how little space is added (as Paul indicates) between letters, and that influences how the paragraph is justified also.

    Reply

    The Book Design Blog June 10, 2013 at 7:39 am

    Great post Joel. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to explain to a client why good typographic design is so important, only to be faced with a blank expression. It’s the little details we don’t notice (except designers of course) that really make a difference.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Hi Paul, thanks for your input. Yes, this is the continuing struggle of the book designer, because so much of really good book design is “under the radar” and although it influences how readers take or don’t take to a book, I think most of it is happening below the level of conscious apprehension. Good luck with your blog.

    Reply

    Bill Peschel June 10, 2013 at 6:24 am

    I’ve seen this in small-press publications: Adding a line space between paragraphs (which are not indented). It certainly adds a lot of air, but the books were nearly unreadable.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Bill, I think that’s a style that’s migrating from the internet into printed products, and I addressed it here: Book Design: Choosing Your Paragraphing Style

    Reply

    Yvonne Hertzberger June 10, 2013 at 6:21 am

    Joel, I am an admirer of so many of your helpful articles. From time to time I’d love to re-post one on my wordpress site. That is not an option you provide, so I am asking permission to do so – with credit to you as author, of course.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Thanks so much, Yvonne, I’ll send you an email about the reposting issue.

    Reply

    Melanie Jongsma June 10, 2013 at 5:54 am

    I suppose the question is, How do you want people to perceive your self-published book? If you want it to be perceived as a book published by a traditional publisher—with the team of editors, designers, and proofreaders that are involved with each book—then you need to follow the conventions set by the publishing industry. I like the idea that self-publishing is “an opportunity to change those conventions,” but this may be a case of having to follow the rules before you can break them. Currently there are still too many self-published books that don’t meet meet minimum standards of editing and design (and content sometimes!), much less professional standards, so we are probably a long way from being taken seriously.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Melanie, exactly my point, and very well said, thanks for that.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus June 10, 2013 at 3:20 am

    Some errors violate conventions and demonstrate ignorance. (I even own a book with even-numbered recto pages.) But one error affects the way a book looks, and may make it harder to read.

    I see a lot of ugh-lee books. By far the biggest cause of ugliness is huge gaps in justified text, and very ragged right edges in flush-left/rag-right text, because the formatter eschewed hyphenation.

    To me it is an unforgivable sin.

    There is no excuse for an ugly book.

    http://www.bookmakingblog.com/2012/03/theres-no-justification-for-bad.html

    Reply

    Biggy March 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Hi. I’m not married, but have a one year old with my ex-girlfriend. I am cutrrnely not working, but I’m a full time student soon to graduate, and she is working full time (supposedly). I have taken on the roll of being both a father and mother, due to her not being around because the lifestyle she leads, and was wondering if she can still pull for child support against me, or if I can actually go against her. Our child lives with me, is raised by me, and I do everything there is to raise her the best way possible (which is going well, but very tough but worth it). I pay for the dr bills, food, clothes, you name it. Any info you can give me helps greatly.

    Reply

    Ernie Zelinski June 10, 2013 at 2:47 am

    First note: I have self-published a number of books, all without hyphenation, even though I have had them designed on Quark and knew the purpose of hyphenation. The reason was simply that I don’t like hyphenation. I don’t like seeing a part of a word on one line and another part of the same word on another line. After all these years, readers have complained about a number of things in my books — but never about no hyphenation. My first two self-published works did not have the paragraphs justified but I did change to justification and have used it ever since.

    Second note. Weirdly, the book I happened to have sitting on my desk when I read your post was “Rich Dad: Poor Dad” by Robert T. Kiyosaki. Guess what? No hyphenation! Not only that — the paragraphs are not justified. For the record, I have the edition of “Rich Dad: Poor Dad” published by Warner Books and not the original self-published edition by Robert T. Kiyosaki. I believe that the book had already sold 2 million copies when I purchased my copy and has now sold well over 4 million copies.

    What is my point after all this? Nothing except that a book with great content and great marketing can overcome some defiencies in design. Most readers want great content and many of these readers would not know great design from mediocre design. And as @Aggs points out, many readers actually prefer unjustified text. Who should a writer cater to? The readers of course. They are the ones paying for the final product.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    Reply

    Deana June 10, 2013 at 7:43 am

    I agree, Ernie. I’ve always typeset books without hyphenation. It’s more work because I have to go in and take care of spacing, but (to me) the word breaks caused by hyphens disrupt the reading experience. I use InDesign but I do realize that if someone is using Word, they really can’t go back and adjust spacing…so in that case…allowing hyphens is the only logical choice.

    I guess I could format a lot faster if I just allowed hyphens…but I’m just not ready to do that.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for your interesting take on this Deana. I’ve had the opposite experience in my own book design practice. In the proofreading stage, we always have to meticulously go through all the line endings in the book to make sure there are no “bad breaks,” like hyphenated compound words or places where InDesign’s hyphenation algorithm has failed for some reason. We do this because the overall color and look of the page is vastly better, to my eye, than a page without hyphenation. Of course, this isn’t true if you have a long type line or very small type size, where the program will be able to adequately justify the line without creating those gaps and rivers.

    Reply

    Andrew Claymore June 11, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Joel, does the algorithm port into the Mobi format or is it a one shot thing? I’m wondering how well it stands up if the reader decides to change font size.
    If the algo sometimes fails and you have to fix a few lines by hand, wouldn’t that leave some stranded hyphens when the font size is altered?
    I’ve never even considered hyphenation before seeing this post, but I can see how it would affect the reading experience.

    Reply

    Ruth Schwartz June 11, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Andrew brings up an interesting point, and that is about hyphenization in ebooks. I just took a look at a few ebooks I have in my Kindle collection, and NONE of them have hyphenation. Therefore, when I change the type size, yes, there are sometimes big rivers etc. that show up, but no words with the hyphens left in them. I am thinking that hyphen control should be turned off when laying out an ebook in MSWord. Thoughts, anyone?

    Joel Friedlander June 11, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Andrew, the hyphenation and justification (H&J in printer’s parlance) that InDesign creates has no influence on the file once it goes to an ebook format, where the text is basically HTML InDesign’s H&J only applies inside InDesign itself. There are no “stray hyphens” since the hyphens are inserted and removed by InDesign automatically as words either break at the line end or don’t. You might experiment a bit to see what you think. We also had to deal with this when we created the ebook versions of our book design templates, but also keep in mind the readers can change many settings on their ereaders, so none of this is “hard coded” in reflowable ebooks.

    Jo Michaels (@WriteJoMichaels) June 12, 2013 at 8:51 am

    BINGO! I don’t think folks realize what a book designer has to do in terms of seeking out bad breaks in words, lines, or on pages. It can be self-taught, but it’s taking the time to learn about everything that’s lacking for many Indies. There are books out there that tell you about such things, if you take the time to read them. Rivers drive me bananas. So do the lines that look like this:

    I w e n t t o t h e
    store last week to get a can
    of mayonnaise for my tuna.

    That’s why you hyphenate when setting text justified. Newspapers do it often. Bleh.

    Great article. I fear those that need it, won’t read it. WRITE ON!

    Reply

    Rob Siders June 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    @Ruth:

    In ebooks, hyphenation at the end of lines—as opposed to hyphenated words, such as self-awareness—is handled dynamically by the ereader software. With Kindle, only Kindle for iPhone/iPod has dynamic hyphenation. In all other Kindle devices and apps, the software expands of contracts the tracking—the white space between words and characters—to set the type on the screen. Nothing you do when making your ebooks will change this.

    Nancy Beck June 21, 2013 at 7:54 am

    @Ruth,

    I think the reason there aren’t any hyphens in ebooks is because there are so many different e-readers, smart phones, heck software, that renders the words so differently from printed pages.

    I know I would resent seeing all of those hypens in an ebook, especially when the hyphenated word is not near the end of the line on my Kindle! No doubt it was at the end of the print book, but since people can change to different fonts and font sizes, it makes no sense to keep them in the electronic version.

    My major rant against some publishers is that sometimes they’re lazy, doing nothing more than using OCR to create an ebook out of a print book. It drives me nuts – not only will the hyphens be in there, but all kinds of crazy things can be introduced using OCR. I’ve used OCR software in the past, and some retyping is required. You can’t just let the software do its thing and leave it as is, because the software can get confused between and “i” and an “l,” that sort of thing. Publishers take the time to make sure print interiors are done well, so why can’t they do the same with ebooks? (Okay, end of rant. :-))

    But IMHO it all comes down to the fact that what necessarily works on the printed page doesn’t always transfer well to the digital realm – and vice versa :-).

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Ernie, I totally agree that “content is king” when it comes to books, and that readers will overlook lots of things in pursuit of information or a story that’s compelling.

    The advice here, of course, is mostly aimed at authors new to self-publishing, and I hate to see those people put themselves at a disadvantage simply because they didn’t know what their book was supposed to look like.

    For an example of how a book that people want can overcome almost any obstacle, check out this article.

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    aggs June 10, 2013 at 1:21 am

    Hi Joel,

    Love your work – long time reader, first time commenter.
    I’m curious about the justified/right-ragged thing. It seems that in looking at text books on the shelf all I establish is ‘that’s the way it’s done’ – which I get from an aesthetic point of view. (I don’t mind the way right-ragged looks in your image) But I read a blog post awhile back about the history of some design elements that remain because they look good and that’s the way it’s always been done. Not necessarily because they’re easier for the reader to follow. I know I can read a right-ragged text much easier than a justified text and I had been considering lately whether self-publishing was also an opportunity to change some conventions like that – from the stance that I’d like to make it easier for my reader. I get that one of the risks on such a right-ragged design would be – it doesn’t look professional and I’d love to know your thoughts.

    Cheers Aggs

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Hi aggs, the question of justified copy versus rag right will always evoke a lot of opinions, and the overall readability of the page may not be affected all that much by one style over the other. And conventions do change in response to changes in technology or usability, like the way that what was always considered “front matter” has been reorganized in ebooks.

    But when it comes to justified type, I do stick with the convention because I see no reason to change it, although I set rag right in some books where text is not the main element. I stick to it because for the vast majority of readers, that’s what a book is “supposed” to look like, and introducing the ragged form of a wandering right column is distracting without adding anything of value.

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