Digital Publishing

By Bethany Maines

Recently, I’ve been learning about the nitty gritty “how-to” of e-publishing.  While there are many how-to’s on how to put your story up for sale in the virtual marketplace, learning how to make an epub file is a lot more difficult and confusing.

As someone trained in how to make print books, this status is infuriating to me.  I can make words magically appear on paper – why is the screen any more difficult?  But as it turns out epub formatting is more akin to website programming than to traditional book design.  Both epub and websites must account for the fact that the designer can never be certain what or how the end user will view their product.  Will it be on a phone, a tablet, or a desktop screen?  Will it be a horizontal or vertical?  Which operating system will be accessing the file?  All of these factors play into how an e-book is seen and creating a file that can be used in ANY format means that many of the traditional design elements beloved by graphic designers, such as color, size, and forced white space, must be set aside. Learning to create an epub is a bit like feeding content into a slot in the wall, letting the machine in the next room whir away, and then trying to guess how the machine works by looking at the book it produces

In the last few years website programming has experienced a burst of development that can make creating a website an almost drag and drop, WYSISWYG experience.  Meanwhile, digital publishing lags behind, still in it’s infancy.

Take a look at these images of the first page of my third Carrie Mae Mystery novel, High-Caliber Concealer.  One is a screen cap from a mobile phone kindle app and the other is a photo of the printed book.


You’ll notice several differences – the large area of white space before the chapter title is gone and the fonts are not the same.  Fonts in epub’s must utilize a websafe font or embed the font within the file.  But, not all devices recognize embedded fonts, and they make a file larger and some platforms take a percentage out of an author’s royalty based on download size (you’re hogging space on their server).

However, there are some similarities that the programmer managed to achieve.  Notice how the gap between “Brunch” and “Mexico” mimics the print version?  And you’ll see that while the font isn’t the same, the font hierarchy and general sizing of the chapter information is the same as the print version.

And beyond the appearance of words on a screen there is the tricky business of making all the chapters appear in the right order and having a hyper-linked (click and go) table of contents that allow readers to navigate easily through the book.

No digital book is as simple as a word doc you type at home.  So if you see a well-crafted book on your e-reading device, take a moment to appreciate the book programmer!