poetry and ebook formatting

Many thanks to Bill Lantry for pointing out the free ebook manager/converter Calibre and to Dave Bonta for mentioning Smashwords, the e-book publisher. Wow – who knew? I’ve been so focused on online website publishing and print/CD work that I haven’t spent much energy on e-book publishing and management. It’s clear that there are major new horizons out there. Such exciting stuff!

It’s immediately apparent, after just a few experimental uploads and conversions, that the challenge for poetry when it comes to e-books lies in the formatting, and I recall Reb Livingston writing several posts about this. e-publishing is easy, it’s the formatting of the word doc that you upload to Smashwords that will cause you to tear your hair out, it appears (see this post from Reb – comments especially – and this one at Huffington Post.)

The issue for poets is neatly encapsulated early on in the 72-page Smashwords style guide:

How Ebook Formatting is Different from Print Formatting

Ebooks are different from print books, so do not attempt to make your ebook look like an exact facsimile of print book, otherwise you’ll only frustrate yourself by creating a poorly formatted, unreadable ebook.

With print, you control the layout. The words appear on the printed page exactly where you want them to appear.

With ebooks, there is no “page.” By giving up the control of the printed page, you and your readers gain much more in return.

Page numbers are irrelevant. Your book will look different on every e-reading device. Your text will shape shift and reflow. Most e-reading devices and e-reading applications allow your reader to customize the fonts, font sizes and line spacing. Your customers will modify how your book looks on-screen to suit their personal reading preference and environment.

By transforming your books into digital form, you open up exciting possibilities for how readers can enjoy them.

At Smashwords, our motto is “your book, your way,” and this means a reader should be able to consume your book however works best for them, even if that means they like to read 18 point Helvetica with blue fonts, lime background color, and triple spaced lines. Many e-reading devices and e-reading apps support some or all of these strange different tastes.

Admit it, O poets. Doesn’t all that make your skin crawl? What?! A reader able to consume your book in 18 point blue-and-lime Helvetica with triple-spaced lines and mess with your linebreaks and stanza breaks? Infamy!

I don’t know if this is an insurmountable problem or an amazing opportunity…

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

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