e-readers & poetry – solution for line-wrapping with long lines

One e-reader poetry problem is that lines that are too long for the screen wrap to the next line hard up against the left margin, and look both wrong and untidy.

In an exchange on the WOMPO listserv, Catherine Daly suggested using the hanging indent to resolve the problem, noting it “is what print publishers do with lines that are too long for a printed page.”

I tried this at Smashwords and it worked! I set my guinea-pig poetry chapbook up in Word – essentially formatting each line as a potential hanging indent paragraph – then uploaded to Smashwords, which transformed it into EPUB and MOBI formats, the two e-formats that together support most popular e-readers.

In both final e-formats, the lines in the poems wrap with a hanging indent if the font size used makes a line too big to fit on the screen, but appear whole on one line without indent if the font used is small enough. Woohoo!

Note: There was also some pro- and anti-hanging indent commentary on the list, with the anti-camp arguing that hanging indents are, in effect, line breaks and do, at the end of the day, make poetic statements not intended by the poet. I do share something of this reservation, but comfort myself as an e-publisher by recalling that ‘lines too long for the page’ are not an issue limited to e-readers – it’s something that print and web publishers have to deal with as well.

More posts on e-publishing poetry.

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.

4 thoughts on “e-readers & poetry – solution for line-wrapping with long lines”

  1. So now I need to learn how to do that in Word. (I am woefully ignorant about the software I’ve depended on for 15 years — pathetic, eh?) Thanks, Nic. While I do feel that books in which all the poems have long lines should be designed accordingly, I thought the discussion about submitting to lit mags based on their format was slightly crazy, and was speechless to learn that some people want hard returns on what they’re calling prose poems. (Controls on the width, though, are not unreasonable. We’ve published prose-poems like that at qarrtsiluni; it’s a simple matter of div style=”width:300px;” or whatever.) Anyone wanting total control over the formatting of their content in every environment would be best advised to self-publish, and restrict their texts to image form if on the web or in e-books. For me, as you know, surrendering control is part of the joy of web publsihing, whence my copyleft license encouraging creative remix. I really liked what you said on the list about new formats prompting new forms of poetry. We’ve certainly seen that with Twitter.

  2. Dave – It’s really easy to do in Word, using the ‘change styles’ function. Happy to explain more if you need it.

    This whole e-world thing intrigues me more and more. I’ve just noticed I have a dashboard at Smashwords that tells me how times the baobab girl chapbook has been downloaded since initial publication on 4 March. It says 81downloads as of today, 18 March. Really? What does that mean?

  3. Update – I have received two emails from a couple of people who say the MOBI file does *not* work with hanging indents on their Kindle. I test the e-files using Calibre e-reader manager (http://calibre-ebook.com), where the hanging indents work fine for both MOBI and EPUB, but will now be testing on a Kindle. The learning process continues.

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