there are problems with e-publishing poetry, but not these

There are problems with e-publishing poetry, but they are not the ones identified here and here. I left this response at Publishers Weekly (I guess no one can comment at Harriet any more…)

First of all – and I am glad to see your article makes this clear — there is no difficulty with specifying hard stanza breaks and hard linebreaks when formatting EPUB and MOBI files.

The problem arises — as pointed out in the example used in your post — when lines are too long for the screen. This could be because they are just really long lines; or because the reader has chosen to enlarge her e-reader font so much that the lines no longer fit on the e-reader screen. In either case, the too-long line will wrap to the next line, hard up against the left margin. It will look both wrong and untidy.

What do print publishers when a line is too long for the page? The resolution for e-publishers in this dilemma is the same as it is for print publishers — the hanging indent.

There is a poetry collection here ( and a chapbook here (, both of which have been formatted using the hanging indent – which involved essentially formatting each line as a *potential* hanging indent paragraph. You can download these e-books either as EPUB or MOBI files (as you know, the two e-formats that together support most popular e-readers). I invite you to do so and test them on your e-readers. In both final e-formats, the lines 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 for the whole line to fit on the screen.

There are other, real problems with e-book formatting for poetry, but they are not those identified in your post.

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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.

8 thoughts on “there are problems with e-publishing poetry, but not these”

  1. Good work. Yeah, Harriet killed off comments last year — can’t say I blame them, but it’s a pity they didn’t look at what other popular sites such as Boing Boing and HuffPo have done to cut down on trollery. There’s something vaguely autoerotic about a blog without comments.

    We obviously need to work harder to get the word out about hanging indent formatting. Maybe I’ll devote a post to the topic at VN, too. When I did that guide to formatting poetry on the web last fall, I didn’t remember the proper term for that kind of indent — thanks to the poster at WOMPO for that.

  2. Nic, thanks for pointing this out. I wrote the Harriet post based off the original PW entry, will do a follow up tomorrow with your comments. Thanks for linking to examples, too. Super helpful.

    1. Nell – Hold it!! I have received two emails as a result of my post from a couple of people who says the MOBI file does *not* work with hanging indents on their Kindle. I test the e-files using Calibre e-reader manager (, where the hanging indents work fine for both MOBI and EPUB, but will be testing on a Kindle. If they are right, I will post a correction here and at Publishers Weekly. Either way, I will let you know. Apologies and thanks! Nic

  3. Great! And many thanks for your interest in these issues, Nell – the more people there are in the conversation, the better the chances of developing solutions. More soon! N

  4. I have now spent quite a length of time trying to determine how one accomplishes the result which you suggests is a trivial “non-problem”, specifically regarding the statement “there is no difficulty with specifying hard stanza breaks and hard linebreaks “. I submit that while this statement might e true for those individuals who already know how to invoke the appropriate techniques, that otherwise, this is perhaps a problem for others without that familiarity.
    My efforts have ranged from InDesign and Stanza conversions (of the poetry) to opening the epub output as a ZIP, and hand coding the XHTML web code instructions (aka tags) in web language (which I have considerably experience with).
    While your content does provide links when other references are made, but not regarding the line and stanza breaks. If I may ask, that the statement “there is no difficulty specifying …”, a link to an appropriate site that demonstrates such techniques would be greatly appreciated.
    I will continue to review other source, as I appreciate I may be overlooking the obvious, thank you in advance for your consideration.

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