• Bridges Washington

Anatomy of a book (part 3)

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

If you recall from the previous Anatomy of a book post, I mentioned creating a book with the intent of having a printed copy. I suggested this because it is far easier to go from print formatting to ebook formatting than vice-versa. Starting with print format is in large part due to the text editors that we have all become accustomed to using are intended for print. The second part is that print is inherently a fixed media, while an ebook can have either a fixed or reflowing layout.

I briefly mentioned formatting your book using styles to encourage consistency in your book layout in my previous post. Rather than choosing a font, it's size, and whether the text is bold or italic, you will assign a style based upon what type of text it is. Then you can define all the visual elements you wish to have for that type of text and they will apply to the entire document. Are the words you are working on one of the following?

  • Book Title

  • Copyright Information

  • Table of Contents

  • Chapter Title

  • Section Heading

  • Header or Footer

  • Body

  • Bulleted Lists

  • Image Caption

  • Citation

The point is that you should be thinking about your books formatting at a level that allows you to define the styling of common elements for the entire document. Formatting the text of your work in this way allows for easy changes in the case of a print layout and makes the transition to an ebook less cumbersome.

If you are not yet aware, the ebook standard is based upon the structure of a website. It's true; when your book is packaged as a .epub, it is essentially a .zip file with the contents organized using the same principles as a website. The transition to .epub adds hyperlinks in the table of contents, the text is formatted using cascading style sheets (CSS), and the chapters are separate files. So what was once possibly the largest single text file you every created is now perhaps dozens of files. Additionally, there is plenty of text added to it that you will never see unless you look a little closer. Have you ever turned on the "Show Invisibles" feature in Pages (Mac) or "Show Formatting" feature in Word (PC) ? As cluttered as that may make your work look, looking at your ebook in its raw format is much like that, only on steroids — a simple illustration.


This is how your text might look in your preferred editor.


→ This • is • how • your • text • might • look • in • your • preferred • editor.¶


<p class="p10 p27" style="">This is how your text might look in your preferred editor.</p>

This simple illustration demonstrates how different the same words can be depending upon how you choose to view them. The pieces that you don't see in the last example are the styles that will be applied to them when viewed on an eReader, such as #Kindle. Earlier I mentioned CSS as the manner that is used to define the formatting of your words in an .epub. In the .epub version of the text shown above you can see that it starts with <p class="p10 p27 style=""> and ends with </p>. If you reduce these two tags to their simplest form, they are <p></p>. The <> brackets are what define a tag in HyperText Markup Language (HTML). The first one tells the device reading the file that an element has started and the second one that includes "/" tells the device that the element has ended. These are known as opening and closing tags. In the case of this simple sentence, it tells the device that the sentence is a paragraph. You will note that the opening <p> tag has some extra information before the closing bracket. The class="p10 p27" text within the opening <p> tag tells the device to use the styles defined in the CSS to render how the text will appear to the user. The two styles, p10 and p27, are shown below.


padding-left: 0;

margin-top: 0;

padding-top: 0;

padding-right: 0;

margin-bottom: 0;

padding-bottom: 0;

font-style: normal;

font-weight: 400;

font-stretch: normal;

font-size: 75.0%;

font-family: "Avenir Next";

letter-spacing: 0.000em;

font-variant: normal;

text-transform: none;

text-decoration: none;

white-space: normal;

text-align: justify;

text-indent: 0;

hyphens: none;

-webkit-hyphens: none;

text-shadow: none;



text-indent: 3em;


There are a couple of items within the styles that you may have noticed. The first is that there are numerous properties of the style definition that have values of either 0 or none. Essentially, this is what one would call a CSS reset. By default, every browser (eReader) has a default style that it will use to render text. By assigning a value to all the properties of the style, you eliminate device-specific defaults from causing unintended results.

The next thing you may have noticed is that both p10 and p27 have a value for text-indent. The p10 style is the definition of the body text of my first ebook. The p27 tag adds the indent of the first sentence of the paragraph for this particular paragraph. When the device looks up the style, it will assign the p10 values to the item first; then it will see the p27 class and overwrite any duplicated values with the p27 values. That is the essence of the "cascading" in CSS; the values get assigned in the order that they appear. If p27 were listed first, followed by the p10 class, the text-indent would be 0, which would have made the p27 assignment a waste. You can view a comprehensive list of CSS properties at the W3 Schools website here. I wouldn't bother trolling through all of them, but you should get familiar with the ones I have shown above.

I have started to get into the weeds a little, so I will rain it in just a bit. The point of this story is that you should know what to look for when proofing the .epub version of your work. Hitting the export button in the text editor that you are using may not produce what you are expecting. This is especially true if you plan to give your readers more flexibility in how they consume your book on an eReader. I could write a spinoff of this first book story focusing only on ebook creation, but not today. If you are interested in learning more, let me know here.

Ultimately, the idea in proofing any book, in any format, is to ensure that the way you present your work is not overly distracting to your reader. With this in mind, you should download the Kindle Previewer before you publish anything to Amazon. Additionally, if you are a Word user, Amazon has an app called Kindle Create. Kindle Create allows you to import .doc and .docx files from Word (or Pages) to edit the ebook version of your work. Personally, I use a Mac and Pages to write, for a whole lot of reasons that I will not go into now. You can export to .docx from pages if you would like to try using Kindle Create, I, however, chose to support another person's efforts by using Calibre. Calibre is a one-stop-shop that allows you to manage, view, and edit ebooks, and it supports more than just Kindle versions of ebooks. It is an open-source project written by dozens of developers, give it a try, if you like it support the cause.

Now that I have broached the subjects of CSS, HTML, and websites, next time, I will talk about developing the author "platform." The foundation of which should be your website.

Please let me know if this post gave you something to consider in the comments below. Good or bad let me know what you think, this is about starting a dialogue. If this post made you think about your own relationships or those of someone you know like and share it with them. If you are interested in other topics check out some of my previous posts and subscribe to get email notifications of new posts.

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