One of the major decisions you will need to make for your digital book is whether to set your book in a standard or fixed format. But what are they? Is “standard” really the standard? How can it be “fixed” if it’s never broken? Well, wonder no more. Here we will discuss the promises and the pitfalls of standard and fixed formatting.

Definition of Standard Formatting

The term “standard formatting” refers to a type of formatting that allows your text to flow from one page to the next regardless of the type of digital platform or the size of the screen. That means that a page from your book read on a computer will look very different from a page read on a cell phone. This formatting allows for changes in the size of screen, the size of type and the type of platform.

Benefits of Standard Formatting

Standard formatting works with the page that the reader sees, regardless of the type of digital reader. It gives readers the opportunity to change font size for easy readability. This means if a reader starts reading your book on their tablet and move to their phone, they will still be able to see the text. Standard formatting gives the author the opportunity to add special features to the book, such as highlighted text, bookmarks and other features that help a reader keep certain passages in mind. So if you are writing a textbook that requires readers to learn new vocabulary, you can add definitions to the new words. Students can then touch the words and see the definition. In addition, standard formatting leaves room for special features such as in-text quizzes, and links to other portions of the book that give a clearer understanding of a concept or plot point. From a publishing standpoint, every digital publishing platform supports standard formatting. In addition, files size tends to be smaller than other formats, keeping the price low.

Pitfalls of Standard Formatting

However, standard formatting is by no means perfect for every book. The fact that it slides text around to fit the screen can leave orphaned paragraphs and move text away from illustrations, tables and figures. This means that you may have designed a page that explains the parts of the brain, but the illustration that goes with that text may be two or even three pages away from your words. It also means that pictures, photos, graphs and charts that go in as pictures will be too small to read on certain devices, rendering them useless. In addition, it also gives the reader control over the font, rather than the author. So, if you have sweated tears over choosing the perfect font for you medieval/outer space romance, you have worked for nothing. Your reader may just choose to convert the entire text into Times Roman.

Books That Work Best with Standard Formatting

There are books that work very well with standard formatting. Books that are primarily text with few, if any, pictures fare best. So many main stream fiction writers use this format for their work. It gives their readers the best opportunity to keep the book with them regardless of their device. Standard format is also popular with nonfiction books that are text heavy. Textbooks that require additional special features such as in-text quizzes or matching “test your knowledge” sections also work well.

Definition of Fixed Format

If standard format allows for flow, then it makes sense that fixed format does not. Fixed format freezes each page in a specific order.Each page is fixed, much like a print version of a book. However, unlike a book, the page size is determined by the screen of the viewing device. So regardless of the size of the device, the page will look the same, only larger or smaller to fit the screen. In some cases, the page will have large strips of white or black to take up the unused portion of the screen.

Benefits of Fixed Format

In fixed format, the author takes control of the look of each page. So, you know exactly how your book will look to each reader. You choose the font, the font size, the shape of the text and any pictures. It means that you can keep text with illustrations, photos, tables or charts. Fixed format also allows you to keep multi-column formatting, regardless of the size of your reader’s device. In the past, fixed format meant that the reader had no way to interact with the book. However, recent adaptations do allow for some simple interactive features such as read-aloud text.

Pitfalls of Fixed Format

The biggest pitfall of fixed format is that it is only scalable as a total page. That means that each page of your book will shrink or grow to fit the size of the device. If your reader has begun to read your two-column novel on their computer and moves to a phone, the text will be far too small for most people. In addition, they are difficult to update, upload and generally require a larger file size. This makes them less profitable since some digital book platforms will charge more. Finally, there are some digital readers that don’t support fixed format books. This may limit your readers.

Books That Work Well with Fixed Format

Because they are more data intense, shorter books that require a lot of illustration tend to be more profitable. That’s why many picture books for young children are published in fixed format. Cookbooks are another genre that often is published in fixed format since recipes are often multi columnar and must go with both the instructions and the picture of the finished dish. Travel books that pair text with maps and photos also are best read in a fixed format.

Combining Standard and Fixed Format

There are a few books that combine both formats in a single work. Generally, these are books that offer a digital text that uses standard format with a downloadable portion that can be printed or read on a computer. Several self-help books that have a workbook portion utilize this blend. Some platforms support this option, but many do not. Look around if choosing this formatting option.

Standard of Fixed?

Ultimately, it is up to you which format you think will be easiest for your reader to enjoy our work. That’s what will keep them coming back again and again.

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