Designing an eBook: Standard or Fixed Layout?
Many people don't realize that when they decide to have their manuscript turned into an eBook, they have to choose one of two layout options: fixed or standard layout. This decision can depend on a number of factors, including: the type or genre of book, the level of control the author wants over the design experience, and the level of accessibility desired for the book. In this blog, I'll explain the differences between fixed and standard layout, and the benefits (and drawbacks) of each.
Go With the Flow
A standard eBook (usually using an ePUB format) uses what is called “flowable” text. What this means is that users can adjust the text in real time, and the text will adapt to fit their specifications. A reader has the ability to change a variety of text settings, such as typeface choice, font size, line height, line spacing, margins, and justification. Flowable text is great because it’s accessible to all readers, such as those with vision problems. Newer e-readers even have special typefaces, like OpenDyslexic, that can assist readers with dyslexia.
The downside, however, is that there is no set pagination to a standard eBook, because the number of words displayed on each page can, and will, change depending on each individual user’s settings and preferences, and can also vary based on the screen size of various e-readers. For instance, if one reader had their font size set to 20% larger than the norm, then the text of their eBook would take up 20% more space, increasing the number of pages, again, by roughly 20%. eReaders solve this orientation issue by telling readers where they are in each chapter, for example: “Chapter 15 - page 2 of 45.”
Most eBooks use a standard ePUB format because this format is ideal for books that are text-based (with no accompanying images) and books that have images embedded within the text.
Why Use Fixed Layout?
In some cases though, you may not want your text to move around or change. Books that are design-oriented or that use lots of large illustrations or photos (cookbooks, comics, children’s books, etc.) can benefit from the use of a fixed layout, because their design elements will be fixed in position and unable to change or adapt. With this type of layout, the content itself cannot be changed by the reader; instead, the qualities of fixed layout pages are, well, fixed in place. Most eReaders will allow the user to zoom in and out, but that’s the only thing the reader can control.
There are benefits and drawbacks to using a fixed layout. The main benefit is that you, as the designer, are in complete control over the design of the eBook. You can embed fonts and set visual elements of the page in place, such as images or sidebars. The drawback is that the reader will lose the ability to resize the text, change the font, and make other changes that would help them to read the book.
Use a standard layout if:
- Your book is all/mostly text
- Any images you have are embedded between paragraphs and not integrated with the text (i.e., using text wrap)
- You want to ensure that the maximum amount of people will be able to use your book (a fixed layout decreases a book’s usability)
Use a fixed layout if:
- Your images are integrated into the text along with other design elements (i.e., you’ve used text wrap around images or illustrations)
- You want to set colours, such as a background colour
- You’re using columns
With a little consideration and planning, you’ll be able to pick the eBook layout that is right for you and your manuscript.
And remember, you can send your manuscript to TEC for eBook conversion! Check out our services here.