Eight Development Tips for Better E-books

By David Alan Rech of Scribe Inc.


These tips will help you develop books that work well in print and e-books. Scribe adheres to these principles when using our Well-Formed Document Workflow.


E-books are navigated through electronic tables of contents and hyperlinks. In order to make it easy to navigate, you should make full use of the built in TOCs (usually controlled through an ncx file). It's also helpful to create links back to the tables of contents. This can be done through back links from major divisions (e.g., chapters) or by creating a "back" link.

Keep it Short

Keep chapter titles and heads short. Remember, there is little real estate on screen, and it's best to limit your titles to one line of an e-reader display.


Use case properly. In print, various type treatments can be used to indicate structure. In e-books, the cascading style sheet performs this role. In order to take advantage of this, facilitate searching, and make better use of e-books, we recommend that you use the appropriate case for the situation. Thus, a chapter title should be capitalized, and an a-level head should be in sentence case.

Tables and Graphics

Use tables and graphics sparingly. Multi-column tables do not work in electronic readers. Thus, the tables that are expensive to build for print will not work within the electronic version (unless you turn them into illegible graphics). Instead of spending a lot of time creating tables, try to develop clear ways to present information.

Callouts and Outtakes

Limit your use of callouts or outtakes. In print, repeated text can draw the eye of the reader. In an electronic format, those same elements become a distraction. Repeated text can also yield undesired results when searching, and direct readers away from the pertinent passages.


Place ancillary materials like sidebars, further consideration, captions for graphics, etc., into a consistent place. Mixing it up works in print, where you have access to spreads and can signify breaks in content. In an electronic environment, consistent placement helps to improve comprehension and the quality of the reading experience.


Break up groups of images. A montage that looks great in print can be too small to see on an electronic reader. Try to present images as single elements so that they can be better seen.

Screen size

With respect to images or any large element, it's best to reformat (or implement designs from project inception) them so they fit in a screen. Our job as publishers is to present materials in a clear fashion so that we transmit the message of our publications. As soon as a person must scroll around to see an image, table, or other display, that person's reading comprehension (not to mention enjoyment) goes down.