Pick up any fiction novel, and take a look at the first paragraph of each chapter. Most likely, the first line of the first paragraph will be aligned at the left edge of the text area, or to put it another way: blocked at the left margin. The first paragraph is also blocked after a section break, a quoted passage, an illustration, and after anything that is an interruption to the continuous flow of text.
Subsequent paragraphs, you will notice, are indented. The space that they are indented by can vary, but generally, the text starts at about 3–4 characters in.
You will also notice that there are no blank lines between paragraphs, but there may be a gap of white space, a decorative device (known as a fleuron), or simply a number of asterisks, to denote a section break.
This style of formatting is uniform across the majority of printed fiction novels and is the style I have adopted when formatting a document for electronic self-publishing, in particular, for the Kindle devices.
(Before I continue, I should point out that I currently use Word 2010 for document formatting, and all instruction is based on that.)
Rather than choosing ‘none’ as the indent setting for the first line of the first paragraph, which would be the logical action, I always indent it by 0.01 cm. Why? Well, the older Kindle e-readers, in particular, will set a tab as a paragraph indent in the absence of a given measurement: a rather wide tab, at that. I am not sure whether this is to do with Word or the way the Kindle compiles the document. However, specifying an indent at the formatting stage will override the e-reader’s desire to use a tab, and the measurement of 0.01 cm is enough to be recognized by the e-reader as an indent, but not enough to be recognized by the human eye.
Setting the indent for subsequent paragraphs is less complicated, and I simply indent the first line of these paragraphs by 0.5 cm.
The other basic formatting features to take into account are justification, line spacing, and font size.
Justification: simply justify the text so that it lines up at both the left- and right-hand margins. Additional spaces will automatically be added between words to fill out the lines. Again, you will notice that most printed novels display the text in this way.
Line spacing: it is possible that with single line-spacing, the text can appear denser, making it harder to read on an e-reader screen, whereas double line-spacing creates too big a space between the lines. I always set line spacing as ‘multiple’, at ‘1.15’ (with no spacing before and after), which makes the text less crowded.
Font size: generally, in the modern printed novel, there seems to be a uniform font size of between 10–12 pt. (I use 11.5!) It would seem that classic serif fonts are the preferred choice: Times New Roman, Palatino Linotype, Garamond, Baskerville, for example, as serif fonts are slower to read, apparently.
It is worth experimenting with different fonts and font sizes, saving the file and then running it through the Kindle Previewer to get an idea of how the finished product will look. This can only be an idea, mind, as there does seem to be differences between the way the previewer shows how pages will appear, compared with how they actually appear on the relevant device.
(Note that when saving the Word document for Kindle use, it should be saved as Web Page, filtered (*.htm;*.html).)
Following these simple tips should create a Kindle-ready document that embodies the traditional publishing standard for printed novels, offering a consistent layout that people are used to. You never know: it may generate more sales!
To see a PDF version of this article, using the mentioned formatting, please click here.