An ebook is more than an electronic version of your book—it’s your book converted into a file format suited for an ereader or electronic device. This format is different from the Word document or PDF file of your manuscript.

Whereas you might use Microsoft Word to write and edit, then have your book interior designer create a PDF for your print book, ebooks are designed to be flexible; readers can change the font size, line spacing, and even the margins of their ereader display. For an ebook to adapt to this kind of flexibility, it must be specially coded, much like a website would be.

The short answer, then, is that print books and their PDF counterparts are rigid and fixed in their formatting, and ebooks are made to be flexible and adapt to the user’s specifications. The picture below is an example of how an ebook’s appearance can be changed on an ereader.

The Flexibility of Ebooks and the Rigidity of PDFs

Why are two electronic versions of your book so different? An ebook and PDF version of your manuscript are both your book, yet their unique file structures mean they serve different functions.

Since PDFs are made to preserve formatting, any viewer will see the same layout, fonts, and page numbers. This “read-only” mode allows every reader to see the exact same book, which is why PDFs are the perfect file for printers to use to set up the printing process. This file type ensures your book will be printed exactly how the file appears.

An ebook, however, is the opposite of a PDF. Where a PDF is meant to preserve formatting, an ebook must change and adapt to fit users’ displays, whether they’re using a tablet, smartphone, or ereading device. With the variety of electronic devices people can use to read ebooks, preserving the format, rather than adapting to the device, can create a potentially ugly reading experience.

Print Layout vs. Ebook Formatting

When book designers create the interior layout for print books, they see the words on the page exactly how they’ll appear in the printed book. If the book designer notices a one-word line, the designer can adjust the text so the word no longer dangles by itself. Likewise, changing the font can be done easily.

But an ebook is created using code (pictured above), similar to a website. Unlike a book designer laying out your print book, your ebook formatter doesn’t see the words as they’ll appear on the screen of an ereader.

Instead, they see lines of code and your text, and must understand how each line of code translates to the words displayed on a screen. Changing something might require your formatter to alter multiple lines of code or add specific code to each spot where the change appears.

Ebook Features

Because ebooks don’t preserve the formatting of your print book, your ebook and physical copy might look different. Special fonts or fancy designs in your print book, for example, can’t be copied over to your ebook—these features will have to be removed, simplified, or inserted as an image.

Ebook formatting is limited this way for two reasons. One, the ebook-specific code may not be capable of producing the print design feature. Two, not every ereading device is able to display all types of code—there’s no uniform way ereading devices read code. That means that while it might be technically possible to recreate the same features that appear in your print book, some devices won’t know how to display them.

While your ebook may not be a mirror image of your print book, or even look the same on every device, that’s okay. What matters is a well-designed ebook that’s clean and professional, and adjusts properly on all ereaders.

Below is an example of an ebook and its print counterpart (respectively).


How Mill City Press Helps

Mill City Press offers a variety of services to help you turn your manuscript into a print book or an ebook (or both, if you want). We have a team of book designers dedicated to creating a beautiful interior layout for print, and our ebook formatters code line-by-line, ensuring your ebook looks clean and professional, and as similar to the design of your print book (if you have one) as possible.