Formatting an e-book is very different than formatting a paper book since digital content is fluid. Page numbers, footers, headers, and fancy fonts become irrelevant. Yes, as an e-pub author you can add them but there is no point as e-reader devices and apps allow readers to customize their reading experience, such as allowing readers to change to their favorite font and font size. Hence, these things are unnecessary in the digital world. The up-side for the e-pub author is that this makes things easier.
One thing that is helpful to the fiction reader is for the author to place a marker in the text to denote a scene change. If, like me, you prefer something a little fancier than a boring asterisk or two, then check out Unicode. Almost every word processor program has symbols that can be easily combined and inserted to make a neat scene-changing icon in your book. (In MS Word, it’s under the Insert tab, then click on Symbol on the far right end.) These symbols have been standardized, meaning that at some mystical time and place a group of people sit down at a table and decide what symbols get what bit numbers. This set of standard symbols coupled to their bitmaps is known as Unicode. The point is for computers across the board to understand that specific bit patterns mean specific characters. (Side note: Books of old could not be scanned into digital if the computer was unable to recognize the characters. Unicode was created so that people can produce digital books in all different languages.)
Unicode also has to be backward compatible, which in computer jargon means it has to work on older computers too. But that is not always the case. As the number of characters for all these languages increased, so did the lengths of bitmaps. And older computers might not have the capability to understand them. How does all this affect e-pub? It means you have to be careful which symbols you use. I found all this out because the symbols I chose resulted in the dreaded “square containing a question mark” – translation: “what in the world is that?” – on the oldest versions of the Kindle. To solve the problem, I attempted to try a graphic version of the symbols instead. It seemed to work, as it showed up correctly on all devices, but, and this is big, it did not translate in the same size to all devices: on some the graphic looked fine, but on others it was teeny-tiny.
Bottom line for Unicode Symbols: can be a nice addition and does not take up much space, but be sure to pick symbols that translate to all devices by checking it not only with the Previewer Tool but testing it with multiple fonts as well.
Bottom line for Graphics: look nice but be warned that the scaling/appearance may change from one device to the next. Use the Preview Tool to check that it looks the way you want across devices. In addition, overuse of graphics can add a lot to the size of your manuscript. So choose wisely and use sparingly.
Tip#3: Think Digitally