Ebook Formatting Answers: Why You Can’t Force Dropcaps, Indents, Headers, Footers and Fonts in Ebooks

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There are certain stylistic elements you can’t force when you’re formatting an ebook. What are some of these things and why is that the case?

Here are a few examples of attributes it’s tough to control in ebooks: dropcaps, hanging indents, running headers, running footers and body fonts.

Dropcaps in ebooks

Dropcaps are one element that you can’t entirely control in ebooks. You can do them by hacking around with the CSS, but they won’t look good in every instance.

This is because even if you hack your code to include dropcaps, every device will display them differently. They will look bad on 80% of outputs, especially where users can override text settings. Also, different devices have different font sizes, line heights, etc. and those can interfere with the dropcap display too.

Hanging indents in ebooks

In an ebook, you can’t force hanging indents because you need to use negative text indents or padding to get them to work properly, and ebook readers handle those badly. There’s no standard CSS to say “make this a hanging indent” and even when you try, it doesn’t work in many devices.

Running headers and running footers in ebooks

Another element you won’t see in ebooks is running headers or running footers. That’s because, unless you’re doing a fixed layout ebook (read this to learn why you shouldn’t), there’s no concept of a fixed “page” in an ebook–the book reflows based on the device. So from a style point of view, you can’t apply a running header or running footer. Some e-readers have their own standard for this too, and you can’t override those.

Body fonts in ebooks

If you have an e-reading platform like Kindle or iBooks or any e-reading software, there’s a user setting that lets users choose their preferred body font. At Pressbooks, we try to force chapter title and header fonts, but remember that the user retains some control over their reading fonts.