Discover the three major steps and a slew of free tools to help you format and design an ebook from start to finish—no design skills necessary.
The most frustrating fact of book publishing—one all self-published authors are forced to learn—is that of all the different actions required to publish a book, actually writing the book can be the easiest.
While most writers genuinely love writing, writers who love to format and design an ebook are few and far between. As a result, many writers reach the end of their manuscript, and find themselves with two equally unattractive options:
- Learn to design and format a book.
- Pay someone else to do it.
Most self-published authors aren’t operating on a massive budget, and every penny saved is important. This leads most self-published authors to foray into a long, frustrating slog of learning to design their book, often with expensive tools.
But book design doesn’t have to be that hard. This piece the three major steps and a slew of free tools to help you format and design an ebook from start to finish, no design skills necessary.
Design an Ebook: 3 Steps (and Free Tools) for Self-Published Authors
1. Start by Formatting Your Manuscript
The first step to designing a beautiful book is to take that sprawling text document you call your manuscript and format it.
In the past, you would have had to learn to use a tool like InDesign and manually lay out your book, but in the age of the internet, there are free tools to do it for you. For any book that is not particularly image-heavy—meaning not a cookbook or coffee table book—the Reedsy book formatter is a great tool. All you have to do is copy and paste your text into the book formatter, insert your chapter breaks, and select your trim size. The rest is taken care of for you.
If, however, you are creating a cookbook or other image-heavy book, Canva’s eBook Maker is probably better for your needs. It takes a bit longer to figure out, but the tool was designed for laying out images in books.
One quick note on trim sizes: The major size standards are 8.5” x 11” for bigger hardcovers, 6” x 9” for US trade publishing, and 4 1/4″ x 7″ for mass market books.
2. Create a Cover
Most authors find cover design particularly intimidating. It’s easy to look at book covers and point out what you like or don’t like, but it’s extremely difficult to start with a blank canvas and design a book cover from scratch.
For this reason, if you’re an author designing your first book cover, you shouldn’t start from scratch—you should start from a template. Canva is the best tool for this. They have thousands of book cover templates, and they allow for easy point-and-click customization, a feature which you will find very useful in a moment.
After you have a template picked out, you need to replace the template’s default images with images that fit your book. You can find free images easily using stock photo sites like Pexels, Pixabay and Unsplash and you can edit those images just as easily using a free online tool like Pixlr. (Note: Double-check the permissions and fine print when downloading images from free stock photo sites.)
The key to editing images when you don’t have design experience is to keep it simple. Resize, rotate, and tweak colors as needed—that’s all you need to do.
Once you’ve edited your images, you can drop them into your book cover template on Canva, insert your book’s title and cover text, and download your beautiful new book cover. This whole process should take you an hour at the most.
3. Package Your eBook
The technical aspects of digital publishing can be infuriating to authors. With all the different file formats and digital readers, it can feel like a task better suited for an engineer, not an author.
One free tool to help with this process is called Calibre. After installing Calibre, click “Add Book”, select the formatted manuscript you downloaded from Reedsy, and upload the manuscript. Once your manuscript is in your Calibre library, you can edit the book and add your new cover.
Now, from within Calibre, you can export your book into any format you like. EPUB and MOBI are likely to be the only two file formats you use—the former being used by the majority of digital reader platforms, and the latter being used specifically by Amazon’s Kindle.
The beautiful part of EPUB and MOBI formats are that they are “reflowable,” meaning that regardless of how big your reader’s screen is, your book’s text will be formatted correctly.
As hard and expensive as self-publishing an eBook used to be, it really has become this simple:
- Format your text using a free book formatter.
- Design your cover using a free template and images.
- Package your book in 5 clicks using a free eBook manager.
In total, you shouldn’t need to spend more than a few hours putting everything together and rolling out a beautiful eBook—completely free.
About the Author
Caleb Kaiser is the founder of Silvina Books, a company that helps writers build their complete author platform.
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