Have you ever wanted to self-publish an ebook? It’s not as hard as you might think!
Once you’ve written your content—really, the most difficult part—you’ll need to design the ebook and get it ready for publishing. The good news is, the process is straightforward, and there are plenty of software solutions that can help you along the way.
Keep reading to learn the basics of ebook design and everything you need to know to get your ebook ready for digital bookstores.
What Is Ebook Design?
Anything involved in the process of laying out and arranging the contents of an ebook in a way that’s accessible, functional, and appealing to the reader is considered ebook design. Depending on the type of ebook, an ebook designer may adjust the formatting of the text, insert photos or images, or add creative design elements. They’re also responsible for exporting the ebook in a format that will be recognized by reading devices.
Types of Ebook Design
There are two types of ebook layouts: reflowable and fixed. The design process will depend largely on the layout you choose.
A reflowable layout adjusts based on the screen size and orientation of the reading device, as well as the reader’s preferences. They can change the font style and size, and the layout will automatically update to reflect these changes, making the text easier and more enjoyable to read.
Reflowable layouts are typically used in ebooks with a lot of text, such as fiction and nonfiction books. They’re accepted by popular ebook reading devices like Kindle and Kobo.
When designing an ebook with a reflowable layout, the book designer’s main goal is to make sure readers will be able to access the book on any device and adjust the text formatting to fit their needs and preferences.
As the name suggests, a fixed layout is set in place. Viewing it on a smaller screen means the edges may be cut off or the text size may be too small to read. Users may need to manually zoom in and scroll to the content they wish to see. That being said, ebooks with a fixed layout are typically meant to be viewed on a tablet or computer screen, so this is rarely an issue.
Fixed layouts are used in ebooks with lots of images and design elements, such as magazines, children’s books, reports, and guides. The goal is for the reader to view the ebook exactly as the designer intended it to be seen, since every design decision serves a purpose. It may be to add visual interest, illustrate a point, evoke certain feelings, or even influence purchasing decisions.
Ebook Design Software
You’ll need software to create an ebook layout design and export it in the proper format. There are many paid and free options out there, but here’s a rundown of the most popular ones.
If you’re looking to create a reflowable layout ebook, Scrivener and Vellum are both great options. Scrivener is marketed as a word processor for writers, but it has everything you need to write, edit, format, and publish your ebook. If you’re a Mac user, Vellum is a feature-rich solution designed specifically for creating ebooks.
If you’ve dabbled in graphic design, you may already be using Adobe InDesign. It’s perfect for designing fixed layout ebooks with lots of visual elements, though you can also use it to create reflowable layouts. InDesign is best for people who are well versed in graphic design and are looking for maximum flexibility and freedom to be creative.
Free tools are a bit limited in terms of features, but they can still get the job done. Google Docs has an option to download your document as an .EPUB file, which is the format that most ebook readers recognize. Calibre is another great tool, though it’s not as intuitive and requires a bit of a learning curve.
If you’re looking to create an ebook with lots of photos, illustrations, and design elements but don’t have much experience with graphic design, it’s entirely possible to create it using the free version of Canva.
How to Design an Ebook
The process for designing an ebook varies greatly depending on whether it has a reflowable or fixed layout. Let’s tackle these separately.
How to Design a Fixed Layout Ebook
There are really no rules when it comes to designing fixed layout ebooks. As long as your ebook is accessible, visually appealing, and follows a cohesive design style, the rest is up to you. Simply arrange your design elements on each page and export the ebook as a .PDF file.
Your readers will see the ebook exactly as you designed it, so there’s no need to worry about anything shifting out of place when it’s viewed on different devices.
How to Design a Reflowable Layout Ebook
Reflowable layout ebooks are usually text-heavy with very few (if any) photos or illustrations. On the one hand, this makes them easier and faster to design than most fixed layout ebooks. That being said, you’ll need to take a few extra steps to make sure your ebook is formatted correctly no matter where it’s viewed and which settings the reader applies.
Step 1: Add the Book Cover
It’s much easier to design a book cover separately (or get someone else to design it) and insert it as an image onto the first page of your ebook. Edit the settings to make sure the size of the image stays fixed and its appearance is not affected by the reflowable layout.
Learn Book Cover Design
Create your first book cover design with Chip Kidd in his class, Introduction to Book Cover Design: Making Stories Visual.
Step 2: Add the Front Matter, Body Text, and Back Matter
Next, insert the front matter, main text, and back matter to your document.
Front matter refers to the pages that precede the first chapter of the book. This can include things like copyright information, table of contents, dedication, epigraph, and half title. Leave a page for the table of contents, but don’t create it just yet—there’s a simple way to do it after you’ve formatted your headings.
Back matter is everything that appears after the main text. This can include things like acknowledgements and the author’s biography.
Step 3: Format Paragraphs
Use a simple font like Minion Pro, Antigua, Garamond, or Times New Roman—these are fonts that popular reading devices will recognize. Don’t worry too much about the font beyond this, since readers will be able to choose their own preferred font.
Apply a format to your main body of text that indents the first line of each paragraph (except the first line at the beginning of a new chapter or section).
Apply a special format to headings, especially chapter titles and the titles of front matter and back matter content.
Step 4: Insert Page Breaks
Insert page breaks after each front/back matter section and chapter. This will ensure that no matter how much the layout shifts, a new section or chapter will always start on a new page.
Depending on the program you use, you may need to do this manually or simply check off a box and let the software do it for you.
Step 5: Format Images
If your ebook includes images, you’ll want them to stay in place even as the ebook’s layout changes. First, make sure the size of the image remains fixed. Next, anchor the image to the text that it’s related to. This way, even if the reader increases the font size or line spacing and the text gets shifted down, the image will always follow.
Step 6: Create a Table of Contents
The front matter usually includes a table of contents. Most software tools will help you create one automatically using the headings you previously formatted.
When your table of contents is first generated, each heading will have an associated page number. You can remove these numbers, since each item in the table of contents will automatically link to its respective section or chapter. Not to mention, the pagination will change from reader to reader depending on their viewing preferences, so the page numbers will only cause confusion.
Generating a table of contents will also allow readers to navigate through the ebook using the bookmarks tool on their reading device.
Step 7: Export
The final step is to export your ebook as a reflowable .EPUB file and test it out on a device or mobile app that reads this file format.
Design Your Own Ebook
Whether your book will have a fixed or reflowable layout, you now have everything you need to make it look its best and provide your audience with a pleasant reading experience. Now, get that ebook published!
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