In this post I’m going to share a bunch of images, tools and tricks to help you design your own ebook without spending any money on a designer.
We all want our websites, emails and ebooks to help us look professional, stand out from the crowd, get recognized and, ultimately, delight our audience.
And hopefully we all know how offering a giveaway on your site can significantly increase the number of people who signup for your email list.
Here’s how things changed at Fizzle when we started offering an ebook:
(Click here to learn more about freebies, opt-ins, lead magnets or giveaways.)
So in this post I want to share all sorts of ways you can put something into the hands of your readers, something they will love to read, something that will grow trust with them and make them more likely to choose us when they need our products or services.
These are tricks I’ve picked up, ways to get us from here to there without getting too technical or artsy fartsy.
But, before we do that we need to get clear about what your ebook is for, what it’s supposed to do.
Here’s 3 things every ebook is supposed to do:
To illustrate this last point, let me tell you about how Darlene made (and leveraged) her ebook.
Below is a before and after of Darlene’s 10 Photo Challenges ebook. The new version is definitely an improvement over the old one, wouldn’t you say?
Darlene actually made the “before” version herself using Open Office (an open source word processor). Did you hear that? She did it herself using free software.
Then she used it and it worked. She’s used that version for 3 years and grew her blog to over 22,000 email subscribers.
Yes, the second version looks nicer than the first — she says herself that she wanted to update the look and feel of the book — but her business grew because she used what she had. She didn’t fiddle and whine about making it look better, she used it.
There will always be a possible better version of what you’re making. Successful people know when to stop fiddling and start shipping.
YOU DON’T NEED TO USE FANCY OR EXPENSIVE APPLICATIONS TO MAKE YOUR EBOOK.
Did you get that? Sorry to yell. I just really want you to get it — you don’t need fancy tools to make a killer ebook.
You could use word processing software like Microsoft Word, Open Office, Google Docs or Pages. As I mentioned above, Darlene used Open Office to make her ebook.
You could use any of these tools and export a PDF of a great ebook.
But my favorite tool for making ebooks is definitely Apple’s iBooks Author. It looks amazing, it’s really easy to use, and it’s free.
Note: there was some worry when iBooks Author first came out that the app’s terms of service didn’t allow users to sell their books anywhere but the iBooks store. That’s not the case. If you use Apple’s .ibook format, you can only sell through the iBooks store. All other formats have no restrictions. Read more on Apple’s FAQ here. We make all our guides in iBooks author and export as a PDF.
If I were starting from scratch today, I’d use iBooks Author with one of the built in themes.
If I were on a PC and couldn’t get iBooks Author, I’d use PowerPoint or Google Slides. If I planned on collaborating with anyone I’d definitely use Google Slides.
Tip: Use formatting styles. In most of these apps there’s a way to save how an H1, H2, H3, body copy, link and blockquote should look. Then you can simply select some text and choose that style to format it the same as all the other similar elements in your book.
Added bonus here is that you can change the style of all those elements throughout your ebook by changing the formatting of the master style.
Another bonus here is that hopefully it’ll keep you from selecting this word and making it red and that one and making it green and that one and making it huge or small, etc. Play it cool, Sundance.
I like landscape mode for a PDF ebook much more than portrait. Its wide pages make it easier to include graphics and it has room for two columns of text (keeping your body text’s line length from being too wide, which makes for easier reading on computers).
This is not a rule. If you feel your ebook should be in portrait mode, do it. If you feel it should be in landscape, do it. If you feel strongly it should be a parallelogram, you’re on your own. I don’t think any of the apps mentioned above do that. But they all do portrait or landscape.
Go download some ebooks and see what the experience is like. Model yourself after the ones you like and you’ll learn fast.
There are hundreds of great themes out there that make it easy to dress your ebook up. The applications mentioned above all have built in themes you can apply in the click of a button. (Again, this is a place where iBooks Author really shines.)
A theme makes so many difficult decisions for you, giving you a handful of page templates, colors, fonts, etc., enabling you to get into the real work of putting words, images, stories and ideas on the page to connect with the reader.
And there’s a bunch more themes available for free or fee around the web, like these (unfortunately, you may have to signup for a few email lists to get them):
The downside of using a theme is, of course, you may not look as unique. Someone else may use the same theme, the theme may not look exactly the way you want it, etc.
However, themes make it easy to get your book out the door and into the world. Can you do like Darlene and just get your first ebook out the door and into the world and working for you? Using a theme gives you the advantage of speed and ease.
If this is your first ebook, can you simply find a theme you feel good about, one that gets you 80% there, and force yourself to work with that this time around?
Remember, as we say all the time on our small business podcast: your goal is to release your content, test it, get feedback on it and improve it over time. Using a theme helps you do that without all the fiddling.
I want you to just use a theme for your first ebook… because your ebook only wins if it’s a great topic + a good title + very useful + people are finding it and trusting you enough to download it + people are sharing it because they found it useful. The best custom design in the world can’t fix those if they’re broken. And a theme helps you get it out and get some feedback.
Then, when you’ve proven the book works and filled in any gaps, you can invest $500-1,000 to hire a designer and really make it represent you and your brand.
Ok, I’m done with my theme rant now. Hopefully you’ve stopped reading and you’re already writing your book in a theme of your choice. For the rest of you gluttons for punishment: let’s get into color.
Many of the great designers I know start on a project’s color palette by stealing. “Stealing” sounds a bit harsh… let’s call it “modeling.”
We model our colors on other works, be they in the real world (houses, buildings, nature) or printed world (book covers, posters, etc.) or work online (websites, images, etc.).
One of the harder things about colors is picking colors that feel right together. So, let some excellent designers put groups of colors together for you and find palettes at ColourLovers.com.
They’ve got thousands of color choices put together; it’s searchable, browsable and easy to find good stuff. (It’s also easy to spend a lot of time here. Beware.)
Use these great color picking tools:
Tip: Model your color choices on what other designers are doing. Use ColourLovers.com to find a palette you like and go with it!
Everybody want’s to know about what fonts to use. I’ve been hot and heavy passionate about fonts for a few years and here’s what I have to say:
I could talk about fonts until I’m blue in the face. I hear them, I feel them, I talk to them when no one’s around. I love them.
Tip: Model your font choices on what other designers are doing. Here’s a google search for “good font combinations”.
Have you ever wanted to read something, been interested enough to click and get started reading, only to realize that it’s a big-ass wall of text all the way to the end? Text endlessly, incessantly lined up like like some old English king’s army, poking and prodding you with their swords and spears and ascenders.
I just want to Braveheart it, scream “FREEDOOOOOOOOOOM!” and break the tyranny.
You can call your ebook a “book” if you want, but you’re not Shakespeare or Malcolm Gladwell (yet). And you don’t have to be. So let’s use images and typography in your book to break up that daunting flow of text and keep me curious and interested in what’s on the next page.
Besides, even Shakespeare and Malcolm Gladwell could use some excellent callouts, images and large quotes, right?
Remember what your ebook is supposed to do. It’s not supposed to win you the Pulitzer prize. That’s a different project with a different set of design requirements.
Really, fundamentally, your job is to keep the reader interested and engaged. Breaking up that flow of non-stop body text is an essential part of that, making your book fun, intriguing and delightful.
These boredom breakers can work really well even if they’re not designed all that wonderfully. I may not immediately be blown away by your design and think, “wow, this lady’s good,” but I may read enough to get sucked in and curious about what’s around the next page turn, and in that page turning come to know, like and trust you.
Tip: Expand your line height. You can make those little lines of text easier to tumble through by expanding the line height.
Line height is how short or tall the space is between lines of text in a paragraph. Let it breathe. I normally set that something close to the golden ratio: 1.62. (E.g., if I’m using an 18px font size, I’ll start with a line height of 1.62 times that… 29px).
Some fonts are quite tall and need more line height. Others are quite squat and need less. Move things around and see how they feel. Here’s a great resource for more info about line height and other typographic details.
You have business goals with this ebook. Not only that someone would download it, but also that they’d read it and take even more action from there. What are those actions you want them to take?
What are the things you want your reader to do? Have you identified them? Can you cull them down to just a couple and really focus your book to get them into one of those next actions?
These calls to action need to be designed things, they need to be thoughtfully prepared — what sequence they come in, what form they take, etc. And they provide great ways to break up that flow of text and help the reader understand what you’re saying.
Some specific ways to do this are called out in the page templates below, but these are a few more ways to add CTAs that will help make your ebook feel more interesting.
There’s a bunch of ways to fold in well designed calls to action. But the best designed CTA is the one that makes sense, the one that’s thought through, that anticipates the reader’s needs and questions and delivers the solution at the right time.
Again, download a handful of ebooks and see how others are doing these kinds of things. Get inspired and decide how you’ll do it your way.
I hesitated to put this one in. It felt kind of too simplified, but the truth is it’s one of my favorite tricks.
People love quotes. Quotes feel like statistics in some ways. They feel hard, sturdy, more like data points than opinions. Of course they often are just opinions, but when I say make an argument and then conclude it with a quote from some important person there’s something stronger than an opinion about it. I believe Winston S. Churchill said it best:
See what I did there?
I call this out as a page template below, but I thought I’d include it here for one special reason: if you want to make the writing of your book easier, identify a quote (or statistic) to close each section of your book off with.
It’s a hack, and in time it’ll probably feel hacky, but I collect quotes for this very purpose because when I’m writing towards a conclusion already written down it focuses me. And focus is a secret weapon.
And, just for the sake of argument:
Ok, I’m going to share 10 page templates you can use in your ebook to break up the flow of text, draw your reader further into insights for them and a relationship with you and, ultimately, to make your book more interesting and engaging.
I’ll just say a word about each. You should be able to get an idea or two of how you can do a similar thing just by looking at each.
Cover pages are hard. They’re hard because they can be really important. The best way to design your own cover page is to to look at a ton of examples of cover pages and take notes on what you do/don’t like.
This is a perfect time for you to find a few covers out there you really like, pick one and model your cover after that one. Make it your own, but put it together similarly.
I’ll bet you can guess what I think the most important part of your cover page is. It’s your title. It’s the focus of your whole damn book. Don’t forget that as you look at the examples and think about colors and fonts and more.
Here’s a bunch to check out.
Each chapter (or section) of your book can feel like another enticing excursion if you have a great chapter page.
Think about it like watching a TV series on Netflix. What can you show them that’s going to get them into that next episode?
Note: design plays a role in arousing the reader’s interest, for sure, but it also has a great deal to do with what you call the chapter, what the topic is. Remember that and get in the headspace that each chapter is a new conversion experience.
This is something I don’t see many people doing. And they should. It makes me as the reader feel like I’m getting it, like your book is making me feel smart… not dumb.
Like ol’ Willy Churchill said above, quotes are the shit. Here’s how I’m using these in our top 10 mistakes in online business guide.
Here are some examples of how you can use a part- or full-page of your book to call the reader’s attention to an action they can take (either because you want them to or because it’s the right next step in their learning journey. Ideally it would be both.)
Want your reader to share your ebook with their network? Ask them to. You can make a specific quote a “click to tweet” link or you can simply ask them to share about your ebook.
Why not call out an important term on it’s own page with big text and plenty of whitespace? Or make a statement or ask a question of your own? (We don’t have to rely on the quotes of dead people, you know.)
Graphs and statistics can bring a nice, “researchy” feel to your ebook. Show us you’re informed not just by your ideas but also by some real research out there. Added bonus: they break up that flow of text and, if done nice and understandable, can a reader understand your ideas better.
Give your reader some actions to take. Take all that theory, all those words, and condense them down to a sharp point in the form of an action list or worksheet.
So there are 10 page types you can include in your ebook. If you made one of each of those page types, do you think you could add a page or two of text in between each to fill in the gaps and help a reader learn something badass?
I think you can. And you’d be well ahead of those folks out there still fiddling with colors or wondering if they should hire a designer for their ebook.
I’ve been a designer for a long time. I come by it honestly; self taught, no lessons. Everything that I’ve shared here is just stuff that I’ve picked up over the past 8 years.
And yet, that picking up of stuff has led me to be the designer of some of the biggest blogs on the web. I’m well known for it, people respect me for it, and I learned it all by simply paying attention to the experience I wanted to make.
Here’s the #1 thing you could do to learn how to design a badass ebook: go download a bunch of ebooks, one at a time, and keep note of your experience with each. Actually try to read them. Find some on topics you’re actually interested in and pay attention to what it feels like to try to learn something.
What did you feel when you saw a wall full of text? Did you read through any of them? Which was the easiest to read through? Why? Which one was your favorite? Why? Which one had the worst experience? Why?
Write down your notes about each. Go through maybe 10-20; you’ll probably know when you’re ready to stop.
This will be your own personal masterclass in what you want your book to be like (and what you don’t want it to be like).
Don’t go throw together an ebook and hope for the best. You’ll create a pointless one and done experience for your reader with you.
Instead, experience what it’s like to download an ebook and open it up. Experience the hope that it’ll be great, easy to get through, informative, the answer to so many questions. Experience being let down terribly. And commit yourself to doing what you can to build an experience that will actually matter to your readers.
If you want a guided masterclass in design, I have a course on it. I created the C.R.A.F.T. process for making websites, and it translates nicely to ebooks.
You can join that course within Fizzle. It’s free for 30 days, and it’s my hope you’ll enjoy our community of entrepreneurs so much that you’ll stick around for longer.
Before I go, here’s a big list of design tips for you that you can apply to your ebook. If you have a question about any of them ask about it in the comments below.
All 10 mistakes explained
Resources and links to address each mistake
Some of our favorite quotes from amazing entrepreneurs
Over 35 page full color guide
Free to download
At Fizzle, we’ve worked with thousands of creative entrepreneurs, helping them find customers and get paid.
We’ve helped bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, musicians, designers, consultants, photographers, foodies, teachers, and everything in between.
Our acclaimed training and coaching program is now offering a free 14-day trial. See if Fizzle membership is right for you »