I’ve used most of these design, formatting, and conversion tools at one time or another and I like them for different reasons. Browse through them to find the ones that attract you.
See also the Author Marketplaces chapter for places to find professionals to do this for you. (Including Bublish, Fiverr, PubLaunch, and Reedsy,)
Reminder: This consumer’s guide is a companion reference to the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors, 4th Edition, which provides step-by-step instructions on how to create, publish, distribute, and market, and sell your book.
IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
Find free book cover mockups, editable media kit, business card templates, sell sheet templates, etc. They upsell you a lot but this is good stuff for design and marketing.
Adobe Acrobat Pro / Document Cloud
Acrobat Pro and the new Acrobat Cloud are Adobe’s software for viewing, creating, combining, and controlling Adobe PDF documents. If you’re doing your own book formatting and conversion to PDF, you need these and you need to keep them updated. Most authors, however, hire this out.
You can create PDF files from any application that prints, combine files into a single PDF document, protect documents with password protection, annotate and collaborate, sign documents, create fillable forms, and export to Office apps retaining layout, fonts, formatting, and tables. Acrobat Pro can be purchased for about $50 if you search around the web and Document Cloud is a $14/mo subscription alone but it’s included with a Creative Cloud subscription. The cloud version comes with a lot of extras but most self-publishers won’t need them.
InDesign, unlike Word, was designed as a professional book and magazine production program. It is the de-facto standard used by professional book designers. It’s expensive and a challenge to learn.
InDesign’s paragraph styles are more accurate, it allows you to fine-tune line and letter spacing, images stay put and export to CMYK for print (instead of RGB), and it produces a more professional, polished book.
A subscription to InDesign costs about $10 per month. Whether you are using it yourself or hiring a professional, make absolutely sure they are using the latest version.
The easiest way to learn and format your own book in InDesign is to buy a template. If you get stuck, you can always pay a professional to finish it.
You’ll spend about $70 for the template and $10 a month for the software subscription from Adobe, and it’s a good idea to spend $25 a month for a subscription to Lynda.com for video instruction. (Try it free for a month.)
If you hate formatting, you won’t do a good job, so spend the money to hire a pro if you want your book to look good. You can find adequate help for low cost using a service like Fiverr, Guru, or Gigbucks but most really good designers charge $500-$2000.
Get book design templates for InDesign at http://bit.ly/interiorbdt.
Amazon Kindle Create
Use Kindle Create (PC or Mac) to transform your completed manuscript into a Kindle ebook. You can make three types of eBooks with Kindle Create.
Amazon Kindle Comic Creator
Kindle Comic Creator is a free download for Windows or Mac for authors and publishers to turn comics, graphic novels, and manga into Kindle books. Import artwork, create guided navigation, set double-page spreads or facing pages, and preview how your book will look on Kindle Fire tablets and Kindle eInk readers.
Amazon Kindle Kids’ Book Creator
Use Amazon Kindle Kids’ Book Creator to create and sell children’s ebooks to owners of Kindle Fire tablets. The authors I know who have used it say that it’s still pretty basic, but expect improvements and enhancements over time. This is the only way to create a children’s book for the Kindle Fire other than doing it yourself or hiring a professional designer and, I think, a great way to break into publishing books for kids.
Apple iBooks Author
Available free on the Mac App Store, iBooks Author enables you to create ebooks for the iPad and the Mac. You can use an Apple-designed template or use your own imagination. If you have a full-color ebook or interactive book idea, know that you can create swipe-friendly photo galleries, animations, scrolling sidebars, pop-over widgets, and 3D objects. Widgets can be set to play automatically, offering your readers a fun surprise when they turn the page. Then export your book in iBooks format to publish and sell on iTunes. You can also upload your book to Gumroad or another direct sales tool. Royalties are 70% of list price.
If you have a simpler book and don’t need all the bells and whistles of iBooks Author, or a plain text book, a good alternative for creating EPUBs to upload to Apple (and other stores) is Vellum.
See the Author Marketplaces chapter for places to find professionals to do this for you. (Including Bublish, Fiverr, PubLaunch, and Reedsy,)
WARNING: iUniverse, Author House, Trafford, Xlibris, BookTango, Balboa for HayHouse, LifeRich for Reader’s Digest, Archway for Simon & Schuster, and Westbow for Thomas Nelson
See Full-Service Formatting, Design, and Distribution to understand why a professional self-publisher should not use these companies.
Barnes & Noble Press
Creating a professional-looking complex book is a big job and can be exhausting for a beginner. Many authors give up at some point and hire it out, but that can be expensive. Why do I recommend it? I often recommend Blurb as a way to present design concepts to a professional book designer. The more direction you give them the less time it will take to create it. Like all POD (Print On Demand) services, Blurb offers a free (up front) solution that takes a fee when you make a sale.
I recommend Blurb’s BookWright tool to authors who are testing ideas for full color books and either don’t have the money to hire it out or who want to try it themselves. And I always cross my fingers and hope they’ll eventually hire a pro. BookWright makes it very easy to use to design beautiful complex, full-color books. However, since its proprietary software, you’re stuck with the Blurb printing service. This isn’t terrible—they have good distribution and very high-quality digital printing on heavy paper with accurate color separation. But because it’s such high quality, their printing costs are very expensive. And I mean, very, very expensive.
Listen, Blurb’s a great tool but I’d only use it for a limited, specialty book. Recently I was at a boat show and one of the yacht rental companies had created a Blurb book as a glossy, expensive brochure to give away to clients who pay the equivalent of my yearly income on a ten-day vacation. Wedding photographers use Blurb to print and sell albums. I’ve also recommended using Blurb as a marketing tool—an easy way to create small color books that advertise your other work.
I love this book! The Bookbuilder’s Almanac is an idea book of typefaces you can use to choose typefaces for your book. It includes articles on how to accurately estimate length, on page density, and photos. The section on grayscale conversion illustrates how the various profiles change tints and photos. Samples of tints and lines settle concerns about detail and screened areas. With it, you can predict how your design will perform before you print the book.
Book Design Templates
These are my favorite templates. The easiest and cheapest way to format your book in Word is by using a template. Simply choose a design you like, paste your Word document into it and apply the appropriate styles that are predesigned for each element of your books such as your chapter headings and body text.
It’s easy to customize the template to make it your own. Simply change the fonts, leading, headers, and footers. The Book Design Templates company provides easy instructions to guide you through the entire process to make your book look beautiful and professional.
The Book Design Templates company also offers a media kit for your website, press release template, book proposal template, and lots other products. These tools offload a lot of the hard work of design and rote work by providing do-it-for-you products and services for very reasonable prices.
All the major book distribution companies accept these templates, including CreateSpace, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.
Bublish offers an online ebook creation tool along with strong beta and social media marketing features like Book Bubbles that allow readers to preview your book and links to online stores with a BUY button. See Beta Readers and Beta Publishing for more on Bublish and Online Marketplaces for their author services portal.
See Conversion tools.
Use Canva’s free book cover maker for temporary covers and as sketches to give to your designer. Canva offers premade templates in various genres to choose from with images and typography that work well together. I also like Canva’s social media banner and blog post templates.
Canva’s Book Cover Maker is free if you upload your own images, but their images cost only $1 or $2. Cost is $0, $9, and $18/mo which includes over a million royalty free images and about 600 templates.
DesignWizard licenses your design for as many uses as you need while Canva makes you license every single use.
Convert Town’s Change DPI of Image
See Conversion tools.
Use Font Squirrel to find free fonts for commercial use. It also offers a font identifier so that you can upload an image of a font you like and it will tell you what it is.
Kobo Writing Life
Microsoft Word is the most popular program for writing, designing and formatting a book interior. Over the years it has evolved from a simple word processing application to a sophisticated page layout program.
To format a book interior, you’ll need to learn about Word Styles. Styles automate character, section, and paragraph formatting. This is how Word “programs” your document to display your book correctly in all the ebook reading devices.
When you work in Word to format your book, it’s essential that you use Styles instead of line and paragraph breaks, spaces and tabs.
I wrote a how-to guide about this. Download it free at Smashwords with code EC55D. (One of the reasons I like Smashwords is that they have the ability to discount and offer freebies with coupon codes. See more about them in Book Aggregation & Distribution.
Get book design templates for Word at http://bit.ly/interiorbdt.
See Conversion tools.
If you like WordPress you’ll like Pressbooks, an online publishing tool that produces beautifully-designed PDFs for print and print-on-demand. Use it to create print books that you distribute using vendors like CreateSpace and IngramSpark, along with ebooks you publish on Kindle for Amazon and EPUB for Apple iBooks, Nook, and Kobo. I used Pressbooks to create this book.
It’s built on the open source WordPress blogging platform so, if you’re blogging on WordPress, you already know how to use it. I’ve created several books and booklets with Pressbooks, including an earlier edition of this book.
I like the Pressbooks blog-to-book import feature, which is awesome for creating a first draft of a book from a series of blog posts.
Simply log in to Pressbooks, paste in your text, add front and back matter, and choose one of their beautifully designed interior book themes. When you’re ready, export your book to PDF, EPUB, and MOBI.
If you’re intimidated by Pressbooks, start small by using it to create a short book to give away to your email newsletter subscribers. Or pay Pressbooks to do it all for you. Play for free. $20-$100 to remove the watermark from your book so you can publish and distribute.
See Conversion tools.
Scrivener is one of my favorite book creation tools. It’s a desktop writing and organization app with an amazing feature set that can help you develop stories and books. I use it to organize and write my blog posts, articles, and books. There’s a 30-day free trial.
As of June 2018, you can import your Scrivener doc into Vellum for final formatting!
Use Text Mechanic’s handy browser-based text manipulation tools to clean up your manuscript before formatting. Add or remove line breaks, remove duplicate or empty lines, and extra spaces. Combine lines, find and replace text, count characters, words, and lines, and even extract a single column of text. These are just the basics. They also offer obfuscation tools, randomization, combination/permutation, and enumeration tools. Free.
Vellum is becoming the go-to app for Mac users to easily create beautiful ebooks. Book styles incorporate classic touches like custom drop caps and ornamental flourishes. A live preview instantly shows how your book will appear to readers and refreshes when you make changes.
In June 2018 they added auto-import from Scrivener.
Vellum Ebooks is $199.99 and Vellum Press for print (and digital) is $249.99.
See Conversion tools.
How to Design and Format Your Book
The Self-Publishing Boot Camp courses will help you with every aspect of self-publishing. Check out the design and formatting course in the bundle.