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Formatting Your Book for Digital and Print


August 12, 2021

Congratulations! You’ve written a great book, invested in a good editor, developed a killer cover design, and now, you’re ready to self-publish. It’s time to format your book. In this section, we’ll talk about formatting your book for digital and print, why it might be best to format and publish digitally first, and whether or not you can do it yourself or should hire it out.

Formatting for eBook Fulfillment

Unless you’re publishing a fixed format book, in which the graphics and illustrations must remain fixed on the page, most ebook formats are designed as reflowable. Fixed format often works best for illustrated children’s books, recipe books, and coffee table books filled with imagery, as well as academic publications in sciences and maths, such as anatomy and physiology textbooks with illustrations of biological systems and math textbooks with long, complex formulas. If you’re formatting your ebook for a fixed format, you can simply convert it to PDF from whatever design program you are using. Most ebooks, however, are formatted for reflowable format.

What Reflowable Format Is Required for Self-Publishing?

EPUB is the most widely accepted ebook format, designed to deliver a great reader experience. EPUB is accepted by SmashWords, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Adobe Digital Editions, and many others. Formatting your book for self-publishing in EPUB format will ensure the widest possible distribution. Depending on the complexity of your ebook, you may be able to manage the formatting yourself with a simply online conversion; if your ebook is more complex, you may opt to employ the use of a formatting service. Either way, the benefits of choosing the EPUB format are hard to deny.

Formatting Software & Services

Depending on the fulfillment service you choose, you may need to create more than one file type of your ebook. Formatting software can help make that a simpler job. If your book is mostly text-based, you should be able to use a formatter and convert from whatever source file – Word, InDesign, etc. – you use to PDF, and then convert your PDF to EPUB. Because EPUB files contain more than just the text of the book – including metadata to identify the title, author, and description of the book, it’s best to use some kind of software to perform the formatting. We provide guidance on choosing formatting software and services.

 eBook Fulfillment

Choosing an eBook fulfillment service is a big decision. The fulfillment service you choose will be the interface that your readers must interact with to purchase your ebooks. The more user-friendly the ebook fulfillment services are, the better. However, it also needs to have the functionality that you, as an author or publisher, need. Read our guide on choosing a fulfillment service. You can also find a list of the top fulfillment services here.  

Formatting Your Book for Print Publishing

There are differences that must be considered when formatting your book for print vs. reflowable digital publications. However, the expense and time that often goes into creating a print version of your book can wait. Get your ebook published, marketed, and out there – then work on the print book.

Benefits of Formatting Your Book for Digital First

  1. ROI - More immediately recouping your costs by getting the ebook for sale more quickly
  2. QA - Time to ensure there were no missed typos or errors in the book. It is so much easier to fix a digital copy and resend it. The cost to reprint and redistribute a printed publication is enormous.
  3. Market testing – If your ebook doesn’t sell or gets poor reviews, you can make changes. You can adjust how it’s marketed before you release the print version.

Additional Benefits of eBook Publications

  1. Ease of access. The popularity of ebooks continues to grow. Not only can you reach more readers, but you can reach them all around the world.
  2. Lower price. eBooks offer instant gratification to your readers. And the cost of purchasing your ebook is often significantly less than the price of a print book.
  3. Sell on your own website. Unless you have a publishing company, selling print books on your website can be difficult. However, ebooks can be sold through your own ecommerce store on your own website. You can control the DRM, the price, and the ways in which the ebook is marketed.
  4. eBooks are dynamic. You can include embedded links that expand the reader’s experience. From sending them to your website and social media or to a YouTube video, you can enrich the experience.
  5. Free copies don’t cost you. If you want to share your ebook with beta readers and reviewers, you can. You can send everyone in your family a copy, it won’t cost you very much to do that.
  6. Flexible pricing. Because ebooks do not have printing costs associated with them, you have more flexibility to experiment with price. You can offer first books in a series for free to entice readers, and offer discounts at a whim.
  7. Readers are willing to risk it. If you’re an unknown or new author, readers are willing to risk the $2-5 cost of an ebook. They'll spend a small amount to try a new author - even if they wouldn't spend $12-25 on the print version.

DIY Formatting Vs. Hiring It Out

The decision between DIY formatting and hiring out often comes down to two things: your ability to do it and the complexity of the book. If there are a lot of graphics involved that you struggle to manage, you might want to find an expert to help you. If it’s straight text, you should have no problem with the formatting. There are a number of guides available, but the biggest thing to keep in mind with a reflowable format is that every reader is using a different device and can set the font size as big or as small as they want it. Your job is to provide clean text with no strange coding or designs that interrupt the reader’s experience.

Cost of Formatting Services

The cost of book formatting will depend on the complexity and length of the book. Prices begin at around $49 and go up from there. A 300-page anatomy book with interactive illustrations will cost far more than a simple 90-page romance. Most people who offer formatting services will have a variety of menu items available and will offer both digital and print formatting. We’ve put together a list of the best ebook formatting services to help you narrow down the list should you choose to outsource the service.

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