How to Create Complex, Full-Color E-Books

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Creating an e-book isn’t as hard as it sounds. You don’t need to compose a query letter, secure a great agent, or cut through miles of a publisher’s red tape before the book is released to the world. You can create e-books from the comfort of your office – or couch – with the right tools, information, and help from the experts. Here’s how:

Simple Format: You want standard, reflowable e-books.

If your e-book is text-heavy (think fiction and creative non-fiction) your book can be converted to standard EPUB and MOBI for Kindle formats. Reflowable e-books are completely fluid and paginated according to the app being used to read it and the reader’s custom settings. You can’t do anything fancy like make text flow around images, but in text-heavy e-books this isn’t considered an issue. For most e-books, overdoing the formatting and layout will hurt rather than help.

For Your Complex Format: Fixed-layout e-books keep everything in place

If you’re creating a complex book like a children’s book, cookbook, or textbook, you’re better off delivering it in a fixed-layout format, so that every element of your book will stay in place exactly how you designed it. Your bullet points, photos, text boxes, image placement, and other fine-tuned details won’t budge. Enhancements like zooming and interactivity can also be programmed in. Fixed-layout books are created in EPUB and KF8 for Amazon’s Kindle tablets.

Learn the difference between EPUB3 and Kindle Fire 8.

Authors of complex books should know about EPUB3, the latest version of EPUB, based on the latest HTML5 standard. EPUB3 is used in fixed-layout books to include video, audio, and interactivity. Additions like these can make your e-book stand out. Kindle Fire 8 (KF8) doesn’t allow for interactivity and requires you to build your book in HTML and then convert it using KindleGen.

Hire a professional.

Working with the right design professional can take the pressure off you and make your e-book shine. Professionals are conversant in the latest versions of design programs like Adobe InDesign, and they can code your book so it smoothly translates onto multiple devices. Conduct interviews and weigh what each has to offer for the price (get a detailed cost estimate in advance). Ask for samples of previous work and compare them to what you’ve been envisioning. If they’re the right fit, don’t micromanage. Use their expertise to your advantage and let the ideas flow.

Make use of free DIY tools.

If you’re tech savvy and want to explore the do-it-yourself options for the e-book world, check out these free tools:

  • Apple’s iBooks Author is helpful in creating fixed-layout, interactive non-fiction books like textbooks, to be read on the iPad and purchased from the iBookstore. 
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook offers a book creation tool called PagePerfect that’s great for changing non-fiction PDFs into fixed-layout books. 
  • If you’ve created an illustrated children’s book, check out Amazon’s Kid’s Book Creator tool, released by Kindle in 2014. It’s fairly basic and easy to use.
  • Blurb has a tool called BookWright, which builds fixed-layout e-books concurrently with print books, but the downside is you’ll be locked into their print and distribution service.

Carla King

Carla King is an adventure travel author and technology journalist who has been self-publishing since 1994. She is the founder of Misadventures Media, a small press specializing in adventure travel books, and Author Friendly, a service that provides affordable publication planning, coaching, formatting, editing, design, and social media setup for independent authors. Her Self-Publishing Boot Camp educational series of books and workshops have helped authors make good publishing decisions since 2010. Find out more at