3 Most Common Book Formats for Self-Publishers

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The first thing to know when entering the book world is the differences among your formatting options. There are three main formats used to create and design your book, each offering a different set of pros and cons. There are other options, but they have fallen to the wayside in a progressive, competitive digital publishing market. Read about the benefits of each to decide the best option for making your publishing dreams come to fruition.

PDF for Print Books

Portable Document Format (PDF) is the standard format for creating print books and documents. Creating a print book requires that you format it to standard print book sizes and provide a PDF file to the printer. It’s easy to create a PDF, but it’s not so easy to create a beautiful book, which is why you need to buy a book design template, learn how to use a publishing tool, or hire a paid professional. Every program from Word to InDesign, PowerPoint to Photoshop, can export to the PDF format and be printed exactly as is to paper or delivered digitally. Because the text does not reflow, PDFs can be extremely difficult to read on the small devices.

Standard EPUB

With any endeavor into publishing an e-book, you’ll come across the EPUB formatting option – the standard choice on the market. Everyone in digital publishing agreed to use the EPUB standard, except for rebellious Amazon, who designed its own system called MOBI (more on this below), instead.

EPUB can be read on Apple devices, B&N Nook, and via apps like Adobe Digital Editions. EPUB gives you access to the biggest e-book stores on the market.

Always validate your EPUB before uploading to a retailer. Otherwise, you could be in danger of putting your e-book at risk. The International Book Publishing Forum (IBPF) offers a free EPUB validation tool, so if you’re doing it yourself or hiring a pro, make sure to take this last step.

Amazon Kindle (MOBI)

As mentioned above, Amazon decided to carve its own path and create a formatting option separate from (but based on) EPUB – Amazon Kindle’s MOBI. At first, MOBI-formatted e-books could only be read on Amazon’s Kindle e-readers, but it didn’t take long for them to wise up and create apps so that MOBI files could be read on competing devices. Now, readers can simply download the Amazon Kindle app onto any e-reading device, and MOBI-formatted e-books will be accessible. If you’ve created an EPUB first, and wish to modify it for MOBI (as is often the case), our advice is to leave it to the professionals.

You Don’t Have to Do It Alone!

To achieve a perfectly formatted e-book, you can use PressBooks or Joel Friedlander’s book design templates for help. You can also hire an independent conversion professional, but be wary of prices that seem too good to be true (they probably are). Cheap conversions amount to a cheap-looking e-book, with sloppy formatting and unappealing layouts. Make sure to check references and look at samples of their work before buying.


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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 AuthorFriendly.com.