how to create an ebook

In this guide, you will learn how to create an eBook. It is tricky, but it is not rocket science. It’s tough to do it the first time, but it gets easier with experience and practice, and finally, it becomes a snap to do it.

I’ll dissect the process of how to create an eBook from a manuscript to a finished eBook with EPUB, PDF, and Mobi versions.

All the tools used to create an eBook with this how-to create ebooks guide are free and available for download. They work with the manuscript in HTML form, but no HTML knowledge is required.

1 — How to Create an Ebook: Start with The Manuscript

If you want to create an eBook with minimal hassle, the ideal is to begin writing it (and keep writing it until finished) directly in a text processor that is compatible with Microsoft Word.

Preferably, the text processor will be able to export EPUB, the new industry standard for documents of reading material. In these edition programs, there's an option to enable formatting marks.

To see the formatting makes all the difference. I'll give two examples, TextMaker 2016 and WPS Office, two free programs. In WPS Office's Writer (also known as Kingsoft Writer) the feature I'm talking about is called “Show/Hide Editing Marks & Show All Formatting Symbols In The Document”, and it's an icon with arrows, in the Home section of the ribbon menu. In TextMaker 2016 it's a button with a green Pi symbol called “Show Paragraph Breaks, Tabs and Spaces”near the right extreme of the icons menu.

If you have no problems with the dated interface of TextMarker 2016, I'd recommend you write the whole manuscript directly in that program. TextMaker has a great feature, and that's the option of exporting a structurally sound EPUB file. Each page break (which you should use at the end of each chapter) functions as an HTML EOF (end of file), a way EPUB has of organizing a book.

You can see this clearly if you decide, once the manuscript is finished, to edit it in an EPUB editor such as Sigil. Doing it is a good idea, to check for errors in the chapter titles. This is seen in a dialog called Book Browser in Sigil, on the left side of the editor's screen.

The way to see if the manuscript has errors in the chapter titles and overall structure I used, was by exploring the finished manuscript's table of contents in Sigil. The table of contents should be a dialog on the right side of the screen in Sigil.

Some recommendations. One, don't use many fonts. Use two or three at most. Use common (preferably core) fonts. A sans serif for titles and a serif one for the content. Don't use fantasy fonts. Stick to the tried and proven ones. If this raises a red flag, please read a few articles about eBook fonts and the EPUB format.  You want to use a sans serif font for the chapter titles, and a serif one for the chapter’s gloss.

Two, formatting is a great temptation to attend to, but it doesn't make sense to give it any importance when you are writing or rewriting the eBook. Why not give one's best shot at the formatting, because it's not time-efficient. It's an edition task to be left for after the last correction.

Three, use blank space when appropriate. Especially at the start of each chapter. In a book I finished recently, I used seven soft breaks at the beginning of the first page of each chapter.

Four, how to create an ebook that is as much perfect as possible in the grammar, syntax, and orography departments. You want to use different correction tools, the best way is to write the first draft using minimal formatting. Then, once you parsed the first draft with correction tools, corrected all the errors, and cleaned the formatting errors, apply the final formatting. The reason I'm propounding this way of sequencing the creation of the eBook has a reason. Books are a long kind of document, if your manuscript has a lot of errors, it may become a hassle to fix it manually.

When correction tools have automated procedures to fix a manuscript one may want to use them. The catch here is that the tools I'm talking about aren't developed enough to keep the more sophisticated formatting. Some of them, like for instance Hemingway, may have trouble even keeping the basic formatting. They generally work with plain text only.

That's why I say to leave headings, blank space, perfect line, and paragraph spacing, emphasis, italics, and typesetting characters (like the curly double quotes) for the last thing to do.

Saving a manuscript in plain text is a great way to spot formatting errors. Once it's saved in plain text, the whole manuscript must be checked with any text software that can do word-wrapping. Also, I must repeat something once more. The more correction tools one uses, the plainer the formatting prior to the parsing through those tools. I'd recommend parsing the manuscript with at least three correction tools.

First, and easiest, orthographic and vocabulary check with the spell checker of the word processor. Then it should be checked for grammar and style errors with tools that check for things as diverse as idioms, paragraph and sentence length in words, use of passive voice, use of adverbs. A good one is the Hemingway Editor, a fastidious alternative, The Language Tool.

The table of contents. It's not required, but can be generated to check for chapter title errors.

Check that each chapter title has a header HTML tag assigned, and use that tag only for the titles of the chapters. The h1 tag is too big and we need it for sections of the eBook like the title page. Each chapter title should use h2 and each subsection of each chapter should use h3. Online eBook sales portals accept a reduced quantity of header levels. Lulu for instance accepts only h1, h2, and h3. 


I could tell you how to create an eBook directly in an eBook creator like Sigil or BlueGriffon, but doing that has a great disadvantage. You can't see formatting marks with them. They are great for those with knowledge of CSS and HTML. But for others that lack that knowledge all the cleaning up of the formatting has to be done in a text processor that can show them. Still, you should keep Sigil to check for EPUB errors.

The important formatting marks that the word processor must show to check the formatting are:

    Soft Line Break (newline mark)
    Hard-Line Break (new paragraph mark)

The eBook can have indented or block paragraph formatting. Block paragraphs are the method with more chances of working in any text processor.

Guide for Block Paragraphs Formatting:

    Lines of the front and end matter: can have a combination of hard and soft breaks and use headers
    Chapter Titles: hard break, h2
    Chapter Section: hard break, h3
    Paragraph: hard break, normal (also known as paragraph format)
    An empty line between paragraphs: soft break

A good and free text processor that can show the editing marks is the word processor in WPS Office (formerly known as Kingsoft Writer). It's a button in the home ribbon that looks like two enter signs or arrows.

Other than fonts, headers, page breaks, italics, emphasis, and paragraph style your manuscript shouldn't have any formatting. 

Formatting No-Nos:

    Page numbers
    Linked (or page-numbered) Table of Contents
    Bullet lists
    Numbered lists
    Page sizes
    Direct formatting (creating blank space or page breaks with, hard breaks, tabs, and/or spaces)

Once the manuscript is clean and tight, it can be copied to a program like Sigil to check it for errors in its EPUB structure, as I already explained.


2 — The Creation of The Table of Contents (optional)

If you want to know how to create an ebook in the EPUB format, that you can upload to eBook market portals like Lulu and Smashwords, then the eBook shouldn't have a ToC. It can have one, but it must not have links or page numbers.

First off, auto-generate a table of contents to spot any errors. The ToC has to have the same quantity of items as the book has chapters. If it has more, you used your chosen title h tag for something else other than chapter titles, and if it has less or none, it’s because you haven’t tagged all your chapter’s titles with the same h tag. Goes without saying that any piece of content that comes before the chapters must have a different h tag.

The auto-generated table of contents may have links or page numbers. In that case, copy to a plain text editor to remove all the formatting. Delete page numbers if any. Replace the ToC in the manuscript.


3 —The Placing of Front and End Matters

As you may know by now, EPUB, the contemporary eBook standard, doesn’t carry embedded fonts as PDF did. Every formatting niceties and emphasis must be achieved by header tags, font size, italics, and bold emphasis.

This guide on how to create an ebook is a generalist one. You should also read a guide on the web on how to write the front matter of your eBook, it’s all the content that comes before the main content.

If you think it’s too much work or you can’t find one, then get five paper books and study the first pages, you’ll see a more or less rigid pattern to it. Follow it as it is, don’t get creative with the front matter. Copy it, changing the content of the title of the book, the author’s name, and the rest of the front-matter content.

The same goes for any additional content that is not the manuscript but the supplementary matter that you decided to put in the last pages, like bibliography, notes, appendixes.


4 — The Cover, The Spine, and The Back Cover

Since this is just an eBook, we aren’t concerned with creating a spine cover. Also, I’ve seen many eBooks to have a cover but lack a back cover, I personally won’t go that far. It’s nice for an eBook to have a back cover, even if only for aesthetic reasons. Like the unlinked TOC.

Use a vectors program like Inkscape to design the cover. But first, you need a picture and the typography. Source one or two images by either designing them, shooting them yourself, buying them from a stock photography silo, or getting them from Creative Commons (if you want a free image), and resizing it to at least 1400 pixels wide to comply with most of the eBook markets.

Conventional book cover fonts to use are:


There are free imitations of these fonts that you can use without having to buy them.

Create also the back cover (generally a summary of the book and/or the writer’s bio) in the vector design program.

Export the images from the vector design software in a high-definition format like TIFFs.

Embed the cover and back cover in the eBook. Save or Export as EPUB.

Presto! You created an eBook!

It’s time to go to Amazon, Lulu, and Smashwords and begin selling it!

Outro: Any Other Recommendations on How to Create an Ebook?

I think that this guide, which is under 2000 words, touches all the most important points. With the exception of details, like for instance how to create the front and back matters it has everything you need to know. Still, if you think that any important points are not mentioned, please let the rest of us know in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: Javier Candeira

© Martin Wensley 2019 — How to Create an Ebook: eBook Edition Guide