Step Two: Ebook Design

EBOOK DESIGN.jpgManuscript Preparation

As you read earlier, Kindle publishes eBooks in Mobi and KF8. You’re welcome to upload your book to KDP in Mobi format but it isn’t necessary. All you need to do is prepare your book (in Word) for KDP to convert it to the correct formats after upload. This preparation basically involves removing all complicated formatting and snazzy features, like headers and footers and checking everything else is uniform and neat. Click here for instructions on how to do this.

Smashwords supplies a number of retailers using several different formats. The main one is ePub but it employs many others, including Mobi, PDF and LRF (used on older Sony Readers). Again, you don’t need to worry about this. Simply upload your manuscript as a Word .doc file and they’ll convert it for you.

The only difference from Kindle is that, because Smashwords deals with so many different types of files, you need to be extra careful when formatting. With Kindle you may get away with the odd error, here and there. However, virtually any formatting slip will see you excluded from Smashwords’ Premium Catalogue. This catalogue supplies external retailers, like Apple and Sony. If you’re not included in it, your book will only be available through Smashwords’ own website, which has a very limited market reach.

If you’re a complete technophobe and the idea of negotiating Word for several hours makes you break out in a cold sweat, I suggest you hire a professional designer. In all likelihood, whoever you employ for cover design will also offer formatting services.

If you can’t afford this, Smashwords provides a list of low-cost freelancers who offer to prepare your manuscript for upload to both Kindle and Smashwords: Some convert your book to ePub and Mobi. Others simply format it in Word so it’s optimised for conversion when you upload it to Kindle/Smashwords. Most offer a guarantee that your book will pass Smashwords’ Premium Catalogue criteria or they’ll keep working on it until it does. These services represent excellent value for money, costing as little as $19 (approximately £15) for a standard novel.


Cover Design

As with your print version, a professional-looking cover is essential to achieving sales.

Your eBook should match the front cover of your print book. This helps maintain branding and avoids confusion for buyers. It should carry the same cover image and the title and author name should be in the same font and position. The spine and back cover are, of course, omitted.

However, eBook covers are sometimes marginally simplified. Potential purchasers may view them on their reading devices as tiny thumbnails (as little as 1cm x 1.6cm). If you employed a very complex design for your print cover, particularly if you have a lot of text, it may be necessary to simplify it slightly. This could involve cutting cover endorsements down, or even out altogether.

That said, the front of most print covers are fine to reuse for your eBook version with little or no alternation. Simply ensure that the title and author are clearly visible and the overall effect isn’t too cluttered.

From a technical point of view, eBook covers need to be extremely versatile. It’s true, they may be viewed as tiny, black & white thumbnails but they also have to look good on ten-inch, full colour displays or even splashed across 32″ HD monitors. Kindle and Smashwords provide technical perimeters to help authors achieve the best results across a wide variety of platforms.

Kindles are as follows:

  • File format must be Jpeg or Tiff
  • Maximum file size 50MB
  • The ideal ratio is 1.6:1. This means that if your cover has a width of 1000 pixels, it should be 1600 pixels high.
  • The lowest quality cover they’ll accept is 625 pixels x 1000 pixels.
  • The highest quality they can process is 10,000 x 10,000 pixels, a size so huge you don’t need to worry about accidentally exceeding it.
  • For best results, Kindle suggests you supply a cover design that’s 1563 pixels wide by 2500 pixels high.

Smashwords have the following, similar requirements:

  • Covers should be in Jpeg or Png format
  • A height 1.3 to 1.65 times the width
  • The minimum quality accepted for admission to the Premium Catalogue is 1400 pixels on the shortest side.
  • 1600 x 2400 pixels is given as an example of an ideally sized cover.

If all these figures are making your head spin, don’t worry. Simply ask your designer to provide a Jpeg image of 1563 x 2500 pixels. You don’t even need to understand what you’re asking. Just pay the fee, take the file and upload it to Kindle. As Smashwords’ ideal size is very close to Kindle’s and both sites allow a certain amount of leeway, you can safely upload the same cover to Smashwords.

N.B. if your cover is white or pale in colour, ask your designer to add a grey border of three or four pixels round it. This helps it show up against the white background of Amazon, Smashwords or most other websites.

Finding a Designer
As with your print version, it’s vital that your cover looks the part and this almost certainly involves hiring a designer. If you already have a professionally designed print version, it should be relatively inexpensive for your designer to provide a good quality Jpeg of the front section for you to use.

If you decided not to produce a print book, you’ll need to find a designer from scratch. Remember, don’t be intimidated and make sure you understand the service you’re getting before handing over any money. Areas to clarify include:

  • Is the price for a template or custom design? Template design is where the book elements have fixed positions and your photo, title, blurb etc. are just dropped into pre-arranged spaces. The template may even already include a picture. These services tend to be significantly cheaper but aren’t ideal. They don’t look as professional and other people could use the same design, severely affecting your branding. If you’re paying a designer, ideally, you want them to come up with original, custom-made work. However, if you really can’t afford this, template design is an option.
  • Does the price include an image or do you pay extra for this? Images are usually sourced from stock photo libraries, like the ones listed here). If you want the designer to come up with an original illustration, this will be considerably more expensive.
  • Who picks the image? You? Your Designer? Do they advise on which image would suit the genre you’re writing in?
  • How many design rounds are included? A design round is when the cover is sent to you, you suggest changes and it goes back to the designer. If alterations aren’t included in the price, how much are they charged at?
  • How many designs will be produced? Just the one or two/three for you to choose between?
  • Does the quoted price include VAT?

The above isn’t a check list of essentials, just a guide to help you better understand the service you’re paying for. If, for the quoted price, just one design is produced and alterations are charged extra, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad service. It’s just important to be clear exactly what you’re paying for.

When looking for a designer, always check their website for book covers they’ve created. You should be able to get an idea of quality from this.

Can you suggest an eBook cover designer?
Here’s a list of designers I recommended earlier when discussing print book covers:

In addition to this, Smashwords’ list of formatters also contains a number of cover designers. Few of them seem to showcase previous work on their websites. Whilst I wouldn’t discount them, I’d advise investigating fully and asking where you can find examples of their previous work before parting with any money.

Designing your own cover
Unless you’re proficient in design and have a really keen artistic eye, I wouldn’t advise this. However, if you’ve no other choice, the good news is that designing an eBook cover is marginally easily than a print one. You don’t have to worry about spine width calculations, bleed or a back cover.

You can buy a suitable image from as little as £7 on a stock website. You’ll find a list of them here. Study other books in your genre to see what sort of image, fonts and size of text are most commonly used. It’s important you get this right. Swirly italic writing might be fine for a romance novel but not so great for a technical text-book.

KDP has its own Cover Creator. This is slightly better than the Createspace one. It even boasts a little tool which shows you what your cover will look like on a black and white basic Kindle, a full colour tablet and as a thumbnail. However, the covers still have that clunky home-made feel to them.

If you’re going down this route, I suggest Canva as a better alternative. After sign up, you’ll be presented with a snapshot of a limited range of design projects. Click More…


… and the number of projects will expand to several dozen. Scroll down to the Blogging & eBooks section and select Kindle Cover.

Canva will create a blank template of the right dimensions. You now have a number of options for how to create your cover.

You can pick a custom layout, using the LAYOUTS tab and alter font, size, text and even picture to suit your book:


Alternatively, you can start from scratch: select a background, using the BACKGROUND tab and/or upload your own image (UPLOADS tab) before adding text (TEXT tab).

If you don’t have an image of your own, Canva has a stock library of thousands you can choose from. Click the SEARCH tab and enter a keyword to find relevant ones. Many are little more than uninspired clip art but there are a few gems amongst them.

Images, backgrounds and templates are either free or priced at just a dollar each. Once you’ve created your cover, you simply pay (if you’ve used any paid-for elements), download your design, then upload it to Kindle and Smashwords.

Canva makes it as easy as possible to create a correctly sized eBook cover. Their templates are better looking than the KDP ones and allow a great deal of customisation. However, what they can’t do is give you an eye for design or artistic ability. Unless you have these, there really is no substitute for hiring a professional.


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