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Issue #4 • April 2017

How to Create a Fantastic eBook in 48 hours (with Templates)

Build Your Audience Marketing

You've likely heard it before, but I'll say it again: content upgrades are a great way to give added value to a reader in exchange for their email address.

The promise of a weekly newsletter alone may be enough to get loyal fans to sign up to your email list, but offering a useful piece of extra content that will make their life easier or help them learn is how you convert a casual reader into a subscriber.

In fact, Clay Collins, co-founder of LeadPages, found that promoting upgraded content at the end of blog posts on LeadPages was the number one factor in growing their email list and one of the main reasons their company has grown so fast.

There are many types of content upgrades you could create (check out our ultimate guide to content upgrades for inspiration), but one of the most popular is a PDF eBook.

The best part about creating an eBook as your opt-in incentive? You've already done the bulk of the writing. This is where your archive of past blog posts comes into play. You can create an eBook on a certain topic by gathering together posts you've already written and repurposing them.

Here's how you can create an eBook to give away to your subscribers in four simple steps:

  1. Choose five blog posts that discuss different aspects of the same topic.
  2. Arrange them in a logical order so they take the reader on a journey through learning about the topic. These become your chapters.
  3. Write an introduction and a conclusion to wrap it up.
  4. Create a PDF with the content.

Boom! (Almost) instant eBook.

The reason we suggest five posts is that your eBook doesn't have to be long, in fact it's probably better if it's not. In his post about content upgrades, Pat Flynn has this to say about having multiple shorter eBooks available rather than one long one you promote site wide:

What’s working even better today are smaller, unique, bite-sized lead magnets that directly relate to what people are already consuming.

So get specific with your topic and offer it for download on relevant posts.

Why your repurposed blog content is valuable

Just because the content already exists on your blog, it doesn't mean there isn't value in delivering it in an eBook also. Not only can you add value and insights into the introduction and conclusion you'll write for your eBook, but there is also great value in contextualising information for the reader.

Well-written posts are great on their own as standalone pieces of content, but presenting them alongside other posts on the same topic can add context and tell many sides of the story all in one handy package. You're taking a step out of the research and learning process for your reader by arranging the posts in a ‘recommended reading' order and giving it to them to keep and reference.

Not only that, but you're also offering them the opportunity to read the information in a different format.

When we first launched this new issue-style blog format of ours back in January we heard from our readers that they wanted a downloadable PDF of the articles so they could refer back to the information later or read it on their iPad or tablet. That's why you now see a ‘Download PDF' option for each of our Tradecraft issues!

How to create an eBook PDF

If the thought of laying out an eBook seems daunting to you, don't let that put you off. I've got some advice for you on what programs to use and how to design it yourself. There are many tools out there that will allow you to layout a PDF, but these ones below are some of the best across a range of different effort and control levels.

Beacon

Beacon is a web-based app that's whole purpose is to help you create eBooks from your blog posts. Ideal, right? If you use WordPress or Hubspot for your blog you can even import your posts automatically. But if not, it's easy enough to copy and paste the content.

The app offers you lots of different themes you can choose from to use as a starting point and customise the colors, images, fonts and layout. It's up to you how much effort you want to put in, but it's worth taking the time to make a few tweaks to really personalise the look of your PDF eBook. Beacon makes this easy because if you change something in the settings panels, the primary color for example, it will update throughout your book, so it's easy to keep your design consistent. Watch an intro video about how that works here.

How to use Beacon to create a eBook PDF

Beacon has a free plan which includes a little ‘Made with Beacon' logo on your cover. You can upgrade to a paid plan to remove it and have more options like saving your own theme, which is useful if you're going to be creating multiple eBooks.

Pages

If you have a Mac computer, it's likely you might already have Pages installed (and if not, you can get it from the App Store). Pages is a word processor like Microsoft Word, but it's so much nicer to use. When you create a new document there's the option to start with the ‘digital book' template in the Miscellaneous section, or you can download the eBook template we've created especially for Tradecraft readers to use as your starting point. Like the Beacon themes, you'll want to make some tweaks to personalise your design to match your site.

Get our free Pages eBook template

Download template

While you'll need to get much more hands on with the layout in Pages by copying and pasting your blog posts in and styling the text yourself, you can (and should) make use of the paragraph style options. All you have to do is highlight your text and select the style from the Format panel to the right. This way if you set all your chapter titles to the ‘Heading' format they'll all match.

free eBook template

And if you want to tweak the style, just make the change and hit the ‘update' button, and it will apply that change to every other heading in your book.

free eBook template

InDesign

If you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription then using InDesign might be a good option for you. InDesign lets you have complete control over every little aspect of your layout (you won't see text jumping about when you drop an image in for example!), but this also means you need to put in much more effort to use it. There might be a bit of a learning curve with getting used to the software, but there are plenty of tutorials online to help you get up to speed. Check out this video for an introduction to the basics of the software and then this one that explains how to lay out text and images.

free Indesign eBook template

InDesign is what I use to lay out our Tradecraft PDF because of the control it gives me over the layout. You can really do as much or as little as you like though! If you're keen to start learning to use InDesign, we've created an eBook template you can use so that you're not starting with a blank page.

Get our free Indesign eBook template

Download template

Just like with Pages you'll need to manually copy and paste your content and you should use paragraph styles in InDesign to help keep your text styling consistent throughout the ebook. Learn more about them in this video tutorial. Consistency is key for making your eBook look professional and easy to read.

Designing for readability

Just because you're not a designer, it doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to these design details that will make reading your eBook a great experience for your subscribers. Here's what to watch out for:

Font choice

While you can get a bit fancy in the font you use for your title and headings, the font you choose for the body of your eBook should first and foremost be legible. This beautiful script font for example looks great on a cover page, but is really hard to read in a sentence.

font choice helps readability

Instead stick to plainer fonts for your main content. You can download some great open source fonts from the Google font library, which are free to use in your projects. For a modern look try a sans-serif like Open Sans, Roboto, Montserrat or Lato.

font choice helps readability

Download these sans-serif fonts from Google fonts

And for a classic look try a serif font like Merriweather, Droid Serif, Roboto Slab or Lora.

font choice helps readability

Download these serif fonts from Google fonts

Bonus tip: the Google font library is great to browse because when you view a font, it will give you suggestions of other fonts to pair it with.

Readable line lengths

The length of your lines of text and the spacing between them can have an impact on how comfortable it is for a reader's eyes to follow along. To give your subscribers a good reading experience you want to make sure the text in your eBook is optimised for readability. First, that means left aligning your text. Here's a quick design history lesson courtesy of Smashing Magazine.

In 1928, [typographer] Jan Tschichold dismissed centered text and advocated for left-aligned text. He argued that this would assist readers by providing a consistent left (vertical) edge for the eye to return to after finishing each (horizontal) line.

It's true! You can also help the reader’s eye easily find the start of a new line by keeping your line-length to around 45-75 characters and changing the line height so that the eye doesn't get confused and read the same line twice. Here's an example– isn't the text in the second example much easier to read than the first?

the right line lengths help readability
With so many words on a line, it's harder to find the start of the next one.

 

the right line lengths help readability
Shorter line lengths = much more readable!

That's why in our Tradecraft PDF I lay the text out in two columns rather than spanning the whole page.

Break up text-heavy pages with images

Keep your reader engaged by adding imagery throughout your eBook. Adding images lets a reader’s eyes rest intermittently, and remember, the book is digital, so it won't waste paper if you decide to add a half-page image in some of your chapters!

The same goes for title pages or quote pages– changing up the way you display your content every now and then will keep your eBook from feeling like a school textbook and make it more of an engaging publication.

using images helps readability

Add a Contents page

Just like a website has navigation to make it easier to find your way around, you should help your readers navigate your eBook too. Add a Contents page so they can easily find the right article and re-read that inspiring snippet they remembered seeing.

Use our free eBook templates to create your first first eBook

Once you nail the eBook creation process you'll be able to make multiple lead magnets about specific topics available on your site. You'll be adding lots of new subscribers to your email list in no time. The only question now is what will the topic for your first eBook giveaway be? Tell us about your ideas in the comments!

Download your Pages eBook template

Download your InDesign eBook template

Charli Prangley

Charli is a designer from New Zealand currently living and loving life in London. She’s passionate about side projects and when she’s not designing at ConvertKit she's running an online store, and creating content for her design-centric YouTube channel and podcast with the aim of helping out young creatives.

Experience this issue your way

Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.

  • What if you are not a cult member? This seems to only care about Mac users…

    • Don’t worry, you’re not left out! Both InDesign and Beacon can be used on Windows devices 🙂 And you can use the general layout advice given in any text-editing software you prefer.

      • It’s true! You can also help the reader’s eye easily find the start of a new line by keeping your line-length to around 45-75 characters and changing the line height so that the eye doesn’t get confused and read the same line twice. Here’s an example– isn’t the text in the second example much easier to read than the first?

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