A Simple Guide to Compiling a Free E-Book

1. Get clear on your idea.

One idea, theme or concept.

Keep it simple.

I mean: really simple.

2. Write your first draft, using the plainest language you can bring yourself to use.

3. Look around for e-books you’ve enjoyed, or, more to the point, passed on.

What did you like about them?

What kind of format were they in? (This is my favourite example of a first-rate e-book: Seinfeld on Marketing Still trying to get that quality of design…)

4. Check out internet resources on ‘how to’ complete your task.

This squidoo guide from Seth Godin is how I got going.

5. Turn it on its side: you want to produce your e-book in landscape, not portrait (don’t know why, but it works)

6. Use a really big font.

7. Create and edit in Word (here’s the template I use - you’re welcome to borrow and adapt ebooktemplate)

8. Start writing in the format you’re going to use.  That way you’ll see how many words fit on the page, and you won’t be tempted to write too much.

9. Use graphics that are on a white background.  I use istockphoto for mine.

10. Decide if you’re copyrighting or using a creative commons license

11. Convert to pdf format.

I use an acrobat product.  I think there is some free software you can use but you might not be able to do everything you want with it (like have clickable links back to your site)

12. Get it out there!

Put it up on your blog, then ask your readers to spread the word and pass it on.

Flex your social  media muscles, or ask for help from friends or readers who are well connected.  The more people that read it the more your ideas will spread.

If you’ve already published e-books what else would you add, take away or change from this list? If you’re looking to publish your first e-book what else would it be useful to know?

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  1. Steve Sherlock · · Reply

    Joanna, thanks for sharing this information.

    I noticed that you had changed your Confident Writing reference on the footer of each page from a hotlink to a real link. Was there something special that prompted that?

    Steve Sherlocks last blog post..Another look at how to define your job

  2. Karen Swim · · Reply

    Joanna, well done! Congrats on the book and thanks so much for this helpful advice. Though I’ve read other posts, you touch on very practical aspects and provide resources that I did not have. Thanks Joanna!

    Karen Swims last blog post..Santa Cause or the Grinch who Stole your Present?

  3. Jim Hughes · · Reply

    Thanks for the list, Joanna. Good stuff.

    Jim Hughess last blog post..A Healing Conversation with Barb

  4. I’m filing this for the day when…

    Bos last blog post..Snowman, Oh, Pardon Me!…Snowlady!

  5. Steve, I’m not sure I understand your question (so the answer is probably: not deliberately!) Could you run it past me again? I’m not sure on the difference between a hot link and a real link.

    Karen, thanks - I figured it couldn’t hurt to share what I’d learned, even if it was available elsewhere. On the basis that not all readers are also elsewhere… if you know wht I mean.

    Jim, thanks.

    Bo, you’ll need special instructions for including your photos to show them off at their best… I look forward to the day :-)

  6. Bill Gammell · · Reply


    You’ve made my morning! Thanks for calling my Seinfeld on Marketing e-book “first-rate”. That is very cool. By the way, I downloaded your “Questions for a Change” e-book. Thanks for sharing!

    Bill Gammells last blog post..Why you need a bouncer

  7. Ulla Hennig · · Reply

    thanks for your post - actually this was a post I was looking for. And thanks for the link to Seth Godin’s post - I find it very useful.
    Writing an e-book and publishing it might be my next experiment on my blog…

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..The Gift of Time

  8. Brad Shorr · · Reply

    Joanna, Thanks for the tips. I’ve always wondered how this was done and lately I’ve had clients ask about it. Are e-books the wave of the future do you think?

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Cellphone Users and Abusers Contest Roundup

  9. Jay Ehret · · Reply

    Thanks for the push I needed to get moving on a couple of ebooks. You’re Word template is a great help.

    Jay Ehrets last blog post..Speaking The Right Marketing Language

  10. Blog Expert · · Reply

    Great list. As always you hit it on the nail.

    Blog Experts last blog post..19 Ways to Make Money Blogging

  11. Steve Sherlock · · Reply

    Joanna, in your most recent PDF you have the link to your website written out as:


    On your earlier PDF’s you have it written out as:

    Confident Writing

    and this within the PDF itself is a link out to your website.

    So both formats take the reader to the same place.

    The question was: Is this a matter of appearance? or was there something else behind the change? Search engine optimization, for example.

  12. Hi Bill, thanks for stopping over. I called it first rate because it is! It was the first e-book I saw that I really ‘got’, and could understand why people would want to pass it on.

    Ulla, it’s good when the posts arrive at just the right time like that isn’t it? The Godin resource is excellent too. (He’s a great simplifier)

    Brad, good question. I’m not sure. I think I probably saw more of them when I started blogging than I do now. They’re a good way to spread idead (the Godin principle). I think they have to offer something of value to the reader to be spreadable - and a good enough quality too. I see more people offering e-books on a paid basis - I’m afraid that doesn’t really work for me, as I can’t help but think that a book I pay for should be a ‘real’ book. Guess I’m old fashioned that way.

    Trends in e-book as marketing tool might be an interesting topic to research for Word Sell? (She says, passing the buck)

  13. Jay, glad it was of use. That’s why I published it.

    Blog Expert, thank you. It’s not the definitive answer, but I hope enough to get people started

    Steve, I get you now. I’m afraid to confess it’s just a reflection of my inability to be consistent. Sorry!

  14. Ricardo Bueno · · Reply

    I just wanted to re-confirm that “landscape” does work.

    I put an ebook out in March. The one thing that worried me most was the design (or rather lack of design). But I played with the fonts which made it all work. And at the end of the day, people liked it. So you see, it’s not the photos or design that make a great ebook. It’s the content! :-)

    Ricardo Buenos last blog post..Yup…I’m Addicted to Social Media! You?

  15. Barbara Swafford · · Reply

    Hi Joanna - What a fabulous post. Writing an ebook is something that’s creeping up my list of blogging activities. This post is extremely helpful. You’ve made it sound a lot easier than I had envisioned. Thank you!

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..NBOTW - I Think I Can, I Think I Can

  16. J.D. Meier · · Reply

    Nice prescriptive guidance!

    How do you decide between a slide deck in slideshare vs. a PDF in landscape mode?

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Lessons Learned from Peaceful Warrior

  17. Ricardo, thanks for sharing your experience there. I think you’re right that we don’t need to worry too much about great design (spoken as someone who’s totally non-visual!) but you do need a clear, easy to read layout if people are going to enjoy the great content. The fonts really make a difference - as you clearly discovered :-)

    Barbara, thanks - it is much easier than you might imagine. Find one or two that you like, work out how they did it, then you’re away.

    J.D. hello, and welcome. That’s an interesting question. I think it’s to do with audience expectations and what they’re likely to read, pass on, share, and recommend to others. In some cases and for some audiences they might be looking for slidedecks, but I suspect that’s more people who are in an educational or web-enabled educational field. My gut feeling is that an e-book appeals to a more conventional set of readers. But that’s just gut reaction - I don’t really know.

    To the person who’s name isn’t really coursework… I’m glad you found it useful.

  18. Joanna, you done a great job for created the free ebook. Honestly, you’ve used the most simplest and easiest ways to compile the ebook, even the junior high students can do it! (Well, this is a compliment to you here, my friend.)

    wilsons last blog post..The Alternative Way to Reduce High Cholesterol Level!

  19. Jeanne Dininni · · Reply

    Thanks for this info, Joanna!

    I’ve thought about writing an e-book at some point, but haven’t really known quite where to begin. The resources — and advice — you offer in this post will provide a great start in my e-book writing journey!

    Your e-book about asking questions looks fantastic! Can hardly wait to read it!

    Thanks again for helping clarify a largely non-intuitive process!


  20. Came via the comment luv link on Sonia’s site… And this is really useful. I looked at the Seinfeld on Marketing example and I agree that it is great. But it also made me realize why the landscape thing works — the whole page fits on your screen! Most computer screens are wider than they are tall. And most of us don’t want to print out an e-book, too much money on paper and ink. But reading a portrait layout means you have to scroll down to see the bottom of the page and then… kind of annoying.

    JoVEs last blog post..Nutcracker

  21. Hi JoVE thanks for taking the time to comment, and letting me know how you got here. Thank you comment luv!

    I’m glad you found the stuff useful.

    Good point about the landscape. I could tell that it made me feel different when I was writing the stuff, but you’re right, it’s based on a presumption of screen reading. And no, I don’t like printing them off either :-)

  22. Ricardo Bueno · · Reply

    @Barbara: I think you should do it! :-) I know that a lot of people would support you!

    Ricardo Buenos last blog post..Yup…I’m Addicted to Social Media! You?

  23. Wilson, thank you very much. I take it as a compliment indeed.

  24. Sources of Insight » Blog Archive » The Zen of Results Free E-Book · · Reply

    [...] E-Book is an experiment in terms of format for me.  I stumbled across Joanna Young’s A Simple Guide to Compiling a Free E-Book and decided to give it a shot.  Normally, I write longer guides on technical topics, so this [...]

  25. J.D. Meier · · Reply

    Hey Joanna

    I decided to try a test based on your post.

    I think your right that a PDF is considered a Web format, and it’s more likely to be shared. I think because it reduces friction and matches expectations.

    Instead of starting with a doc, I started with a deck, but converted it to PDF as a simple experiment. Here’s the result:

    * The Zen of Results ( http://sourcesofinsight.com/2008/12/10/the-zen-of-results-free-e-book/)

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Lessons Learned from Peaceful Warrior

  26. J.D. I am as proud as punch to come home this evening and find that you’ve taken the ideas in that post and turned them into an e-book… and to know that people are know putting your ideas into practice from downloading or printing it… very cool.

  27. Anthony Lawrence · · Reply

    You didn’t mention Table of Contents or Index. I forgot those in my first attempts; people let me know they wanted them (even though they can search a PDF so easily).

    When you update (and you will) you need to include a Change Log so that people who have already read it can jump to the stuff you changed or added.

    This surprised me: some people want to print it out. And they want chapter headings to be on “right hand” pages, which may mean inserting blank pages. Your software should be able to do that for you (though figuring out how can be fun!),

    The people who want to print it out might not like landscape so you might offer it both ways..

    Finally, if you don’t own Word, don’t waste money on it: Open Office (Windows, Mac or Linux) is free and has everything you need.

    Anthony Lawrences last blog post..Fifty is nifty but twenty is plenty by Anthony Lawrence

  28. Anthony, hello, and thank you for thsee additions. The e-books I’ve done have been simple enough that a ToC wouldn’t be needed… likewise, I suspect with a change log. But they’re good points for anyone publishing anything more in depth. I suspect I’m not as generous as you about offering choices and options - if it works for me (and printing landscape does) then it’s good enough I’m afraid!

  29. Kim Woodbridge · · Reply

    Perfect timing. I’ve been thinking about writing one and have just about settled on a topic.

    I also wanted to mention that I use Open Office rather than Word and you can save to a pdf. It’s Open Source software and totally free.

    Kim Woodbridges last blog post..Jing Screencapture for WordPress Easter Egg

  30. Kim, I look forward to it. Thanks for mentioning open office - must check that out.

  31. (Anti) Social-Lists 12/14/08 | (Anti) Social Development · · Reply

    [...] A Simple Guide to Compiling a Free E-Book - Joanna Young’s guide to compiling a free eBook. It’s simple and it covers it all. [...]

  32. Great resource. eBooks are a nice resource that can definitely add value and help market a website.

    Shirleys last blog post..Help! I Messed Up My WordPress URL Settings

  33. Shirley, thanks. I find they’re a good way to make a connection with your readers - they appreciate the value of something they can take away and use.

  34. I’d saved the url for this post to help me when I got around to writing my own e-books. As such I came back to it today and there is great info in the comments here. Maybe you need to do an e-book on writing e-books, pulling some of these ideas together :-)

    Anyway, J.D.’s idea to start with a deck instead of a word document was like a bright lightbulb to me. I went and downloaded his just to see how it worked.

    Thanks. I’m now buzzing….

    JoVEs last blog post..Check this out…

  35. Hi JoVE, that’s great feedback - thanks for getting back to me.

  36. How to write a short e-book « anandj123’s Blog · · Reply

    [...] Also some good resources can be found at “A simple guide to compiling a free ebook“ [...]

  37. Ignat Andrei · · Reply

    You can transform from Word 2007 into PDF easily. Just install from MS http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=4d951911-3e7e-4ae6-b059-a2e79ed87041&displaylang=en

    Ignat Andreis last blog post..Vrei copii ? Pregateste-te atunci!

  38. Andrei, thanks for that… all tech help much appreciated

  39. Crafty Green Poet · · Reply

    excellent and very timely as I’ll be talking about different approaches to publishing with my creative writing students tonight. I’ll recommend this post to them! Thanks!

  40. @Crafty Green Poet: Thanks Juliet, it’s great to see this post still has legs!

  41. [...] conversations reminded me of the value of some old ‘how to’ guides (like this one on how to create an e-book). I don’t want them to languish in the archives. I’ve tried to design the site in such [...]

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