How to design and publish your first book

Blog-to-book series, Pt. 3

Welcome to the final part of our blog-to-book series. In part one, we chatted about deciding whether or not your blog is book-worthy and how to start reworking content. Then we dove into content strategy, including what to put in the book and how to organize it. In this last installment, we’re going all the way! To publication, that is.

Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing

Every blogger I’ve spoken to went the route of self-publishing. Why? It boils down to three basic reasons:

  1. Creative control
  2. Time
  3. Money

Person reading ebook on Kindle to represent how to design and publish a bookWhen you go the traditional publishing route, you most likely will not be offered a boatload of cash up-front. Unless, of course, you have a blog that is so popular that your page view stats would even make Britney Spears blush. The truth is, the multimillion dollar book deals are reserved for the prom kings and queens of the Internet (or at least the cool kids who have already released books that were wildly popular).

Speaking of cash, you’re likely only going to see eight percent in royalties on sales (on average), and that’s only after you’ve met any advances already received. For example, if you received a $1,000 advance payment for your work, you will have to sell enough books to meet that $1,000 before you ever receive additional royalties.

When you consider that self-publishing can yield as much as 70 percent in royalties plus the rights to all of the work in your book, it starts looking mighty sexy.

In addition, traditional publishing often means you’ll have to sign away a lot of creative control.


The final product might not actually be up to you, let alone what happens to it after publication. For instance, Tucker Max, who is famous for books like I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, said that when his book was optioned for movie rights, he didn’t have much control over what they did with the story line. Other writers have said that their original stories came back from publishers bleeding with red ink or requests for changes. By the time their work was actually released, much of their voice had been lost in translation.

Finally, traditional publishing can take a long time — like a few years. Talk about anticipation! With self-publishing you could write your content by the pool, have it edited, make final touches, and then publish it before the autumn leaves wither and fall to the ground.

In my opinion, and the opinion of many authors who have turned their blogs into books, self-publishing is the best route to take. So, if you opt to self-publish, how do you get this bad boy ready for its debut? Well, let’s talk design.

Designing your book for publication

There are plenty of options to chose from, so be sure to do your research to find which method best suits your style.

Design software

If you’ve got some design skill to go along with your writing chops, you might go with an ebook layout option like Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress. You can make your book look however you want, and be pretty much guaranteed that your layout will be unique.

Three of the bloggers I interviewed used Adobe InDesign to lay out their masterpieces.

Presentation software

It’s more common in the blogosphere, however, to use presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides and Keynote. These programs are much easier to learn to use (in fact, you’ve probably used at least one of them already), but your layout options will be more limited.

Cool tip: HubSpot offers downloadable ebook templates for both PowerPoint and InDesign.

Specialty ebook design software

You’ve also got some really good free and paid options for specialty ebook design software — although there might be a learning curve. A few popular choices include:

iBooks Author is a popular, FREE, software that offers a number of ebook design templates for Mac and iPad.

Atavist offers a bunch of ebook formats and creative tools.

eBook Maestro offers customizable templates for a variety of digital formats.

Word processing software

Some self-publishers go the word processing route (hey, we use it to write, why not to lay out?) with programs like Microsoft Word, Google Docs and Pages. It might not be the best solution, but it works.

Kate Erickson, author of The Fire Path, designed her book entirely in Word. She also made the decision to hire a designer to create the cover (a great choice for a unique, professional-looking cover).

These are the most common options available, but there are plenty more out there. How you choose to design your book is entirely up to you.

Popular self-publishing platforms

Like layout options, you’ve got plenty of choices (both free and paid) when it comes to where you actually publish your book. Here are a handful of the most popular platforms:

CreateSpace allows you to create and sell books, CDs and DVDs on demand. Gone are the days of buying hundreds, if not thousands, of copies that you pay for in advance and store in your closet, or ahem, your entire living room. Thanks to services like this you can load your work online and order one unit at a time. For the most part there are no upfront costs to you unless you need assistance with things like editing, design and distribution. However, the free ISBN number that is assigned to your book is only for Amazon — so if you want to sell in bookstores, you will need to buy your own number or consider a different self-publishing platform.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Amazon’s KDP program is the only option I’m aware of that has no fees associated with self-publishing. You simply upload your book and your cover’s design, and as soon as it’s approved for publication by Amazon (typically in 24 hours or less), your book is live. That means in as little as a day you can start selling and earning up to 70 percent of the retail price you set. Just keep in mind the KDP program is for ebooks only — if you want to sell hard copies, you’ll need to look into additional options.

Lulu, like CreateSpace, has a DIY option and additional options to pay for assistance in creating your book. Unlike CreateSpace, Lulu offers the option to purchase an ISBN number that you can use worldwide. Plus, you retain all rights to your work.

Blurb offers print-on-demand options as well as bulk ordering. They are considered a fabulous choice amongst many authors (based on reviews I’ve read) for printing cookbooks and children’s books with lots of graphics. Blurb also has a distribution program that allows you to sell on 39,000 online stores including Amazon. You can use your own ISBN number or buy on through Blurb.

Draft2Digital doesn’t charge authors for formatting or distributing books — even on Kobo — but does keep about 10 percent of the retail price.

Candace and Natalie used CreateSpace, and Kate opted for the KDP software. All three have had success with their books — you just need to use a platform that is comfortable for you.

Pre-publishing questions

Before you decide to publish your book, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I want this book available in print, or am I happy with just an ebook?
  2. Am I hoping to sell it in stores and online? CreateSpace only gives you an ISBN number to sell online, so if you want to sell it in stores you might want to consider an alternative for publication.
  3. Should I hire a designer, editor and/or media company to handle all of this for me?
  4. How much can I budget for printing and publishing my book? Although the most popular self-publishing platforms do print on demand, there are fees for things such as design, loading the book, securing the ISBN, etc.
  5. How fast do I want my book available for purchase?

Once you answer these questions, you’ll be well on your way to finding your self-publishing path. The good news? You’ll own the rights when you self-publish, and you can always scrap the project completely and start over, even if you already released it!

Now, I want to hear from you! Are you working on a book release of your very own my bloggy friends? I would love to know what you’re using to make your blog into a book. I also wish each and every one of you massive success in publishing your creative works.