Making an ebook shares more similarities than differences with making a printed book, there are some things particular to the electronic medium that you should keep in mind.
1. Length doesn’t matter. As noted in this New York Times article, journalists are taking advantage of the fact that an ebook can just as easily be short as it can be long because the cost to produce and deliver it is virtually the same.
This has led to journalists publishing longer articles that are too long for the typical periodical, yet too short to justify a print run yet. Similarly, an exhaustive travel book about all the sights to see in Hong Kong might be prohibitively expensive to produce and sell in print. But as ebooks, both can be made for the time it takes to design them. So don’t be constrained by thinking an ebook has to be a specific length. Let the story you’re trying to tell find its own length and value, and make that your ebook.
2. Make a storyboard. This process is good for any book you’d like to make, but it’s especially important when you create ebooks. Your audience will experience the ebook one screen at a time, without the same ease of flipping around that one has with print, so the flow from spread to spread is especially important.
Your storyboard doesn’t have to be fancy. You can make one with printouts and index cards, or you can use PowerPoint, or a free outliner program. I prefer arranging words and pictures on a tabletop, physically. I find that’s the best way to figure out the pacing of the book and see where the gaps are. See below for a storyboard I put together for an ebook I was making.
3. Using typefaces has different rules – and results. Because ebooks are self-contained packages of all the bits needed to render a book, there are different rules about which typefaces (also known as “fonts”) you can use. If your design includes use of a specific font (other than the default fonts that come with the various reading devices, like Arial, for example), that font needs to be licensed for use and distribution with your ebook.
Blurb has licensed a selection of fonts that our customers can use and distribute freely – and we’re the only company to do that so far. We’ll continue to add to our list of fonts for use in ebooks so stay tuned.
Hopefully these tips have jumpstarted some ebook design ideas. It’s an exciting time in the world of books, particularly digital ones, and I hope you’ll experiment with the form and make an ebook. The world definitely needs more good ebooks!