How to Choose the Right Format for Your E-Book

How to Choose the Right Format for Your E-Book

Over the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dave Ursillo to prepare his new book, Lead Without Followers, for launch.  We fine tuned four separate versions of his book — Kindle, e-pub, print and PDF — so that on launch day, he could have the widest reach possible.

While working with each format independently was familiar, working with them all simultaneously was new — and got me thinking hard about who would be using each format.  Some people will go straight for the printed book, while others would rather load it onto their Kindle.  Each format has different rules for creating a great experience, and each format reaches to a different group of people.

The question is, how do you create those experiences and when should you create them?

Different Formats for Different Folk

Your content has been finished, now how do you share that content with the world?  Like blogging blogging and social media, it’s important to meet your audience where they already are.  You want to make sure that when you put your e-book out into the world in any format, that there are going to be readers who are ready to read it (and buy it!).

PDF E-Book

PDF E-Books are the standard for bloggers.  There is a simple elegance to the PDF e-book format.  PDF reading software is practically universal and audiences are familiar with it.  The element of PDF E-Books that shine when compared to other formats is the designability.  The canvas is ripe for striking visual designs that pump up the volume of your reader’s experience.

When to use: This is the blogger’s standard for a reason.  PDF E-Books are popular because they look great, are easy to use and people are comfortable with them.  As a default, these are a great choice.

Primary Focus: PDF E-Books deserve great design.  Nail your content and nail your design.  A premium user experience will set a PDF e-book head and shoulders above the competition.


The three e-reader big gun’s (in descending order) are Amazon’s Kindle, B&N’s Nook and Apple’s iBookstore.  Amazon has their own proprietary .mobi format, while the other two use .epub files.  E-readers are quickly becoming the future of how we read books.

E-readers win in one very big way: portability.  You can house thousands of e-books on a single device and you can also read the same book across your phone, your computer and your tablet.

When to Use: Take your writing to the e-reader platforms when your audience asks for it and/or you’re looking to reach out to a wider audience.  Tapping the Amazon market is a great way to expand readership, but it doesn’t happen for free.  When you expand beyond the walls of your blog, you need to market beyond what you’ve been doing in order to achieve digital publishing success.

Primary Focus: E-reader formats need to be flexible because they will be read on a variety of devices.  Strive to for simple, well-structured documents that plays well with any e-reader.  Go light on pictures, as they can interrupt the flow of your e-book in unexpected ways.


Nothing will make  you feel more like a “real author” than feeling the soft thud of a physically bound copy of your book land in your lap. Print books are a different experience than digital formats.  It’s in the same space you.  It has presence and weight.

Reader’s are familiar with printed books (though will that be true in a few decades?).  They naturally know what to expect and how to use it.

When to Use: Authors love to say during speeches that their books make killer business cards, and it’s true.  Saying that you’re the author of a published book looks great.  It’s a credibility boost to have your book on a shelf.

Print books do well in local markets and niche environments.  If you’re teaching a class in person or your topic has a local interest, definitely consider preparing your book for print.  If your niche is techno-lite, having this as an option will make your readers more comfortable enjoying your content.

Primary Focus: Like their fixed page layout cousins the PDF e-book, print books deserve special attention to user experience.  Fonts are important.  Crafting a page that breathes and reads well should be your top priority.  If your book is going to raise your profile as a professional, make sure that your book looks professional, from from the front cover all the way to the last page.

Work With the Technology

As an author, your job is to make sure your content is tight, elegant and delivers a powerful statement.  As the head honcho of publishing at By Bloggers, it’s my job to help you deliver content in a way that is sharp, consistent and looks professional.

While choosing to put your e-book in multiple formats, one of the most important aspects to realize is that your written words will look similar, but different, on every platform.  Why is that?

When you publish your work to a PDF or a printed format, you’re looking at a layout that is fixed.  Those words are on specific pages and they won’t be moving any time soon.

With e-reader formats, you’re looking at something completely different.  E-Books are like tiny websites for e-readers: they’re concerned with document flow instead of pages.  They have to be flexible in order to work on every device your reader may use.  A cell phone is a different reading experience than a tablet, but e-books have to be able to work on both.

Wherever your book is going, you want to make sure that it looks great.  In order to make that happen, you need to individually craft your presentation for every destination.  A fixed page design will require a different approach than a flexible document design.

Work with the technology to create the best experience.  Forcing a fixed page experience onto a flexible document doesn’t work (believe me, I’ve tried). Adapt your design to the platform, and create the type of experience that a reader on that device will expect.

Where is Your Content Going?

After spending the last few months working with authors to take their content to new platforms, I want to know more about you and where your content is going.  Are you interested in learning more about best practices for getting your e-book onto these new platforms?  What questions do you have about the process of preparing your e-book for these different formats and platforms?

It’s exciting to see the new ways that bloggers and authors can reach out and connect with audience members.  How are you going to do it?  Leave a comment and share your plans!

Photo Credit: karen horton

{ 1 comment }

Tiffany September 29, 2011 at 11:13 am

Hey Jonathan,

Tons of great information in this article, but here is my takeaway :

“Crafting a page that breathes and reads well should be your top priority.”

Hammer. Nail. Jello. With this statement, you have effectively nailed jello to the wall. I think that many writers struggle with “nailing” their writing because they are so concerned with the way that it reads. They forget that the IDEA that they are trying to communicate and plant in the mind of the readers is much more important than the technical aspects of writing.

As a perfectionist myself, I really struggle with getting past the technicalities of writing and getting to the heart of my message. Especially when I think, “OMG, anyone can read this…what if I make a mistake?!” What has helped me is to concentrate on what my reader will do with the information, how it will impact their lives, and how it will change their thinking. You can edit grammatical issues “out” later, but you can’t edit real heart “in” to your writing.

To create a book that “breathes” in addition to “reads”, I think we should focus on four things (minimum):

1. Write something that is timeless. I love books (the kind that I can touch, feel, and go thud when I slam it closed) when the concepts inside of them are timeless. I love when I can read something in 2008, then pick it up in 2011 and gain new perspective’s that I didn’t see before. As we experience life, what we get out of a book evolves. To me, this is when a book really breaths.

2. Inspires readers to action that extends beyond the book. Have you ever read a book that made you want to go out and change the world? Or at least your world? This is a great test to see if your writing reads. Ask yourself, what do I want readers to DO as a result of reading this.

3. Use the 7 word rule. If what you are trying to communicate can be boiled down to 7 words and those 7 words inspire and motivate the reader- then you have something. If not, you’ve got a lot of fancy rhetoric (a.k.a. fluff) and no substance.

4. Ask yourself if what you have written is “cross-people” compatible. Can people relate no matter their industry, their position, their lifestyle. I know that they goal is to reach a niche market, but even within a niche audience people are diverse. When the ideas that you are trying to communicate are universal, EVERYONE should be able to take away something from it.

- Tiffany @ Edit-Ability

Best of luck to Dave by the way on Lead Without Followers. I’m excited to see what comes out of the project!