There are two general types of e-books, each with its own purpose. The first is the e-book that was originally a printed book that has been converted to an e-book (see ebooks.com for thousands of examples). These books are usually 100-400 pages long, almost all words, with minimal design — you know, a book. They are expected to be read starting at the beginning and continuing, reading page after page, until you’ve reached the end. These books are usually produced by publishers and made available for sale, just like traditional books only online. They are usually Adobe Acrobat files or in proprietary formats for e-reading devices like the Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone, and others.
The other e-book type is primarily used for marketing, especially thought leadership marketing or content marketing. They are usually 24-60 pages long (some are longer, some shorter). They are designed specifically to be e-books. By that I mean they are designed to be read online. They often have extensive graphics, including photos, illustrations, graphs, sidebars, callouts, a broad range of type sizes. This type of e-book is often read out of order — these books are often reference tools with discrete sections that address specific topics of interest to the reader. The e-books are usually Adobe Acrobat files since the reader, like the e-book, is free. The following are a few bits of advice for creating a well-designed, effective marketing ebook:
- Make it clear to the reader up front what value they’ll get in reading the e-book — and then deliver.
- Write your e-book in chunks — short chapters, short paragraphs, bulleted lists, lots of subheads. This makes it much easier to read online. The e-book examples below demonstrate this perfectly.
- Design the e-book for online reading (most people read online rather than printing ebooks, even long ones). That means thinking about how the reader will see the book on their screen — consider publishing the book landscape. And make your type larger than you would in print.
- Use fonts that are optimized for online reading, particularly for smaller type. For sans-serif faces I like Avenir, Calibri, Franklin Gothic, Frutiger, ITC Kabel, Stone Sans, Transport, Trebuchet, Universe, Verdana. For serif faces I like Berling, Cambria, ITC Charter, Constantia, Georgia, Serifa, Stone Serif, Trump Mediaeval, Utopia. For a great source of fonts, check out myfonts.com.
- Use consistent styles throughout the book to guide the reader. For example, the body text should look the same throughout the book. All titles should be the same font type, size, color — the same goes for subheads, callouts, captions, etc. Roger Parker offers great basic design advice in 14 Biggest e-Book Design Mistakes.
- It’s difficult to read a line of type that is much longer than 4”, so design your ebook accordingly. If you use multiple columns, don’t have the text at the bottom of the first column continue at the top of the second column on the same page, causing the reader to scroll. Use white space or graphics to keep the line width narrow.
- Take advantage of the “e” aspect of e-books – use bookmarks, links, and other devices to make it easier for the reader to navigate throughout the book (think of the e-book as a website).
- Create a table of contents and use page numbers so the reader knows where they are at all times. Provide a link to the contents page on all other pages.
- Optimize your Adobe Acrobat-based ebook for search engines — yes, search engines will analyze your PDF files. How to do it is too complicated for this blog, but Galen De Young wrote a helpful, succinct blog offering 17 Strategies for Optimizing Your PDFs that I recommend you read.
- You want to use your e-book to engage your reader, so you might want to consider something unusual to connect with them. Create a form or survey for them to complete and send to you — with a simple click of the mouse. Add music, animation, video.
The e-book provides writers and designers new opportunities to creatively engage their reader. Take advantage of those opportunities. There are thousands of free e-books available online for you to compare (although many, if not most, are poorly written and designed). Three of my favorites are The eBook eBook by Jonathan Kranz and designed by Ciano Design, MarketTech 08 by Dana VanDen Heuvel, and Lost Control of Your Marketing by David Meerman Scott. If you have favorites, let us know.