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Creating ebooks for self-publishing

When you create an ebook for sale, you need to make three separate things:

  • A cover, also called a marketing image
  • The ebook file
  • A metadata document

Cover image

The cover is simple enough. You’re looking to create a striking image that would in print have been the front cover of a book. Since ebook covers spend most of their visible lives as thumbnails, some publishers try to make the text big and clear, but that’s up to you. Far more important is that it’s beautifully designed. If you can afford it, get a professional book cover designer to create this image. In South Africa, you’ll usually pay between R3000 (about $450) and R6000 (about $800) for this.

Once it’s designed, have a high-quality jpg format version ready. It should be close to, but not more than 1000px on its longest side. This is the optimal size for most ereaders and ebook distributors.

The ebook file

If your book is mostly running text (like a novel or biography), you want to create your ebook in epub format. If its layout is intricate (like a highly illustrated textbook), stick to PDF. If you’re not sure, read the article on our knowledge base about file formats first.

You can try to create your ebook file yourself. We have articles on our knowledge base about creating PDF and epub ebooks, and you’ll find a plethora of others with a simple Google search. Your decision about how much to do yourself depends on what you can afford. Assuming you don’t have experience creating books already, you’ll save days or weeks if you can get a professional company to create your ebook, such as Ebook Architects. The process and skills required are similar to those for building web sites. If your book is simple, you can do it yourself with enough enthusiasm and time.


Metadata is information about your book, such as the title, author, unique identifier (see our article on these), description, subject, price, and so on. When you provide an ebook to any distributor or retailer, they’ll need all this information for their systems and their websites.

Most retailers will need an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) as the unique identifer. In some countries these are free (in South Africa, contact the National Library), and in others you need to pay for them (in the US, contact Bowker). Remember that an ebook’s ISBN is not the same as the ISBN of the print edition. Ebook and print editions need their own ISBNs.

Each distributor or retailer will need metadata in a slightly different form. For your own use, you can use our simple Word document to record your book’s basic metadata. For recording metadata for more than one title, you can use our spreadsheet. It’s a good idea to keep all your metadata in one place like this.

If you want to get advanced, create metadata records in ONIX XML (see this short article on it for an intro). You can do this fairly easily using ONIXEDIT (there’s a free ‘lite’ version available). ONIX is a standard metadata format for the book industry. If you’re planning to publish several books, this will be worth learning a bit about.

19 October 2010
This information is more than two years old, and may no longer be accurate.