Fade, an an angel in comfortable purple pajamas, sits on the Scribus logo. Dark ink drips from her wings and barbed-wire halo.

How To Make an eBook:

Using Scribus to Design PDFs


books come in a variety of formats, and one of those formats is PDF. It’s our favorite format, in fact. There can be something very comforting about a document that looks and handles like a physical-world book. Since PDFs are, in fact, the typical file format used to design for print, it’s really only one step removed from the actual thing.

In separate guides, we’re also going to review how to make an EPUB with Sigil. We might also go over using websites to host stories, and possibly a simpler way to make a PDF using a word processor — not as freeform as what we can do here, but still a viable option if you don’t need something elaborate. Us, though? We at the Novelry really enjoy elaborate! This guide is still being drafted and refined, so don’t be alarmed at how long it is, or how it cuts off abruptly at the end. More is coming soon, and your patience with us (and this program) will be rewarded. If you know what you're doing with Scribus, you can make some damn gorgeous layouts.


divider Firstly; Why Scribus? divider

Mainly because we love teaching ourselves how to use open-source programs. We went out searching for an alternative to InDesign, and we found our best fit here. Essentially, InDesign is “the industry standard publishing app,” or to translate that out of corporate speak, it’s a program that professionals use to craft layouts for print-based things like posters, pamphlets, business cards, magazine, and books. We learned InDesign ourself in college. It’s a very pretty and intricate program to look at.

However, InDesign happens to be an Adobe product, and that hefty subscription fee also makes it an expensive program. Boo, capitalism.

Instead of paying for that, most folks in indie, hobbyist, or self-publishing lit spaces choose to just format their stories in the same program they wrote them it. It is possible to design a halfway decent PDF in a basic word processor like, well, Word, or like Google Docs! However, word processors are geared more towards text creation rather than typesetting. When they are geared toward design work, it’s more in the area of short-form documents like resumes.

In general, these processors lack features like precise image and text positioning, master pages, and print-ready ink palette considerations; these are tools that make more creative typesetting a cinch. So if you want to get artsy with your layout, a word processor is a little imprecise.

So, Scribus' advantage here is that is free to use (unlike InDesign), and directly geared towards print design and decorated PDFs (unlike word processors.) This makes it a good place to familiarize yourself with book design without having to shill out a bunch of money during the learning process. Take this Scribus-made layout as example. It wouldn’t be easy to craft on Google Docs!

Layout example of Shadow Herald.

This particular example could be put out as-it-is as a perfectly serviceable PDF. It could also be adjusted somewhat into a serviceable base for a print book (in which case I would remove the textured background, slide the margins out slightly, and convert the colors to black-and-white.) And this one layout is just a taste of what can be made with this program.

Here are frank facts about what it’s like to use Scribus;

  • It doesn’t update very often. This means that bugs might take a while to get fixed, but it also means that the program is pretty consistent. Once you have it memorized, you have it memorized. It’s not changing for a good, long while. Specifically, not until 2025, probably!
  • The interface is a little old-fashioned. If you enjoy a nice blocky, dropdown menu style of program, you will love Scribus. If you prefer newer-styled programs with floaty interfaces that you can shuffle around at will, then you might want to bite the bullet and pay for InDesign. (But you’re probably from Neocities, so chances are high that you LOVE old computer program layouts.)
  • Older computers might experience input delays on large documents, particularly if you’re like us and you like plastering images in crazy places. But it's honestly about on par with, say, the lag from loading similar documents in Google Docs. That’s pretty impressive if you have a three-hundred page project with image headers on every chapter AND a background texture on every masterpage! Which is what we have, yes.
  • Saving your document and closing the program instead of leaving it idling unsupervised for long periods of time will help prevent unexpected crashes. The next update might make the program more crash-proof, but who knows.
  • There are a few glitches in the most up-to-date version, which is 1.4.8 as of writing this. But, they’re not devastating, and they are pretty easy to work around if you know what you’re up against. We can walk you through the ones we know about.

In general, we recommend Scribus if you are a hobbyist who wants to take the time to make projects you care about, by yourself, no industry training, without paying through the nose. If you want some design experience for the traditional publishing industry, it can be helpful, but not as helpful as training yourself directly on InDesign. And if you like to work indie-pendently of Official Industry Standards, then Scribus is a cheap way to make a solid book.

It’s also nifty if you want to make smaller print-ready projects, like ‘zines, or a pamphlet that you want to hand out. But we’re bookmakers at the Novelry, so that’s what we’re here to show off.

Still interested? Great! Here is our main tutorial;

Placeholder button.

And some mini-tutorials are coming down here soon. Big, big work in progress right now. Soon to feature; Creating A Document, Using The Style Editor, Inserting Text Frames, Using The Text Editor, Inserting Images, Align & Distribute Window, Using Master Pages, Managing Colors, Exporting Your Work, & possibly more!

Tutorial 1: Creating A Document

Workin' on it! This is honestly just a test of our Details class. Expect the mini tutorials to pick up steam after we have the main step-by-step one out of the way. They'll basically be less-flavorful and easier-to-navigate simplifications of that.