Book Publishing Files and Formats: How to Protect Your Writing Investment
What are source files and why should you care • How to protect your investment • Seven common file formats • Three important things to know about publishing files
How to Protect Your Writing Investment

Book Publishing Files and Formats: How to Protect Your Writing Investment

Why book files are important

The costs to republish a book, or make changes to a book, depend on whether or not you have files. And if you have files, the type of files you have matters. For example, if you have a PDF file, and the changes you want to make are simple, the costs are lower. On the other hand, if your changes are extensive, the cost to make those changes and republish will be higher. In some cases, it's like publishing a book for the first time.

Here are five examples of why publishing files, and file types, are important:

  1. Tom could no longer use his original book designer and needed to make corrections to his book. He had an InDesign file, but he did have not all the images and font files. Consequently, the book would have to be redesigned all over again. He gave up, due to the expense.
  2. Mark’s publisher reverted his rights to two books, but the publisher wanted to charge him for the PDFs. Mark found his old manuscript and had to update it. It was time consuming because he had to cross-check the Word document with the printed book to find last-minute changes made during the publishing process.
  3. Rita used Apple Pages to design her cookbook because it was easy to format the headings, columns, recipe photos, and other visual elements. Unfortunately, much of this work was a wasted effort, because the file she created was unusable for creating an eBook file. Adding insult to injury, Rita had to pay extra to have the Pages formatting removed after she had spent so much time adding it.
  4. All Michael had was a physical book. With no files at all, we had to cut the spine off the paperback book, scan it, and then correct the errors created during the scanning process. This expense was in addition to standard publishing fees.
  5. Mary Jean hired us to republish her three books using her own publishing imprint. One of the books required changes to the cover but all she had was a PDF, not the publishing source files nor the original image file—in this case a JPEG file—so we had to redesign the cover completely.

Publishing source files vs. publishing files

Publishing source files are files that can be edited or changed. For example, adding a new chapter, correcting a spelling error, or changing a font.

An InDesign file is a publishing source file (and technically a group of files when you include fonts and images). Many authors draft their manuscript in Word and this file is imported into InDesign for the design, layout, and formatting process. Once the book is designed, it is output as a PDF, and this PDF file becomes the publishing file.

It's also worth noting here that it is possible to design and format a book using Word. In this case Word is the publishing source file. As with InDesign, one then outputs from Word a PDF for use as the publishing file.

But in all cases, a PDF is never a publishing source file. A PDF is simply a publishing file to be used for printing the book and it cannot be edited the same way one edits a publishing source file.

Owning and protecting your publishing source files is one of the most important things a self-publisher can do to avoid problems like those described above. You never know when you may need to make a correction or wish to publish a new edition.

If you plan to hire a publishing services company, a freelancer, or a hybrid publisher, ask if you will receive the publishing source files used to create your publishing files.

AuthorImprints provides, for free, your publishing source files. This is part of what we call The AuthorImprints Difference.

How Files Become Books-Self-publishing file types


  1. Files Authors Create. These programs used by authors each result in a different type of document, or file. Microsoft Word is a common tool for drafting a manuscript. JPG/JPEG and PNG are image file formats. Scrivener is a popular word-processing program and outliner designed for authors. If you use a word processor other than Word, you should be able to save your file in a Rich Text Format, or RTF file format. An RTF file can be opened by many other programs such as Word and InDesign.
  2. Publishing Source Files. There are many software programs or services that can create publishing files but the three shown in the above graphic are commonly used by professional book designers: Id signifies Adobe InDesign, Ps refers to Adobe Photoshop, and Ai stands for Adobe Illustrator. Other software programs that can create publishing files include Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Pagemaker, Scrivener, and numerous other web-based publishing tools. See below for more details.
  3. Publishing Files: Think of a PDF file as a printed page. Once printed, changes are impossible. You need to return to the software program that created the PDF in order to make changes or retype and format the page.

Three important things to know about publishing files

  1. For maximum flexibility, protection, and cost savings, use widely supported software programs and file formats—the “industry standards.”
  2. Understand the limits of file conversion. Word documents are commonly converted to InDesign files, but the reverse is not easily done without impacting the formatting. Generally, you can exchange files created by the same software program, but conversion to another file format can be a one-way trip.
  3. The more popular the software program, the more people you will find that can help you. For example, if you create a cover in Photoshop, you’re usually safe—thousands of designers use this program. Less so with other design programs.

Seven common self-publishing file formats

By no means are we saying these are the only programs to use, or the only file formats used in publishing. Far from it. But they are arguably the most common tools and formats in use today. They are also well supported and widely used in the publishing community (if not the public at large).

  1. Microsoft Word. Word is the most commonly used manuscript drafting tool in use today. Files are easily shared with others, and Word can also be used as a basic book-design tool to create PDFs—publishing files. Word creates a publishing source file that can be opened by virtually any other program. Like the less capable Google Docs, Word can also be used for free online.
  2. Adobe InDesign. There are many software programs that can create a nice-looking book, but InDesign has emerged as the most popular. It continues to get better, and there is a large support community that includes training programs. The files it creates are publishing source files.
  3. Adobe Photoshop. The same can be said of Photoshop: lots of competitors, but it has achieved near universal acceptance as a standard professional publishing tool to design covers and create graphics. The files it creates are publishing source files.
  4. Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format). Most programs can create a PDF, and most computers can open the files. However, these files cannot be edited and formatted like one can do using Word. You’ll need the publishing source file, the document that provided content for the PDF.
  5. Kindle Mobi. One of the Amazon Kindle eBook file formats. Amazon supports several Kindle file formats, but Mobi is the most commonly used format by self-publishers. A Mobi file can be created from an EPUB file using Kindle Previewer.
  6. EPUB. The industry standard eBook format because it is supported by virtually all publishers and retailers. In fact, as of 2021, Amazon suggests that self-publishers upload EPUB files for publishing Kindle eBooks. Once uploaded, Amazon converts the EPUB into their proprietary format. (Fixed-format EPUB files are another matter.)
  7. RTF (Rich Text Format). Mentioned earlier, many word processing programs and design programs such as InDesign allow you to save a file in RTF format. This is a portable file format, in that RTF files can be opened by other word processing programs. However, note that some special formatting, if used in the original program, may not carry over to the file used by the new word processing program. Nevertheless, this is still the best and easiest way to move documents from one word processing program to a different word processing program.

What about web-based publishing tools or programs?

Online tools have become popular in the past few years. Instead of using a program such as Word, you copy and paste your text (or type directly into the browser-based online program), add elements like images, format the text, and push the publish button to get a formatted PDF file—a publishing file. There are also online cover-creation tools.

  • Advantages: A low-cost and simple way for you to produce a book (assuming you want to be the book designer and have those skills).
  • Disadvantages: These tools are proprietary and often not useful for designing complex books. What if the tool's vendor goes out of business and you want to make changes? Also, read their terms of usage agreement closely. Will you need to buy or use other services, or have your rights limited in some way? Will you be required to add their branding to your book? If it’s free, there is likely a catch.

Make sure you understand any limits to your ability to make changes, download backups, and retain access well into the future.

Don’t forget that your time has value. There is the time needed to input your book and time needed to design your book. Then you may also need to spend time reformatting your book if you need to make changes.

How self-publishers can protect their writing investment

When personal computers were first introduced in the 1980s, there were no standards for exchanging files. With more than a dozen word processing programs in wide use, and no PDF format, you would have to ask the receiving party what software program they were using if the intent was for them to open and edit your file.

Unless the file could be converted, it would have to be retyped. Every PC was an island.

Fast forward to today, and no one thinks twice about whether or not the receiving party can open their file. Word and PDF files have become de facto standards.

Five things every self-publisher should do

  1. Use or insist on commonly used file formats. Ask your designer or self-publishing services company what programs they use. If you are evaluating hybrid publishers, ask if they provide them.
  2. Maintain ownership and control over your publishing source files. Get these from your publishing services company.
  3. Maintain copies of the word processing file you used to create your manuscript and any image files, including those used to create the cover and those added to the book's interior.
  4. Keep your publishing source files safe in a place where you can easily find them.
  5. Retain versions of your files in case you need to go back to a previous version.

The AuthorImprints Difference: When you pay us to create your publishing files, they are your files. Your books, your brand.

8 thoughts on “Book Publishing Files and Formats: How to Protect Your Writing Investment”

  1. I have worked a long time on my book – a Nature book for Children – and am finishing up checking the photographs for the proper 300 dpi. The book trim size is an 8×8 gift book, with hard cover. I need heavier paper than Create Space offers so am looking at going with IngramSpark. I have created each page with Microsoft Publisher and have saved each page in RGB color space, and also in CMYK.

    However, I am stuck! So near the finish but yet so far. I have made the front and back covers but I don’t know how to make the spine. The back cover has a blank space to put an endorsement from Audubon or Cornell Ornithology (if I can get it). Therefore, I’ll need a few Advance Reader Copies before the final printing.

    Can you help me with the finish of this project? And if so, what would be the cost?

    I am so glad I found your website – you’re emails have been so informative. they’ve helped me know what I don’t know and perhaps how to find out how to get out of being stuck.

    Patricia Plake

  2. Forgot to mention that I have my own ISBN and bar code, but I’m not sure how to add them to the back of my book.

  3. Hi Patricia. Sounds like a great project. I’ve used Publisher for lots of small design projects but my assistant designs our books in InDesign. For the cover, it seems to me you could find someone on Fiverr to take the Ingram template, and drop in your PDFs, and add the spine. It would be more expensive if we did it and in the end the file would be InDesign and you wouldn’t be able to easily make changes (for that endorsement!). Make sure you get the source files from whoever does it (see my post on that topic).

    Btw, the IS paper that is thicker is not coated. Nevertheless, perfect for ARCs and affordable b/c it is POD.

  4. Hello again, Patricia. The barcode and price can be added (free) when you download the Ingram templates, which tells you or the designer where it belongs. I already suggested a solution for the cover. If that doesn’t work, or you need more guidance, fill out the contact form on and I’ll give you a quote.

  5. Years ago I used Microsoft Publisher to format a book for print, and it worked great. I was pretty happy with how it turned out. I personally find Word’s formatting tools kind of confusing.

    I’m looking to publish my second book soon, and I was going to go through IngramSpark. Unfortunately, I just learned today that they don’t offer any tech support for Microsoft Publisher files. That seems odd to me.

    Any insight into this? Why don’t authors or print companies use Publisher these days?

  6. I can only assume that because Publisher can export a PDF, that’s all the support they need to provide. They don’t support uploading Indesign or Word files either, just the PDFs that you can create using those tools. (I love Publisher and use it all the time but not for books.)

  7. I had a book published by an unscrupulous publisher. After a long struggle to free myself
    from this publisher’s clutches I won my rights back. I have files for my book as well the cover, all in a formatted form that the publisher sent to me. I want to republish the book. I don’t know where to start. Can you enlighten me what to do

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