How to make a stylish PDF to gain subscribers

To build an email list, it really helps if you can offer people something interesting, attractive, and valuable as a gift. This tutorial shows you how to use the free tool Canva to create stylish PDFs for this purpose.

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Alright so if you know that you want to independently publish a book or you want to produce your own independent online course, then one of the most important things you have to do to be able to do that is build an email list. And one of the most important things you have to do to build an email list is you have to have some sort of thing that you can offer people for free, that is valuable and attractive, that they actually want. And that can actually be valuable to them, that you can offer for free in exchange for them signing up to your email list.

So there are many different corny ways to do this. You've probably seen on the internet marketers and business people try to get you to sign up on an email list by offering you some sort of corny thing. And we're going to avoid all of that. But as intellectuals, there are many different things we can make that are genuinely valuable and genuinely attractive to people that will make people think okay, I want to be on this person's email list.

I'm going to show you how to produce one type of product that I think works really well for independent thinkers. And that is a short PDF, essentially a kind of mini eBook that is valuable and has genuinely valuable information in it. But the real selling point is that it's a bit splashy and visually attractive. It's got some sex appeal, if you will. And there is a particular technique or method for producing this type of short, splashy or attractive PDF eBook that I have figured out. There's a way I figured out that you can do it really quickly and efficiently. And with almost guaranteed professional graphic design quality to it.

Just to give you an idea of where we're going. I want to start this off with an example because I recently produced this type of PDF in the preparation for an online course that I'm doing on the French philosopher George Bataille. So I plan on launching this a month from now in July. And to kind of build some interest and offer people something that is genuinely valuable to the type of person who would want to buy a course on the French philosopher George Bataille, I had to come up with some type of relatively easy to produce. But nonetheless a valuable thing that is in the direction of the course that I'm going to be selling.

And so for me, the obvious candidate was to create a kind of reading list. Pretty much I have to do that work anyway, for the course we have to design a curriculum and plan out what we're going to be teaching in the course. So since I already have to do that work of planning out readings in a logical sequence, I figured instead of just making a normal, boring syllabus, I could turn that curriculum into a beautiful, interesting, stimulating, short, PDF, eBook type of thing. And so that's what I did.

And so I want to use this just as an example. But you could imagine doing many other different things, anything that's kind of going to pack in some of the valuable insights that you are able to share with people based on your own expertise or interests. You just want to basically pack it into, you know, a PDF somewhere between 10 and 30 pages and make it visually compelling. Because the fact of the matter is, when you're sharing things on the internet, if you can simply add a visually compelling component, the success of it is going to significantly increase. There's no way around that, just how people's brains work.

And so the problem for many of us, and it's a major problem for me, is that we don't necessarily have strong visual design sensibilities, I really don't, I don't have any training in visual design or graphic design. And I don't even really trust my instincts. Well, I don't really know what you're supposed to do or what looks good, and what is considered professional. So fortunately, there are tools out there that actually make this really quick and easy, because you can just leverage templates that have been designed by graphic designers. So that's, that's what I'm going to focus on in this tutorial, we're going to be using a service called Canva. It's totally free And there's a huge library of a ton of templates. And I'm going to show you how to leverage that to pretty much make a visually stunning product that really catches eyes and makes people want to get it.

And I'm going to show you how to kind of add your own intellectual expertise and content into it. And significantly kind of adapting the template so that it is truly unique and original, but you're basically borrowing the professional graphic design, insights and skills of other people and you're not taking any risks on whether or not you're maybe going to make it ugly in some way you don't fully understand. So just to give you an idea of where we're going, let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. So here is the little PDF ebook that I produced as a reading list, which I promise to give to anyone who signed up for updates about my course on vitae. I was able to start building the mailing list before I even developed any of the content.

I just created a landing page on ConvertKit, posted it to my website, and basically promised that sign up here. And as soon as my reading list is done and ready, I will share it with you. So I started collecting emails. And now I actually have the PDF. So now I can send that to the people who signed up. But more importantly, I have this PDF, which I can share around the web in visually compelling ways to encourage people or to stimulate people to sign up to my email list. And I'm not saying you should do this in an aggressive or corny way. But you can now share images instead of just sharing, text about how cool your courses are. So let me give you some more examples. Of how exactly I'm doing that. So here is an example of a tweet, for instance, that is leveraging a GIF that I made of just scrolling through the pages. And just I mean, it's obvious how much more interesting and stimulating and attractive this is. So that's just an example. And you can do that kind of thing. And you can also make it a free product on gum road. So I just launched it as a free PDF.

And this is what it looks like, called it the Thai eight week study guide. No big deal, but it's just like, Oh, it's a free product, a free little PDF looks cool. If you're interested in learning about Pataki, right, if you want to read about the tie, this is just like a no brainer. You want this it's free, right? There's no there's no reason not to. Okay, so I was pretty pleased with this. And it definitely seems to be working in attracting way more email signups. And it really did not take me that long. Most of the work was the cognitive intellectual work of piecing together the readings that make sense and that’s where you're really contributing value. But actually whipping up a short, cool, nice PDF is surprisingly easy.

So I wanted to show you how I did it. And hopefully it will help you make this type of product really, really efficiently and effectively. Alright, so I'm just going to walk you through it. I'll give you some pointers and some tips I learned along the way. And yeah, so if you're interested in doing this, you can follow along and build your own spin on this.

Okay, so to get started, just go to and create a free account. And when you log in, it should look something like this. And the real benefit of Canva is all of the templates that they have. The templates are super basic, and most of them are pretty corny, to be honest, but the point is, they all have legit professional graphic design qualities. So all you have to do is edit them to make them interesting and suitable for what it is you're trying to share and convey. Alright, so to get started, right from the homepage, all you have to do is search for the right kind of template. And lo and behold, if you just search for ebook, it'll give you ebook cover. But I'll show you how we're just going to use that to make a whole short little punchy ebook. Okay? So go ahead and click that.

And now it will show you all the templates. And there's a ton of them, right, so you can just kind of scroll and browse. And the main thing you're looking for, is something that could work for you as a cover, the cover is just going to be the starting point. You're going to be able to change almost anything about these templates. So all you really want to look for in the first instance, is just a general vibe or style that you find at least unobjectionable. Okay? So none of these are going to be amazing to you, but just look for something relatively nice and basic, kind of in the style of what you're looking for. All right. What I would suggest personally is to go for something very basic. Some of these have icons and bells and whistles. And I would maybe avoid those. But look for the more simple ones, the classic looking ones, with more minimalist designs are usually easier to turn into something that's genuinely nice to you and workable for what you're doing.

Alright, so you don't want to spend too much time on this. Let's just browse and find a good starting point. Oh, see, there's the template. That was the basis for the Bataille’s cover. By the way, I get a ton of compliments on the Bataille’s book cover design, people are genuinely really impressed. And it's because I'm leveraging professional graphic designers. I couldn't have done that myself. So yeah, let's just find one real quick. Actually, I also showed the psychologist Jeffrey Miller how to do this for his ebook that he wanted to do. And he used this one right here. The open seasons Oh, didn't want to do that. And yeah, you can find that it’s about virtue signaling, using that template. And again, it looks nice because we couldn't do this on our own. Here's a good example down here of the type of luck. This is a pretty good one, for instance, that has a nice kind of classic elegant feel to try that one. That one's not bad. See, let's go with this one. I like this one. Go ahead and click that.

And this is what Canva will give you. All right, you see, it has, this one actually already has some pages for you. Some of them don't. Some of them just give you the cover. This is actually really nice. We're lucky because it gives you some other designs. Check this out. All you have to do is put in your own information. So you know, whatever it is you do. I don't have an example offhand. But you know, if I were doing this, right, it would be like whatever. Vitae a course of study, you get the idea. It's super simple. Now, okay, let's show you some little tricks.

Obviously, you put your name in there, you can replace the images, right. If that's not an image on point, what you can do is go ahead and delete that. And then you go to uploads, and you can upload your own images. So you see I have some mine. And once you upload, you just drag them over. Okay, so just give you an example. It's all super simple. This is all super intuitive from here. I generally want to increase the font sizes a bit. I think it's better if they pop a little bit more for social media and stuff like that. I might check that up to let's try 16. Let's maybe try 18. Yes, a little better. That could maybe go a little bit too big and it can get a little bit of corny or tacky.

Maybe let's try. You can expand things, whatever. Okay, so here's real quick one of the superpowers of Canva, the automatic alignment snapping. So watch when you drag something, look, it gives you these automatic guides to help you center things relative to different things. So the straight line means its smack dab centered with respect to the whole document. But then you can also align it relative to other things. So, you know, here it's aligning to the word textbooks above whatever. Generally, we want smack dab in the middle. So here you can see, it's a little too big actually. So let's make this be able to sit on one line. Let's do 24. And let's widen this out a bit. No, it still can't.

Okay. Let's do 21 There we go. That's fine. And then we'll center it.  Probably a little bit more. It has an automatic snapping suspect to that too. So, see here actually is an example of what not to do, I'm actually being too creative, I'm moving things around too much. You want to pretty much leverage whatever is already built, you can control Z, or hit the back button here to go back to things. So you know that when you start with a template, everything has legit graphic design qualities, so you can trust that what I should do is go back to where it was not touched, just like that. And there you have it, I could probably increase the font size a bit without getting into trouble. There it's still all the default settings here I want this to be my brand, right let's do other life will switch out that icon right? Hey, we want to remove this guy. And put in mind I have one, but yeah. No, don't want it that big. If you're having problems, you can increase the size by command plus. Okay? We'll drag this in there. We don't want it that big down there. Scale it down. Still more.

Look at this automatic snapping makes life so easy. In our case, we probably want it smack dab in the middle, boom. Probably could be a little smaller, it's a bit too big. So here you see it's, it's even horizontally. Now we just have to make sure it's even middle. For instance, you could do that. If you want. This should be even smaller. But anyway, I don't want to get bogged down in the weeds, you get the idea, you can make it work for you. In this case, I might actually decide that it doesn't look that good. So I might just remove it, when in doubt, erase, I would say that's a, that's an important tip, if you're not sure if something looks good or not remove it and just make it even simpler.

So for instance, in this case, I'm not terribly good that I'm not terribly confident this looks good. And so what I'm actually going to do is just delete it. And instead, I'm going to just move these closer together. And you can also if you do shift click it will group things so you can select multiple and then align it as a group. So here we go. That is technically in the center. Okay, there's something not right here. That's not the center. What I actually want to do here is put those in one. That way. It'll be unified. I want to center it, in that and then center. Okay, now that's right. Okay, so there you go. That's pretty good. Not amazing, but solid. That's the point. Nothing too impressive, but you did it quickly. And you basically just guarantee you're not doing something really stupid and ugly. Alright, so nicely. This one already has a table of contents, you can fill it in for yourself, or delete it. If you want to delete, click that trash can. And then you can make a bunch of pages like this.

So let me give you some inspiration by showing you my book that I did in Canva. So this is the Vitae ebook I showed you at the beginning but in Canva, okay. So all I'm really doing is using large fonts, and different colors. And basically pasting in things like links to valuable resources, quotes that are interesting. Reading suggestions in a logical order, here's a quote, and art, okay? So you can obviously create your own spin on that. And I won't do everything here. But it's pretty easy for you to figure out. In this case, you even have some nice defaults to start with. So here is an image with an overlay. You can change the transparency for instance, if you want to see the image a little bit better, or a little bit lighter. And yeah, so this is quite nice. So here’s something cool, I want to show you real quick, which is if you add a new page, and you go to colors, okay?

What's cool is it will give you the color palette based on the photo that you put in the cover page. That's pretty dope. So if you look at mine, for instance, it closes down. If you look at mine, it has a bunch of different bright colors, but they are all of the same palette, and they're all from this cover. So this is something I never could have figured out. I just don't have the graphic design sensibility to even think to do that or how exactly what I sampled the colors from the cover. But in Canva, whatever you put in the cover page, it seems, will give you it'll break out the colors and let you choose from them. So here I might want to make this background. Maybe this color, or maybe that color, and then I can make the next page, a different color.

Okay. And so yeah, you can easily just Create a 10, page 20 page whatever book in this way, one little tip I would suggest is to stick with one or two fonts max. And obviously you want to be consistent throughout. So in this case, when you click when you select text, it'll tell you that the font name up here we're using Playfair display is what it's called. Okay, so you can get away with two, but maybe no more than two I would say. So, for instance, if you want to have a fancy font, it's kind of cursive for the headings, you know, you might want to, for the text, have a different one. And yet, that's what the template does.

So here it's using the old standard. So just make sure you stick with the same text, the same font, am sorry, throughout the product. So let's say you have some quote or something like that. What I would do here is I would just go to text, add maybe a subheading, just different sizes, really, put your quote here. And you want to, that doesn't quite look great. So maybe white would be better. Yeah, that looks a little better. And then you can get creative. What I did was I grabbed an icon. So if you go to elements and search icons, I searched for quote marks or apostrophes. And it gives you these free icons. So it's really cool. You can kind of decrease that a little bit, and then put it in the corner, right? Make it nicely aligned at the top left. There you go. Put the quote there, and it's clear that it's a quote, right. So that's all I was doing here.

If you look like that, that's all I did there. Okay, and yeah, play jazz. I'm pretty much just showing you the basics. If you got elements in search, you can get all different types of shapes for different purposes. You can upload your own photos here, and then just drag them over for whatever purpose you notice some of these have nice cutouts. If you want to do cutouts you can't do that within Canva at least not on the free version. I'm not sure if you can on the pro version, but for that I use Pixelmator, which is just like a lightweight, easier to use Photoshop. So you see I turn this one into that. And yeah, once you're done, there's only one or two more tricks I'll show you. One is, let's just look at downloading here you want to go to download, and you want to suggest or specify PDF print, which will give you a multi-page document and it'll look a bit higher quality. If you choose PDF print, go to download. And you'll see that it will let you download go ahead and scope it out.

Here is your nice ebook cover and whatever pages are in the document, okay, so really super simple. There's the one that I added the second one that I added. Now, here's a cool little trick that I think is worth doing. You can add links to your PDF, you just need to use a PDF editor, and you can't add links in your PDF from within Canva. But if you have a PDF editor that lets you add links, this isn't necessary, so don't, you know banging your head on while trying to figure out but I use PDF expert, which I think I did pay for at one point. So I'm sure there are free tools possibly out there that can do this.

But basically, if you open it up in PDF expert, you can basically just hover over any text and click Edit, click Add link and you can make these hyperlinks. This is useful because if you're giving someone a PDF, if you're distributing this PDF, it's nice to be able to allow them to click back into your website or your podcast or wherever or whatever it is you're offering. So there's much more that you can do inside of Canva but I would say have fun with it. I genuinely enjoyed making these little documents because, you know, it's quite, it's quite fun to be creative. And pretty much what Canva gives you as bumpers. So you can't go really too wrong as long as you use a consistent color palette that matches the cover.

And they give you that straight out of the box as I showed you. And as long as you stick to only one or two fonts Max, and use them in a consistent way. So in my case, for instance, I used Roboto Condensed for the fancy text whenever I wanted to use the fancy text, and then I used Montserrat for the basic text that I used throughout. Okay, so that's really all there is to it. Trying to think if there's anything else that I would suggest, quotes are good. Reading lists are good. Images are great. Art is always nice and here you can use different filters in Canva. Also, this is probably worth showing. So for this, for instance, it's a cutout of, but I did a filter. So if you go to an effect, I'm sorry, if you go to effects, you can basically do some interesting kinds of coloration effects and different types of blurs and filters. Not sure why it's taking so long.

You can also do filters, very similar. Effects are just like custom made by other people. So there's like a marketplace for them. But a lot of them are free. So I just, I forgot which one I applied, but you can play around with it. You click effects or whatever. That's what turned the sky, kind of pinkish. And, yeah, it's really quite simple, be creative, have fun with it. But as long as everything is nicely aligned, and the fonts are consistent, and the color palette is consistent, you kind of can’t go wrong, as long as you use the automatic snapping grid. And you use these built in features, you're pretty much guaranteed to have a professional looking product. It's going to look like you're a graphic designer or like you hired a graphic designer. And it's all it's a free tool. So, yeah, if there are any other tips or tricks that come to me, I'll let you know.

If you have any questions, hit me up. But yeah, I highly recommend this as a very efficient and effective way to create a compelling, attractive, little free product, and it'll get you many more email subscribers if this is what they get from signing up. So I hope you found this useful. And, yeah, go around. Go ahead, go ahead and play around with it. Have fun. It’s really quite simple. Alright, see you later.