Writing a book with a database

How I used Airtable to create a database of chapters and export to a book template, making it easy and quick to update


UI Design


Testing & UX

the challenge

How I designed and published a book using Airtable

Writing books is a long process, just the content alone. Then you have to make sure each page is uniform and looks the same through out. Instead of using a word doc, or Canva to create the book and each page, I wanted a way to simply add the text then click a button to create the book.

Easy updating and publishing

There are many tools out there that will help you write an ebook and publish it.

Word, Google Docs, IAWriter and more. All very good tools and get the job done. However, the ebook I was creating would need to be updated now and again with new chapters, new methods and new tools

When you use the likes of a doc editor and then want to export to PDF you need to make sure each page is aligned correctly, or spacing and fonts are correct. Not too difficult a task but it can be time-consuming. Plus I would inevitably miss something.

Thanks to a tweet I read I realised that you can use Airtable apps to do even more with your database. One of those apps is Page designer.

This allows you to build a template that will pull in fields from your database and generate pages for each entry. Quickly.

Taking this into account I built a database in Airtable with all the fields I needed :

Header - for each chapter title

Page number - automatically incrementing to label each page

Paragraph - where the main content would sit

Type - This is where I could tag each chapter for what it referred to. e.g. Search, Inspiration, Software

Extra references - this would house the link to expanded chapters on a website

A link button field - this is a way to get uniform clickable buttons on each page

Strip image - this is an optional field as I wanted to colour code a small strip on each page

Here’s what the database looked like :

Next, I went into 'Page designer' in Airtable and built the template. This allows you to pull in fields you have created and create the layout you want. It’s a very easy drag and drop builder, using blocks from the fields I created. Once you have built your template, you can test how each page looks and adjust it accordingly

If you have 100 entries in your database, you will have 100 pages ready to go.

Once I had checked all my content, added links, made sure the fonts were all good I clicked print and save as pdf. A full ebook exported with a uniform design in minutes.

The last stage was using a pdf editor to add a cover and back page as they were different designs to the other pages. (You can do this quickly in Canva) or I recommend PDF Expert (a very powerful PDF editor)

It doesn’t stop there. Thanks to the fact that my book is now in a database format, I created an input form for whenever I wanted to create new chapters. This way, as soon as I have an idea I can open the form and just type and it goes straight into the database, ready for my next publish.

Also, you can sell the Airtable database as an add on to the ebook. For instance some people may just want a list of your book to reference what they need. So using a database like Airtable they can filter and search for references in your book. Airtable databases are popular products on Gumroad - so you are killing two birds with one stone.

I can't end this post without promoting the book of course. It's called The Content Ideas machine and is a list of nearly 50 methods to find content ideas tailored to your target audience. I've built these methods whilst working on the likes of Harry Potter, Ding, COS, WWE, Karcher and more. 

If you are interested you can get it below or head over to its dedicated landing page here.

Now I can easily keep this book updated, and let my buyers know plus increase sales as the product gets better with each iteration.