Layout Without Doubt – January 17th, 2018

Congratulations–you’ve finally finished your book, drafts, rewrites, edits and all. For a while there it seemed like you would never finish but now you have, and now it’s time to get that book in front of your readers. For some writers, this will mean querying agents, soliciting publishers, and hoping for the best. If that’s the path you’re going down, I wish you the best of luck.

For an increasing number of writers this will mean publishing the book on your own, and while this can be a daunting task, there are definite benefits to self-publishing such as increased control and better revenue share. Self-publishing is great for writers who have an entrepreneurial spirit and a diverse skill set, and there’s no better way to get insight into the business of writing than self-publishing.

In this article I want to talk about one aspect of the business of writing–laying out the paperback version of your book.

“A paperback version?” you may ask. “Why would I want to do that?”

Well, maybe because print sales are outperforming digital sales. Or maybe because physical copies allow you to travel to conferences and events with units in hand that you can sell to would-be readers. Or maybe just because there’s something deeply satisfying about holding a physical copy of your book.

Whatever your reason, putting together a paperback version of your book isn’t as hard as you might think, especially with the spread of services like Amazon’s CreateSpace.

Under the Covers

Before we begin, a note on covers: this article will not go over designing a cover for your book (that deserves its own article that I aim to write and link to in the future), but I strongly urge you to hire a designer for your cover if you have not done design work in the past. The cover will be the face of your book and if you don’t execute your cover well, readers won’t bother looking inside to see what it’s all about.

Okay, with that out of the way let’s talk layout. My tool of choice for layout is Adobe’s InDesign. As far as Adobe tools go, I find InDesign one of the easier ones to pick up and at a monthly price point of $20 USD it’s also an affordable option.

If you’re laying out your book in InDesign, there are two file types you need to know about: Books and Documents.

A Book is sort of like a shell file that holds Documents, along with the ability to synchronize key elements across Documents such as Styles and Master Pages (don’t worry, we’ll get into these later). When your book is complete, you can use a Book file to export it to a PDF file, which you will later use when uploading your assets to a self-publishing service like the aforementioned CreateSpace.

A Document on the other hand is where your book will live across Pages and Spreads (again, we’ll cover these later). The Document is also where you will set your margins and your trim size (aka the size of your book).

To begin, you want to create a Book file for your book. In InDesign, you’ll see this Book represented as an empty window with various buttons (Synchronize, Save, Print, Add, Remove). You can set this Book aside for now–we’ll revisit it once we’re ready to add Documents to it.

What’s Up Doc?

Onto Documents. You can have as few or as many Documents in your Book as you like, but I strongly recommend the following set up:

  • A Document for your book’s front matter
  • A Document per chapter, or major break if your book has very few chapters
  • A Document for your book’s back matter

“Whoa whoa whoa,” you say. “What’s front matter and back matter?”

You may not know these terms but you know what front matter and back matter is. Simply put, it’s what you find in a paperback before and after the actual story and includes elements such as the author page, the title page, the copyright page, the acknowledgments page, and so on. Later on I’ll break out what I believe the essential parts of your front and back matter are.

For now though–and before you start making any Documents–we need to talk about trim size and margins. These become a pain to change later if you don’t get them right the first time, so let’s figure out what your trim size and margins should be.

Start by identifying your book’s genre and finding other paperbacks in your genre. You may even have ones sitting on your bookshelf right now. Then break out a tape measurer and see how the books shape up. If you’re using a service like CreateSpace you probably want to see how their templated trim sizes match against your measurements so that you can choose a trim size that is widely supported. Personally I tend towards the 8” x 5.25” trim for my modern fantasy works because I like the look and feel of paperbacks that size.

When creating a blank Document with this trim size, you’ll see other options as well–number of pages, start page, columns, column gutters, etc. No need to change these settings right now. What you do want to pay attention to are the margins. As we did before, you can measure margins on books you have or you can search for ideal margins for your selected trim size.

In my 8” x 5.25” example above, I select 0.7” for my top margin, 0.6” for my outside margin, and set my inside margin and my bottom margin as 0.79”.

With this new Document open, you should see a number of other window panels now, such as the Pages panel (likely in the upper right) and the Paragraph and Character Styles panels (likely in the lower right). These are where you’re going to make some Document-wide settings that you will later synchronize across all the Documents in your Book. Specifically you are at a bare minimum going to be setting:

  • Master Pages
  • Paragraph Styles

Master Pages are the template applied to pages in your book for elements such as page numbers, your book’s title, and your author name. Paragraph Styles will determine what different paragraphs look like in your book. You can begin to tinker with both of these now but I recommend you take a sample chapter from your book to work with so you can get a feel for how your settings look.

To do this, I suggest you first split your manuscript into files per Document that you want, such as a file per chapter. Typically I use Word files so I will first create a folder with a bunch of Word files for my chapters. Then all you have to do is drag the file onto the blank Document. You’ll see your mouse tip now has a right angle bracket in the upper left with the text of your chapter showing below it. Position your mouse tip in the upper right corner of the margin box (the purple-ish box sitting atop your blank Document) so that the mouse tip’s bracket aligns with the margin box, hold shift, and click.

InDesign will automatically create as many Pages and Spreads as necessary for the contents of your file/chapter. If your file/chapter was less than the default 10 pages, you can delete a Page or Spread by going to the Pages panel (remember, upper right), right-clicking, and selecting Delete Page/Spread. With your Document populated with your sample chapter, you’re ready to start setting your Master Pages and Paragraph Styles.

Be Stylish

Setting your Master Pages and Paragraph Styles is where the vast amount of your book’s look and feel comes into play, and this is where you need to take your time doing your research and experimenting.

The first question you should ask yourself is what font you’re going to be using. There are lots of helpful articles that offer common font choices, such as this list of the top 5 fonts, this font picker guide, or this CreateSpace thread discussing the topic. You could also pick books off your bookshelf to get a feel for what fonts are used in similar works, but it is exceedingly difficult to find the fonts used in a published book. Still, looking at other books can help you compare against the fonts you intend to use. Make sure you look at the italic variant of the font if you’re going to be using it, as well as bold and small caps variants if you intend to use those as well.

In my case, I often gravitate towards Baskerville because I find it readable with a literary bend, all without being too academic.

To set your font, go to the Paragraph Styles panel and click the icon that looks like a page turning over in the bottom right (mousing over it will show the text, Create new style). You’ll see something such as “Paragraph Style 1” appear in the panel. Doubleclick to rename it (I usually go with “Body Paragraph”) and right-click to edit it. Under the Basic Character Formats you will be able to choose your font (be warned: you’ll have to have downloaded it of course and will also need a commercial license for it). Click OK when you’re done.

To apply this style to a paragraph, select the Type Tool by pressing T or by clicking on the T icon on the left-hand icon bar. Click on the paragraph you want to style and then click on the name of the style you want to apply, e.g. “Body Paragraph”. And voila! Your style is applied.

But maybe it doesn’t look quite right. Maybe it’s too small, or too big, or too tightly spaced. All of this can be edited in your style under Basic Character Formats and Advanced Character Formats. There are too many options to go over in this article, but the major ones you’ll find yourself using are:

  • Size – This is your font size
  • Leading – This is the space between lines
  • Tracking – This is the space between characters

Using these three features, you should be able to get your chosen font very close to how you want. You will likely want to use a few other features in your style as well:

  • Indents and Spacing – Every paragraph except the first in a chapter or after a break requires an indentation and this is where you can set that. For the trim and margins I mentioned above, I use 0.2” for my indentation. You will also want to change the Alignment to Left Justify. This basically means your text will spread across the line so that you get a clean edge on the right-hand side (or rag as it’s called).

  • Justification – These allow InDesign to apply a range of adjustments to Word Spacing, Letter Spacing, and Glyphs (characters). The defaults here are fine, but I like to apply changes to the Glyphs, setting the minimum to 97% and the maximum to 103%. It’s a small adjustment and typically unnoticeable, but I find it helps with spacing.

  • Hyphenation – These are self-explanatory rules around hyphenating words, with a slider to apply InDesign settings for Better Spacing vs. Fewer Hyphens. You’ll have to choose what look you prefer.

You can peek at the other options if you want, but the six above will handle the vast majority of use cases for a work of fiction. Many works will aim for 60-ish characters per line and somewhere between 35 and 45 lines per page, but always look at books in your genre as a guideline. As I said before take your time tinkering–much of laying out your book will involve a manual review that will have to be repeated if you change the font for your body paragraphs.

Once you have a body font and style you’re happy with, you will also have to set a style for your leading paragraph. As I mentioned in the Indents and Spacing header, leading paragraphs do not carry an indentation so you will need to create (wait for it) a style just for them. Luckily you can just duplicate your body paragraph style, name it something like “Leading Paragraph”, and remove the indent you set. Easy peasy–just remember to go through and click on the leading paragraphs and then the corresponding style to apply it.

You may want to choose a separate font for your chapter header. Again, think of your genre, of your book’s tone, and maybe even the fonts you use or intend to use on your cover. I’m a big fan of matching the chapter headings to the title font for an extra bit of cohesion. Your mileage may vary. If you’re stuck, you can try using something like Google Fonts to see common font pairings. Regardless of font choice, you will want a style that includes a larger font size and other positional aspects, such as centering.

After you have a body font and a chapter header font (and the subsequent styles), I find this is a good time to think about your Master Page templates. Typically I have two Master Page templates that I use for the majority of my book: one for the first page of a chapter and one for the other pages. I call them:

  • A-Start of Chapter – Master
  • B-Body – Master

To create a Master Page, go to your Pages panel (upper right), right click and select New Master. You’ll see a 2 page spread appear, signalling how pages on both the left and right will look when this Master Page is applied to them. Now you might think these should be identical, but if you look at books from your bookshelf you’ll see that sometimes publishers layout their Master Pages so that the left hand side always has the title while the right always has the author name (or vice-versa).

Whatever you decide, you can create elements for a Master Page by selecting your Type Tool and drawing a rectangle by holding down your mouse as you click. Insert whatever text you would like wherever you would like it. To insert the current page number, you can go to Type in the menu, Insert Special Character, and then Marker, where you’ll see Current Page Number (alternatively, you can type Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + Alt + N).

As I mentioned above, I like having two Masters, one for the body and one for the start of a chapter. In my start of chapter Master, I like to put the page number at the bottom of the page, so when I create my Master I simply duplicate the format for the left and right -hand sides. But for my body Master, I like to use the setup I mentioned before:

  • Left-hand side, at the top: Page Number | Author Name
  • Right-hand side, at the top: Book Title | Page Number

This means I need to make sure the left page of my Master is different from the right.

To apply a Master to a page, select the pages you want to apply it to in the Pages panel and right-click. Then click Apply Master to Pages to choose the Master you want to apply.

This is a right time to have a look at your Document and see how the body font, the chapter heading font, and the Master Page setup is looking. You might want to share it with some friends to get their thoughts, print out the chapter at an accurate size to see how it looks, or make a PDF so you can view it on your phone. This will help you identify any changes you want to make before applying this set of styles to the rest of your book.

When you’re ready, save the Document and put it in a folder where you will store all the Documents for your book. We’ll talk about adding this Document to your Book and creating new Documents soon, but before we do I have a couple of tidbits to go over.

Them’s the Breaks

Many works of fiction incorporate breaks within a chapter. Sometimes these are represented as a few lines of blank space, but other times they are represented with a symbol, particularly something more professional looking than an asterisk or a pound sign / hash.

While you could use an image as your break symbol, I find it much better to use a custom typeface to do the job that incorporates vector graphics. In specific, I use the following process:

  • Find symbols I like on The Noun Project, making sure I’ve purchased a commercial license for the ones I download and intend to use.
  • Then I download the corresponding svg file and open it in a photo editing program like Photoshop and size it accordingly before saving as a png with a transparent background.
  • Then I go to IcoMoon, where I can upload these pngs and generate a font based on them.

What this leads to is a font I can select within a custom style for my breaks, complete with custom sizing and leading that I never have to worry about the resolution of. One word of advice on the leading though–to keep your formatting as consistent as possible, I urge you to select a leading for your break that is a multiple of the leading you use for your body paragraph lines.

Finders Changers

Depending on how you formatted your original manuscript (I’m a big fan of William Shunn’s guide), you may suddenly have a challenge on your hands: How do you convert underlined text to italicized text?

Thankfully InDesign makes this a breeze with its Find/Change feature. All you need to do is Find/Change by Format, enter Underline as the format you’re finding and Italic (remember to remove the Underline) in what you want to change it to. This will automatically change all underlines to italics. Find/Change also works across all open Documents if you want, so when you later have multiple Documents you can perform this action again once to cover your entire book.

In addition to this, I often find it necessary to space italics differently than regular text by way of tracking. Again you can use the Find/Change feature to mass edit italics and their tracking; play with a sample line first to see what will result in the most readable text.

Syncs and Sources

Okay, deep breath. If you’ve been following along you should have the following:

  • A Book file
  • A Document file with selected styles for your body paragraphs, your leading paragraphs, and your chapter headings, as well as Master Pages

Now it’s time to link these files and add in the rest of your book. Open up your Book file and click on the plus icon. This will open up your computer’s file explorer so you can find the Document you created above. Select it and it will appear in the previously blank Book panel.

Next you want to click on the menu in the upper right of the Book Panel (it may look like four horizontal lines). Then go to Synchronize Options. You want to make sure all your options are selected here before continuing.

After this, you’re going to want to make a new Document for the next chapter you want to work on. Make sure you set the trim size and margins to be the same as your first Document (alternatively, you can create a template for all of this in InDesign so you don’t have to keep entering in your trim and margins). Repeat the steps we did before, dragging the file with your chapter into the Document and pasting in the text (remember to hold shift to create as many pages as you need).

With this new Document created (and saved to the same location as your previous one), go back to your Book panel and add in the new Document. You’ll see it appear in your Book panel and you will now be ready to synchronize styles and Master Pages.

Before you do though, makes sure that in the Book panel your original Document has a small symbol on the left-hand side of the InDesign program icon. It should look like a folder with a dash leading to three boxes aligned vertically. What this icon means is that your Book will view this Document as the source for all synchronization and, since we set up styles and Master Pages in this Document, we want to use it as the source when we import those styles/Master Pages into the new Document you just created.

When you’ve confirmed that your original Document is the source, you can then click on the two arrow icon in the Book Panel to start the sync process. If you go to your new Document you should see all the styles you made before and the Master Pages, allowing you to go through and apply what you need to apply.

Go through this process for each chapter in your book. Depending on your book’s contents, you may need to create new styles–for example, if you have passages that are meant to emulate newspaper articles or typewritten pages. When you do, you can set the Document containing these new styles as a temporary source so that you can sync the styles back to your original Document. Just make sure you reset the source afterwards so that you don’t accidentally overwrite or change styles when you’re merely toying around with the layout.

It will take you a little while but before long you will have your entire book stylized just the way you want it.

Matters of the Heart

Remember earlier, when we were talking about front matter and back matter? No? Well let’s review: Front and back matter is everything that comes before and after your story. Getting these right will make your book look professional, while providing key information. Typically front and back matter consist of the following:

Front Matter:

  • Author Page: A page with an author’s headshot and bio
  • Title Page 1: A page with just your book’s title, opposite a blank page
  • Spread: A two-page graphic with a large sized title, author name, and publisher if applicable
  • Copyright Page: Copyright information, ISBN details, Library of Congress details if applicable, etc
  • Dedication Page: Across from the Copyright Page on the right-hand side, dedicating the book to someone or something.
  • Title Page 2: A repeat of Title Page 1, opposite a blank page

Back Matter:

  • Acknowledgments Page: A page thanking people involved in making the book
  • Sample Chapter: Pages including an excerpt from another work by the same author, possibly the next book in an existing series

You may also include a page for previously published titles, a map or other story-related details, or even shift the placement of some of the pages above (for example, many books put the Author Page in the back matter).

The single best way to figure out what your front and back matter should have is to get a stack of books in your genre and see what they do–then emulate it. This will also help you figure out the right sizing and font selections to use, and you may find that because these pages vary so much from the rest of your book it isn’t necessarily worth setting up custom styles for them. That being said, if you intend to use such styles for future books then you could set yourself up for later success by making a style now. It all depends on what you foresee your future needs being.

Not mentioned in this article are details surrounding ISBN and Library of Congress data. The short version is this: services like CreateSpace offer free ISBNs, albeit with limited usage. They also offer services to get a Library of Congress entry, if you desire such a thing. Personally I like to buy my own ISBNs via Bowker, and find the 10-pack to be far more cost efficient than a single ISBN. I also prefer to do the Library of Congress work on my own too, but that is a much more complicated topic. You don’t need to enter your book into the Library of Congress but for a paperback version you will need an ISBN.

Review, Review, Review

Let’s take another deep breath. By this point you have your front matter, your book chapters, and your back matter. Maybe you even have Documents just for section breaks in your book or dedicated callouts for images or diagrams (which we didn’t cover here but should be at least 300 DPI for them to look good). Whatever choices you’ve made, you have a hefty little Book file on your hands and now it’s time to review the thing.

So, what exactly are you looking for with your review? There are five major things to look out for:

  1. Rags
  2. Rivers
  3. Hyphens
  4. Widows
  5. Orphans

1) Rags — We spoke briefly about rags earlier, but the rag is essentially the right-hand side of your text. With the Left Justify option selected in your paragraph style, you should have a straight-edge rag just like any professionally produced book. That said, you might still run into rag issues if you have many short lines following one another. What you want to make sure is that these lines look relatively clean.

2) Rivers — Imagine rivers as the white space running through a paragraph. If you have a lot of whitespace it will look like a “river” running through the paragraph, which can distract a reader from the writing. Click here for an example. You’re unlikely to run into river issues, but if you do you may need to manually adjust tracking or word order.

3) Hyphens — This is the first area that’s going to give you a real headache, as there is a constant battle between better spacing and fewer hyphens. InDesign even addresses it in its paragraph styles, but you may want to take a more hands-on approach by adjusting the hyphenation rules. You might go even further, reordering your words, changing your tracking, or altering the justification so that you don’t have ugly hyphens floating around. No matter what you do, you want to avoid multiple hyphens in a row, aiming for no more than two. Personally I try to limit the hyphens per page to at most two, but sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.

4) Widows — This is a line of a paragraph that’s all by itself on a separate page. Not only does it lead to awkward whitespace, but it can mess with a reader’s reading flow. Click here for an example. There are a few ways to address widows, such as the aforementioned tracking and rewrite options, not to mention more fine-tuned justification options that allow you to squeeze the last line into the rest of the paragraph or push out the paragraph so that more than one line appears on a new page.

You can also use the Keep options (Ctrl/Cmd + Alt + K) to declare how many lines of a paragraph must be together at a minimum. Doing this though will lead to another issue: you will wind up with whitespace at the bottom of your previous page. Typically you want the white space on the bottom of a page to at least match that of the page opposite of it, if not extend to the margin and no shorter to create a clean, perfect “box” of sorts for your text.

5) Orphans — Much like widows, orphans are starting lines of a paragraph that are left all alone on a page while the rest of the paragraph continues on on the next page. The solutions here are similar to those for widows.

In addition to widows and orphans as described above–lines left on a page by themselves–there are also single words or very few small words that occupy a line all by themselves within a page that contains the entirety of the accompanying paragraph. The problem with these snippets is that they create a lot of whitespace on the page and you may want to resolve them using similar methods to how you address widows and orphans above.

As grim as it may be to say, there’s no way to review other than re-reading your entire book with an eye for the above issues. You need to see it the way your reader sees it and it’s not until then that you may realize issues you missed before. If you can, enlist proofreaders–just be prepared to pay them for their hard work.

Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the review process. The last thing you want is a published book full of formatting and layout errors. It will scream “unprofessional” at best; at worst it will lead to negative reviews that have nothing to do with the story itself.

After your review process, you will finally, finally, finally be ready to export your Book file as a PDF that you can then upload to a service like CreateSpace. Of course you’ll need your cover and other required items for producing that paperback you’re so excited about, but once you have those you should be able to produce a proof copy that will give you one last go at reviewing your work. Don’t squander it–you never know what you might feel differently about when you’re holding your beloved baby in your hands.

All’s Well That Ends Well

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that it has left you feeling confident about laying out your paperback by yourself in InDesign. As you’ve seen, there’s a lot to consider and even more that can go wrong, but with some planning, some experimenting, and a whole lot of patience you can produce a beautiful book that is exactly as you pictured it in your mind.

If you do find yourself wanting someone to lay out your book though, I am pleased to offer my services as a designer. I work with writers to take a completed manuscript and turn it into a PDF they can then take to the self-publishing platform of their choice, all from the cost of $100 per manuscript. If you’d like to know more, drop me a line.