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  • Writer's pictureAsher Gray

Creating a Beautiful Book Layout: Transforming a Manuscript into a Presentable Work of Art

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As a writer you may think the words are what really matter, but you may be underestimating the importance of presentation. It’s built into our psyche to be attracted to beautiful things, and as beautiful as your words may be, if they don't look attractive on the page they may never be read. I don’t plan on wasting our time trying to convince any one of this fact, so let’s begin going through the steps of formatting.

For the purposes of this post I will be using Adobe InDesign to format the file. If you’re not familiar with this software, you should be. It’s the industry standard for about every kind of design layout.

I’m also assuming the manuscript has been properly formatted, meaning the Word (or Pages, for Mac users) file already has stylesheet entries for every word in the document.

Step One: Create the layout.

I have chosen a basic size of 5.25" x 8" because it is an acceptable size for both IngramSpark and KDP Print.

Create Document

In this initial setup I have done a few preliminary things.

1. The size is set.

2. Facing pages is selected with three initial pages to start with.

3. Margins are set with the top, bottom, and inside larger than the outside. There are reasons behind each of these numbers. TOP—The author and book title will be added into the header area. BOTTOM—This is clearance for page numbers. INSIDE—When creating a paperback it is necessary to push the text away from the inside binding so text isn’t difficult to read.

4. Bleed was not added since this book will not have any content or images that will print off the edges of the page. (This is the interior of the book. It has nothing to do with the cover image and the bleed required for the cover.)

Note: All of these settings may be adjusted later.

First Pages

Once the document is created there are now three pages with the margins displayed in magenta. The pages tab displays how the pages will layout side-by-side.

Step Two: Add the elements.

On the “Pages” tab double-click on the A-Master page. (If the pages window is not display select Window>Pages.

Master pages contain elements that will be included on every page they are assigned to. This is where you will add header, footer, and basic text frames that will hold the manuscript.

Here I will create six text frames.

Two frames at the top to hold Book title and Author, two frames to hold the page numbers at the bottom, and two frames that will contain the actual book text.

To add the page numbers I will create two different types of styles: a character style and paragraph styles. After drawing a text frame on the bottom left master page, right-click and select Insert Special Character>Markers>Current Page Number.

This will insert an “A” as a placeholder on the Master Page. Copy this frame and move it to the opposite master page.

Now open the Character Styles tab and click the small page icon. Double click the new Character Style 1 to edit it. Set the basic character attributes and give the new style a meaningful name. This will allow you to easily change the font or size later. To apply the character styles highlight the “A” in and click the appropriate character style name. Do this for both page number areas.

Now create a couple of paragraph styles. (I’m using two here because the left and right pages will be left and right justified accordingly. If your page numbers are centered this isn't necessary.)

The process is the same for creating paragraph styles, however paragraphs have many more options. For the left and right alignment the two styles are created with Left and Right alignments.

Now highlight the “A‘s” again and click on the Page Numbers Left, and Page Numbers Right accordingly.

Now let’s add the author and title to the header using the same process. (Note: since both will be aligned as center there is no reason to create a specific character style. All of the character elements can be selected within a single paragraph style entry.

Here are the settings used:

Here’s the page with these elements applied.

Next add the frames that will hold the book text and link them. Create two text frames the size of the entire magenta margins, then click the small triangle icon on the left frame. It will turn into a page icon. When moved to another text frame it will change into a chain icon signifying it is ready to link to that frame. Once clicked the two frames are linked. Any content that now exceeds the capacity of the first frame will now flow into the next frame.

In order to see a visual representation of this relationship you can display the threads.

You can now turn off Show Text Threads the same way you turned it on by selecting Hide Text Threads.

With all of the elements you’ve created there are several background steps created. You now have setup both paragraph and character styles and the base elements that will hold the text of the book.

Now lets add the content.

Here’s where the magic happens. You may remember that we only created three pages, but what book is only three pages? Since we connected the main text frames InDesign will automatically add enough pages in order to hold the entire book.

On the Pages tab, double-click on page 2. This will move the main display to the first page of your content.

Select File>Place.

Make sure you select “Show Import Options” in the new window.

A list of options is presented. For these purposes choose all of the default settings.

Click OK. When the cursor is placed over the first page it will look like a page surrounded by parenthesis. Just click and a process will begin. Once completed you can now navigate to the pages window and see that more pages have automatically been added to hold the entire manuscript.

Now you can scroll through the pages and see all of the contents.

Pretty cool, right?

The other thing you will notice is your paragraph styles from the Word document have been added to InDesign.

Let’s style this thing.

This is the fun part. Place the cursor with an area of the text you want to style. The corresponding style is selected.

I’ll start with the Chapter.

Here I’m going to do an extra step to make sure the paragraph style is in control of all of the character attributes. Right-click on the paragraph style and choose ‘Apply “Chapter”, Clear Character Styles’.

You will want to do this to each new style as you go along.

Here I changed the font, the size, and most importantly the space before and after the paragraph.

This will add an extra 0.1875" between the Chapter header and the following body text. The space before with move the text down from the top of the page once you manually enter an extra paragraph return before each chapter. Using this method you can easily maintain a uniform structure to the chapter headers. If you want to adjust it later make the changes in the paragraph styles to automatically adjust the whole book.

Next let’s add a drop cap to the first paragraphs of each chapter. (Note: before importing the file I already went through the manuscript and created a separate style for each first paragraph. If that hasn't been done prior to this step you may want to do this in the InDesign file before proceeding.)

Drop caps are made up of two things: a character style, and a paragraph style.

Place the cursor in the first paragraph and clear the character styles like before, then double click on the paragraph style.

Here are the settings I have selected:

If you want to use a new font, or font color InDesign allows you to define the character here.

Here a character style was created using a different font set to the same point size.

If needed the new character style may now be adjusted in the character style window.

The page now looks like this.

Now apply the same basic style to the main body text, minus the drop cap and first line indent settings.

Here are the settings I used:

This is how the final chapters look.

That’s it! The basic structure of the book is complete. Now that everything is setup using paragraph styles any changes made to the styles will automatically update the entire document. Want to change fonts, sizes, colors, or line spacing? Just update the styles and you’re good to go.

Naturally, additional elements may be added depending on the genre of the story. With this being a fantasy story I may want to add some kind of flourish on each chapter page. If you’re using an image for this be sure to paste it into the text flow to make sure it will always be situated in the correct location.

This is an example with some more specialized fonts used to create a customized look.

To finish up add the title page, dedication, and copyright page before the main content and save the file as a PDF.

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