If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you might remember the Writer’s Toolbox series from last summer, in particular, the MS Word review. Earlier this year I followed that piece up with a post about laying out your book, again focusing on using MS Word.

I tend to talk about creating books in terms of MS Word because we know the majority of bookmakers on Lulu use Word to create their files. While it is the preferred choice for many of our users, Word is hardly the only option for laying and designing your book.

Today, we’re going to look at the basic ins and outs of using Adobe InDesign to create a PDF interior for your book. InDesign is a unique program that focuses on laying out files for printing—making it perfectly suited for book design.

The Learning Curve

If you’re familiar with Word as your primary writing and layout tool, InDesign brings with it a few differences you’ll need to acclimate to. In particular, you’ll notice differences in the way the toolbar (or “ribbon” for Word) is set up and organized. And getting yourself set up and working on the file will be a little different too.

Once you get past importing your manuscript and getting a working file in place, using InDesign to finesse the layout of your book is an absolute pleasure. If you’ve struggled with section breaks, text justification, page sizing, text styling, or page numbering using Word, you’ll find InDesign to be easy, intuitive, and all around much better to work in.

Let’s get into it.

Getting Started

I’ll be using a public domain version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to show how we’ll create a book. It’s a collection, so each individual story will act like a chapter in a longer work.

Preparing your file!

On the very first screen, we’ve got two main ways to start a document: Recent and Saved.

These are pretty self-explanatory and much like Word’s Page Set Up options. I advise saving common sizes to keep your interior files consistent and make it easier when you prepare your next book.

There are a few options that we need to look at in that right sidebar:

  1. Page Size – Set the unit to your preferred measurement option and plug in the FINISH size of your book pages. You’ll see I have 6 x 9 (in inches) because I’m making a 6 x 9 book.
  2. Pages – Be sure to check for Facing Pages. This treats left and right pages differently and ensures a clean gutter space. We’ll also need to enter a page count.  For this document, I entered 100, but remember that the actual page count can easily be changed once the document is created.
  3. Columns – The column will generally be set to 1 with a 0.25” gutter. If you’re creating a text book or reference book with multiple columns, you’ll control that here. Again, columns can be added or removed later too.
  4. Bleed & Slug – For a book, the bleed is the key thing to include here at 0.125” on all sides. The button on the right can be clicked to bind the dimensions and make them all match. It is advisable to build your book for bleeds, even if you aren’t using them to fill a page with image content – it just ensures your file will accurately represent what your final printed book will look like. For print-on-demand, the slug can be ignored and should be left set to 0.000.
The Document

Before we go into the preparation steps for your book file, let’s take a look at the main document screen.

Preparing the document you created

  1. This drop down is going to show you some toolbar options. The Book toolbar is probably most useful for you, but you can also customize these toolbars from Window in the top menu bar.
  2. The tools we’ll need. The most important ones are:
    1. Pages
    2. Paragraph Style

You’ll notice in the above screenshot, “Paragraph Style” is missing. I had to pull it from the “Window” menu and add it to the sidebar.

  1. The Ribbon for commands. Your options here will change based on the objects/elements you have selected, showing you the choices you have relative to the part of the page you’re working on currently.
  2. A two-page spread for our book! The outer (red) lines are the bleed. This is how big the paper will be when rough cut, and the inner edge of the page will be the final cut area. The inner lines (purple) show the margins I set. This makes it very easy for me to see exactly where I should orient content (text and images) to keep them within my margins and trim area.

Spend some time pressing buttons and using the selection tools on the far left to get a feeling for how the document acts and reacts to different commands. It is not exactly the same as Word or other word processors, but there are many similarities.

Once you start to feel comfortable with the commands, we’re ready to make a book file!

To start that process, we need to open the Pages toolbox and create some Master Pages.

Create Master Pages

You’ll notice I’ve expanded the Pages toolbox on the right and I have the “Paragraph Styles” toolbox nested below. These are the two most important and useful controls for creating a text based book, so I’m going to focus on using them.

So, what’s this Master Page thing? Look again at the image above. On the right, you’ll see a page list (#2). And above that, you’ll see Master Pages (#1). Each page in your document will have a Master Page that defines elements of the page, like the header, footer, text box, and pretty much anything else you can image.

  1. Your Master Pages. You have a variety of control option by right-clicking in this area. You’ll see in the image that I have four Master Pages (plus [None], which is a default blank page). We’ll be creating more to divide up our file in a moment.
  2. The Page Layout panel displays your pages in spreads. The black lines are actually zoomed out lines of text. Obviously, you won’t be reading anything in this panel, but it does indicate which pages have text on them. Also notice in the outside corners the small 1? That indicates the Master Page in use for those pages. You can select pages (one or multiple) from this menu and right click to makes changes to those pages, including applying a new Master Page.
  3. Alright, now we’re working on the file! See that small 1: on the outer edge of each page? Those are actually placeholders for page numbering. The 1 is a reference to the Master Page. In the actual document, the number will update to the page number.
    Just create a text box (the T icon on the left toolbar) and insert the placeholder for page numbering: Type > Insert Special Character > Markers > Current Page Number
    I want to make sure the placement of my page numbers is consistent throughout the book. With my textbox created and the Marker inserted for page numbering, I copy the entire box and paste it on the facing page. Remember, this is a Master Page, so it will serve as the layout for all actual pages.
    With the text boxes mirrored (because I copied the original) I can align both to the bottom corner of my safety margins. Finally, I want to select the option to align text away from the spine. This pushes the page number in both text boxes to the outer edge (away from the spine).
    Text Alignment options
  4. For the Header, I’ve got the title of my book on the left and on the right I have the title of the chapter (or in this case, the short story). Again, we want to align text away from the spine so the text position is consistent throughout.
  5. Each page has a text box in it, spaced to provide room for text without running over the page number or header content, and staying within the margins I set. You control the size of this text box, and you can adjust it on a page by page basis, or you can set up multiple Master Pages with differing text boxes. That angled line between the pages indicates that the box on the left page is bound to the one of the right.
    It’s surprisingly easy to achieve this, simply click the small button on the lower right of the left page and then click the right page’s text box. The boxes will bind together, and when you apply this Master to multiple pages in your document, they’ll continue to flow together.

About Page Numbers and Master Pages: Some pages, like the first page of a chapter or a blank page, won’t want the page numbering. You might not want the Header text on these pages either. Setting this up is as easy as creating a new Master Page, like the C- Adventure Start page I created to make a Chapter Title page. You can also use the [None] Master Page to completely blank the formatting on a page.

InDesign’s command to add sequential page numbering will adjust while compiling, making the page numbering a breeze. And any page that doesn’t include the Page Number instructions will simply skip displaying the number. Same goes for header text. We’ll look even more closely at page numbering in the second part of this series, including how to set a specific page as page 1.

Next up, we need to define some Paragraph Styles. I’ve placed this toolbox below my Pages toolbox on the right. Just right click any existing style to edit or create a new one.

Using InDesign's Style Options

I could fill an entire blog post going through these different Paragraph options, so suffice it to say that you should click through each of the options on the left and learn a little more about them.

It’s also important to take note of the options in the Ribbon while your active in a text box:

InDesign Ribbon

You can make changes to a specific paragraph using these controls (they are very similar to the Word ribbon controls) and with a right click on the Paragraph Style, you can update that Style to match your changes, filtering the change down to all other text using that style.

Updating Styles

In the above image, you can see I’ve changed the paragraph style to Justified-Centered (1) for the highlighted text (2). Because this text used [Basic Paragraph] for its styling, that Paragraph Style now shows a + (3) beside it. A right click and selecting Redefine Style updates the style to match the text. Or I can click the + to shift the selected text back to the original style (basically undoing the formatting changes I made).

Finally, Some Text

All the prep work is done. I’ve got a document with a Master Page for each chapter (or story, since this is Sherlock Holmes) and each Master includes page numbering and Header text placements I can adjust as needed. I also have a Front Matter/Back Matter Master and an Adventure Start Master I can use to create a title page for each story.

Before we start pasting in our text, let’s look really quickly at this Master Page:

Using a Master Page

I’ve add a nice stock image of a detective and a bit of specialized text (Paragraph Style = H1) to make a title. In the Master Page, I used Chapter Title and in each individual placement of this Master, I’ll edit the page to include the actual title of the story.

I don’t want to dig too deeply into adding images, but there are a few specific controls for images we’ll look at in the second part of this series.

Let’s add some text!

Okay, so we have our Masters set. I’m going to add the Adventure Start Master to the second and third pages, ignoring the very first page for now. Don’t sweat this, we’re going to put some Front Matter in later.

The first story in my book

With the Adventure Start Master added, we’ll need to free it up for editing. Right-click with the pages selected and Override all Master Page items so we can edit the text. Now we can add the Adventure title (for this first one, “A Scandal in Bohemia”).

The next step is adding the actual text. I’ll jump over to my Word document where all the text lives and Copy the contents for “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

Back over to InDesign, I need to add two more pages using the 1- Adventure Master. To do this we need to right-click again on Page 3 and choose Insert Pages:

Using the Insert Pages...function

This will pull up a menu and allow us to add a number of pages and apply Master Page formatting to those new pages.

The Insert Pages menu

Be sure to review all four items in this window. Add two pages to get the spread from the Master Page, insert ‘After’ the current page, which is referenced based on the page selected, but can be updated from the drop-down, and finally be sure that the correct Master is selected.

The two new pages will add with the Master settings—including the Adventure name in the Header—and we’ll be ready to paste that content in!

Of course, I’ve got far more than two pages of content here, but because I bound the text boxes as a flowing text, InDesign will add pages, using the 1-Adventure Master Page, until enough are added!

Pasting text into your InDesign Document

We started with 5 total pages (the first blank page, the two pages from our Adventure Start Master and the two pages from our 1-Adventure Master), now we have 30 total pages!

We are working in spreads so you might want to add a [None] Master Page for page 31, then add two more pages with the Adventure Start Master, again unlocking them and editing the title to the second Adventure. Finally, we add two more page using 2-Adventure, the template for our second Adventure and paste the contents in.

Doing this means we have distinct Master Page control over each chapter (Adventure) and we can easily paste in all of our content.


Our main content is all added and we’re ready now to add Front and Back Matter, format the text to our liking, and export a PDF so we can get this book printed! Stay tuned for the second half of this series, coming in two weeks, and we’ll wrap up the basics of creating a book with InDesign!