I'm a published children's book author, magazine writer, and technology blogger. I love all things Disney.
For this article, I presume at least a beginner's knowledge of Adobe InDesign. If you aren't familiar with the platform, I suggest that you consider taking a class at your local adult education department, college extension, or community college. There is a learning curve to using InDesign, but if you plan to self-publish and you are dedicated to making the best possible book product you can, then it's worth the time investment to learn how to use the tool.
This past year, I took a class to learn how to use Adobe InDesign. My objectives included learning how to use InDesign to create a professional-looking product, one that would look as good as any other book on the bookstore shelf.
The class I took, however, was mostly focused on simply learning how to use the product as a whole—not a simple task—and not on the nuances of great book production. As a final homework project, as a way to boost my design and layout skills, I decided to self-publish my manuscript, "Elliott Hall and the Real House Rabbit," using InDesign. This article describes some of the things I discovered along the way while producing my book.
Common Self-Publishing Mistakes
It isn't exactly correct to call them "mistakes," but there are certain commonalities among self-published books that probably comes from the idea that a book is merely another document. Text flows from one page to the next and the reader just goes along for the ride.
But when you want to produce a great looking self-published book, you have to do more. Take a look at how a raw manuscript looks as you type it out in Word or other word processing platform. Most likely, you use a left-alignment for text, a one-inch margin all around, and probably 12 point Times New Roman font. Maybe you've taken the step to do page breaks at each chapter. But let's be honest—your manuscript doesn't look like a book. Even if you print it out and put a cover around it, it still won't look like a book.
Looking more critically at your manuscript, you may see a lot of issues with the format, issues that you can nicely clean up in InDesign. In formatting my manuscript, I addressed the following:
- Ragged right margin: Books you buy at the bookstore have justified margins that align on both the left and the right.
- Inconsistent bottom margin: Similarly, commercially designed books have even bottom margins on every page. If you flip through a book, looking at the bottom margin, you'll see what I mean. There are no single line variances.
- Page numbering: Page numbers should be at the same place on every page, except for new chapter pages. If a page has a chapter heading on it, there is no page number.
- Chapter heading alignment: Commercially designed books have chapter headings at the exact same alignment throughout the book. Again, if you flip through a book, you'll see that the chapter headings "line up" evenly.
- Front and back matter: Most paperback books have the following front matter pages:
- Half-title (page 1): For book title only
- Blank (page 2): Or, if your book is one of a series, the other series titles go here
- Title (page 3): For book title, author's name, publisher's name
- Copyright (page 4): Copyright information and ISBN
- Dedication (page 5): For your dedication
You might have additional pages, for example, you might include a table of contents, but this is usually the minimum for front matter. For back matter, you might have a page for acknowledgements or an index.
A Note About Inside Margins
I used an inside margin of .75 inches for a 112-page book. CreateSpace and other print-on-demand platforms will have their own recommendations for inside margins. Read carefully and follow their recommendations for best results.
Creating an InDesign Book Template
There are a number of self-publishing options out there, but I decided to go with CreateSpace, a print-on-demand service, since it has a variety of tools for the self-publisher, and it interfaces nicely with Amazon. Knowing which self-publishing platform to go with is an important decision by itself, because you will need to know what size books your platform supports.
Next, I needed to decide on the dimensions of my book. My book, a middle-grade novel for kids, runs 112 pages; I decided that a size of 8"x5" would be a fairly safe and standard route to go. In deciding what size book you want to produce, look at other books in your genre, and go with something that is comparable in size and is book industry standard.
InDesign Set-Up Preferences
Take the time in the beginning to set up your InDesign project correctly. Set up your Preferences, and create a new file for a book, making your document the correct size (in my case, 8x5,) margins and gutters as you need them to be. Note, you can always make changes later, but it's kind of a hassle to do so.
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Fonts and Paragraph Styles
Selecting the right font is a bit of a science in itself. You may be tempted to use script, Comic Sans, or another decorative font, but my advice is that less is more. Use a conservative font that is clean and easy to read. Check out books in your genre and see what they use, whether serif or sans serif, and select something similar. I admit to a certain bizarre fascination with Comic Sans, but I did stop myself from using it for my book.
Once you have selected your font, set up paragraph styles in InDesign. This ties into later setting up grid lines, which will help to format your book so that there are the same number of lines on each page. In the images below, you can see how I set up a paragraph style for the main body text used throughout the book.
It's very important to select the option Align to Grid > All lines, found under Paragraph Style Options>Indents and Spacing. This is key in helping to keep the number of lines on each page consistent.
Set Up Grid Lines
Set up your baseline grid—to which your lines of texts will align—relative to your leading. In my case, I used 24pt leading, so under InDesign>Preferences>Grids, I entered: Baseline Grid>Increment Every> 24pts. I incremented relative to the top margin, starting at .75 inches.
You can change how you increment, based upon your own leading, font size, and if you plan to print the author's name and title in the top margin of your book. Since I knew I was printing the author's name and title in the top margin, I set up my increments a little differently.
Be sure you check View>Grids and Guides>Show Baseline Grids so that you can see the grid lines as you work, to ensure that your text is indeed lining up correctly.
Tips About Master Pages
Now you're ready to set up master pages for your book template. You'll likely need, at minimum, three master pages. I set up my master pages as follows:
A-Master: For general book pages, used for all pages with numbers on them. Pages with numbers are in the body of the book. Pages without numbers are pages with Chapter headings, the table of contents, front matter pages, pages with illustration, and back matter pages.
For the left A-Master page, I included:
- Text box for book text, main body;
- Author name at top of margin;
- Page number to the left of author's name.
For the right A-Master page, I included:
- Text box for book text, main body;
- Book title at top of margin;
- Page number to the right of book title.
B-Master: For book pages with Chapter headings. Both the left and right B-Master pages were set up to include:
- Text box for book text, main body, formatted to start about mid-page, with chapter heading about three lines from top margin and subheading about seven lines from top margin.
- No book title, no page number, no author's name.
C-Master: For front matter, back matter, and blank pages. Both left and right C-Master pages contained only a text box.
You can always add more master pages to suit your needs, but this worked for me. Your mileage may vary.
What to Look For When Proofing Your Book
Printing and Proofing
Always, always pay for a printed proof of your book. It's the best way to see and feel how your book will read. Pay attention to the details:
- Flip the pages and watch the bottom margin as it passes to ensure that text lines up consistently;
- Look at the margins, particularly the inside margin, and ensure that your book is still readable when you get to the middle of the book;
- Check your table of contents, if you have one, and make sure it looks nice AND that each chapter actually begins on the page indicated;
- Flip the pages and watch chapter headings, and ensure that they all "line up."
- Read your front matter. Make sure the ISBN you printed inside your book matches the ISBN on the cover;
- Check your cover, especially the text on the spine, to make sure everything is readable and sharp;
- Sit down and read your book carefully, cover to cover, and ask friends or critique partners to do the same. Be receptive to their feedback.
Once you have read your printed proof and feel that you are ready to release your book to the universe, take the time to read through your book one last time. Look for the nitnoids and squash them. Take the time to make your book shine.
After Revision in InDesign
I Find My Cover Is Blurry!
After careful evaluation and several revisions, I declared my book ready to be published to the marketplace. A few days later, I was happy to see my book available on Amazon. Sort of.
To my surprise, the cover on Amazon appeared blurry around all the lettering, even though the hard-copy book I held in my hand, the copy that I proofed so carefully, has a nice sharp cover. What gives?
I checked the cover again in InDesign to see if there was aliasing around the titles. At 400% zoom, the cover still looks nice and crisp. I have no idea why my cover image appears blurry on the book's Amazon page.
After some consideration, I decided that it would be worth redoing the cover by rastorizing the titles and other cover text in Photoshop and bringing them back into InDesign as images. That should result in scaleable text that remains crisp-looking, and a nice looking cover.
It is a straightforward matter to "unpublish" a print-on-demand book in Amazon, upload a new cover, and go through the proofing process again. Granted, it's a bit of a heartache, but without a nice cover, no one will buy the book. Potential buyers have no way of knowing that the cover image they see on the screen won't be what is actually printed and sent to them. And so, I must unpublish and try it again.
Weeks go by . . .
I continued to have problems with a blurry cover image showing up on the Amazon storefront, yet the paperback proof books that I had in hand were fine, with crisp cover images. In talking with a friend, he mentioned that perhaps the culprit was CreateSpace.
I checked the help forums on CreateSpace, and sure enough, someone had had the same problem that I was seeing—a blurry looking cover on Amazon, but a nice crisp cover image when printed onto paper. That user suggested sending an email to CreateSpace to have the cover image "reprocessed" before sending it to Amazon. And so I sent an email requesting help from CreateSpace. They wrote back right away and said that they would reprocess my cover image and that it would be uploaded to Amazon. But, they warned, since Amazon required smaller sized compressed images, some blurriness might still be apparent.
In about three days, a new image was uploaded to Amazon. I could see that, while the overall image was much sharper, there was still some aliasing around the title. I've decided to leave it alone for now, but it still bothers me that CreateSpace can't process my cover image so that it is perfectly sharp and clear.
My project, overall, went well and I learned a lot from the experience. I would definitely go this route again if I were to self-publish another book. I'd highly recommend taking some classes in self-publishing if possible, and to talk with other self-published authors on forums at sites like Goodreads or CreateSpace to get an understanding of best practices and the like. But I would whole-heartedly recommend putting yourself out there. Believe in yourself and publish your work!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: I've properly set up the pages of my inside margin (gutter), but the interior reviewer keeps saying that mine is insufficient. I'm making a 100-page, full-color 8x10 book. Do you have any advice?
Answer: That's not an easy question! I would start by looking at the PDF to make sure it is correct and that your pages are the way you want them to be. I once had a similar issue that was due to the pages getting swapped, front sides becoming the back. I corrected this and my “insufficient margins” issue went away. I can’t guarantee that this will fix what you are seeing, but looking at the PDF first may give you some clues.
© 2015 KA Hanna