Book Designer Plays the Template Game

by Joel Friedlander on February 20, 2013 · 40 comments

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Where we left off:

“Wouldn’t it be better to help those poor authors struggling to turn a word processor into a layout program?” I wondered. “Isn’t there some way I could help them create books more easily, ones that didn’t make people cringe, that didn’t shout ‘self-published’ quite so loudly?”

Like any digital denizen, I started searching for help. Someone must have a template for this, right? A little Googling and we’ll turn it up.

And there are templates out there if you care to look. In fact there are lots of kinds of templates all around us.

In most cases, those templates are quite useful, too.

The Template Approach to Complexity

We know what a template is, generally:

a pre-developed page layout in electronic or paper media used to make new pages with a similar design, pattern, or style.—Wikipedia

That sounded precisely like what I was searching for.

There are lots of ways that templates can be helpful. For instance, I had to install a keyboard drawer for Jill at her office, the kind that attaches to the underside of your desktop. It came with a paper template that showed me exactly how big the drawer was, and exactly where to drill holes to mount it.

When you’re upside down under a desk, that can be very handy.

In the same way, printers have traditionally supplied templates for book covers, jackets, and cases. These are measured to the printer’s exact specifications and optimized for their equipment.

You can be sure that, if you follow the template, your book will come out correct.

In the digital era, the best cover templates I work with are the ones from Lightning Source. They look like this:

Lightning Source template

Everything’s plotted out to a thousandth of an inch. Very helpful.

But there are even more kinds of templates. The uber-popular WordPress blogging platform that this site runs on uses templates to create the “skin” and functionality of your site. In the blog world, they’re called themes, but it’s the same idea.

If you send emails, your email vendor probably provides you with templates so you can just pick the look you want and get going. Here are a couple from AWeber, my favorite email provider.

AWeber email templates

As you can see, with templates there’s a tradeoff. You have to “stay within the lines” of the template, and that might limit some people’s creativity. On the other hand, if you want to create something that looks pretty good with a minimum about of sweat and no learning curve, a template is your best friend.

What About the Books?

The trouble was, I couldn’t find any real book templates. Oh, sure, you can download templates from CreateSpace, Lulu, 48hrbooks.com and others. Usually, you’ll get something that looks pretty generic, if it’s got any style to it at all.

Mostly these are frameworks, the skeleton of the template without any skin on it. You are left to do all the work of formatting your book. Here’s one that’s actually one of the better ones I found:

CreateSpace template

Kind of sad, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my book looking like that.

For over a year I searched for someone who could help me with this idea. I’m no Word ninja, and don’t really want to become one.

Last year I met Tracy R. Atkins on the blog, when he wrote a couple of guest posts. Tracy has a background in technology and is also a self-published author. One day in the comments he mentioned something about Word and how it could be better for do-it-yourself authors.

We soon started talking, and I sent Tracy one of my book designs and asked him to see what he could do with it in Word. Could you really take a beautiful page layout carefully designed in Adobe InDesign and have any hope that it would really work?

A few hours later Tracy’s file popped into my inbox. When I opened it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing:

Premise-template-sample

It looked like a book! This really opened my eyes to what might be possible with Microsoft Word.

With Tracy’s help I decided to see if I could put an end to some of the frustration, tedious work, and newbie mistakes that do-it-yourself authors have had to fight through just to get their books formatted.

We’re in the process of creating an amazing resource. One that’s easy to use, easy to afford, and makes it pretty easy to get an industry-standard, beautiful book out of the word processor you already own.

We’re going to launch on Friday, and I’ll tell you all about it then. I can’t wait.

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    { 39 comments… read them below or add one }

    Monica Holtz February 21, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I’m looking for a template to help me turn my children’s picture book into an e-book. I’m guessing your template won’t help. Am I right?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 21, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    You are correct, Monica. You might want to take a look at Apple’s iBook Author software that makes it easy to layout illustrated ebooks and then sell them (exclusively) in the iBookstore.

    Reply

    Ann Tucker February 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Monica, the best way to make your children’s picture book into an ebook is to make a single image for each page. Make a jpg of the picture and the text layout as you want it. Then drop all of the page images into Word in order.

    Reply

    Ann Tucker February 21, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Monica, the best way to make your children’s picture book into an ebook is to make a single image for each page. Make a jpg of the picture and the text layout as you want it. Then drop all of the page images into Word in order.
    I’ve done this with a number of children’s picture books and it has worked out well.

    Reply

    Monica Holtz February 21, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    Thank you, Ann. It’s good to hear the jpg method has worked well. I’ll try it.

    Reply

    Denise February 21, 2013 at 11:44 am

    So, I have been trying to figure out InDesign to lay out my nonfiction book (illustrations, multiple levels of subheads, pull-quotes, bullet-lists, possible sidebars, etc.). I wish I could do it in Word, but I’m not sure how to juggle so many things. Will you be offering any templates that can handle all this, or will these templates be primarily for fiction authors?

    Reply

    Colin February 21, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Denise
    Everything you mention here can be done in Word 2010.
    Cheers
    Colin

    Reply

    Denise February 21, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Yes, Colin, I can do them in my manuscript. But I don’t know how to juggle them on a book page, so they look balanced and easy-to-read and not just like a bunch of clutter — that’s where I think that having a template might help me.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 21, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Denise, I think Word would be a poor choice for the book you describe. Whether or not “it can be done” isn’t the point. It will be more difficult, with less predictable results and lower-quality output than you can achieve with InDesign. You might consider hiring a book designer to do the job, or to design the overall look of the book that you can then implement yourself. Full details on these templates tomorrow.

    Reply

    Denise February 21, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Hiring is difficult with no money. The advantage of Word is that I know its quirks, or at least I’m familiar with most of them. InDesign keeps confusing me.

    For instance, earlier this week I tried to place text into a file, and InDesign decided to make most of it superscript, with random normal letters (about every 3-6 letters, on average). Really strange looking! If I typed directly into the text frame, I got text that was fine, but the placed text was screwy (same paragraph style) — and the program wouldn’t let me change it, either. Bleh!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 21, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    I feel your pain, Denise. InDesign has a pretty steep learning curve, especially if you’ve never worked in graphic arts. Word is familiar, an every-day tool that many authors feel comfortable with. We’ll be working on nonfiction book templates next, so hopefully that will help out if you’re still in production.

    Reply

    Marla Markman February 20, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Joel,
    This is a great idea! I have had many authors in the past ask me if templates existed or if I could create one. Now, I will have a place to send them. And I agree with Sylvia: Many “experts” are stuck in the my-way-or-the-highway approach. It’s great that you and Tracy were able to see “the other side.”

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 20, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks, Marla. I’ve been working on this idea since 2011, so I’m pretty excited to get it off the ground.

    Reply

    Widdershins February 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Joel, I think you’re a tease, but you do have everyone in the room hooked. Nicely done! … will look forward to Friday.

    Reply

    Rebecca Berto February 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    I suppose I should expect a post on Friday about how to check them out? :)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 20, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    Yes, all will be revealed.

    Reply

    Rebecca Berto February 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Oh, there are templates for book interiors. Amazon have specific, detailed templates for Createspace paperbacks. But this is a great post. Thanks.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 20, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Hi Rebecca,

    Yes, the generic sample in the post is from CreateSpace, and I know even those have helped lots of authors. I’ll be interested to see what you think of the ones we’ve done.

    Reply

    Sylvia Liu February 20, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Joel, I love your approach to providing information and expertise, which is to meet writers where they are instead of insisting on a purist approach. I will definitely pass along this resource when it comes out to my writer friends (I’m working on fixed layout picture books at the moment so it’s not quite applicable to my work). Thanks again for all you do.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Sylvia, thanks so much. “Experts” often get caught in the “trap of knowledge” and I know I’ve often fallen into that trap myself. But I realized that if I really wanted to help authors who follow this path, it had to be on their terms, not mine. Good luck with your fixed-layout books, that’s a challenge in itself.

    Reply

    C.J. February 20, 2013 at 10:46 am

    My first comment in the two years I’ve been following your every blog. Talent-wise I’m half visual artist and half writer so it’s very important to me to self-publish with a professional look as well as compelling content. I know you can show me how Joel. I look forward to your solutions. Thank you.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Hi C.J. Thanks so much for your comment, and for being a reader. On Friday I’ll explain exactly what the limitations of this approach are, but I think the templates will help many authors get through the formatting phase faster and with a better result.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins February 20, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I really appreciate all of the feedback and excitement!

    Joel and I are really proud of the templates and can’t wait to show you fine folks what we have created. Our goals are to make building better books easy and affordable. Our templates will come in several unique styles that will make your book projects shine in no time. I don’t want to say too much since we are still two days away from launch, but it’s hard to contain the excitement. ;)

    -Tracy

    Reply

    John Bavaresco February 20, 2013 at 9:32 am

    I know MS Word is quite powerful but most people only scratch the surface as a word processor. I’m looking forward to your insight.

    Reply

    Will Overby February 20, 2013 at 8:33 am

    I’ve used Word exclusively to layout my printed books for the past year. Once you get past the learning curve it’s really not so bad. I’ve used templates from CreateSpace but always spiced them up a bit; however, I’m really looking forward to what you’ve got to show us on Friday!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Will, you’ll be in a great position to be able to evaluate these templates then. We’ll have a complete reveal with all details in Friday’s post.

    Reply

    Delaney Diamond February 20, 2013 at 5:12 am

    Looking forward to it!

    Reply

    Ann Tucker February 20, 2013 at 4:58 am

    I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with formatting books from Word. But getting the large, dropped letter is more than I’ve been able to do. Looking forward to seeing your template.

    Reply

    Colin February 20, 2013 at 5:40 am

    Hello Ann
    Don’t know what version of Word you’re using, but in Word 2007, go to Insert, and then choose the Drop Cap option (usually on the right of the toolbar). You’ll then have options for how many lines to drop, and you can set the spacing between the dropped cap the body text.
    Cheers

    Reply

    Ann Tucker February 20, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Colin, thanks for that tip. This converts easily to mobi format when you Save As HTML filtered? Or do you convert differently?

    Reply

    Colin February 20, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Yes, it does actually keep the drop cap when converting to HTML, Filtered. Not 100% sure of the mobi format.

    Reply

    Ann February 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Cool, thanks.
    I’m looking forward to seeing what else this template has. As mentioned in the original post, there just isn’t any good looking template out there.

    Ellis Shuman February 20, 2013 at 4:48 am

    Sounds very exciting! Having just formatted my book according to CreateSpace’s templates, I wish that something like this would have come along just a few weeks earlier.

    I’ll use it for my next book…

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Ellis, you probably recognized the sample template in the article, right? Anyway, I think you’re going to be happy with these for your next book.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins February 21, 2013 at 9:18 am

    CreateSpace is pretty good about letting you update the interior with a new PDF file, without much hassle. Might be a good consideration for a 2nd edition. :)

    Reply

    Ingrid K. V. Hardy February 20, 2013 at 4:45 am

    Thank you for this! I have been looking everywhere for a PROPER cover template, for dimensions. As an Illustrator, this year I’m creating a bunch of my own covers to learn the process – because it is more than just composition, it also has to fit the book size.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Ingrid, thanks for your comment. The templates we’re talking about here are for book interiors, not covers. For a cover, you’ll need to ask your printer or PoD supplier, or work out the spine width yourself. There are several articles on the blog about how to do this.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus February 20, 2013 at 1:21 am

    Some warnings, based on producing more than 30 books with Word:

    Word often makes mistakes with hyphens. Some horrifying and funny, like the-rapist for therapist. Also: “apo-strophe,” “li-mited,” “identic-al,” “firs-thand,” “fru-strating,” “whe-never,” “foo-ter,” “miles-tone,” “grays-cale,” “distri-bute,” “percen-tage,” “prin-ter,” “fami-liarity,” “misunders-tanding,” “mi-nimize,” “sa-les,” “me-thod,” “libra-rian,” “mi-spronounced,” “fi-ne,” “bin-aural,” “alt-hough,” “bet-ween,” “Ste-ve,” “the-se,” “cre-dit,” “se-tup” and “par-chment.” Maybe Bill Gates retired too soon. Someone has to fix this stuff.

    Although Word can make numbered lists automatically, the lists may be ugly, inconsistent and unstable. I’ve seen some ghastly spacing after two-digit numbers in a list. It’s sometimes better to insert numbers manually from the Symbol section.

    Word sometimes seems to have a mind of its own—and it’s ignorant, confused, obstinate and sadistic. Text within headers and footers will shift just to piss you off, and horizontal lines may appear, shift and refuse to go away.

    Word 2010 will stretch out a document that originated in Word 2007.

    If you go from Word 2007 to 2010 or 13 some spaces between words may disappear. The document may also become unstable, with frequent crashes.

    Sometimes Word refuses to let you click on spaces that you want to modify.

    Word—like many computer programs—will stall or save just when you want it to do something.

    To end one section and start a new one, put your cursor just after the last character at the bottom of a page, and click on the Page Layout tab at the top of the ribbon bar, and then click on Breaks. Below the Breaks divider, click on Next Page. The next page will start a new section. Because of some strange defect, when you do this, the first line on the next page will probably gain an unintended indent or will drop to a lower position and you’ll have to fix it. (This silliness has existed in at least three versions of Word).

    If you want all of the headers on even-numbered (left, verso) pages to show the book title, type it into one verso header and check Link to Previous in the navigation section of the ribbon bar. Be sure that it’s unchecked when you are working on recto headers that will probably be different for each chapter (and section). This can create big problems and waste a lot of time. The header linking may make more sense if you think of “Link Previous to This,” not “Link to Previous.” Maybe MS will change this for Word 2020. Don’t bet on it.

    If you decide to change from a bulleted or numbered graf to an ordinary graf, the whole graf may get a huge indent.

    There are uncorrected inconsistencies, even after many versions of Word either because no one at MS noticed or cared. In some cases you use an up-arrow to enlarge; in some cases the down arrow enlarges.

    From my ebook about producing a book with Word: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AXNCMOQ

    http://www.CreateBetterBooks.com

    Reply

    Colin February 19, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Yes, yes, yes!

    “It looked like a book! This really opened my eyes to what might be possible with Microsoft Word.”

    As I mentioned (asked) in an earlier post… it’s a matter of learning to master the tool. When that happens, magic can be created.

    Reply

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