Authors: Why You Should Be Writing in Adobe InDesign

by | Aug 17, 2011

by David Bergsland

I’m very pleased to present you today with a guest article by author, teacher and graphic designer David Bergsland. David has a unique method for writing and designing his books and a passionate reason for it too. Here’s his story:

A recent email conversation with a new friend (who is working on her book) made it obvious that what I am doing is nearly unique. She was desiring to do the same thing—work  creatively within Adobe InDesign to produce completed books almost as a fine art exercise. She couldn’t find anyone else even talking about it.

One of the wonderful things about the new publishing paradigm is the control we get as artists, authors, and designers over the entire package. The modern book is released in multiple sizes, versions, and formats—in print, online, and as e-books.

The content and design remain fluid as we shape the book while we learn and grow. We can easily adjust content, layout, and the entire presentation of our books [even after they are released] in response to emails, FaceBook friends, tweets, and the whole host of contemporary social interactions online.

One of the trials of this new paradigm is the incredible amount of knowledge required and the various skills necessary to do all of this. I have been uniquely positioned to take advantage of the new workflow. I began as a fine artist in the 1960s and early 1970s. I learned typesetting and graphic design at the hands of a masterful art director in the late 1970s. I spent a decade as an art director myself within the largest commercial printer in Albuquerque.

The Word Spreads

I began teaching these materials in 1991. Within a couple of years a large traditional publisher was asking me to convert my handouts into a book on the new digital printing. I used that opportunity to develop one of the first printing and design programs in the country that was all digital. I wrote a book a year for them on typography, FreeHand, Illustrator, Photoshop, and finally InDesign. Publishing with InDesign was one of the first books on this new software that would quickly take over the industry,

While all of this was going on, in 1996, I developed a complete online version of all my coursework at my community college. I continued to write new instructional materials. I was supplying them to my students off the class website as downloadable PDFs.

Then, in 2002, I found Lulu. With Lulu, then CreateSpace, then Scribd, then Zazzle, then Kindle, and then ePUBs, my world radically changed. Writing books became a real joy to me as InDesign kept getting better and better. More and more I was doing everything in InDesign except the photos done in Photoshop.

So, why should you use InDesign?

Here I am again recommending a road less traveled by—not unusual in my life and work. Before the choruses rise up in defense of other workflows, let me tell you my reasonings.

I fully recognize that most people write in Word. What they do not realize [in most cases]: this simple fact starts their book under a great handicap. They are missing the best tools for communicating with their readers.

Books are not entirely about words

Of course as a writer this may not make much sense to you. But hear me out. For years I have taught graphic designers that the content is all that matters. This has been a major fight because many [maybe most] designers never read the copy they design into books and printed materials.

In fact, this is still true now that graphic designers are responsible for laying out Websites, blogs, and many other distributors of the words you write. In the publishing world there is a real disconnect between the writers and the book designers. They are treated as two entirely separate skill sets.

Designers do not deal well with words

Graphic designers [and this includes many book designers] are visual people, focused on how things look. One of my major concerns as I started to write books in the mid-1990s was my experience of using published textbooks as examples of poor communication.

My pursuit of functional, reader-centered books has been fraught with trials. This goal is so far outside the norm in traditional publishing today that there is no room at all for an author who even cares about these things.

Let’s talk about some simple examples of this lack of concern for the reader

  • Illustrations listed by number with no connection to the copy which talks about what is illustrated: In many cases, authors are not allowed to even pick out the images because they are not considered professional enough to understand what is required of an image.

    But the result is illustrations listed by number that are often not even on the same page as the content they illustrate. Why bother to even have explanatory graphics? Few readers will find them or take the time to look for them. The result is frustrated readership and readers who simply quit reading in disgust.

  • Heads and subheads generated by designers: In many cases over the years I spent as a graphic designer, I wrote all the subheads, developed all the lists, wrote all the captions, and even wrote most of the headlines.

    I developed them out of a need to help direct the reader through the copy I was formatting for the writer of that copy. The author had no clue that they were desirable or necessary. I wrote them as a service to the reader. But I was a real minority as mentioned. Many designers [and it may well be most designers] do not even read the copy they layout. The ones who do read and try to help usually do not understand your niche.

  • Page layout determined by fashion and visual concerns: Fonts are chosen because they look good. Layouts are determined by fashion. Columns, margins, sidebars and the like are chosen to stimulate visual interest and provoke excitement instead of being chosen to communicate the content effectively, clearly, and accessibly.

    The most glaring example of this is seen in the countless books where content is broken up into small pieces to help people with short attention spans. No one seems to even consider using content that is so compelling that the reader becomes immersed in it.

But it goes much further than that. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia about the normal traditional editorial process [force yourself to read the next paragraph, I know it’s hard]:

“A decision is taken to publish a work, and the technical legal issues resolved, the author may be asked to improve the quality of the work through rewriting or smaller changes, and the staff will edit the work. Publishers may maintain a house style, and staff will copy edit to ensure that the work matches the style and grammatical requirements of each market. Editors often choose or refine titles and headlines. Editing may also involve structural changes and requests for more information. Some publishers employ fact checkers, particularly regarding non-fiction works.”

Notice that there is nothing here about serving the readers. The readers’ needs are not part of the process. It’s all about sales and the marketing decisions of the publisher.

This process is long and expensive

It’s all about money. Books must support a huge bureaucratic infrastructure both at the publishing house and at the printing company. Production costs run from tens of thousands of dollars on up to millions. If you cannot count on selling thousands or millions of books, they cannot afford to publish your work. It commonly takes a year after the manuscript is completed to produce the book. For time-sensitive work, this does not work well.

These specialists commonly do not understand your content

I have had copyeditors flag something to be changed or eliminated that was standard industry usage because he or she did not speak the industry lingo. They had no idea what a separation is for an image, or a signature is for a book, or that leading is a specific measurement (and deals with the metal not a person out front leading the procession).

Imagine finding editors and proofers for a book on a capella choir music, steam engine design, Japanese carpentry, Norwegian landscape design, dulcimer construction, raku kiln design, rosemaling, passion plays, calligraphy, weaving looms, Pueblo Indian jewelry, Hatch green chilé, I Ching, prophets, or whatever your niche is. It’s not going to happen.

But you can write a book to your niche that will sell well. You know your niche and you understand your readers much better than the publishing houses do.

You must learn to produce your own books.

For the past two decades, I have taught publishing skills. For the past fifteen years I have written and published books, both traditionally and on-demand. I have taught skills to present digital content transparently, effectively, and gracefully. But Word [and word processors in general] cannot do this. There are skills and capabilities that are necessary which are simply not available in Office.

Typography: This is the skill to use fonts, paragraph styling, and page layout to invisibly communicate content: point size, leading, small caps, ligatures, oldstyle figures, lining figures, ems, ens, discretionary hyphens, tracking, kerning, and much more. For this you need a professional page layout program, InDesign.

High resolution images: Printing requires 300 dpi minimum. You’ll need Photoshop. JPEGs, GIFs, and PNGs won’t work.

Postscript (or PDF): This is a page description language that is required by book printers. You must be able to create [and proof] in Postscript. This requires InDesign, Photoshop, and Acrobat Pro.

PDFs: All printing companies now require a PDF from which to print. If you give them anything less, they make their own PDF. You have no control over what results from that conversion.

Page layout: A thorough understanding of columns, margins, alignments, indents, gutters, lists, tables, headlines, subheads, sidebars, running heads, drop caps, and much more is necessary to help your readers.

A word about typography

This is the key. Without excellent typography, many of your potential readers will refuse to read your book—no matter how compelling your verbiage. Writing a book without controlling the typography is like racing against Indy cars with a Chevy. You can make that Chevy really fast—but can you compete?

Word cannot do typography [without an incredible amount of knowledge and effort]. Once you have that knowledge, InDesign is a typographic dream come true—eliminating much of the effort.

It will take study

But then, you had to learn how to write, correct? Now you need to learn how to communicate. Here’s a good working definition of typography:

Typography is communicating clearly and effortlessly without the reader’s awareness of what you are doing

This is what InDesign does best. It gives you the ability to implement clean, clear typography that is instantly comprehended by the reader. Your readers do not even see the words. The content directly enters their minds and they become immersed in it.

You may write incredibly good content. Without excellent typography, you are giving your writing a handicap that many readers will have a difficult time overcoming.

Writing in InDesign gives you typographic power

You can use a subhead for clarity, a kicker to emphasize a headline or subhead, lists to recapture the reader’s attention, a sidebar for peripheral information, a table for overly complex lists, and much more. You can see on the page [as you write] how clearly the content is being communicated. It changes your book into an expression of your content. It provides the control you need to speak to your specific niche.

Basically writing in InDesign gives you tools that word processors have a hard time even imagining. You will find yourself using styles to make a portion of content more visible (or less visible). You will learn to communicate much more clearly.

When you’re done, it’s ready to print!

The final result of an InDesign document is a print-ready PDF or a validated ePUB. If you print on-demand, it can be in the hand of your reader in a week or less. If you produce an ePUB or downloadable PDF, they can have it to read this afternoon. A Kindle book might take another week. All from the same content.

I have done that with my latest book, Writing in InDesign. Currently, it’s available at Lulu and Amazon. I haven’t gotten to the ebook versions yet. I’d love to hear your feedback. Let’s talk on Twitter: @davidbergsland or on my blog.

David Bergsland‘sDavid Bergsland passion is typography, page layout, & book design. He’s written seven books published by others and helped with a few more. But the best part of the books for him were the six that he was able to design and produce in their entirety.

Since early in the millenium, he’s published dozens of books and booklets—his best-seller is self-published on-demand: Practical Font Design, now offered by FontLab in some of their bundles.

He’s been in print production since the late 1970s as an art director and then a teacher, and helped to develop some of the first materials to teach the new digital print paradigm in the early 1990s. David’s been teaching digital publishing since 1991 and began on-demand publishing with downloadable PDFs in the mid-1990s.

He was on the original team with InDesign 1 and has written many books and booklets on how to use InDesign effectively. After beginning to write full-time in 2009, he has become even more enamored of the page layout tool—doing all of his writing within the app.

He lives in southern Minnesota in a small town with his Pastor wife and near his daughter and four grandchildren.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Troy Deckert

    We can write in InDesign on auto flow or in story editor, or InCopy. The book file (.indb) has no index, but the .indd does. I formatted one book by Jake Seeger in Word. Here’s why to move beyond Word. (1) To get an author’s paperback copy for $4 printing + shipping. Sign up for free with KDP/Amazon to download your pdf and/or ePub. It has a cover app, or use InDesign, Canva, etc. (2) For about every $5 in commission from Amazon, you get $1 from a regular publisher, for the same pdf.

  2. Donna

    I found this video that explains why it’s good to use both Word and InDesign. There are apparently, pros and cons to both, which is why many authors use both.

  3. Stella Manessis

    I couldn’t design books in Word they were ugly and bland. I love InDesign and always will, it just makes everything look beautiful! I can’t understand how a publisher could think of using Word. For good book design and layout use InDesign hands down!

  4. Joe Z

    Recently, I read a nonfiction book by a very well-respected author. In his introduction, he made mention that he was thrilled to have been allowed by his publisher to do the page layout and design work himself–for many of the reasons you listed.

    Of course, the first thing I noticed was that the copy ran annoyingly far into the spine. He had set his margins on the inside and outside to be equal–as is the default in InDesign. It made for a frustrating read.

    There are designers out there who care about your content. Hire them.

  5. Elizabeth

    One other question:

    Is InDesign only available as a monthly subscription?

    • Gregory Hatfield

      Yes. $9.99 for one Adobe program per month.

  6. Elizabeth

    OK, I am reading through all this material – and there is a lot – so, as I continue to read, maybe someone can give me a quick answer.

    I am a new writer. I was going to start in Word but came across all this information that is making me change my mind. Will it be self published? I do not know. Will it have pictures? Maybe. I would like to focus on writing content and not so much typesetting, etc.

    Do you still suggest using InDesign? What other suggestions do you have?

    • Joel Friedlander


      To be honest, unless you are a typographer or a designer, there’s no benefit to using InDesign as a writing tool. Word is just fine, and is the word processor used by the vast majority of authors. InDesign functions best as a layout and output tool, you can create the text anywhere you like.

      • chandi

        Far better than Word is Scrivener. I wrote my first mansucript in Word before I knew about Scrivener. As soon as read what Scrivener can do, and read reviews of it, I knew it was for me. It makes a big difference and you don’t have to learn all of it at once. You can just get your chapters set up in it and start working in it and learn more about what it can offer you as you go. It is FAR SUPERIOR to working in Word or other standard word procesing programs.

        If you are ambitious about being totally DIY, you can get Indesign for the interior design of your book if you are going to publish… or you can hire a designer who uses Indesign, if and when you are ready to publish. But for writing the book, I say it is Scrivener all the way!

    • Theresa

      In Design is for marketing type stull. Learn Word and learn how to use Styles. Use the styles to control the text formats and the layout design for example-distance between paragraphs, page breaks etc. For example, don’t use the Enter key to space paragraphs. There is more but if you use styles you will undoubtedly start getting into the other important formatting items.

  7. Aaron Linsdau

    The philosophy of the article is quite interesting, as it gives the author perceived control of how the layout works. However, after publishing many books, my layout people would slit their wrists if they received ID files from authors. The Word/RTF files we receive at Sastrugi Press are littered with extra spaces, line feeds instead of carriage returns, “strange” invisible characters and all sorts of other mess.
    It’s very expensive to go to layout when the manuscript isn’t “finished”. It takes a lot of hours (read $$$) to fix all the widows, orphans, alignment issues, proper placement of page/paragraph breaks and the like. As a person, if you’re in editing mode (ID) you’re not in the writing mode. You can’t do both simultaneously efficiently.
    You’re much better off working on the flow of your story, fixing all the issues with it, then sending it to your publisher. As a writer, you do not make your money off of worrying about optical character alignment, the best font, how to create an index, how to format your TOC, etc. You make your money off of generating words for people to read. Just as layout artists probably aren’t good writers, the opposite is also true.
    If Sastrugi Press received a file in ID, we’d take a quick glance but likely reject it. We want our authors writing, not trying to lay out a book. Writers are good at writing. We work with all of our authors to make sure the book matches the author’s vision vetted against market realities.
    We need authors who write good works. Good writing takes a lot longer to do, so the sooner the author starts on the next book, the better off we are. Our layout staff can handle the technical minutia that an author really don’t care about but appreciates.
    We suggest authors write in Scrivener, as it’s a far more powerful tool for long form writing than Word. Word is miserable for moving paragraphs, chapters, pages, and sections of text. Scrivener makes this mindlessly easy. We don’t sell/sponsor/otherwise with Scrivener but once we get authors using it, they realize how much time they wasted with Word. Plus, Scrivener is much cheaper than Word, too.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Aaron, thanks for your comment, I couldn’t agree more, although David has a different take on this as do many of the commenters here. However, being at the receiving end of hundreds of manuscript files from authors over the years, my experience (and my advice to authors) is pretty much identical to yours: spend your time writing and talking to people about your writing (i.e. “marketing”) and leave the rest to others.

    • David Bergsland

      Hi Aaron,

      As a publisher, I agree with you. However, I make my money fixing author mistakes. On the other hand, there is a large and growing niche of authors who are writing and publishing several books a years using Word. Sooner or later, many of them realize that sending their Word files to Createspace, Kindle KDP, Draft2Digital, and all the rest gives less than satisfactory results. As they continue to produce these books, and become more professional self-publishers. In that process they want to learn how to produce good typography. In addition, there are a surprising number of new authors who were formerly graphic designers.

      My books (currently “Writing In InDesign CC 2014 Producing Books”) cover the basics of typography plus intermediate typographic paragraph design for professional book production. They also cover the design of ePUBs (and the conversion of print books to ePUBs) using the direct export capabilities of InDesign CC. You might well find that your layout artists would benefit from the content of the book—as this stuff is not taught in most design schools. It is the material I taught for my digital publishing degree which I offered at the college level from 1991 until 2009 in community colleges in Albuquerque and Minnesota. Many of my students were graduates with graphic design degrees who were never taught anything practical, and needed post-graduate help.

      Now that I’m supposedly retired, I offer these materials in book form—converting my old textbooks into up-to-date retail reading. Just as much of the content of my textbooks was unique to the educational marketplace, the same is true of my “Writing In InDesign” books in the self-publishing field.

      I have been pleasantly surprised at how large the niche is for authors wanting to go more professional. Plus, you are wrong about writing as you layout. It is an exhilarating, creative experience. It’s great fun and highly recommended.

      • Aaron Linsdau

        I think we’ll have to agree to disagree, David. I’m glad you find enjoyment in writing that way. When working on technical material, that’s worked for me. But the authors I’ve published would have never gotten to draft 1 if they worked on layout. Plus, their attempts at layout were bad at best.
        Working on layout while writing assumes you are writing every word perfectly. If you spend your time working on pretty, you’re not working on content.
        That said, I’m very glad someone is able to do both!

      • Gary Townsend

        I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deliberately used Adobe InDesign (or PageMaker, when it was called that) rather than Word. Word is clunky by comparison. And Word’s attempts at being a design-and-layout tool are simply laughable.

        Of course, it probably helps that I’ve studied design. Some of my study has been self-directed, but a couple of years I took several classes in design to complement my B.Sc. in Digital Media and Web Technologies degree (a fancy name for a web design degree).

  8. Bob Amon

    Okay folks, so it’s been a year since I posted here and I have completed my manuscript in InDesign (CS5.5). I converted the manuscript over from Word a year ago (see Oct 14, 2013 below) and have absolutely LOVED working in ID. And it’s true, it actually aided the content, being able to see the book in 6″x9″ layout.

    BUT…. here’s my huge problem now. Someone who has been published four times and who is quite savvy in helping people prepare for an
    Agent/Publisher is willing to give my MS a final look-over. I sent it to her in ID and she immediately emailed me to tell me IT HAS TO BE in Word!

    This person is willing to read it in it’s present (and wonderful) format, but claims I’m going to eventually have to bring it back to Word in Times New Roman 12 pt. with 1″ margins and double spaced, otherwise they cannot do their own editing, revisions, etc.

    I tried copying and pasting my manuscript from ID back to Word and it’s a complete disaster! Horrible! Chapter and sub-chapter fonts are wiped out, other alignments of text are helter-skelter, it is really, really ugly.

    I’m sure I can go back in, page by painful page, and try to make something of it, but this is a really upsetting turn of events.

    So, my question is, did I make a mistake using ID for a conventional publishing route? I understand using ID for ePub or self-pub, but has anyone else been advised of this (that submission thru conventional channels will be more than difficult if I leave it in its wonderful layout in ID)?

    It’s really painful to think of all the labor I put in for the past year. I’m hoping someone has a solution or at least can tell me if I’ve made a huge mistake or not. Thanks in advance for any comments/suggestions.

    • David Bergsland

      For traditional publishing, Word is all they take. They do not give you any formatting or layout input. You cannot do your own graphics, in most cases. They want raw copy to do with what they will.

      You should be able to select the content and export it as an RTF file. Then you can open that in Word. But the traditional publisher will wipe out all your formatting.

      However, you could self-publish from what you have very quickly.

      • Lynette

        Is Times New Roman 12 pt. with 1″ margins and double spaced remain as the publishing industry requirement today?Otherwise, what are the requirements? I know things change from time to time; as Bookman, which I used it in Pagemaker was once the required font. Are you still recommending ID today as well? Or has or did WriteNow 5 ever stolen your heart? I still own Pagemaker 7.0 and am wondering if it is compatible with Win 10. As I’ve read that it is still supported by Adobe. Any help here?

        • Joel Friedlander

          Lynette, I assume you’re talking about formatting a book proposal or a manuscript for submission. Since virtually all the articles here are about self-publishing, I don’t keep track of changes in submission guidelines. However, having said that I do recommend this book, this one, and this template set is likely to help also.

  9. Ben

    David, I fully agree that Word is a poor tool for many of the uses it’s put to, but I have an issue with this, presented as a statement of fact:

    “You must be able to create [and proof] in Postscript. This requires InDesign, Photoshop, and Acrobat Pro.”

    You don’t need any of those tools for either format. There are any number of other software packages which can do the trick. These are just your personal preference.

    • David Bergsland

      I have to agree, Ben. There are many who choose inadequate tools out of ignorance or a poorly conceived cost analysis. As long as you stick to simple novels and remain blissful ignorant about readability issues, these tools will do. For Kindle and Smashwords, their restrictions on formatting remove the possibility of excellent, readable ebooks. But there are better options, and even Kindle will have to catch up some day. But for print, you’re shooting yourself in the foot to use less than professional tools.

        • David Bergsland

          Now you’ve entered another world. I used to set phototype like this, by entering the commands into the text as I typed. I agree that are ways to get around the need for InDesign. But there are reasons why LaTeX or any of the TeX variants have never reached common use—they are too much coding.

          For the rare designer who can handle all that code, you are correct. But those people are very rare. It’s close to the kind of person who builds his or her car from scratch and does all the mechanical work. These people exist, but they are not common.

          My market is authors and designers who wish to work visually in a “WYSIWYG” environment. Just like there are people who argue that you must do everything in XML or LaTeX or whatever, my argument is that the control you get with InDesign is the best available and well worth the relatively minor expense. You can pay for your software with savings from one or two books produced for yourself or others.

          By writing and producing my books in InDesign I get amazing control over the readability and functionality of my book layouts. My editor works with PDFs. All my distributors accept direct output from InDesign [though Kindle and Smashwords are really retarded]. There are always other ways of doing things. But the write and edit in InDesign workflow enables me to release a new book in a day or two with virtually no hitches at a cost of zero. Unless I begin to use Lightning Source or another POD printing company this zero cost publishing seems to be the best choice. Even if I start to buy my own ISBNs, my only costs will be for ISBNs and proofs.

          InDesign CC 2014 is a major upgrade.

          • Victor Kaminski

            What do you think about using software by a company called Serif called PagePlus, I’ve used all Adobe products in the past for graphic design and layout, keep in mind I am not a writer or even an avid read unless it’s a manual.

            I’ve been a real estate instructor for several years now and wish to write a book to teach real estate. I don’t like any of the books available now, they all seem too wordy and tend to ramble with poor explanations and those with good explanations are BORING.

            My background is in marketing, programming, web development, server management and data processing so do keep up on the techie things and software alternatives when I came across Serif PagePlus x6 I think x8 is the latest version which seems to be able to do most of what Quarkxpress and PageMaker and now InDesign can do but including easy graphic editing and page flow in a much easier way without being an expert in layouts, graphic design and publishing suites and it’s only about $100 bucks.

            Check it out you may be pleasantly surprised, I think I’ll try writing my first book in it.

    • Aaron Linsdau

      I don’t recommend writing in anything that you have to worry about anything other than basic headings. You will be distracted by trying to make the text look good. Your main goal is to generate the text, making it read as well as possible. If you focus on trying to do layout, you’ll not work on the most important aspect of a book – content. We can all survive a semi-poor book layout. But no one can tolerate a poorly written book.
      We as Sastrugi press have received multiple submission of people who spent a lot of time formatting (in Word or whatever) and not enough time on their content. The words were a mess and the layout was even worse. So often, people end up with random unprintable characters all over the place and they don’t realize it.
      Yes, it’s very good to expand your mind and try book layout. Nothing wrong with it! This website is a treasure of knowledge of how to do that. But I’ve received 3 books self-published this week for review and they were in various states of a mess. From poor writing to bad layout to both. All detracted from the message the author was trying to convey.
      Stick to Scrivener (or Word if you have to) to write. Get the ms solid. Then, and only then, work on layout. It’s more efficient and you’ll get to a better book quicker. That is, a marketable, valuable book.
      Good luck!

      • Victor Kaminski

        Content is king and my main priority and then imagery which i do need some for show and tell examples.

        The books i use to teach now have horrible layouts by the publishing company and i do have experience with some design I’d like to try.

  10. Rosa Conti

    One quick question, if I may.

    I’m going to look into using my college student ID to get a discounted purchase of InDesign. (I’m 46, but and have returned to complete my degree) … anyway! Once I purchase it for my Windows laptop, what would you suggest is the best way to hit the ground running in learning this app? I know Photoshop, and back in the day, Dreamweaver and HTML too. So I’m quick to figuring things out and don’t want to prolong another moment by taking a course or reading a (too) detailed book.

    Any suggestions? (thank you!) :)

    • David Bergsland

      Sandee Cohen’s Visual Quickstart for InDesign is probably the best reference book for every ability in InDesign. She covers every command on every menu (with very few exceptions) plus she shows all the basic operations to get a document put together. My book assumes you know the basics (in most cases). also has a lot of short tutorials for free (on YouTube also).

      • Bruce Conway

        As with any society, there are only a few enlightened beings around who finally “realize”, and David is one of them. He gets it. He “knows”. He doesn’t have to go up into the Himalayas with his loin-cloth because he has already met God in his manifestation as a page-layout-word-processing application. If it’s words you want, then use BBEdit or Notepad or Notepad++ or some other text editor. Writing a book or thesis with Word. Poor you. Everything will look and feel just dandy at the start, but watch out down the road. We did warn you.

        Yes, Sandee’s books are good, but there is a better way – tutorial videos. Also, YouTube videos – lots of tutorials there. You can go back to the books later.

        As for writing with InDesign – I agree. Once you’ve learned InDesign you don’t even feel as if you’re distracting yourself from the real business of writing. Styles – easy, not a problem (and they stick). Images, captions, footnotes, running headers, index, table of contents – not a problem, and not a distraction from the real business of writing. Never a distraction and always good fun – once you’ve learned the program.

        The only gripe I have about paper books that purport to teach InDesign is that none of them ever give the keyboard shortcuts. (The videos always give you the shortcuts on the fly, as the video runs, plus they’re fun to just watch – without even having your computer nearby. In fact, some instructors recommend just watching first, then watch again later with computer handy).

        In fact, the real business of writing becomes much easier and more fun because you’re actually looking at a thing of precision and beauty, albeit one almost exactly like the final printed output. You’re no longer just “writing a book” you’re building up this lovely masterpiece. Writing is no longer boring. Writers-block moments can be filled with tinkering with InDesign. “Let’s see how this thing looks with drop-caps, running-headers, images, double columns.”

        InDesign – probably the eighth or ninth wonder of world. It gives you a fuzzy warm feeling. It makes you want to swim with dolphins or run naked through cornfields with your hair (what’s left of it after having to use “that word processor”) undulating in the soft breeze.

        MS Word? It makes your stomach drop and think of the trogladytes at work who force you to use it. It’s depressing, un-fun, horrible, exasperating, illogical, dictatorial, messy, misbehaved, cheeky, dominating, inadequate, hair-pulling, annoying, time-wasting, detestable, unfathomable, mean, cruel and ultimately useless for producing high-quality work that you can be proud of.

        Of course, videos also exist for Word and they’re very good. They make it look as though Word is wonderful creature, full of light and goodness. But, some of us, who are compelled to do precision work with beautiful layouts know only too well what a grumpy and ugly creature it really is. Time spent learning InDesign pays dividends – good and useful knowledge that you’ll use for the next twenty-five years.

        Time spent learning Word is really time wasted, except that technical writers like myself are forced to import .doc and .docx files and deal with them, so it helps to know some of the ropes.

        Blessings on David – a true yogi. A light to the benighted multitudes.


        • David Bergsland

          Thanks, Bruce, you made my day….

          About shortcuts: I don’t say much about them because all commands can have a custom shortcut. InDesign has more custom shortcut control than any app I know of.

          Most shortcuts are made for right-handed people. Being left-handed, I have developed a set of sinister shortcuts which work much better for me. Plus, I have many shortcuts I have used for over a decade which greatly improve production and writing speed (like the shortcuts for lowercase, all caps, title case, and sentence case). In addition, being Mac only, I have no idea about PC shortcuts, though I know they are greatly restricted by the cooption of the Alt key by the OS.

          Thanks again for the encouragement.

  11. Rosa Conti

    Oh my, I’m sold by these two sentences:

    “You can see on the page [as you write] how clearly the content is being communicated. It changes your book into an expression of your content.”

    This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I have a frustrating need to FEEL the words visually on the page and I’m excited to look into this.

    Thanks for posting!

  12. MS

    Oh my goodness. InDesign is clunky and restrictive.
    It may be useful for the self-publishing niche or in-house publications, but beyond that, I don’t see the appeal.

    • Dan

      Clunky and restrictive?? That comment shows your complete lack of knowledge about InDesign. Complex? Yes, at first. It takes time to master. And you still need knowledge of good design. But clunky and restrictive? Just the opposite. Once you master it, you won’t use anything else.

      • David Bergsland

        Exactly, Dan. It’s hard to explain this to a Word user. Once you get InDesign as a skill set, any word processor is almost impossibly clunky.

        • MS

          David, snide comments based on uncorroborated assumptions aside, if it’s ” hard to explain”, then you probably shouldn’t have written this article.
          Tell me though – have you ever written, say, a 100,000-word piece using InDesign?
          And having done so, go on to tell the publisher that you will be designing the layout and covers yourself?

          • David Bergsland

            Yes, I have. I’ve got a 230,000 word novel written in InDesign and published. “Writing In InDesign” comes in at 122301 with 285 graphics—written and published within InDesign. It would have taken months longer to do it in Word.

            The ease of writing while you are applying the formatting with keyboard shortcuts and automatic next paragraph styling is extremely effective and blindingly fast.

            I commonly do the roughing it out portion for fiction in Scrivener, but once I start actually writing the book and assembling the pieces, the speed and efficiency of InDesign has me writing in there very quickly. With the book appearing fully formatted before my eyes, I get a much better idea of how it will impact a reader, plus things I can do to improve the reader experience.

            It’s designed for assembling documents from pieces. I could never publish 4-7 books a year unless I was working in InDesign.

            My first six books were done with a traditional publisher and they paid me to do their finished artwork because I understood the new digital process better than they did. I actually made more money from the formatting than I did from the royalties for all six of those books.

        • Martin

          Hi Dan,

          I absolutely loved your post. As a Creative Cloud subscriber I will use InDesign right away to write my first book. I do not care about the steep learning curve, it is all about the journey. Great stuff that you are doing. Keep on doing it. Martin

      • David Bergsland

        No, I’m saying I was forced to work in Word on many occasions and got quite good at it, but it was always much more difficult to use and much slower. When you have learned InDesign please get back to me and tell me your opinion.

        • Bruce Cassidy

          Hi David – just saw this in your post: My first six books were done with a traditional publisher and they paid me to do their finished artwork because I understood the new digital process better than they did. I actually made more money from the formatting than I did from the royalties for all six of those books.

          In my experience, I am a musician, it seems that there is more money in facilitating than creating, be you an writer or composer. I point to music stores, teachers and publishers who are thriving and composers who are starving. I am now interested in writing and I see the same thing happening in this sphere; so many folks selling ‘How to Self-Publish’ and much other supportive material. Do you concur?

  13. David Bergsland

    You can make an anchored text frame which will be attached to the main copy. It would be a lot of work.

  14. Laura

    Hi David/Joel,

    I had just about given up on creating an eBook which has margin notes–essentially, I want to publish an English as a Second Language-friendly version of my novel for my old ESL students. Have you had any experience in successfully creating an ebook like this using inDesign? As it was I was considering just writing a stand-alone manual to be used for reference while the book’s being read.



    • David Bergsland

      Margin notes in an ebook would be very difficult unless you use the new Fixed Layout ePUBs from InDesign CC 2014. They can do it, but only iBooks and Kobo will distribute them. However, you could use a company like Gumroad to provide them as a download.

    • Aaron Linsdau

      Margin note books are difficult if not near impossible with ebooks. You can certainly create an iBook with the, but they won’t work well or at all on a Kindle, Kobo or Nook.
      The separate manual idea gives you 2 products to sell instead of 1. Plus, manuals have higher perceived value, putting them at a better price point even though they don’t (generally) cost any more to produce.

  15. Amedeo

    Hi Joel, first of all congratulations for your very interesting website! I’m planning to write my first book (music theory) and for various reasons I decided to do it myself and, after much research and information, I decided to use latex. How come your site is never spoken about latex?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks very much Amedeo, much appreciated. I’ve never covered Latex because I’ve never used it. Throughout my professional career I’ve had tools like Ventura Publisher, QuarkXPress, and now Adobe InDesign, so had no need for others. But there’s a lot of support for Latex on the web, and I’m sure with a bit of searching you’ll find plenty to help out.

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  17. Bob Amon

    This thread offers excellent points on both sides (purist writers vs. writer/designers). I have a non-fiction memoir based on a diary I kept in Vietnam in 1969, that I recently completed in Word. I also own Adobe Premium CS5.5, so just yesterday I was able to finagle the manuscript into InDesign. Several questions:

    David, you mention CS6 has several key upgrades. Do I necessarily need to spend the $570 Adobe is looking for to upgrade from CS5.5 to CS6? I suspect I can do without for now, unless you think otherwise.

    Also, I do still have some text editing to do, but also have photos and possibly maps, lists of military acronyms, indexes, etc. to insert. Would you recommend still working in Word to finish up or just totally leave it in the dust and get on with the new learning curve and “on the job training” of my InDesign.

    I do have experience in DW and PS, which are also steep learning curves, but have been able to launch three successful websites nonetheless. TIA for any input and advice!

    • David Bergsland

      For print, InDesign CS2 will do great! For ePUBs, CS6 is the first one to validate without cracking the file and messing with the code. But there were still major issues. You could not embed fonts, include a table, or do a decent list. With CC, font and lists now work easily with a direct export. Tables will still need more time and future releases. You don’t even need the plug-in from Kindle anymore as you can convert the CC ePUBs by uploading them directly into KDP.
      However, an ease of conversion from a complexly formatted non-fiction book to an ePUB almost requires InDesign and CC is only $20 a month for the subscription.
      For graphics, Word is a disaster.

      In a few words: Go for InDesign! You’ll be happy, especially when it can export ebooks as easily as it does PDFs. That should be coming within a year or so. So, that gives you a year to get up to speed. I’ll have a new book, “Writing In InDesign CC”, out before the end of the year, Lord willing.

      • Bob Amon

        Thanks David.

        I am wrestling with the learning curve as we type. This is a bit of a tough setup. I know I have the text in ID and that’s about all I know!

        I now have to familiarize myself with the paragraph and character styles and Master Pages and Lord knows what else before I can even think about proceeding with the nuts and bolts. But I do have Sandee Cohen’s InDesign CS5 and there are videos on You Tube which seem to be helping.

        I know in the long run I am better off switching now, before I get further along with Word. Not to be overlooked is the fact that there are intricasies in learning advanced Word too, which, at least for me at this point in my journey, would be time ill spent when I could be applying myself to learning the intricasies of ID. Thanks again and I’ll keep everyone posted…

  18. William James

    I publish an e-zine for kindle. I enjoy the process of putting books together. However, I am in the process of moving towards publishing booklets with a sadle stich binding. I don’t have the time to manually adjust for creep. Does InDesign have a function that corrects for margin creep so that when I execute the trim cut, the margins come out perfect?

    • David Bergsland

      Hi William, You take me way back to when I was an art director for a large commercial printer. To be honest, I haven’t worried about this issue for many years. The last time I checked, InDesign had a Build Booklet command which allowed for creep. I just went and checked. InDesign CC still has a command at the bottom of the File menu called Print Booklet… it has a creep setting for 2-up saddle stitch. If you are using signatures larger than 4-pages, the printing company will do the adjusting with their imposition software.

  19. C. Clark

    OK everyone I have read your comments, but for the rest of us that are working on a product with lots of photos, graphics, and text, and is on a very tight budget, and is limited to MSPublisher, MSWord, Acrobat, PS Elements….what is the easiest way to write, design, and publish a 200 page booklet?

    Also, the final booklet size will be 8 1/2 by 14 1/2

  20. C. Clark

    OK everyone I have read your comments, but for the rest of us that are working on a product with lots of photos, graphics, and text, and is on a very tight budget, and is limited to MSPublisher, MSWord, Acrobat, PS Elements….what is the easiest way to write, design, and publish a 200 page booklet?

  21. Alistair Smith

    I’ve got a great deal out of the article, but even more from reading the comments. Such a joy to see so many constructive inputs. I’ve written prolifically for ten years and have about 30 books ready to publish. I first published about 12 years ago and had a very bad experience – spending a lot of money on the advice of people I trusted only to discover that the project never had a hope. Now I’ve decided that I’ve just got to have creative control myself, so I’ve bought adobe CS-6 Creatove Suite and have had afirst go at setting up one of my books on it. I got to the end feeling great excirement only to find it did not work. So back to the drawing board. These comments have inspired me to try again and I’ll start with Sandee’s book. Thanks to all those who have shared their wisdom so this beginner can have the courage to fall over again – and again and.. until he gets it right.


    • David Bergsland

      There is a lot to learn. If you have any questions, after reading Sandee’s book, just let me know.

  22. David Howarth

    Hi David,

    I am student doing a distance learning design course and I have indesign l am attempting to write a study booklet on teaching English. Some content will be copied and pasted, but im planning on making the format and layout as interesting and easy to follow as possible, with tables, lesson planning, tasks, games etc. I would also like to create an e-version in time. I am a beginner, which of your books would be most suitable as a guide. “Publishing with Indesign” or “writing in Indesign”

    With Regards

    • David Bergsland

      Hi David,

      There is a new greatly expanded version of “Writing In InDesign Second Edition”. It has been updated for InDEsign CS6 (though it still works fine for CS5.5. CS6 is an important upgrade and the Amazon’s free Kindle Export plug-in was just updated again today.

      I would recommend the new book. The reviews have been good. It’s available at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. By next week, ePUB and PDFs versions will be released for iBooks, NookBooks, Kobo, and Scribd. Let me know if you have any questions.

      • David Howarth

        I’m starting out and I have looked at adobe tv but cant seem to work with that whilst working on indesign at the same time, I guess theres still a place for hard copy. Ive just purchased both of the books but not the second edition you mentioned, I looked at that and thought it perhaps in advance for my project. Thanks for your help and I am looking forward to the books and starting work on indesign. In your experience how long do you think it would take someone to utilise and organise indesign if a person is still learning the proposed content for the publication. I really want to make a start and when i open indesign it looks pretty blank and feels hard to get to know, but i’ve had it with word its like making bricks but you cant build a building.



        • David Bergsland

          For that basic entry stuff, nothing is better than Sandee Cohen’s Visual Quickstart for InDesign. It answers all the basic questions you seems to be asking. My book assumes you know a little.

    • David Bergsland

      Writing In InDesign for the version of InDesign you are using. I have one for CS6, one for CC 9.2, and one for CC 2014.

  23. Summer Said

    Hey there! InDesign and the entire CS5 suite that I use is indispensable. I write all the time and haven’t touched Word since the 90’s. It’s an antique if not a completely obsolete writing platform that offers no creative control. And if there is anything writers and artists alike MUST have, is creative control! I have several manuscripts in the works and all are being done in InDesign. Transitions from PS to ID are a breeze and the finished work is professional and beautiful. I couldn’t do without either. Thanks for this post. Not much info about writing in ID. Cheers!

  24. M. Gutmann

    I have used QuarkExpress for more than twenty years for design jobs, but Word for writing. I see your point in using InDesign and it makes great sense. BUT I have just bought the program and a new Mac and can’t find a book that will take me thru simple work. For example, I set up an oversize newsletter as a test and drew in text boxes as I would in Quark (I know they don’t call them that in InDesign) and I am stuck. I would link them and roar on from there, but I am flummoxed.

    The program had no book with it and I see no tutorials. I will not use a template, I make my own, and I am at a loss. I looked at books and they were complex and confusing. Will your book “Writing in InDesign” help? I haven’t looked at one of the “For Dummies” books.
    Thank you

    • David Bergsland

      Hi M,

      Yes, my book should help quite a bit. A new greatly expanded version of “Writing In InDesign” will be out when CS6 is released and Adobe is now offering free upgrades to CS6 (so it should happen within a month).

      Sandee Cohen’s Visual Quickstart covers all the commands and is excellent. David Blatner wrote a book to help people converting from Quark to InDesign.

      If you know Illustrator, that should help you understand the tools better.

      I assume you just took the type tool and drew a box. InD calls them frames. Any frame can graphics or type. A frame that is not determined can have text added to it by simply double-clicking in the box with the text tool.

      If you fill a text frame and it overflows, a small square with a red + symbol in it will appear at the bottom right edge of the frame. If you switch to the Selection tool (the black one) you can click on that plus to load the overflow type into your cursor. Then you can simply click-drag to produce a newly linked frame. Or you can move the cursor over the upper left corner of the next frame and a link graphic will appear.

  25. David Bergsland

    Actually, they are very different. The PSDs are needed for the 300 dpi CMYK images, or even the 300 dpi greyscale images. The JPEGs, GIFs, and PNGs need to be using Save For Web through Photoshop to get the files optimized for the Web with the smaller file sizes. And JPEG, GIF, and PNG all toss a lot of data.

    So, bitmaps for print are very different from the web images in the exported ePUBs and Kindle books. But they both need Photoshop IMHO. Even the conversion from CMYK to RGB or vice versa needs PS. And the CMYK images should be converted to 300 dpi RGB for the downloadable PDFs.

  26. Thomas Thomassen

    Very interesting article. I love working with graphics and typography and I got an idea for a book – niche topic. This article was very useful.

    There was a comment I stumbled on though:
    “You’ll need Photoshop. JPEGs, GIFs, and PNGs won’t work”
    This is comparing oranges and trees. Photoshop produces JPEGs, GIFs and PNGs – and it’s native format PSD is bitmap data – no different from JPEG, GIF and PNG. The fileformat is just the carrier of the data – so what that statement?

  27. Brandon Morris

    Interesting article! I’m working with my trial edition of InDesign now as we re-write our book. This book was first written in word, then converted to AuthorIt by a contractor. We used word, then they converted it to Author it…that didn’t work well. Started working with a contractor that uses InDesign…did a complete update to our manual this way but it was linked to pdfs in InDesign…this was great for a bit, but for updating the manual again it’s not working. So NOW we are learning InDesign for ourselves in order to facilitate this update…this book is 450 pages with computer screenshots on almost every page if not multiple.

    Glad I saw your article and your website.

    • David Bergsland

      Let me know if I can help. That’s the type of books I do in most cases, also.

  28. Katherine Owen

    This is a fascinating idea. I’ve used Adobe InDesign for my print versions of two of my novels and utilized the Kindle plug-in for the Mobi versions. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it; the books turned out great.

    I’m intrigued with the idea of working in InDesign from beginning. Word does introduce all kinds of nuances that make it difficult from a e-pub formatting perspective later on. And, there’s something to be said for organizing the book (print or e-book) from a reader’s perspective from the very beginning. Thanks for the post; you’ve gotten this writer excited to try something different!


    Katherine Owen

    • David Bergsland

      Excellent! That’s one of the reasons I started. I was spending a ridiculous amount of time eliminating what was done in Word before I could start formatting.

  29. Paul Brookes

    Joel–I see where you’re coming from, but in my experience, I would have been happiest if authors had supplied text in HTML or ASCII text.

    It’s the most flexible if you need to create a typeset book, an ePub file *and* a Kindle file. If you can get the author to use MS Word styles, then there are ways of converting it to HTML (and without using the terrible Save As Webpage option in Word).

  30. Rich Shields

    Howdy. I self-published my mother’s autobiography six years ago. I really started in Word 6 (Mac) in 1999, but things went crazy quickly. I then wrote in Nisus Classic. Finally as I was looking to pull it together, I found Papyrus (Mac and Windows available). It was rick solid, and I continued writing and doing page lay out in Papyrus. It worked like a charm, handling about 100 photos and I did all final PDFs using Papyrus. Unfortunately the English version of Papyrus has not been touched/updated in six years (the German version was substantially upgraded three years ago).

    Some of my handouts, etc. for teaching have included some Hebrew, and so Mellel has been my tool of choice for printing. About three years ago I bought Adobe CS4 Premier Collection (Acrobat Pro, Bridge, Device Central, Dreamweaver, Drive, Fireworks, Flash, Illustrator, InDesign, Media Player, Photoshop), and have played some with InDesign, but never thought about using InDesign for the whole process. I edit our national church magazine, but do little of that in InDesign, since we have someone who handles that portion. If I don’t use Hebrew, then there might be a potential. I will have to reflect and consider what you have written.

    • David Bergsland

      I’m on the edge of learning Hebrew myself. Haven’t gone there yet. Let me know your thoughts, please. I’m writing an expanded version for Rabbis and Ministers and including some of the drawing capabilities and more of InDesign. I know there is a version that works in Hebrew. Going back and forth would be a bit tricky, I would think.

  31. Carradee

    While that’s interesting, I disagree that everyone should use InDesign. :)

    I write in Scrivener, which is an extremely flexible program I use for everything: blog posts, novels, and articles. It can also be set up for “Page View” reflect book layout—which can even be done in Microsoft Word, though not well.

    Now, when I’m putting together a handout or résumé, I’m apt to do the writing and layout together, right in Pages. I’ve fiddled with Scribus for producing book layouts, but it’s really overkill. I can format a book’s innards on my Mac with MS Word, if necessary. It won’t be fun, but it’s doable.

    But I do agree that writers should be more aware of text layout. I include myself in that judgment.

  32. James

    I worked as a technical writer for over 15 years, and used too many tools to count. I’ve used every version of InDesign, Quark, FrameMaker, Word, etc.

    InDesign isn’t a great (or inexpensive) tool for writers. I’m talking about writers as people who mainly write words–novels, short stories, other (primarily) text works. Using InDesign for that is like using a 15-speed riding mower with a cabin and air conditioning to mow your 10×10-foot yard. The payoff just isn’t there.

    Textbook authors? Documents with a lot of graphical elements or an unusual form factor or layout? That’s a different animal, and relies more on layout and visual design than text content. For that, InDesign is a more appropriate tool, I think.

    And though I don’t use Word for my own work now (or recomment Office), I’ve used 2007 and 2010 to do amazing things with layout on long documents. 2010 is especially robust, and the most user-friendly product Microsoft’s ever created (there aren’t many).

    I agree that writers today (depending on their goal) will need to become more savvy about publishing tools. But for self-publishers, for example–most of whom are plain genre fiction novelists–text and a cover is what they’re after. For them, understand typography and white space a bit better are probably better goals.

  33. Richard Hurley

    I’ve been using Pages for writing of late. The only real advantage I ever found in Word was the macros – also the only feature I ever met in WP software that could bring down an entire Mac system.

    It is definitely worth leaving some editing time for InDesign, even if you don’t really author there. It is a lot easier to edit a “typeset” page – catch a lot more typos and really “see” the prose rhythm in manageable chunks. The only weakness I found (besides the difficulty of co-operative editing noted above) is that InDesign’s print dialog is pretty rough, which is a real drag if you like to proof hardcopy. (Five versions of CS and still no print-the-current-page-damn-it button? Am I missing something, or is Adobe simply being perverse?)

    I wish InDesign could really cut and paste fluidly from Word or Pages, but overrides to character and paragraph styles don’t seem to travel well. My experiments in this regard led to a lot of re-entering of italics.

    Writing (or editing) in ID seems to be a really case- and writer-specific matter. I can understand some folks not liking the idea (or backing away from ID’s learning curve), but I really enjoyed being able to make typographic issues go away by adding or deleting a word, say. And it is great fun to try and sneak in a few of your own ideas about how stuff should be printed. Prescriptivism has its place, but language is a cooperative cultural effort (as is the effort to capture visually). It’s okay to experiment, so long as you’re willing to take your licks if people don’t care for your ideas.

  34. Anthony StClair

    A great concept, but very much in the one-size-doesn’t-fit-all category. I can see the value of learning In Design, but not as my default drafting tool. At the drafting stage of an any piece, I’m concerned with getting the content set. Format varies depending on where it’s going (newspaper, print, web, etc.). To me, these are secondary parts of the process. I wouldn’t want to draft in In Design, setting things up stylistically, than I would want to put off writing my lead paragraph by writing a stylesheet first.

    I’d also turn this on its head. Authors will very well benefit from getting their hands dirty in the design process and understanding it better . It’s a shame that, from the sound of the piece, designers don’t have a similar motivation to better understand the particulars of the copy their designing around.

    • David Bergsland

      & how did you decide that? I am highly motivated to understand the particulars of my copy—huff, huff, defense posture… ;-)

      I don’t find anything but InDesign fluid enough for my work. Plus, unformatted copy has many bad associations with me. I cannot shake the bureaucratic look of it all.

      • Joel Friedlander

        That’s interesting. I have the opposite response to unformatted copy. It allows me to see the words, the ideas, the writing itself. I have many templates I’ve designed over the years that you would probably laugh at, even one in InDesign. They render everything unformatted (and in monospaced fonts!). My association with unformatted copy is “original manuscript,” and has almost all positive associations.

        • Anthony StClair

          Part of where I come from is looking at unformatted, straight-up copy helps me focus on the story. No gussying up, nothing getting hidden in design. The story has to be right, and for me that works great in either Pages or TextWrangler.

          Another reason is simple: just as every designer isn’t a word person, not every writer is a design person. I can technically learn InDesign, and have done design and layout (many, many moons ago), but I also know design isn’t one of my strengths. If I have to choose between using my time and energy to get the story right, or to faff about in InDesign, I’m going with getting the story right. Design can follow once the story is ready.

          Like Joel, I love unformatted copy. To me it’s raw material. Once the story is ready, the design helps bring it to its full potential, be that through stylesheets for web, or inside InDesign for print.

          And as for you understanding your copy, I totally agree. But as you said, there are designers who wouldn’t be, because they’re designers, not writers.

        • David Bergsland

          Sorry to be so long, my daughter got married yesterday. @Anthony too

          I’m sure that part of it is that the only book I ever did for a publisher where I could not work fully formatted (one of the biggies), was ruined by the people at the publisher who formatted the word docs for a book on InDesign with Ventura and made the book so incomprehensible typographically that all I could do with my own book in my classes was apologize and use it as a bad example. The illustrations were never on the same page as the copy that talked about the graphic and all the things I hate about poorly done non-fiction. The graphics are part of the read and must be where they make sense in the copy—for me.

          All the other books I did traditional (one of the largest textbooks publishers), I did all the writing, formatting, graphics, fonts, and final PDF. I was fortunate enough to be writing about digital production before the publisher had gone digital themselves. I had to do the fonts, because the things I was writing about typographically were not possible with the fonts I had (like how can you talk about small cap figures if you do not have a font with small cap figures to show what they look like within the paragraph your readers are digesting?)

          As a student of readability, typography, and page layout, what I teach all my students is that unformatted copy is so hard to read that a lot of the content is missed.

          We’re all different, even in stuff like this. If I’m writing, I think in terms of illustrations, emphasis, and the like. Without it, the copy is monotone dull. I need the illustration, table, chart, photo, whatever, completed and in place before I can continue. So, my graphic production is part of my writing.

          Even with my novel, I could not go on until I had the hero’s home and workshop drawn up and inserted into the story where it made the chapter come alive. When the invasion happened, I needed the map of troop movements there—both to refer to, and to remind myself—as I wrote. For the future fantasy I’ve been working on for years, I had to do the maps (to keep the fictitious names straight if nothing else), design the organizational structure of the palace and the like to make the story work. If I need to communicate graphically to the reader, I do so in context, within the copy. Thankfully, InDesign is also my favorite illustration tool (well, FreeHand 8 or 9 was, but they’re gone).

          It’s just a different way of working that I find immensely fun and very satisfying. But then I’m not a great writer or artist. I just fumble along trying to communicate with my readers as clearly as possible.

  35. Sue Collier

    I’m a writer with a design background so I’m well familiar with both Word and InDesign, and when I first read this article yesterday, my initial reaction was No way! But as I’ve thought about it, I’m really intrigued at the idea. Like many people, I despise Word–and the idea of not using it for book writing (I’m working on a book right now) sounds very appealing. But also very alien. Great article. Great food for thought. Thanks, David.

    • David Bergsland

      I got started when I was still teaching. I was doing tons of 1-4 page handouts—fully formatted. It would have been absurd to work outside of InDesign (they were for my digital publishing courses in what is now called the Creative Suite).

      It got to be so comfortable, that when I started self-publishning my books, InDesign was the only app I considered. I can’t stand the frustration of working in Word now. If that’s what they require, I write in InDesign, export in RTF, open in Wurd, and resave as a Word doc.

  36. Joel Friedlander

    I know several authors/designers who use InDesign for text entry, but this is obviously an area where one size does not fit all.

    My workflow is almost completely the opposite. I do all my draft writing now in low-distraction environments, which I’ve written about often here here and here.

    I do this specifically to avoid the fonts, formatting, spacing, styling and everything else that comes with those functions. With monospaced fonts and nothing else to do but write, I’m much more productive.

    I use Word for editing simply because it’s quite capable and fast and it’s a program I don’t have to learn. Then it’s off to InDesign for design and formatting.

    Each step of this process pleases me because I have a tool that does exactly what I want it to do, and each mindset (for me) is totally different. Creativity at the beginning, synthesis and refinement in the middle, and graphics at the end.

    • David Bergsland

      For me I need the formatting to develop the book. A book is a synergistic gestalt for me, much larger than the sum of its parts.

      Working in InDesign makes creating a book fun.

    • DR Bill McGraw

      Yes I totally agree. Get the writing down, perfect the content and then focus on formatting. I am a PHD working on a health/science book. I think these answers follow two different lines of thought.

  37. Diana Delosh

    Great article and exactly my sentiments. I’m an illustrator/writer hemming and hawing about self publishing an e-picturebook. Most of the tutorials out there seem to address authors and making word docs into PDFs etc. I was thinking that I’d rather just use In-Design or Quark or even Photoshop, anything but the clunky Word program to layout a book.

  38. Dave Bricker

    As a longtime designer, MFA Design educator and author, I agree wholeheartedly with most of the article. InDesign is the obvious choice for typesetting, layout and design but I would not encourage the use of InDesign as a writing tool. I also agree that the impersonal, corporate editing process you describe is not conducive to creating great results. The “right” editor is passionate, informed and engaged in a collaborative process with the writer.

    As a self-publisher on a budget, I crowdsource my editing. I have ten friends who have agreed to read and comment on one chapter per week. Some are University Professors. Others know the settings and scenarios. Some are just readers whose opinions I trust. By combining their feedback, I get technical and qualitative feedback that one editor alone could never provide.

    InDesign is the wrong tool for that collaborative process. There is much to hate about MS Word; I wouldn’t use it for typesetting but it has better spelling and grammar checking than InDesign and it has fantastic annotation and commenting capabilities. Moreover Word docs can be uploaded to Google Docs or (you gotta check this out) where they can be shared, annotated and commented on by others invited to do so.

    At issue is whether we should eliminate the distinction between the manuscript and the typeset book. Graphic designers have the luxury of doing that, but the average writer is best encouraged to hack away in Times New Roman. Every time a client tries to get fancy with the typography, it means a lot of my time will go into making repairs. Turning Joe Writer loose with a power tool like InDesign is dangerous.

    I do my writing in StoryMill (Scrivener looks like a great alternative – Thanks, Joel). When my draft is finished, I export to MS Word and begin the editing process. When the editing is done, I import into InDesign and make it all look great. Each tool offers unique advantages to its particular part of the process.

    Things we already know how to do are easy. As a designer and a writer, I imagine I share with you a certain inability to separate the writing from the appearance of the type that embodies it. Word frustrates me, and the need to hold back and not manipulate the text typographically in it does, too. But I just received a manuscript from a client who typed each chapter of his memoir into an email and sent it all to himself(!) I’ve since introduced him to Open Office, but you get the idea. This is not an uncommon scenario. I have enough trouble gettng my graduate students to set indents and tabs.

    If you are writing and editing your own work and have the skills, you’ll undoubtedly find that writing in InDesign offers the fastest route to a finished product. However, when counseling those who don’t understand optical margins or don’t know not to type a double-space after a period (the majority of writers), you’re aiming mighty high. Moreover, while there are some ineffective editing processes and policies out there, they don’t negate the value of a good editor to the most accomplished writer.

    I love InDesign and join you in your advocacy of it as a brilliant tool, but would counsel the average reader of a self-publishing blog to stick to the basics and leave the prettying-up to someone better qualified like yourself.


    Dave Bricker

    • David Bergsland

      I crowd source the editing/proofing with PDFs. I find it really helps to have them looking at a formatted book.

      I’m working on some simple templates to bring in the paragraph styles et al that I advocate.

      It does take some work. But it is fun, exciting work (and you never have to look the horrible interface of Word again ;-).

    • Randy

      I use Scrivener for my writing because it is designed specifically for writing. My writing performance increased significantly after switching from Word to Scrivener. In fact, writing became pleasurable. Before Scrivener I was using Word and never realized how much it’s interface and spell check broke my concentration.

      However, having said that, I also agree with Dave that the “Track Changes” functionality of Word is a hands-down winner when I get to the editing stage. I tried crowd source editing and it was miserable. I found that, no matter how much education someone had, there are some people that just have an innate knack for finding errors. I’m not one of those. I switched to a professional editor for my last two books and she is well worth every penny. I pay around 6 or 7 cents per word, depending on the length of the book. Even then she still misses things. When she’s done, it’s only then that I send it out to friends for their analysis. Now they only have to pickup the few strays.

      Now onto InDesign. I don’t know that app so I’m buying a copy to give it a try. Why? Because MS Word simply gets overwhelmed when you create a complex book with lots of example graphics of multiple sizes. Trying to get one into the right position is one thing – keeping there is another. After about 100 pages the file size seems to get too large and the files start to corrupt, scrolling is nearly impossible at times (when you approach large images), and changes to anything can produce some very unusual and unwanted effects at times. I’m often having to go into the imbedded codes to clear out section breaks left-over bullets, etc.

      On my next project I want to produce a book that is tabloid size. I have lots of large graphics that have fine details that need the space. I would really like a software tool that could handle columns elegantly, and be able to manage layout of images better.

      Let’s hope that InDesign works.

      I bought your e-book just now from Lulu, so I’ll give it a read and see how much trouble I’m in for.

      Cheers, Randy

      • David Bergsland

        It sounds like the tool you need. I just posted on why I went back to Fontographer to design my fonts. I had the same reason you have for Scrivener—it made font design fun again. Creating books is what I do and Fontographer really helps without sidetracking me into work.

        It’ll take some work to make InDesign do what you want (learning typography will take a bit of study), but my guess is that shortly you’ll be directly importing your copy from Scrivener into your book constructed in InDesign. I suspect Word will become a distant bad memory. If I can help in any way, just let me know.

    • Zaid Salman

      Actually, Adobe InCopy, which seems to be well-kept secret even in the publishing world, is exactly the solution for collaborative work with InDesign. You can have a designer do the book layout in InDesign, and all the people writing the copy for the book can use InCopy and don’t have to think about the layout, type or anything else. They could if they wanted to, but it’s not necessary.

      • David Bergsland

        I would agree except that this assumes that you are already in a contractual relationship with someone you are paying to format your copy. My focus is on people who are formatting their own work. But if you are in a relationship with a formatter/book designer and are producing a lot of books, this would be a good solution.

  39. Darby

    This is a great article David. I want the freedom and control you describe but really doubt my skills in working in this program. I plan to check out your book. Thanks so much!

    • david Bergsland

      It takes a bit of getting used to, but most people love it pretty quick.

  40. Michael N. Marcus

    I’ve tried InDesign three times and quit three times. It seems to have a very steep learning curve, so I keep going back to MS Word. After formatting over 20 books I’ve learned to live with Word’s annoyances. Word does what I want it to do, and my books are getting better and better. OTOH, one of the ugliest books I’ve ever seen was formatted with InDesign.

    Maybe I need InDesign lite, like Adobe’s Photoshop Elements.

    Michael N. Marcus (information, help and book reviews for authors) (pre-publication book assessments)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

    — coming soon: “STINKERS!: America’s Worst Self-Published Books”

    • David Bergsland

      This is why I wrote the book—to help with the paradigm shift. It does take study and learning, just as writing itself does.

      It is true that if you are writing fiction or simple non-fiction with no graphics Word might do OK. But the typography is always going to be severely compromised because Word just can’t do it. It takes much more typographic knowledge to beat Word into submission than to produce excellent typography and good book design in InDesign. But it does take work and practice.

      If you can find it in yourself to make the effort you’ll reap the rewards unless you are doing very simple books.

  41. Ryan Bradshaw


  42. David Bergsland

    I have a hard time understanding how they can put up with Word. But that’s just me. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  43. Margot Heesakker

    Hallelujah; I’ve been saying the same thing to my journalist / writer friends for YEARS, and get blank stares and digi-frightened ‘oh no I couldn’t possibly’ expressions. For practical reasons alone, writing into the lay-out is best; but the fun of working with different fonts, effects, style elements is for me the most important reason; it just makes me happy.
    Thank you David!

  44. Paul Salvette

    Thank you for this article. I have a small bit of experience with InDesign at my day job, but I’ve never tried laying out an actual print book. In regards to EPUB, how smooth is the conversion from InDesign to EPUB?



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