Book Design & Page Layout Software: A Guide for DIY Authors

by | Nov 8, 2010

You’re an author, and you want to self-publish. After all, the juice seems to be flowing toward self-publishers, more authors are rethinking their approach to publishing, and new opportunities seem to be opening up to self-publishers every day.

The indie spirit in self-publishing leads lots of authors to want to take ownership of the entire process of book making, not just the writing. For most people trying to create a truly professional-looking book, the best solution will be to simply hire a professional.

But there’s no reason you can’t produce a reasonable-looking book if you’re willing to put in the time and educate yourself about books, and about the software you’ll use to create your book.

Here’s a guide to help you get oriented to this task if you decide to do it yourself.

tbd book layout template cta2

Guide to Book Design & Page Layout Software

There are three levels of software generally available to you if you decide to go the do-it-yourself (DIY) route:

  1. Word processorsMicrosoft Word has long had a chokehold on the word processing market due to its complete domination of the corporate environment. And don’t forget all those PCs that came with MS Office pre-installed on them.

    Most people use Word, and we also have the useful open source Open Office that reads and writes Word files, too. Other choices in this range include Apple’s Pages; Storyist and Scrivener, word processors that are also story development tools; Word Perfect, the old PC warhorse still in production, and a host of others. These are the programs writers are most familiar with, and in which you’ve probably spent the last couple of years writing your book.
  1. Layout programs—Since the advent of “desktop publishing” programs have been available that perform the functions usually taken care of by a layout artist.

    Now we have programs like Adobe InDesign and Quark Xpress to perform these functions. They allow you to bring together all the parts of a publication and manipulate them, then output the resulting job to a variety of devices for reproduction.
  1. Hybrids—There is also a midrange type of software that attempts to combine the word processing functions with layout functions. For instance, Microsoft Publisher is popular for flyers, business brochures and similar projects, and there are a lot of templates available to make creating jobs easier.

    Likewise, Apple’s Pages is really a hybrid and can be used either as a word processor or as a layout engine, depending on the type of document you create. This category is showing the most growth in recent months, with more programs coming onto the market that attempt to be “all things to all people.”


    Now Pages offers EPUB output, as does Storyist. Any program that provides a clean word processing environment as well as the ability to combine text, graphics and output to reproduction devices might fall into this category.

Which Option is Right For You?

It’s pretty seductive to use your word processor for putting your book together. After all, you’re already familiar with the program and that should save you a ton of time. But a word processor is a poor choice for some kinds of books:

  • Illustrated books—It can be very frustrating to try to position graphics with any precision in a word processor. These programs usually lack sophisticated color-handling also, limiting their use for illustrated books.
  • Heavily formatted books—The more formatting involved, like sidebars, pull quotes, tables, charts, illustrations and anchored graphics, the less appropriate a word processor is as a layout solution.
  • Typographically sophisticated books—Word processors do not have the very fine typographic controls you find in sophisticated layout programs. And hyphenation and justification of text simply will not look as polished as it would in dedicated software.

Pros and Cons for Each Type of Software

No matter what you choose to use as a vehicle to publish your book, there are tradeoffs. They are not always apparent, and might not affect you from day one of your project, but before you lock yourself into one solution or another, consider these:

  • Word processors, Pro and Con
    • Pro: You already know how to use it
    • Pro: The least expensive of the three alternatives, particularly if you already own it.
    • Pro: The shortest learning curve of the three types of programs
    • Con: You may not know how to use the functions you’ll need to do your book.
    • Con: Get ready to be frustrated if you’re trying to do exact placement of images on your pages
    • Con: Your options to output your pages may be severely limited, and you’ll have no support for color corrections, color calibration or many other advanced functions needed for some kinds of books.
  • Hybrids, Pro and Con
    • Pro: Less expensive than dedicated layout programs.
    • Pro: Easier to learn than dedicated layout programs.
    • Pro: Pre-built templates are available to get you started.
    • Con: Compromised functions of both word processors and layout programs may fail to satisfy or give the range of options of either type of program separately.
    • Con: Idiosyncratic. These programs may use “dumbed down” functions and language to describe the processes in an attempt to appeal to the widest variety of users.
    • Con: You may be frustrated by the availability of some, but not all, the functions of a higher-level layout program.


  • Layout programs, Pro and Con
    • Pro: You get complete control of your pages, with precise placement of all elements.
    • Pro: Robust support for output to all kinds of reproduction devices from low-end to high-end reproduction
    • Pro: Huge market of add-on and supplemental programs that supply even more functionality to these programs, and integrate with image editing functions as well.
    • Con: These babies are expensive to buy, and if you will only do one book, it may be hard to justify the expense.
    • Con: If you haven’t used this type of software before, get ready for some intensive training. And you can start by trying to figure out what a “pica” is.
    • Con: The variety and precision of commands and functions can be overwhelming for new users.


What kind of software you end up using to do your book will rely on lots of factors. But generally speaking, I would recommend:

  • Word processors if you’re on a budget, if your book is basically running text without much formatting, or if you only want to print up a few books for private use. You can dedicate yourself to learning how to manipulate these programs into producing a decent-looking book, but it may not be the best use of your time. Microsoft Word remains my choice here.
  • Hybrid programs if you’re willing to pay a few dollars for software that will give you a lot more flexibility with page layout, effects, placement of non-text elements. And if you are only a casual user, these programs will be easier to learn. I’m impressed with Apple’s Pages for layout and output to EPUB.
  • Page layout programs if you foresee doing more than one book a year, you like the idea of learning printing terms and procedures, or if you want to have complete control of an illustrated or heavily-formatted book. Keep in mind that the first books you produce will still look like first efforts. Plan to devote time to learning the software with some kind of training before diving into your project. Standards here include Adobe InDesign and Quark Xpress.

And if you do decide to design and produce your own book, check out the Understanding Fonts & Typography page on this blog. It will give you a leg up in getting your book to press.

tbd book layout template cta2


  1. Sara Frankel

    Dear Joel,
    I have a book of poetry (30) poems. I am working on the illustrations
    because I was an artist long before I became a writer. When I got a
    formatter to put the script and illustrations together I was horrified.
    It was a design disaster.
    Then I got the great idea, I thought, that if I redid all the illustrations
    and used paper the exact size of the book 8.5 X11. I would be golden.
    Something is telling me I am heading in the wrong direction.
    My question. Can you recommend a designer to me who is honest,
    does a good job and will give me a fair price. I will provide all the
    illustrations and what I want is someone who can take them and do a really good layout so that say, the page needs more sky, or grass or whatever, they can step in and give it a good design look. Do you know what I mean? And can you tell me someone you actually know, or know their reputation. (I have seen a lot of bad reviews online for o-desk is that it? I can’t remember.
    Hope I hear from you.

  2. Joel Friedlander

    Sorry for the inconvenience. When you get this alert, look at the bottom of the message for the “unsubscribe” or “manage your subscriptions” link and you’ll be able to cancel it.

  3. Stephen Tiano

    Actually, no, there aren’t many people doing even marginally decent typesetting without using professional typesetting software. Now, some of that software may be open-source, but not that many people get it right with those packages. It’s all well and good to make it sound like self-publishing can be done as a cheap, DIY project. But then that’s what such books tend to look like. Most people would do well to learn a piece of software such as InDesign or Quark. These are not ad nauseum excuses, but 20 years of experience making books and far longer reading them.

    • P.R.E.Z.

      Well. Seems I’ve struck a nerve.

      What you said….that’s an amazing statement. Quite amazing that you know the full gamut of every book that’s out there and the full scope of the whole publishing industry on such a minute level to make a broad, all encompassing, blanket statement like that. All within 20 years. That is impressive. It’s ambitious. It’s also delusional but we’ll overlook that.

      I’m just going to politely disagree without having to put up any kind of credentials and just referencing what I referenced before: that there are many people who are doing it themselves, doing it well, and doing it consistently without InDesign. It is what it is.

      You’re really not saying anything different than what I’m saying. I never said do it cheap. I said the opposite actually. I said to educate yourself and do the work. Cheap is not the same as inexpensive and I don’t suggest anyone do anything cheap when it comes to book design or writing. But you can do it inexpensive if you’re willing to take the time. And since the learning curve is huge in InDesign, it’s probably a good idea to start small and work up since most DIYs are writers trying to publish their books, not designers. They don’t have to break the bank to do it either and to suggest that they do in order to do it right is just elitist garbage. I’ve seen things done by incompetent designers (probably some of those books you mentioned) in InDesign so again, it’s not the software, it’s the designer. They have to learn just like…well…other designers.

      I have no horse in the race here. I simply know what I know. It’s hard work but it can be done. Some people find they can’t do it and hire someone. Great. Some people find they can do it and put out some real good stuff. Fantastic. But there is no one size fits all. It’s finding what works for the individual and mastering it to get the results they want.

      • Joel Friedlander

        There’s no question that buying a tool doesn’t make you a craftsman, and the same is true in book design and layout. There’s also no question that an amateur simply can’t replicate the training and experience of a professional who has worked on dozens or hundreds of books.

        That’s not to say authors can’t layout their own books, and I even provide tools for people who want to do a book in their word processor (Book Design Templates).

        But I really question whether most indie authors are making a wise decision by, in effect, training as book designers when they are likely to produce one book a year, if that. Over time, most authors I speak to seem to feel the best use of their time is writing more great content, and marketing their books.

  4. P.R.E.Z.

    What I find just amazing is the fact that no matter what, people will hock their wares and discourage people from doing what they want to do which is self-publish their own books. There are MANY people doing it WELL right now and guess what? They don’t use InDesign yet they seem to consistently put out good books laid out in…well…something else. I would encourage anyone who has the patience and the drive to do what you want to do. Publish your own book and do it your own way with the software that you want to do it with.

    This is just like the music industry. Same old thing, different package. There it’s “use Pro Tools” and yet, there are people who use other music software programs putting out great music. They don’t touch Pro Tools, the most expensive program for “professionals”. However, I know people who go out and get Pro Tools and their music is horrid. Pro Tools will not make you a better music composer and songwriter and InDesign won’t make you a better publisher and author. Sometimes less is more. Do your research. Take time out to educate yourself to do it yourself. Work within your means (big one here. Don’t let anyone talk you into going broke). Don’t let anyone tell you things like, “You NEED InDesign.” or “You CAN’T use anything else because…(ad naseum excuses and then tag on plug for being a designer and using their services)”. You don’t. Know your limits and work around them or strengthen your weaknesses. Find what works for you, be willing to put in the work, and then work.

    • Cathi Stevenson

      First of all, just to clarify that while I do design book covers, I do not now…nor have I ever attempted to lay out a book interior for myself or anyone else.

      My question is for P.R.E.Z. Can you give some examples of good typography that’s been created using other programs?

      I have never found any program (and over the years I have tested a dozen or so) that offers the glyph control of InDesign. Any that come close, don’t seem to export in CMYK, so if you’re going to print, you can end up with a 90% black, sometimes a bit more, when exporting RGB.

  5. Joseph Irvine


    This is great advice. If I may also add another software mention in the layout category, I have found Scribus to be a very nice open source layout program. It is dedicated to layout, and I have made use of it to layout a number of newsletter projects. It gives me very precise control over all the elements of a page whether it is text or image. When it comes to the actual typing of a story I would definitely recommend a word processor. I hope this can be of help to other book designers. Cheers!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for the tip, Joseph, we’ll have to check out Scribus.

  6. Heidi-Marie

    I’ve read through the comments posted here the past few years and I think I am leaning toward InDesign. I am coming from the other side of the fence as most in that I am a graphic designer who has started writing. I started as a designer in the dark ages making mechanicals, specing type, preparing photoprints for positioning, etc., and then easing into the computer age reluctantly as my husband insisted that I do so with a PC when my peers were all on Macs. I did so with PageMaker and Freehand and PhotoShop. Primarily I designed collateral material in all forms. For a time I worked for an ad agency getting familiar with Illustrator and Quark on Mac. I retired and now all my software is out of date except Freehand. I have started writing and want to layout my own books as well as those of a co-author and realize I must bite the bullet and invest in software that will let me produce the books as my vision desires rather than what Word can approach as such. I am quite fussy about typography and page layout. Am I correct in my leaning that InDesign…if it is available for PC…is my solution?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for your comment. We have a similar background, and I created many many “mechanicals” over the years in the days of rubber cement pots and hot wax and trips to the stat shop. Yes, InDesign is the best tool I know of for books and it is avialable for PC as well as Mac. You will love the typography InDesign is able to create, I guarantee it.

  7. Rick Townley

    I’d like to suggest you also check out the Serif products, especially PagePlus 6. They’ve been around as the “other guys” since the mid-90’s and have developed their software to be as good or better than Adobe but at a fraction of the cost. PagePlus is a pure layout program like InDesign and also has a story editor. It’s still not perfect but I’m not sure a “be all” package even exists anywhere yet. Thanks for all the great info you provide here, love your site!

  8. Leonard Rattini

    If you’ve come this far, why take the chance of doing it yourself. I hired Cathi Stevenson ( to do my book cover design and Gwen Gades to do my interior book layout design ([email protected]). Both women know all the ins and outs of producing files needed for both print and e-books. They each give 100% effort to get your book professionally presented to your readers. Even after they were both paid and completed their work, they each did a follow-up contact as to any further help needed. For me, that means they both cared and that I was completely satisfied. You can’t put a price on that.

  9. Thunderkisser

    Hello all above, and future below..;-)
    I need to design my art book with 160 pages 450 images and 30 pages text.
    I did good trials with the software of shops giving them to their clients to make their photo albums; using Gewe Albelli snapfish etc.
    They are wonderful easy software to use for me, with large size symbols etc.
    Can anybody advise the name of this kind of easy to use software as the ones the above shops use??? (I do not fancy In-design is too… overwhelming for me..)
    I am most most thankful in advance to all for looking at it…

  10. Ezekiel Carsella

    WOW!! that was an excellent article! I am probably going to use Adobe In design. If they make a Windows 8 Metro app for it that would be pretty awesome! Looking to create a really nice book and all because people still judge a book by its cover!

  11. Mario

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Joel. I just found your blog and look forward to learning from you. God bless.

  12. Stephen Tiano

    Predictably, as I’m a book designer myself, I say forget a.–you always want the most up-to-date equipment you can legally get your hands on; forget b.–Pages is not professional page design and layout software, despite your workbook being “fairly straightforward”; c. is your answer–especially if you plan to design more books after this one.

    • Rachel

      Thanks Stephen – I know that is the right design answer. I think I’m still reeling with sticker shock because its such an expensive program for a shoestring budget!

      • Stephen Tiano

        I hear you, Rachel. Still, if one wants to be in business, one has to expect to pay periodically for tools and supplies.

  13. Rachel

    I’ve designed picture-heavy workbooks for use in a classroom, as well as a commercially published book with a good number of pictures, but also an extensive index – which now needs overhauling for the second edition. The problem is that I had InDesign Educational version well over 5 years ago…and now that I’ve updated to a new MacbookPro, that same version doesn’t work on the new computer. So a. keep the old computer just for these tasks, b. try Pages as my layouts are fairly straightforward, or c. bite the bullet and invest in InDesign?

    • Lars Skov Kroegholt

      Rachel, maybe I am too late with this answer. But I would say that you do not necessarily need InDesign. The obvious advantage of a professional program like InDesign is that your printer may use is so that you just give him your finished files to print. But many printers may just as well print from PDF files which can be output in colour separations, with crop marks etc. I can very recommend Serif PagePlus which is a very powerful Desktop Publisher. You say that your layouts are fairly straightforward and there is a need for an index and you have many pictures. PagePlus is easy to learn and work with and it has a built in photo editor for basic editing jobs. It also contains a wizard for building an index and is able to synchronize the pagination if you choose (which you should) to keep each chapter in a separate file. A part of PagePlus is BookPlus which is designed to organize the tasks in publishing a book and outputting it to PDF files.
      Eventually read my overview of PagePlus here:

      • Rachel Johnson

        Thank you Lars, I appreciate your advice, and look forward to reading your overview of PagePlus.

  14. Arr Dee

    I giggle every time I go down a column of posts on websites like these; it fills my heart with genuine joy, the way the PC, Mac and Internet have freed us from the egos and outright unfairness of the old-school publishing racket. And racket it was – advances that might have to be paid back, returned books, huge discounts to sellers before you see a penny – then maybe a nicle or dime from every book makes it into your pocket eventually. They controlled the books and would edit (ugh) the life out of the characters’ speech and redisgn the book away from the creators’ vision. In short, they crushed the fun and profit out of it. Only the few who managed a “Harry Potter” would actually make livings – it was crumbs for the rest. So a big HA HA HA to those big old dinosauric companies and their smug editors and the vulturelike agents out there. Pickings have gotten slim and couldn’t have happened to a more deserving, pompous and greedy bunch of people around. “Vengenace is mine, saith Desktop Publishing!” Wheee-whee-wheee!” It’s Maxwell time!

  15. Stephen Tiano

    Neither of those is proper, professional page layout software. Word is the more professional program, but it was not created for book design and page composition. You may get it done, but not well. If you expect people to pay their hard-earned dollars for your book, you have to give them a professional-looking product. If you’re set on doing the work yourself, I’d look into purchasing InDesign and Adobe’s Classroom in a Book for it.

  16. chris

    Need a quick opinion…I’m working on formatting my book in MS Word. And so far, so good. However, I’m looking at my copy of MS Publisher 2010 and wondering if it would be a better choice. The good news is so far, I’m still in the proofing/edit process so converting from one to the other would only be done once the text is 100% ready.

    Considering I’m working on a non-fiction book with charts and such, which would be better?

      • chris

        Michael, thanks. That info helps a lot.

        In my case, I already have the market/audience. They are buying the downloaded PDF but some are wanting a print version due to the nature of a how-to / technically-oriented book and the length of the book. Thus my foray into self-publishing!

        • chris

          In case that came across wrong…I’m making it look great. No cutting quality!

  17. Stephen Tiano

    Templates that are supplied tend to give a book that one-size-fits-all, assembly line look. Not at all what you want for a book competing with all the other ones out there. I mean, if you want people to pay their hard-earned dollars for it. AndvTeX solutions tend to look unimaginative and mechanical. I think the WYSIWIG commercial packages do a better job for most skilled designers.

  18. João Camacho

    From all the softwares discussed, there’s one missed that I think could be the one: Lyx. It’s free, has a lot of templates and works has LaTex not fully implemented, although. The good thing is that you only have to be aware of the text and place the images. After you can export to PDF, from there to Html or other format like doc or odt with some extra free applications or directly into the internet. Most of the electronic book sites like Lulu and MagCloud (HP) only with A4 format, accept PDF format. Also with Nitro you might change some parts of your PDF, if needed.

  19. dhany

    Word processor, hybrids, layout program…. You miss one… illustration program like illustrator or coreldraw, accidentally I have them all, i have msWord2010, corelWordPerfectX5,IllustratorCS4, InDesignX5,corelDrawX5 and Photoshop7. If you like to find the one program that realy fit everything for your book coreldrawX3~X5 will do. This program originaly for illustration purpose but in addition it has capability like layout software does (aka indesign), but you need to mention about page number in coreldraw , not like InDesign … coreldraw has no Master Page so you need to set up everypage. Typography , position, illustration are easy in coreldraw, booklet and any similar need for books are automatically done within coreldraw. Just write your book and don’t need to worry the rest. If you realy care about color correction than CorelDRAW X5 is perfect for you. Try for 15days and let me see your comment

  20. Tammie Paige

    Hello Mr friedlander, This is the first time I looked at how helpful you have been for so many Authors. I must say that Iam impressed. Many you can help me with my problem. Well I think I made a huge mistake by choosing the wrong publishing company. Well I sent my children’s book along with my illustrations and paid close to 500. dollars. Every thing was finally sent to the printer, people began to order my book and suddenly when I received my hardcopy their was atleast 25 text errors. How in the blank could a publishing company do this to a new and inexperienced author. So Im left with resubmitting my book and additional fee’s. What should I do. Please help me.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Tammie, I’m sorry to hear about your predicament. I don’t know of anyone who would print a book without supplying a proof first for approval, but you signed an agreement when you sent them the money and your dealings with this company will be governed by that agreement. I suggest you look at it to see if there’s a “cancellation” clause.

  21. Tom Piercy

    I’ve used Serif PagePlus in in its several evolutions now for many years. It has been used to churn out family history books (up to 500 pages with tables of contents, indices, illustrations, footnotes/endnotes and captioned and indexed illustrations), a quarterly family news sheet, illustrated stories for the grand children, and the rest. It is very user-friendly and at the same time very capable. The price is very affordable, and you can sometimes get the previous version at a heavily discounted price.

    So far as I am concerned it has three drawbacks, only two of which matter to me as a self-publisher.

    1 It does not have is any readability test – Fogg, Flesch, Gunning, whatever – as Word and OOWriter have. The text editing mode, WritePlus, does mean that you can concentrate on content separately from layout and has styles and spell checking as you would expect. But no readability test. I miss this.

    2 For a publication team it does not have the workflow modes that the professional (and relatively very expensive) products such as InDesign have. Since I am the writer, the layout artist and the typographer (as are most self-publishers) and have been since I first used Ready,Set,Go! on a Mac in the mid 1980s, this does not matter to me.

    3 An importunate sales force who insist on phoning you at the most inopportune moments to try and get you to buy their other products. They can be a real PITA. Just say NO!

    • C

      Hi Tom P. I would love to see your 500 page family history book with illustrations, etc. Is it available for ipad?

      • Tom Piercy

        Not available in electronic format I’m afraid. As with most family historians, I am very aware of the ephemeral nature of electronic publishing. The BBC Domesday project was a classic example – only twenty five years after it was published not only were the laserdiscs on which the data was saved unreadable but also there was no software still available which could interpret the data. I appreciate that in the last few years a huge international effort has gone into extracting that data and it has now been saved, but it was a non-trivial task. For this reason my “books” have been just that, printed on archival paper, in the hope that they will be readable in two or three hundred years’ time just as the two or three hundred year old documents from which the stories were extracted have survived. Not a likely outcome for electronic publishing… Also, like family bibles, updates and additions can be written on a paper page; not always possible with an electronic edition.

        The six copies I make of each publication only go to my siblings and myself. For obvious privacy (and cost!) reasons I don’t print further copies. I could have made further copies available at a price on Lulu, for instance, but for again I would have been wary of publishing some of the family stories outside the family!

        So, sorry; no iPad, iPhone, iPod, Kindle or even PDF versions! Though maybe in future I will parallel publish both electronic and paper versions so long as the family stories aren’t too scurrilous…

        • Cindi

          So you published six copies. 500 pages with pictures. Wow.
          Serif PagePlus. It seems reasonable. Do the books look to a casual observer like a regular book.

          What publishing company company did you use.

          Of course such publications should be in non acid paper. They will become family treasures. I wish we were kin. I would like to do the same, but I will need at least 20 copies. Part of it depends on how much my daughter insists on censoring some family stories. I want to use a lot of pictures. I just wanted to see what your book looked like and how you organized it. It sounds wonderful. Can you have additonal copies published at a reasonable rate? Would love to rent one–just to study how you did it. Did you use any colored pictures? Did you have geneology charts? Don’t live in Florida, Georgia, or TN do you?

  22. Stephen Tiano

    Sounds like your very best choice would be to hire a professional book designer/page comp artist. See, Microsoft Publisher really isn’t a professional page design and layout tool. And Photoshop isn’t for making pages at all. If you’re just starting out, you should read a great deal more of Joel’s blog here and spend some time reading mine. Assuming you have some training and have developed a design aesthetic, the tools you use can make a big, big difference.

  23. Rasean

    What if I want to create a photobook and magazine? What would be the best choice? Is microsoft publisher good for creating books or shall I use photoshope for photo books?

  24. Stephen Tiano

    I always feel like I want to issue a big disclaimer when I say what I’m going to say, so here goes. Some of you may or may not have heard me say this here or in some other forum, including my own blog on book design: As a freelance book designer/page comp artist, of course I have a vested interest in wanting people to consider professional book design. Obviously because I make a living at it. Less obviously because I want your books to be ones that take into account that the printed book is an artform.

    By all means, if you have the time and inclination, and can afford the price tag, invest the dollars in InDesign or QuarkXPress and take the time to learn how to design and make pages and how to design and execute covers. But you should also spend some time developing a design sensibility and look at different kinds of books to see how they present their authors. That said, blogs like Joel’s The Book Designer and mine cover many of these issues.

    Now, for those still wanting to go the DIY route, or whose finances dictate such a path, there are open-source (read: free) TeX-based packages, such as LaTeX or Scribus (TeX with a graphical interface). But that nasty business I mentioned above, is still as close to a necessity as you’ll find.

    All I’ve said so far is in the alternate to using various POD outfits “book building applications.” Yes, they will be easier. But that’s because you and the rest of their customers are accepting a one-size-fits-all assembly-line look. With tools like InDesign, Quark, and LaTeX, the lokk of the books you make are limited only by whatever practical constraints you’re bound by (page size, for instance) and your imagination.

    You may say, “Well, I just want to get my book into print. I’m not looking to be the DaVinci of book design.” I say, maybe not DaVinci, but maybe an artist nonetheless. After all, most self-published books sell, on average, about 100 copies. If that’s the case, it behoove each self-publisher to set their book above and apart from all the rest.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Stephen thanks for your thoughtful and on-target advice.

      • Cindi

        So I left the house for the day and returned home to find lots of good advice. Thank all of you. I appreciate the time you spent to help me.

        While I’m pretty good with Word and MS Publisher, I do want our books to look and feel good. So far I’ve only done Christmas Letters, brochures, and children’s books I’ve printed myself. I feel a little overwhelmed dealing with margins, headings, page numbers, pictures with text alongside and captions. Maybe there are some on line tutorials. Anyway, this is exciting. The novel is almost finished except for getting it from Word to the book. The others are at various stages. Thank you all again.

        Especially thank you Joel. I’m so glad I discovered your site. You have really helped me.

  25. Cindi

    My husband and I, retirees, should have 5 or 6 books to self publish over the next two years.
    A novel, not great, an ego trip.
    A personal history aimed at extended family (written for great grandchildren, about 400 pages and some pictures)
    A short biography with about 300 pictures and 150 pages.
    A marketable memoir aiming at about 200-500 sales with about 50 pictures. Family should provide about 100 of these sales.

    Publication of a Civil War Diary with about 5 pictures, index, footnotes, previously unpublished. Limited market although it will include geneological information which should add about 100 sales.
    Children’s book.

    All pictures in books are in photoshop elements.

    We probably have enough money to pay to get some copies of the books printed. Maybe only about 20 of the novel.
    We are thinking about Create Space for publishing, but would prefer a company which also did hard cover.

    I have used word processing programs, photoshop elements, and Ms Publisher for over 20 years and feel pretty confident.

    Should we buy In Design?

    We intend to publish copies by sending pdf files.

    We don’t expect to make a dime, but hope to defray costs by selling some.

    Any suggestions highly appreciated.

    • R Thomas Berner

      Any desktop publishing software that creates a print-quality pdf should be fine. (I use InDesign myself.) You might look into publishing at

    • Joel Friedlander


      I’m not sure I would recommend buying InDesign for your projects. The cost of the software alone would put you in a pretty big hole financially, since your projects are not commercial.

      Also, novels and memoirs are the kinds of books that seem to be the easiest to do in simpler programs. There are many many writers using Microsoft Word or Open Office to create books. These are not ideal, the typography is not professional, you will have a learning curve trying to get a word processor to act like a layout program, and the placement of images can drive you nuts. On the other hand, you probably already own and know how to use this software.

      Taking one step up to better layout program would help. On the Mac I would look at Apple’s Pages which does double duty as a word processor and layout program, or on Windows at Serif Pages Plus (I haven’t used this program myself) or even Microsoft Publisher. These programs are all much less expensive, easier to learn and without the huge number of finely adjustable controls in a program like InDesign.

      Hope that helps.

    • Joann Sondy

      Check out Blurb ( it has a desktop book building application that is fine for the DIY-er (I don’t recommend for experienced layout designers). Numerous options for hardcover and softcover, sizes.

  26. David

    Just to fill you in, I generated a mondern 40,000 word translation from German to English. This ended up being a simple delimited text file which I imported to excel in order to convert to German word column ( which were English letter) to the old German font which I had, while retaining the English font for the English words. Now I can export to Clickbooks to print double or even triple column/page book, but I’d like to condense even more like a typical dictionary layout. I have Indesign CS4, a but bit unfamiliar with it.

  27. David

    I’m putting together a dictionary that uses old – old german fonts. I’ve used Word and Excel to sort and edit the fonts. Now how to I get everything into a dictionary style layout?……Anyone?

    What is the best software for the job?

    • Joel Friedlander

      David, it’s not clear to me exactly what you’re asking. Word and Excel are not font-handling programs, or font-creation programs, so it’s hard to tell exactly the kind of help to offer. I use Adobe InDesign to layout all the books I work on, and I don’t think a dictionary would be outside its abilities. But if you intend to typeset the book with the old fonts, you may need Fontographer or a similar font-generating program.

  28. Jaulanne

    Thank you. This information has been very illuminating. I have illustrations and text for a children’s book and I have been struggling with the hows and wheres of getting the illustrations which span 2 pages to come out correctly.(Coral paint). I want to print and bind the book myself. I will take a look at the various software mentioned.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Jaulanne, I’m glad you got some information to help you move forward with your book project. Another self-publisher who prints and binds his own books is Hamish MacDonald. You might want to check out his useful website to see how he does it. And thanks for visiting.

  29. Rima

    Joel, every time I read one of your articles, I feel like you are writing straight to me! My manuscript is written in Word. I own InDesign. I am sitting here, staring at both, wondering what the heck to do now, as I want to self publish a printed book. I’ve started doing InDesign tutorials, but I feel like I really have to dig around for book-layout-specific tuts. Your articles have been a total Godsend. I would be forever in your debt if you threw in a couple more InDesign articles geared toward book layout! :D

    • Joel Friedlander

      Well, Rima, you’re in luck. I’m getting ready to start an extensive series of articles on exactly that topic, so you and I must by synchronous. Watch for it, because I’m going to step through the entire process.

  30. Dee Dee

    Hi All,

    Are there any DIY’ers that have tried PagePlusX4? I’d love to connect with some folks who have used it before. I’m doing my first book and have purchased it in the hopes that I’ve uncovered a decent, less expensive yet relatively simple piece of software.

    Any thoughts?

    • Doug Bennett

      I used Serif’s PagePlus X4 for my Life and Spirit Book. It worked. It has real book design capabilities, it does CMYK, prepress, etc. It cost about $80 on the street. It had some bugs, but when you call support you get live, knowledgeable, person with a great accent. I just upgraded to X6 becasue they now offer to output to many ebook formats. The documentation with X6 is much better than for X4.

  31. Joel Friedlander


    Thanks so much for your comment.

    “. . . the culmination of units into a cohesive package that invites the reader to pick it up and read it.”

    That’s just beautifully said.

    And your point is the same one I frequently make with clients: spend your time on the things that you do well, where your energy and involvement will make a difference. And that is principally making a better book and, once the book is in the hands of your designer, working on your marketing. That’s what you’ll get the most “bang for the buck.” Thanks for visiting.

  32. Joann Sondy

    InDesign or Quark, hands-down for layout and production. These tools, combined with Photoshop and Illustrator have been industry standard for a very long time. Using Pages or Word are NOT high-end print compatible, especially Word. It doesn’t handle CYMK images above 72dpi. It’s typographic capabilities are much to be desired — leading, character spacing, styles all amateurish in any MS application.

    There is also another consideration, and that is the construction of the entire book. For a designer, isn’t just page-after-page of copy. But rather the culmination of units into a cohesive package that invites the reader to pick it up and read it.

    I purchased a colleagues’ self-published book recently and just started to read. I couldn’t get past the first chapter, because it was set in block paragraphs with default leading — I thought I was reading business memo!

    If anyone is really serious about publishing their work they should budget for a professional designer thus allowing them to focus on content development and refinement (aka editing).

    • Lisa Russell

      I have Paint Shop Pro Photo XI in my computer… Love the way it works… I have created illustrations with it and added text. I like the results very much… now I’m looking to lay the finished product down to be copied. Not sure if I just take the finished pictures, i have saved,for book layout or if I have to set them up to be copied by a local copy co? This is a project for my own not to be published but enjoyed by my family. I still would like it to turn out correct. Just wondering If you could give me a hint of what’s next?

  33. Stephen Tiano

    I dunno, Joel, I’ve yet to see a book done in Word that didn’t look canned. Word’s typography leaves so much to be desired. It just tends to look amateurish. As for any of the flavors of TeX, they’re quite capable, tho’ they’re enough programming language, rather than program, that you need a lot of techie in you to master them. And that’s kind of the rub, because–except for rare individuals–you’re not going to find one person who’s enough techie to master TeX (or LaTeX) and enough designer to make books that have art to them and don’t merely place type on pages. If someone insists on looking open source, I always recommend they check out Scribus. At least it has some kind of WYSIWYG front-end.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Stephen, I think I’ve seen some of the same books you’re talking about, and it’s true that books done in word processors leave a lot to be desired. On the other hand, this is what hundreds or thousands of authors are doing now and It’s not really practical to pretend they should all be hiring book designers and typographers, because that’s clearly not in the DIY spirit of many new self-publishers.

      Also, if you haven’t seen this, I recommend you take a look, because it permanently changed my idea of what is possible with Word: Book Design with Microsoft Word: The Art of Moriah Jovan

      As far as TeX, you are right on. Very few writers, in my experience, are going to try to turn themselves into coders just to use it. And really, why should they?

  34. Maggie

    I often wonder if Quark or InDesign will ever bring out a stripped-down version that would appeal to DIYers and provide a far less steep learning curve.

    In the same vein, MS Word could benefit from the same approach. Most writers use less than 10% of its capabilities and those they do use frequently gum up the works for typesetters. I seem to spend more time stripping formatting from clients’ manuscripts than I do laying them out.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Ah yes. And clients don’t understand why the “file prep” part of their projects often takes longer than the layout. Of course, authors are mostly concerned with the content and many don’t care much about formatting, but some of the files I get to work on are real challenges. And it’s not just the author’s formatting, but layers of revisions, comments, markups, stray formatting codes, font changes and all the rest. Sometimes the fastest approach is to drop the whole thing to plain text and just import a semi-coded version into InDesign.

      But a stripped down version? They’ve done it with Photoshop, so perhaps there is something in the works?

      Thanks for your contribution.

    • Michael N. Marcus

      re: stripped-down InDesign

      Adobe’s Photoshop Elements is now up to version 9, so _somebody_ at Adobe much be aware of the amateur/DIY market.

      With the boom in self-publishing, a package of Photoshop Elements and InDesign Elements for $159-$199 should be a winner.

      MS already has a stripped-down version of Word, the “Microsoft Works Word Processor.” It comes with many PCs.

      And then, there’s also the further-stripped Wordpad and Notepad.

  35. Ed Eubanks

    One paradigm that breaks the mold for the categories you define above is footnotes/endnotes. InDesign’s support for them is absolutely poor, and few other tools are much better.

    Mac-using academics often have found Mellel to be a solution. Mellel is a robust word-processor that is a Word competitor in terms of features and function, but is built around a need to support very long (as in book-length) documents and heavy use of footnotes and endnotes.

    I’m working on a project that requires two distinct sets of footnotes, as well as one set of endnotes for each chapter. Neither Microsoft Word, Nisus Writer, Apple’s Pages, Open Office, Quark Express, nor Adobe InDesign can support this out of the box. With a “hack” by way of a plugin for InDesign, I’m going to be able to accomplish it, though it will be painful for layout purposes. But Mellel can be configured to support it without much trouble at all, and in fact every indication is that Mellel could support even MORE sets of notes if I wanted them.

    Adobe would win a huge boost of support and usage in the academic publishing sector if they gave attention to their support of notes in an upcoming version of InDesign; indeed, there have been petitions for the last two versions (at least) to offer better support. Alas, it seems that they prefer to focus on Flash and not substance in such matters.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Ed thanks very much for your comment. I am not familiar with Mellel, but I wonder whether it has enough layout and typographic control to be able to produce book pages without the need for the (often painful) export and patchwork methods of dealing with notes in InDesign? Most of the heavily-annotated books I’ve worked on recently were provided as flat text files, with the notes merged into the body of the book. I see you’ve given me something for further research.

      • Ed Eubanks

        Joel, Mellel is actually fairly robust in its layout, and very strong in typographic control. (In fact, it is the only option for some, as it handles right-to-left text with aplomb— not surprising, since its makers are Israeli. Meanwhile, MS Word still doesn’t handle right-to-left typing, in the Mac version, at least.)

        I seriously thought about trying to do the entire layout of the aforementioned project in Mellel, but we have intentions of producing digital versions also: maybe ePub, if it proves able to handle the multiple threads of notes; perhaps also Kindle, as I HAVE seen a Kindle book with two distinct notes threads. The same factor prevented me from considering the “flat-text” option that you mentioned; how do you re-flow text into different editions that way?

        Mellel is a powerful application, and worth taking a look at. It’s also relatively affordable (relative to MS Word, at least), so it’s not a difficult option to explore.

        • Joel Friedlander

          “how do you re-flow text into different editions that way?”

          With the help of an editor. On some books we also output an RTF file from InDesign at the very end of the process so the index and footnotes can be re-sequenced if necessary for corrected or later editions. In any case, it’s an inelegant and untrustworthy solution that creates a document that must be thoroughly checked afterwards.

          I’ve had a quick look at the Mellel website and documentation and it certainly looks to be a capable and deep program.

    • Meho R.

      If I may put my two cents in, I think LaTeX may be the perfect choice for problems of these kinds. Actually, after using it ~3 years, I personally now consider it the best choice for almost every kind of work. Extensibility, customizability, typographic excellence, freedom (even to mess things badly), error and consistency checking, creating custom commands which can control whatever one likes… couple of things which stolen me even from InDesign. And for academic works – it’s blessing, really.

      • Joel Friedlander

        Meho, thanks for that. I know that the LaTeX users are fierce proponents of the capabilities of its system. I hesitate to recommend it to casual writers who are probably not going to be seduced away from the lovely interfaces and WYSIWYG operation of modern software. But for professional typesetting of complex material, it seems to be a top choice.

  36. R Thomas Berner

    For those writerly types who don’t want to venture into formatting their books, there’s always one other solution: someone who knows how to do it, of course, at a price, but at a price a lot lower than buying and learning InDesign.

    BTW, while I initially process documents in Word, I move everything to InCopy where I format. It’s easier to control the formatting between InCopy and InDesign. You could even use InCopy as your word-processing program. Furthermore, it allows you to save as an rtf should you need to send an edited file to a client.

    • Joel Friedlander

      The calculation of whether to buy and learn InDesign versus hiring a book designer is one a lot of self-publishers go through. As I tried to indicate in the article is that unless you are a hobbyist and can’t think of anything more fun than learning big software packages, I think most people would be far better off hiring a professional to do their book. They will get a better-looking, properly constructed book with little frustration, and be able to concentrate on marketing, where the real success of their project will be measured. Thanks for your contribution.

  37. Noel

    Professionals would agree that using a layout program like Indesign will give the best results. But programs like this are not really good for writing a book in. Many would say compose the text of your book in, say, Word, using styles to make it easier to control the text. When the text is ready, then move it over to Indesign and lay the book out. Do all subsequent amendments and additions in the layout program. OK, this is the most expensive option, but then the best often is.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Noel, I only know a couple of people who actually use InDesign as input software, although its Story Editor is very under-used. The workflow you describe is the one I use, and produces reliable results. Thanks for that.

  38. Michael N. Marcus

    >>Word processors, Con : Get ready to be frustrated if you’re trying to do exact placement of images on your pages<<

    As you know, I've used Word to format about 15 books, and am experimenting with InDesign for possible future books.

    My books have lots of images — even 100 or more in some of them — and I've never had trouble positioning them exactly where I want them to be. (Headers are a much bigger PITA in Word.)

    I assume that most newbies use a mouse to move graphic elements, but there is a much more precise procedure.

    If the "Text Wrapping Style" is selected to be tight or square (or possibly some options I have not tried yet), the image can be positioned in increments of as little as 1/100th of an inch vertically and horizontally. That's close enough for me.

    Michael N. Marcus
    –Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    –"Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults),"

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, it would be a great benefit, if it’s something you’d be interested in doing, in writing up your method of dealing with images in Word. I would be interested in publishing it, too, so let me know.

      • Maggie

        Probably nothing new to users of MSWord for books with many images, but here’s how I do it. Create a table with two rows and one column. Drop the image into the first row, and resize as needed. The table cell will “grow” if required. Key the image caption into the second row of the table, and format as desired. Then select the table and make the borders invisible if you don’t want to see a border around the image. Yes, there are some limitations as to how the table is anchored in MSWord, but it can be moved and adjusted with a little practice, and this is a simple solution to keeping images with captions.

    • Gary Dorion

      Good to know. Thanks Michael. Like Joel, I’d like to see more about how you work images in Word.

    • Monica Starks

      Thank you Michael, Great info for a newbie!!! I’m ready to start the publishing process and I’m so nervous. Any and all info is helpful.

  39. Borrowind

    It’s not a design tool as such, but Anthologize for WordPress is sponsored by the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, and allows the use of a blog as an ebook production environment. Possibly more useful for collaborative / crowdsourced books, and it still needs POD and Kindle options for those doing a dual Kindle/Lulu publishing package.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Borrowind, thanks for your comment. I had looked at Anthologize when it was first released and would be interested if there are any projects that have used it to create good looking books. I’d like to try it out and have it in a queue with some other interesting possibilities.



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