Book Designer Plays the Template Game

POSTED ON Feb 20, 2013

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Self-Publishing > Book Designer Plays the Template Game

Where we left off:

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

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

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

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

The Template Approach to Complexity

We know what a template is, generally:

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

That sounded precisely like what I was searching for.

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

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

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

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

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

Lightning Source template

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

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

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

AWeber email templates

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

What About the Books?

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

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

CreateSpace template

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

Liked this post? Share it with friends!

More Helpful Articles