Choosing Page Layout Software

With built in page layout in popular self-publishing options like CreateSpace, many authors don’t consider DIY page layout methods and software. But for those publishing through many POD providers, page layout is a must. Proper page layout ensures that the book has the consistent margins, paragraph and character formats, and readable type. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular tools for page layout. Most of this product advice is geared toward print publishing, as ebook formatting has its own characteristics and challenges.

(If you want to hire a professional designer to lay out your book, these cover designers also design book interiors.)

InDesign ($699 individually; $1,299 as part of Creative Suite)

InDesign is far and away the favorite of graphic designers. It has industry-leading features for producing high quality print and digital books. As a result many authors conclude, if you want your work to look professionally designed, use the tool of professional designers. But if you’re not a graphic designer, you may have some learning to do in order to fully utilize InDesign.

Ken Chapman, Publisher at League Entertainment, Inc., says, “For layout and ebook production, we use Adobe InDesign CS6. If you don’t know how to use it or want to become more proficient, I highly recommend getting a subscription to Lydna.com.” Adobe TV also provides tools and instruction.

Eric Anderson, editor at Chromoschema, agrees. “I recommend InDesign, though it can be expensive and have a steep learning curve. The flexibility is unmatched!”

Author Joel D. Canfield finds that InDesign is “great for [laying out books] for a living, [but] overkill for doing one or two of your own books.”

Page Plus ($99.99)

Page Plus from Serif is an option that has a beginner friendly cost and usability. It works well for print or digital publishing.

“[Page Plus has come leaps and bounds in recent generations, closing the gap to high-end packages like Adobe InDesign,” says tech writer Nick Peers. “Although template-driven to give users an easy entry point into the basics of design and layout, PagePlus is also packed with all the design tools a professional would need to start publications from a blank canvas.”

According to Top Ten Reviews, “The software offers a wide variety of features, including the best photo editing tools we found in any page layout application.” However, “Export and save-as options are slightly more limited than those in other applications.”

Microsoft Word ($199.99 as part of Office) & Apple Pages ($19.99)

Microsoft Word and Apple Pages are both word processing tools that support desktop publishing. For authors looking to format books for e-publishing and print on demand, both products have similar features and strengths. Both are best suited for heavy-text, hard copy books, though they can also be used for e-books and books with images.

Many authors and designers look down on using these programs for book design because they lack the design-centric focus and features of software like InDesign and Page Plus. However, one key benefit is that most authors are already familiar with these programs. Book designer and editor Heather Shaw asserts, “You can do your own interior design using Word or Pages.”

In her book The Indie Author Guide, April L. Hamilton explains step by step how to format a book in Word—the same concepts apply to Pages. Hamilton recommends creating a manuscript shell, a template file that contains the paragraph and character styles, margins, page break setting, and more. After creating the template, authors can compose each section of the book in a copy of the manuscript shell file or import their text into the shell. Having a manuscript shell ensure that formatting is consistent throughout the book.

Other Programs

There are other options, of course, all across the word processor and publishing software spectrum like Scribus (free), PageFocus Pro ($69), Page Stream ($99.95), Corel WordPerfect ($99.99), Corel Draw ($399), Adobe PageMaker ($499), Creator Professional ($499), Microsoft Publisher ($499.99 with Office Professional), Corel Ventura ($699), QuarkXPress ($849), and more.

So how do you pick the right one? In short, do your research, get opinions from other people, and know what fits you best. Here are some key considerations:

  1. What do you need the software to do? What functions are most important?
  2. What technological skills do you have—and how much are you willing to learn?
  3. How much can you spend?
  4. Read consumer reviews: Does the product keep its promises?
  5. Find author laid out books you like: What program did that author use?
  6. Are the strengths and abilities of the program compatible with your end goal (the type and format of the book you’re producing)?
  7. Find authors who’ve used the program to create their books and see what they say—they’ll have even better insight than the general customer reviews.
About MAW

Melissa Anne Wuske is a freelance writer and editor. She is also the communications director for Stop Traffick Fashion where she writes about human trafficking.

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