Book Design Basics: Styling Novel Interiors with InDesign skillshare originals badge

Neil Swaab, Freelance Art Director, Illustrator, Author

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13 Lessons (1h 21m)
    • 1. Trailer

    • 2. Introduction

    • 3. How Book Design Happens at Publishers

    • 4. Vocabulary: Parts of the Book

    • 5. Set Up Your Document + Import Text

    • 6. Getting Stylish: Working with InDesign Styles

    • 7. Typography Basics

    • 8. Master Pages, Folios, Running Heads, Sections, Baseline Grids

    • 9. Wow Factor: Making Your Design Come to Life

    • 10. Front and Back Matter Matters

    • 11. Flowing Out the Rest of the Book

    • 12. Table of Contents

    • 13. Output and Delivery

38 students are watching this class

Project Description

Transform a novel manuscript into a fully designed book, ready for print or e-devices


  1. Familiarize yourself with the parts of a book

    Familiarize yourself with the parts of a book by browsing a few book interiors and identifying the different elements described in the video lesson.


  2. Choose your project manuscript

    Before beginning this project, you'll need a manuscript to work with, saved as a Word doc. You can (1) use the attached Sherlock Holmes manuscript, (2) copy one from the public domain (Project Gutenberg is a great resource), or (3) use one of your own.

    Choose a manuscript that you find exciting and that you'd want to read!

    Once you have your manuscript, comb through it and delete anything extraneous (bad html formatting that may have been carried over, tabs, etc.) and save your changes. Your goal is a readable file of running text.

Settings, Styles, and Type

  1. Set up your document and import your text
    1. Create a new document at the size of your intended book (a standard novel is 5.5" x 8.25", which is what I'm using in the demo videos) and give it appropriate margins that feel good on the page, remembering that your bottom margin will be largest, outside second largest, top third largest, and inside smallest. Play with different ones to determine what looks best for your book.
    2. Import your text by using "File > Place".
    3. Make sure that all of your elements–from the beginning of the book up to your first chapter–fall on the correct pages. Important elements like half titles, title pages, part openers, and your first text page should start on the recto (odd, right-hand side) page.


  2. Tag all your elements with appropriate styles
    1. Delete the Normal paragraph style and replace it with the [Basic Paragraph] style.
    2. Create character styles for Bold and Italic. Use Find/Change (Command-F) to replace the font style with each one's respective character style.
    3. Select your whole text and, using the paragraph style menu, clear all overrides.
    4. Creat paragraph styles for—and tag—every element in your book. These may include: Front Matter; Copyright; Dedication; Table of Contents; Part Number; Part Title; Chapter Number; Chapter Title; and First Paragraph. Don't worry about actually designing anything at this point. We just want to get the elements tagged with styles so that you can quickly design and tweak them in the following lessons.


  3. Select a font, point size, and leading for your main body text
    1. Try out a variety of fonts at different point sizes and leading to determine what feels good to you for your basic text paragraphs. Also remember your audience for the book: younger and older readers will likely need a larger font size/leading than an average adult. Print out samples and compare.
    2. When you have a sample that looks good to you, update your style sheet to reflect it.

    Note: When in doubt, opt for a font that feels easiest to read and is the most legible.


    The following sites are my personal recommendations for purchasing fonts:

    If you're not sure where to begin with text typography, here are some well-known and frequently used fonts to try:


    • Arno
    • Baskerville
    • Bembo
    • Bodoni
    • Caslon
    • Century Schoolbook
    • Charter
    • Clifford
    • Dante
    • Electra
    • Fairfield
    • Filosofia
    • Fournier
    • Galliard
    • Garamond
    • Goudy
    • Granjon
    • Janson
    • Minion
    • Palatino
    • Perpetua
    • Sabon
    • Scala
    • Stone Serif


    • Akzidenz Grotesk
    • Avenir
    • Benton Sans
    • Din
    • Futura
    • Gill Sans
    • Gotham
    • Helvetica Neue
    • Interstate
    • Meta
    • Myriad
    • Officina Sans
    • Stone Sans
    • Trade Gothic
    • Univers

Sample Pages and Elements

  1. Restore bold and italics

    Restore bold and italics by updating the character styles for bold and italic.

  2. Create folios and/or running heads

    Using master pages and styles, create and set up some nice-looking folios for your basic text pages. Try some different placements and styles to create something interesting that works with your overall design. Keep in mind: Folios don't necessarily need to go on the bottom of the page. They could go on top, on the sides, etc. Play around!

  3. Section the beginning of the book
    1. Using Numbering & Section Options, alter your document so your front matter uses lowercase roman numerals for its page numbers and your actual book text starts at numerical page 1.
    2. Create a master page without folios/running heads and apply it to your front matter.
  4. Lock your text to the baseline grid
    1. Change the baseline grid (InDesign > Preferences > Grids...) to the appropriate settings for your book. I usually set mine at half the body text leading (7pt, for instance, if my body text leading is 14pt). I also have mine start 0" from the top margin.
    2. Update your [Basic Paragraph] style sheet to lock your text to the baseline grid. Update any other style sheet as well for which you'd like your text locked to the baseline grid.
  5. Flesh out your design to create some awesome sample pages

    Using all the tools in your arsenal, take your design further to create some interesting and cool options for what your opening chapter pages will look like. Think about the content and tone of the book and what visual ideas can reinforce those things and subtly ground your readers into the story. If you already have a cover designed, see if there are any elements from it (like fonts or images) that you can use or take visual cues from.

    When you have a nice selection of sample pages you've designed, print them out and reflect on which one is the strongest and most appropriate for your book. Pick your favorite one and apply those settings to your style sheets and create any master pages that will be needed.

    Use the Student Projects tab to share your work (both your options and final choice) for feedback and to start a conversation about how you approached your design decisions.


Front, Back, and Execution

  1. Design your front matter and back matter
    1. Put your best foot forward and bring your readers into your story by giving them a striking half-title and title-page design. If you already have a cover for your book, look at which of its elements you can use to liven up your own designs on the page. If you want to add some visual non-text elements and don't have strong drawing or photography skills, check out the resources below for a list of cheap stock and graphic sites where can purchase such elements. Also, check out how the elements on your title page align with all the other elemets you've already established in your book.
    2. Design your half titles (if your book has them). Half titles are usually just simplified versions of the title page.
    3. Design your copyright and dedication spread and make sure they align with your other book elements.
    4. Design your part titles (if your book has them). Look at how they align with all your other book elements.
    5. If you have any back matter like acknowledgements, author bios, etc., design those now, mirroring the same styles and alignments you've already set up for the rest of your book.

    Note: You can ignore the Table of Contents for now. That will be the last thing you design.


  2. Style your extracts

    If you have any extracts in your book (letters, poems, song lyrics, text messages, etc.) that call for a different style or for something special to be done with them (like giving them a different font or margins), design and style those now. A manuscript from a publisher will usually have them marked for you, but if you're pulling text from the web or another resource, it most likely won't. In the latter case, comb through your manuscript and see if there's anything that jumps out for treatment as an extract.

  3. Determine your book's final page count

    Books are printed in signatures of 16 pages, so your total number of pages (including the front and back matter) should add up to an even multiple of 16.

    Determine your total number of pages. If it isn't an even multiple of 16, you'll have to cut or add pages so as not to have blanks at the back of the book. Figure out what page count you'd like to get to based off of that.

    Additionally, if you were hoping for a radically different page count, you may have to rethink your page design and revise your margins, font sizes, etc. to come closer to your target goal.

    Once you know your final page count, delete any extraneous pages from your InDesign document.

  4. Address design issues on a page-by-page basis and adjust for desired page count

    Go through your book from page 1 to the very end, addressing any issues you see. These may include:

    • Stacks
    • Bad breaks
    • Words breaking across pages
    • Orphans
    • Widows
    • Loose lines
    • Tight lines
    • Chapters ending with a minimum number of lines

    As you do this, also push out chapters to make them longer (or pull them in to make them shorter) in order to get to your desired page count and not have any blanks at the back of the book. You can do this by adjusting paragraph tracking in certain paragraphs by +/- 5-15pts.

    Additionally, you can also create master pages for short and long pages, and apply those to certain spreads or chapters as required.

    Also, make sure to delete the folios on the first page of chapter 1 and for all your back matter.


  5. Design your Table of Contents

    Now that your book is fully paged out, it's time to set and design your Table of Contents. If you're new to InDesign and want to make it easy for yourself, you can do it manually. Best practice, however, is to create paragraph and character styles for your T.O.C. and then create the Table of Contents by going to "Layout > Table of Contents" and letting InDesign generate it for you.

    Whatever method you choose, follow through by designing your Table of Contents, keeping in mind all the other design decisions you've made.


Export and Conclusion

  1. Output your book to a printer

    Once your book is fully designed, you'll need to coordinate with the printer to find out how they would like it delivered.

    If the InDesign files are needed:

    1. Go to "File > Package".
    2. Make sure there are no warnings. If there are, address them before continuing on.
    3. Save the packge in a location you can easily find.
    4. Submit the folder and all associated files inside of it to the printer.

    If the printer wants a PDF:

    1. Go to "File > Export" and save the file as "Adobe PDF (Print)".
    2. Go through all the options, paying attention to anything specific the printer has instructed. This may include things like checking off crop marks and bleed. It's important to find out what the printer actually requires as each one is set up differently.
    3. Submit the generated PDF to the printer.
  2. Output your book to a digital device

    If you're intending to have your book published on e-devices, you may need to do some cleanup work.

    E-Device quick guide:

    1. E-devices don't respect master pages, so if there are any important elements on them, you'll need to port them over to your actual pages.
    2. Images will not transfer to e-devices unless they're anchored into your text. You'll need to copy and paste them into the actual main text frame if they're important to you.
    3. You may want to change the "Keep Options" in the paragraph style for your chapter numbers to "Start Paragraph: On Next Page" to ensure that your chapters don't just flow into each other, but start on their own pages.

    For iBooks

    1. Go to "File > Export" and save the document as an EPUB format.
    2. This should automatically open it in iBooks, where you can preview it. If it's not to your liking, you'll need to go back into the InDesign file and play around to get it closer. It's not the most straightforward process, unfortunately.

    For the Kindle:

    1. Generate an EPUB file using the steps outlined above.
    2. You can then test it on a Kindle Previewer program that can be downloaded from Amazon (listed in the resources).

    You can use the Kindle Previewer to help preview what your file will look like on a device.

    There is also a Kindle Plugin for InDesign, but I haven't had success testing it (I don't think it works for InDesign CC). Still, it could be worth trying!

  3. Share your work

    Share your work in the Student Projects tab. Describe and show images of your process and design decisions. Explain how different design elements enhance the reading experience. Offer feedback to peers, and ask questions to improve your own work.

    This class is the very basics of book design, but by completing this course, you have a wonderful foundation on which to grow your skills. Keep working to make future books legible, intelligently designed, and beautiful packages that complement the stories they contain!


Additional Resources


Student Projects

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Rebecca Loomis
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Romina Perez
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Sean Edevane
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Hanseo Park
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Digitally I.
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Zara H.