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Three years ago this month, the first edition of Book Design Made Simple rolled off the press. We expected book sales to start strong and increase immediately, but that didn’t happen. In this article we share with you our successes and failures, how plans can go awry, and about winging it. We hope you can skip some of the book marketing mistakes we made and go straight to success with your book as a self-published author.

We won’t bore you with every detail, but here’s a more or less chronological description of our book sales story.

First, a professional product contributes to book sales

This is an absolute must for everyone (and is exactly what our book is all about). Fiona designed the book and the cover, and then we both worked continually to perfect the layout of each page, of course. But also we hired a copy editor, a proofreader, and an indexer to increase our accuracy and impact. We labored long and hard on our copyright page. We paid for the best paper and offset printing we could afford. The result is that our book can compete with books from major publishers.

A website with credibility adds to book sales

Fiona set up our site. Then we purchased a template to help us with something we knew nothing about: how to produce a professional media kit. We closely followed their example and you can see the result on our Media pages. This gave us lots of confidence—something every new book marketer needs. At the very least, nobody is going to be turned off from buying our book because of a shoddy website.

A book launch may not generate immediate book sales

The official launch was going to be a huge deal for us. We planned and practiced for weeks. Glenna flew 3000 miles to Vancouver for it. The Vancouver Public Library (VPL) printed posters and put notices in the newspaper, online, and all over the library. We brought boxes of books for people to purchase. And then only a dozen people attended, and we sold no books at all.

Highlights from our book launch at the VPL.

Some workshops boost book sales, some do not

Fiona developed a workshop on ebook cover design that the VPL librarians could present to their patrons in the future, and she premiered the workshop in person during the book launch weekend. It was a huge success and continues to be taught periodically at the VPL. We hope some attendees have bought copies of the book because all five of the library’s copies are in use almost all of the time. So working up that presentation was definitely worth the extra effort.

Glenna has presented several programs and participated in workshops on book design since then. Each one has been sparsely attended and has resulted in exactly one book sale, total. This approach has not worked, probably because of the specialized topic, which doesn’t seem to attract adoring crowds. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work for you and your topic, though.

Blogging is good for book sales

If you’re reading this, you know that we write about book design, Adobe InDesign, and publishing—and we enjoy it because we still have plenty to say beyond what’s in the book. Gradually our subscriber list has grown to more than 600 readers, some of whom write in with questions and comments. We think of the blog as indirect marketing.

Book reviews add to book sales

There are basically three kinds of book reviews: solicited reviews to put on your website and in your book, Amazon (or other online) reviews, and editorial reviews. We have all three.

  1. Before going to press, we requested reviews and blurbs from people in publishing, and then we printed them in the front pages of the book and posted them on our website. They build legitimacy for sure and have probably led to some sales in bookstores.
  2. Amazon reviews definitely lead to purchases. Luckily almost all of our reviewers have given us 5 stars. After the book came out we sent copies to two prominent bloggers and got outstanding online endorsements from both Joel Friedlander (The Book Designer) and Roger C. Parker of the Content Marketing Institute. We highly recommend this general approach for you.
  3. We held off on getting an editorial review for a couple of years, but then we learned that many librarians are not permitted to order books that do not have one. What is an editorial review? It’s one that’s written by a book review magazine or organization, such as Publishers Weekly or Kirkus. We purchased a Clarion review for Book Design Made Simple.
Print advertising does little for book sales

We tried a few print ads. Wouldn’t folks attending writing workshops be interested in self-publishing and book design? Of course, we thought, and put ads in writing conference catalogs and magazines. But no—apparently the writers were focused only on their writing. However, we do continue to advertise in the annual catalog of a local indie publishers group (IPNE.org) because its readers are our target audience.

We haven’t tried social media ads yet. It’s on the to-do list, and we suspect we should have started long ago.

Email campaigns increase both awareness and book sales

Email campaigns are a major part of our marketing scheme. Here’s what we’ve tried and discovered.

  • University libraries are the perfect place for Book Design Made Simple. We wrote to librarians at every school that offers a graphic design major in Canada and the U.S. We found out, though, that libraries normally order books only if a professor requests them, so we were wasting our time in approaching librarians directly.
  • After this discovery, we wrote to the professors, offering about 150 of them a free copy of the book if they would consider using it in the classroom. We were thrilled that 30 of them took us up on it, and we gleefully sent out the books. We now notice spikes in Amazon book sales at the beginning of fall or spring semesters in the geographic areas of some of these colleges. This is very gratifying. How do we know where the books are being sold? Amazon’s Author Central shows weekly retail sales totals and maps (example below).
  • Since universities usually hold copies of each required textbook in their collections, we are certain that our book is now on the library shelves of the schools that use our book.
  • Using a list we got from the Independent Book Publishers Association (see “Paid promotions” below), we also wrote to public librarians. We did notice a slight uptick in sales to Baker & Taylor and Ingram, but it was impossible to tell exactly which libraries were buying copies.

For each message we sent out, we waited a decent interval (1–2 weeks) before following up with a reminder. The subject line of any sales email is very, very important. We labored for days over each one.

So we have five bits of advice about email campaigns:

  1. Develop a well-aimed recipient list.
  2. Target your message directly at the reader’s needs (because this is not storytelling or literature—it’s advertising), and then shorten it, edit, and proofread numerous times.
  3. Devise a punchy email subject line. If you have a large enough recipient list, you can even come up with two contending subject lines and set up A/B testing in your email marketing program to see which one is more effective.
  4. Send an abbreviated followup message.
  5. Time your messages appropriately; for professors, for instance, do not wait until May, when they’re leaving for the summer and have already planned the entire next year. For public librarians, be aware that their fiscal year probably begins July 1; they might be out of funds by winter.

We know that we need to be very careful (and you do, too) to make it obvious that our message is commercial in nature. We do this in our email subject line. Plus we include an Unsubscribe button (and honor those requests immediately), and we include our physical address. These steps put us in compliance with CAN-SPAM guidelines and keep us out of trouble with the FTC in the U.S. and the Canadian Competition Bureau.

Library purchase requests work wonders for book sales

Though small in scale, our most successful method has been asking all of our friends to request our book at their local libraries. We’ve already detailed how you can work this scheme yourself.

Book awards are a dud for book sales, but . . .

In 2016 we won 2 regional and 3 national book awards. Naturally we were thrilled and have displayed the medals on our second edition cover and on our website. We expanded on the topic of book awards in a blog post, concluding that winning awards don’t increase sales immediately, though having official endorsements to show off probably does influence potential readers.

Does using social media increase book sales?

We have a Facebook page but we don’t add content as often as we should and it doesn’t see a lot of traffic. We use LinkedIn (individually) and Google+, where we contribute to relevant conversations and try to be voices of reason there. Several months ago we joined Twitter (@BookDesignBook), where we add content daily and retweet when appropriate. None of these methods directly result in sales, but we hope that all are alerting new people to our website and book, and adding to our reputation as experts in the field.

Videos lead directly to book sales

On a whim, we posted 25 instructional videos on our own YouTube channel, and some of them have become popular. We occasionally get messages from viewers that they’ve bought our book. If you have how-to content to share, simple videos might be just the way to reach your potential audience.

Paid promotions show mixed results

We’ve participated in a few promotions. Reluctant to part with our money, we’ve been very selective, trying the following:

  • The Independent Book Publisher Association (IBPA) displayed Book Design Made Simple along with other books at the American Library Association’s annual meeting one year. Our biggest benefit was receiving a list of visitors to the booth. We used this list of 1200 librarians to build our public library email campaign (see above).
  • New Shelves Books sends email promotions to thousands of librarians who have requested them. We participated in this recently. Because our book is especially suited to libraries and because only 23 other books were included with ours in the campaign, we thought it would be perfect for us. We needed to sell 20 books to break even on the deal. It’s impossible to tell which orders through Baker & Taylor and Ingram are the result of the campaign, but we estimate that we sold a disappointing 12 copies. Other indie authors have claimed better results, so don’t write off this tactic, but do explore your options before plunking down your cash.
  • Each year since 2015 we’ve paid to include our book with others published by members of the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) at the New England Library Association’s annual conference. The 3-day meeting is actually fun to attend, and of course we love librarians. They show a lot of interest in our book.
What we haven’t tried, but you might

There are still more ways to increase book sales, and we will pursue some of them as time permits. Here are a few for you to consider:

  • paying for Twitter and Facebook ads
  • guest blogging
  • appearing in college alumni(ae) publications or videos
  • joining associations whose members are your target audience
  • presenting at professional conferences
  • podcasting on your own or with a partner
  • book festivals
  • interviews on TV, radio, in the newspaper, podcasts, and/or online
  • in-person book readings

Book marketing can take up a lot of your time, but your book sales will depend on it. We’ve tried many methods, dropped some, and repeated others. We continue to use social media and our blog regularly, especially when we’re between big campaigns, so the effort is constantly on our minds.

Not every method is right for every author or every topic or genre, of course. Don’t make yourself miserable by going too far outside your comfort zone, or by trying to do too many things at once.

We hope that this article sparks some ideas that you can adapt to your book marketing plan.

What's YOUR book marketing plan? Learn from our 3-year history of hits and misses in #book sales. buff.ly/2x1ZXuR
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Just about all of our blog posts are aimed at helping you produce a professional product and then sell it. But here are a few specific suggestions for further reading:

Read more: Your copyright page » (includes a template you can use to complete the most accurate and professional copyright page possible)
Read more: Your author website 101 » (shows all the steps to setting up your own website and blog)
Read more: It’s YouTube time » (a humorous look at producing our own how-to videos)

Book Design Made Simple. You can do it yourself.

The post Our book sales: Three years in appeared first on Book Design Made Simple.

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The term book arts encompasses an endless variety of books, usually handmade or produced in a limited edition. Included are all kinds of artists’ books, ezines, graphic novels, printed ephemera, and “other experimental forms of publication.” (Doesn’t that sound interesting?)

Search for “art book fair” and you’ll find that book arts are alive and well around the world. Here in Vancouver, Canada, our Vancouver Art Book Fair 2018 will be held from October 18 to 21 at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. This prompted me to share with you some of the books I’ve created as a book artist rather than as a book designer.

There is something wonderfully satisfying about creating a book by hand. As a book designer, I spend most days at the computer creating digital files for book covers and pages. But every now and then I get a hankering to create a book the old-fashioned way—by printing on handmade papers, illustrating with wood cuts or watercolors, and creating a binding by hand.

What is a book anyway? I think of a book simply as a cohesive package for a body of work … and that leaves the form of a book pretty open, right? It can be almost anything: loose sheets in a box, a roll or scroll of some kind, or any other collection grouped together in any way. A book doesn’t even have to include any words! Here are a few of my handmade limited edition books:


I’ve always been fascinated by hands and how interesting and beautiful they are. Hands consists of booklets encased in a clamshell box. Each booklet describes one person’s hands.

Each person’s booklet includes a relief print of their first initial, a black & white photograph of the backs of their hands, and a handprint of their palm. The palm print has a tissue overlay with explanations of what the lines signify. My grandfather was a palmist and I inherited his palmistry books. Aren’t hands fascinating?

Keep It Fresh

Keep It Fresh is about looking at familiar sights but seeing them with fresh eyes. The book is the same size and shape as a camera lens, and is housed in a lens case. The book is bound without using any glue or thread, but simply by folding and interlocking paper strips. Isn’t it poetic? I learned this interlocking method from a book by Claire van Vilet and Elizabeth Steiner called Woven & Interlocking Book Structures.

The Pact

The Pact is a miniature book (standard 3″ × 3″ size) made from handmade paper with accordion binding. The book stays closed with two elastic loops that hook around nails, and its title is embossed into the front cover. It’s about the tension between two parts of myself: the part that wants to work hard, be organized, and get things done … and the part that wants to daydream, play, and gaze at the sky.


My neighborhood is filled with beautiful neon signs, especially on Broadway. I love some of the letterforms, particularly on the older signs. The Ridge Theatre, a local landmark, was my inspiration for this miniature book. Its letter ‘R’ is used in the word Broadway. A small booklet at the back includes three short stories about the signs.

Explore book arts in your neighborhood

Aren’t book arts wonderful? Treat yourself to a visual feast at your local Book Arts Fair. You’ll find all kinds of creations there, including handmade books, limited edition books, handbound books, relief printing, and hand lettering. See just how many possibilities there are for creating “books”!

Read more: About the book artist, Fiona Raven »
Read more: Working with a book illustrator »

Book Design Made Simple. You can do it yourself.

The post Book arts: handmade books appeared first on Book Design Made Simple.

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Will you work with a book illustrator for your book cover and/or pages? If so, you probably have lots of questions! Where can you find a suitable book illustrator? How much should you expect one or more illustrations to cost? Will you own the copyright of the illustrations used in your book? What size, resolution, and format should the digital files be?

Here are answers to all those questions and more.

Finding the right book illustrator

You’ll be searching for a book illustrator who has the style and “look” you want for your book at a price that’s within your budget. It’s important that the artist’s illustrations are already in the style you want, as it’s almost impossible to have an artist create something that’s outside their style. For example, don’t hire a cartoonist to do an oil painting for your book cover, or hire a children’s book illustrator to create technical drawings. When choosing an illustrator, make sure that you already love their work and that their style will perfectly suit the subject of your book.

Where to search for a book illustrator

Here are some ideas for starting your search:

  • word of mouth—do you know anyone who can recommend a book illustrator to you?
  • ask for recommendations on self-publishing forums
  • do you belong to any publishing groups that can recommend someone?
  • if you admire the illustrations in a particular book, find the artist’s name in the credits and contact them via their blog or website
  • search for #illustrator on social media
  • search for “book illustrators” online to find illustrator websites or blogs displaying artwork portfolios

The following websites display portfolios of many illustrators’ work. You can search by subject, art style, art medium, location, and so on.

And, finally, there are lots of websites where you can post your project for free, and each site will usually provide you with dozens of bids. Here are just a few of those types of websites you can check out:

Book illustrator costs and copyrights How much should you expect to pay?

Generally I have paid between $500 and $3000 for a front cover illustration, depending on the complexity of the image and the experience of the artist. Illustrations for pages can range anywhere from $35 to $350 each. Small cartoons to cheer up the pages will, of course, cost less per illustration than full-page color illustrations.

For a standard 32-page children’s picture book, expect to pay $5,000 and up. You may find a less expensive (and therefore less experienced) illustrator, but remember that hiring an experienced illustrator will save you time, money, and grief. Experienced children’s book illustrators can charge up to $20,000 for a color picture book and its cover. A 32-page picture book will probably include 20 full-color illustrations (assuming that most are 2-page spreads), and include the book cover. If you pay, say, $5,000, your book illustrator is getting paid $250 per illustration. That’s not a huge amount, considering how many hours it often takes to create a custom illustration.

Who will own the copyright of the illustrations?

The artists I’ve worked with have a policy that you will own the artwork but the artist retains the copyright. That means that the artist will provide you with the artwork to use for your book and all book-related materials (press kit, marketing materials, bookmarks, author website, etc.). You will also have exclusive use of the artwork for your book, and the artist will not sell it to anyone else or use it for any other purpose.

The artist will, however, retain copyright of the artwork. This means that the artist has the right to show the artwork to prospective clients as an example of their work, and include the artwork in their portfolio.

Getting the details in writing

Make sure it’s clear from the beginning as to what you can use the artwork for, how much it’ll cost, what the timeline is, and whether or not you have the exclusive use of it.

If you want to be able to sell the artwork to someone else later on, or use it for any purpose besides your book that you stand to profit from (such as printing the artwork on t-shirts or other items that you’ll be selling), you’ll need to get permission from the artist to do so. Expect to pay extra for that and, again, get permission in writing.

Make sure to include a clause in your contract stipulating that you’ll receive the illustrations as digital files in the appropriate size, resolution, and format to use for printing. Otherwise, you may find yourself paying a professional to scan or photograph the artwork at your expense.

See an example of a basic contract between a self-publisher and an artist here.

Gaining permission to use existing artwork

Suppose you find an existing image you want to use for your book. It could be a work of art in a museum, from a website or magazine, or any artwork that has already been created. You’ll need to request permission to use the artwork, find out the cost, and obtain a suitable digital file. Here is a sample permissions letter you can use.

Note: Be aware that if you use museum artwork, you will most certainly be required to use the entire piece without cropping.

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Working with your book illustrator

Your illustrator will get started once your contract is in place and a deposit is paid. For some books, the illustrator will need to see the layout of the text on the pages. This helps them to 1) read the text for context, 2) see how much space is available for each illustration, and 3) plan the illustration to fit the surrounding text.

First you’ll see some roughs (pencil or digital sketches) to make sure the illustrations are on track. Once approved, the artist will finalize the illustrations and add color. Final payment is due upon final approval of the illustration.

Clear communication with your illustrator is key. To make things go as smoothly as possible, don’t assume that the artist knows what you’re thinking. Tell them, for instance, that you want the house to be Victorian style, or you want the little girl to look hopeful no matter what happens to her, or that the people in the illustrations are African-American.

Once you receive the roughs, go through them thoroughly, taking your time. Make sure they fit the space you’ve allotted for them. If they’re not what you envisioned, let them sit for a couple of days. You might discover that the illustrator has captured something that’s actually better than what you expected.

The artist will expect you to request some changes and will (or should, at least) appreciate any helpful suggestions. They do want the illustrations to be perfect for your book—after all, you could possibly work as a team again in the future, or you might refer another author to them someday.

Calculating the right size for illustrations

You’ll want to be sure that the illustrations you’re commissioning are the right size for your printed book. These dimensions should be included in the contract you sign with your book illustrator. If your illustrator knows these specs right from the beginning, you’ll avoid any difficulties during the book production stage.

Size of full-bleed illustrations

Full-bleed illustrations extend beyond the edges of the pages so there are no white areas showing when the printed pages are trimmed to size. Let’s say the trim size of your book will be 8.5″ × 11″. Your printer will require a minimum bleed of 1/8″ (0.125″) on all the outside edges of your pages.

A 1-page illustration will have an extra 0.125″ added to the top, bottom, and outside of the page, like this:

If the trim size of this book is 8.5″ × 11″, the final size of a full-bleed illustration for one page will be 8.625″ × 11.25″. (Note that 0.125″ was added to the width and 0.25″ was added to the height—you should add these same dimensions to whatever size your book page is.)

A 2-page illustration will have an extra 0.125″ added to the top, bottom, and outside of both pages, like this:

If the trim size of this book is 8.5″ × 11″, the final size of a full-bleed illustration for a 2-page spread will be 17.25″ × 11.25″. (Note that 0.25″ was added to the width and 0.25″ was added to the height—you should add these same dimensions to whatever size your book pages are.)

Note: The center of a 2-page spread is bound into the gutter (or spine) of the book. For that reason, it’s crucial that no important parts of an illustration are placed down the gutter, as they will disappear into the binding of the book. Usually the gutter is an area approximately 1.5″ wide down the spine (see diagram above).

For children’s book illustrations, it’s often helpful for your book illustrator to see the layout of the text on the pages before creating the illustrations. That way, they can leave enough space in the illustrations for the text. The text will ideally be placed over an area of the illustration that isn’t busy and is a light enough color so that the text is easy to read (such as a pale area of sky).

Similarly for your front and/or back cover, any bleed illustrations will have to extend beyond the edges by the same amounts: 0.125″ at top, bottom, and sides. Your book printer will specify the bleed amounts on your cover template. (If you are designing the cover yourself, see part 8 of Book Design Made Simple for all the details on this.)

Size of spot illustrations

Spot illustrations don’t bleed off the edges of the pages, but are contained within the page margins and occupy a quarter, half, or full page. Let’s say, for example, that your page size is 6″ × 9″. Usually the margins for a book this size are approximately 0.75″ on all sides.

Subtract the margin sizes from the page size to get the maximum size of a full-page spot illustration. For a 6″ × 9″ page with 0.75″ margins on all sides, the space available for a full-page illustration is 4.5″ wide × 7.5″ high.

Your illustrator can then create illustrations to integrate nicely with the text, such as for chapter openings or call-outs.

Image resolution and file formats

There are two kinds of digital files for images:

  1. Scans and photographs (images based on pixels)
  2. Drawings (images based on lines, paths, and curves)

The resolution and file format requirements for these two file types are different. Here’s what you need to know.

For scans and photographs

Scanned artwork and photos need to be at least 300 pixels per inch (ppi) at the actual size that they’ll be printed. Check here to see if your images are high enough resolution for printing.

Scans and photos are usually saved in JPG format with RGB color space. (RGB is the color mode used by digital cameras, scanners, computer monitors, and ebooks, but is not used in printed books unless your printer specifically states that it’s okay. At the time of writing, CreateSpace and Edition One are printers we know that will accept RGB files.)

If your printer requires CMYK color (the 4 colors of printing ink: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) or grayscale (black ink only), then your image files will need to be converted from RGB to CMYK or grayscale. The images will then be saved in an Adobe Photoshop format such as PSD or TIF.

In summary:

  • if RGB is acceptable — 300 ppi, RGB, JPG format
  • if CMYK is required — 300 ppi, CMYK, PSD or TIF format
  • for grayscale — 300 ppi, grayscale, PSD or TIF format

Instructions for this entire process can be found in chapter 46 of Book Design Made Simple.

For vector drawings

Vector drawings are created on the computer in a draw program such as Adobe Illustrator. Shapes are described with mathematical expressions called vectors. A vector drawing can be printed at any size without loss of quality, and therefore resolution is not an issue.

Anything drawn in Adobe Illustrator is a vector drawing, and will be saved in the AI format.

Ready to get started?

Working with a book illustrator can be frustrating, or it can be rewarding. If you find the artist most suited to your project, pay fairly, communicate clearly, and know what to expect throughout, you’ll glide smoothly through the process. We wish you the best possible results.

Read more: Choosing the right trim size for your book »
Read more: Converting images in batches for printing »
Read even more: Planning covers for a book series »

The post Working with a book illustrator appeared first on Book Design Made Simple.

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Some InDesign functions have names that you would never be able to guess, and that makes them really tough to discover and learn. One of these is Optical Margin Alignment (I’m calling it OMA), which is InDesign’s formal name for hanging punctuation. I used to see this effect in other people’s work and then try to imitate it, but I couldn’t because I had no idea what it was called. So this article explains what it is and how to do it.

What optical margin alignment looks like

Optical margin alignment (hanging punctuation) allows you to show quotation marks, bullets, and hyphens outside the normal text area—a bit similar to a hanging indent. Take a look at the left sides of these two text blocks:

The sample on the left is typeset conventionally, with no optical margin alignment. In the right sample, OMA is in use. Notice that the quotation marks and bullets stick out just a bit to the left of the hard, actual margin.

The optical margin is the imaginary line that your eye sees at the left and right edges of the text. (In InDesign, of course, margins and text frames can easily be made visible by simply pressing “w” while nothing is selected.) Some people notice that bullets and quotation marks placed exactly at the left edge make the type appear misaligned. Ditto with hyphens on the right edge. And so it was that hanging punctuation began with the Gutenberg Bible, where you can see large initial letters hanging out on the left and hyphens jutting out to the right of the columns. So if you want to try it, you are in good company. Continue reading.

Make your #typesetting look more sophisticated with #InDesign's optical margin alignment (hanging punctuation). It's easy! https://goo.gl/WPktfk
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How to produce optical margin alignment

The method is simple.

  1. Put your cursor anywhere in the story. (A story is all the text—no matter how much or how little—that is threaded together.)
  2. Go to Type>Story, and click in the Optical Margin Alignment check box.
  3. Choose a value. The most moderate, least noticeable value is probably the one that’s the same size as your leading, but go ahead and try other size options till you find the one you like best.

And you’re already almost finished.

Now you’ll notice that every single item in your book (or the current story) that could possibly use OMA is now using it, and this may not be what you intended. Maybe the bullets or numbers in lists are now sticking out too much to the left and bothering you. Or maybe a chapter title starts with a quotation mark and is now looking a little out of alignment. To undo the OMA, simply go into the paragraph style for any element where you want to stop using it. In Indents and Spacing, check Ignore Optical Margin.

If you are not using OMA at all in your document, you may completely ignore the Ignore Optical Margin box. InDesign’s default mode is not to use it, so just leave it unchecked throughout.

We hope this short article has helped you learn a new typography term and add something a little more sophisticated to your skill set. Now that you know about it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere.

Read more: Typesetting math in InDesign »
Read more: Making tables look good in InDesign »
Watch a video tutorial: Typesetting a poetry book »

The post Optical margin alignment appeared first on Book Design Made Simple.

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If your book has footnotes, you’re probably using automatic InDesign footnotes in your layout. And that’s great! But what if you compiled your footnotes in a separate Word document or didn’t use the automatic footnote feature in Word or InDesign?

Before Word and InDesign added their automatic footnote features, and well before Fiona and I met each other, we both invented a way—interestingly, the same way—to lay out InDesign footnotes manually for print books. In this blog post, I’ll explain the layout method that we both used—it still works perfectly.

What kind of notes should you use?

Before you start typesetting your footnotes, you need to decide how to handle them. There are three basic ways:

Use endnotes

Are your footnotes boring? Would general readers have a better experience if they didn’t have to see them on nearly every page? If so, consider putting the notes at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book. The endnote solution is by far the easiest one if you are not using the automatic InDesign footnotes feature. We cover this topic thoroughly in chapter 29 of Book Design Made Simple.

Use asterisks

For a book with only a few footnotes, set an asterisk after each note and place the notes at the bottom of the relevant pages. In the case of more than one note on a page, use these symbols in the following order (see page 348 in Book Design Made Simple), beginning again with a single asterisk on each new page:

But if you have one note—or more—on almost every page, that is probably too many, and you should go to a numbering system. In either case, you can follow “The method” below.

Use numbered footnotes

This one is pretty obvious. Your main text has reference numbers, each one with a corresponding footnote at the bottom of the page. The layout method for numbered InDesign footnotes is the main topic of this blog post. Read on.

The method for typesetting InDesign footnotes

For those of you who know InDesign pretty well, here’s a quick summary:

  1. Save all your footnotes in a separate Word document from the rest of your manuscript.
  2. In InDesign, make all your reference numbers magenta so they are easy to spot.
  3. Use two different sets of threaded text frames on each page: one for the main text, and a second one for the footnotes. Then match the footnotes to the reference numbers.
  4. Remember to return the reference numbers to black.

For those of you who are not as practiced with InDesign, follow the steps below.

Prepare your Word document

Depending on how you set up your footnotes in Word, you might have to copy and paste all the footnotes from your manuscript into a separate Word document specifically for footnotes. If you haven’t already typeset your manuscript in InDesign, it’s worth the effort to copy and paste the footnotes into Word’s or InDesign’s automatic footnote feature at this stage! But if that’s not an option, just prepare a separate Word doc containing all your footnotes, then continue following these steps.

Set up your InDesign document

Your InDesign pages are going to need two text frames per page: a larger one for the main text, and a smaller one for the footnotes. So go to your book’s A-Master page and add a new text frame for footnotes at the bottom of both pages (see below). The height of the text frames really doesn’t matter because you’ll be resizing each one as you go through your pages later on, but be sure to align the bottom of the text frames with the bottom baseline for your main text. Notice that there are no text frames for the main text; they will appear automatically on the pages once you’ve placed your main text.

Add a new text frame to the bottom of both A-Master pages, being sure to align the bottom of the new text frames with the bottom baseline for your main text.

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You’ll want your footnotes to align at the bottom of the text frame rather than the top, so that they sit nicely on the bottom baseline despite having a smaller type size and leading. Select both text frames by clicking and dragging across them, then choose Object > Text Frame Options (Ctrl/Cmd+B) and, under the General tab, go to Vertical Justification and select Bottom from the Align drop-down box, than click OK.

Align the text to the bottom of its frame by choosing Bottom in Text Frame Options.

One more small but helpful step is to thread the two footnote text frames together on the A-Master page. With your Selection Tool, click on the out port of the left frame and then click anywhere inside the right frame to link the two frames. To confirm that the frames are linked, go to View > Extras > Show Text Threads and then select one of the text frames with the Selection Tool to see the link. The bottom of your A-Master page will now look like this:

Now the two footnotes text frames on your A-Master page are linked.

Place your manuscript and optimize the text

Place and autoflow your main text as described in chapter 8 of Book Design Made Simple. You’ll notice right away that the type fills each page and covers up your footnote text frames, but you’ll fix this in a moment.

Now go ahead and optimize the text as described in chapter 9 and apply character styles (chapter 13).

Place your footnotes

The next task is to get the main text frames out of the way of the footnote text frames. You’ll save yourself a bit of time by following these simple steps:

  1. Zoom out so that you can see at least two spreads simultaneously (see right).
  2. Using the Selection Tool, drag to select both main text frames on a spread at once.
  3. Grab the handle at the bottom center of the selection and drag it up so that the frames no longer cover the footnote text frames.
  4. Select both footnote frames by dragging over them while holding down Ctrl/Cmd+Shift. As a result, a solid outline should replace the dotted outline on each frame, and the frames will therefore be unlocked and usable. This saves you the trouble of going back through the book and doing this step later.
  5. Move on to the next spread and repeat steps 3 and 4, continuing through the entire book.

With your footnote text frames now visible and unlocked, return to page 1 and do the following:

  1. Go to InDesign > Preferences > Type (Mac) or Edit > Preferences > Type (PC) and uncheck Smart Text Reflow. (This way, InDesign won’t make any automatic changes to the flow of your text. All changes will be made manually by you.)
  2. Using the Type Tool, insert the cursor in the very first footnote text frame.
  3. Place your footnote text. It will flow into the frame and you’ll see the red overset text symbol ([+]) in the out port.
  4. Using the Selection Tool, click on the overset text symbol, scroll down to the next spread, and click inside the left footnote text frame there. Because you threaded the frames together when you set up your master page, the text should flow into both frames on the spread.
  5. Repeat step 4 throughout the book, threading from each recto page to the next verso. Even if you run out of footnote text and it’s no longer flowing in, just keep on to the end.
  6. Optimize your footnote text, just as you did for the main text of your book.
  7. Apply character styles as needed throughout the footnotes. We’ll deal with paragraphs styles later.

At this point you should have two independent sets of threaded text frames, as shown below. You can probably see exactly where this is going now, right? Read on for more hints about how to make the process go smoothly.

The main text frames at the top and the footnote text frames at the bottom are linked independently.

Style your reference numbers

Set up a character style for your reference numbers in the main text (see page 85 in Book Design Made Simple). This will make them superscript and highly visible. The settings I suggest are shown below. (If you already have a References style, just change the character color to magenta.)

If you haven’t already, you must find all your reference numbers in the main text and apply the ref character style. You’ll do this with one of the following searches:

  • If they are already superscript, simply follow the directions on page 93 of Book Design Made Simple, but I will repeat them here: Zoom in or out to make your text a readable size on the screen, then put your cursor in the text near the start of page 1. Go to Edit > Find/Change (Ctrl/Cmd+F). Select the Text tab, then click in the Find Format box. When the Find Format Settings box comes up, go to Basic Character Formats. Set Position to Superscript, and leave all the other fields blank. Click OK and the Find Format box will fill in automatically. Now click inside the Change Format box. In the Character Style drop-down list, select ref, then click OK. (When you’re done it should look like the example to the right.) Next, hit the Find button. After you see the first superscript number, click Change. It should turn to magenta, and the character style should change to ref. If you’re satisfied that it’s working properly, click Change All.
  • If your reference numbers are full size, enlarge your view till your text is readable on the screen, then put your cursor in the text near the start of page 1. Go to Edit > Find/Change (Ctrl/Cmd+F). Select the GREP tab, then type \d in the Find what box. Now click inside the Change Format box. In the Character Style drop-down list, select ref, then click OK. (When you’re done it should look like the example to the right.) Next, hit the Find button. This search is going to find every single digit in your book, so carefully go through and select only reference numbers 1–9 in this way, changing them to the ref character style by clicking on Change. Each reference number should become magenta, with the character style changing to ref. Once the first 9 numbers are done, do a new search, this time for 2-digit numbers by entering \d\d in the Find what field. (For 3-digit numbers, enter \d\d\d.) Continue through the text until you’ve applied the ref style to every reference number.

Phew! As usual, it takes longer to read the instructions than it does to do the job. You’ve finished the tedious parts now, so let’s move on.

The simpler method: Style your footnotes without horizontal lines

Set up your footnote (ftn) paragraph style. Follow the example on page 348 of Book Design Made Simple, or make up your own style. Use the ftn style throughout for all your footnotes. You may skip the next section and go to “Match reference numbers to notes” below.

The more complicated method: Style your footnotes using horizontal lines

Warning: Adding rules (lines) above your footnotes involves adding two more paragraph styles plus some custom formatting. If you want to go ahead with it, here’s what to do:

Set up your footnote (ftn) paragraph style. Follow the example on page 348 of Book Design Made Simple, or make up your own style.  You’ll use this style for all footnotes except the first footnote on each page—that style (ftn1) will include a short horizontal line to visually separate the footnotes from the main text for your readers. Base your ftn1 style on your ftn style with just one difference:

Apply the ftn1 style to all of your footnotes at once by inserting your cursor in any footnote text frame and selecting all (Ctrl/Cmd+A). Open the Paragraph Styles panel and select the ftn1 style.

Match reference numbers to notes

Since you’re laying out footnotes manually, you’ll need to make sure the footnotes appear at the bottom of the pages where they are referred to in the main text. The tricks explained below will help to speed things up for you, and honestly, you may find the page balancing act to be fun. (I know I do.)

Be sure to add any images and make all other additions to your pages before you match your reference numbers to the footnotes. Any additions or subtractions to your pages can change the flow of your main text, and will therefore change the placement of the reference numbers.

Starting on page 1, check to see if there is a footnote reference number on the page. If there isn’t, simply delete the footnote frame and extend the main text frame down to the bottom margin. If there is a footnote reference number, adjust your two text frames so that the appropriate footnote appears (or at least begins) on the same page. Having magenta reference numbers really helps, doesn’t it?

Leave at least one blank linespace between the top footnote and the main text. If you can’t fit an entire footnote on the same page as the reference number, run it over to the next page, leaving at least two footnote text lines on both pages to avoid an orphan and a widow. (You must avoid widows and orphans—yes, even in footnotes.) This is a common practice, so don’t worry about it—within reason. If the footnotes spill over repeatedly, consider rewording something in the main text, resizing an illustration, or placing a reference number somewhere farther along so the notes can catch up with the text.

You’ll see that all your footnotes currently have the small horizontal line above them. When you come to a page that has more than one reference number, change the paragraph style of the footnotes below the first one to ftn to remove the horizontal line.

The page on the left has just one footnote. The page on the right has two footnotes, the top one with a horizontal line above (paragraph style ftn1), and subsequent footnotes on the same page without the horizontal line (paragraph style ftn). Be sure to leave some white space between the main text and the footnotes. See how nicely the footnotes align across the bottom of this 2-page spread? If a page with footnotes is facing a page without footnotes, the footnotes will align perfectly across the bottom with the main text.

You may very well need a third style, too, for the notes that split between pages. Let’s call it ftn2. Set it up like the ftn1 style but without a first line indent so that it doesn’t appear to be a new paragraph. At the end of the first page of the note, type Enter/Return. Keeping your cursor in that paragraph, open the Paragraph panel and click on the Justify all lines icon to force the last line of the paragraph to end flush right so it doesn’t look like the end of a paragraph (even though it is). Next, apply the ftn2 style to the continued part of the note.

This footnote continues from the left to the right page, so the ftn1 and ftn2 styles are applied. And because a break is used at the end of the first page, the alignment of that paragraph is changed from Left Justify to Justify all lines (also called Full Justify).

Finishing touches

Once your InDesign footnotes are in their final places, delete any remaining unused footnote frames. Remember to return the reference numbers to black (go to the Character Styles panel, find the ref style, and change Character Color to black).

So what do you think?

The automatic InDesign footnotes feature definitely makes life easier, and I recommend using it whenever possible. If you plan to use Word’s and then InDesign’s automatic footnote functions, everything will go more quickly. But it’s good to have this method in your toolbox, as it will always work in a pinch.

Did you try this system? What do you think? If you need to typeset InDesign footnotes manually for whatever reason, I hope this blog post helps.

Read more: InDesign endnotes go live in InDesign CC 2018 »
Read more: Running heads – what to include in your novel or nonfiction book »
And more: Your copyright page – everything you need to know »

The post InDesign footnotes: an alternate typesetting method appeared first on Book Design Made Simple.

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