exPRESS: Design

So you have your manuscript prepped with each functional unit saved as a separate file. The next step is designing the book. As a reminder, the tutorial will be written with Adobe’s InDesign in mind (ID4 & ID5 export reasonably clean files to .epub). We are curious to know if the steps will work equally well with QuarkXPress, so please be sure to comment if that’s the program you use. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using images from Mel Bosworth’s When the Cats Razzed the Chickens and Other Stories (referred to as RAZZED for the rest of the series). If you’d like to do while you read, the image files are located in our public Dropbox. Please save copies to the folder on your computer where you saved the manuscript files. We are not able to distribute the typefaces we used, though, so you’ll have to make do with your own.

Element 3: Concept

If you haven’t done so already, take the time to design your book. Cover, title page, body text, headers, the works. Sketch it out in pencil or do a mock-up in your design software. Keep playing until you (or your team) are happy with a final concept. Don’t let e-book conversion constraints limit your print design options. Instead…

Step 5: Classify the design elements in your print-edition concept as “critical” and “disposable.”

Design elements to classify as critical are:

  • Text boxes for the content
  • Images that are content-specific and must be included in the final e-book
  • Font styles and sizes

Design elements to classify as disposable are:

  • Page numbers
  • Screens or other accent images used repetitively for visual interest
  • Headers and footers
  • Typefaces
sample classification

This is not to say that the disposable elements are not important in the print edition. But page numbers, headers, and footers are unnecessary in an e-book since e-readers generate their own versions of them. Typefaces are not embeddable in .mobi e-books and make for a digital rights headache in .epub e-books, so your end product will look a lot cleaner if you plan for the e-editions to use a device’s default typeface. And accent images?

Accent images present a special problem that goes to the heart of the print vs. e-book frustration: layers. All e-books use XHTML to store content from your design document in a form e-readers can display. XHTML, as you may be able to guess, is a cousin of HTML—the basis of webpages. Why is that important? Because understanding the logic within the underlying XHTML document will help you predict the behavior of your e-book during the design phase.

In XHTML, everything is linear. The computer reads a file from top to bottom, left to right, so that each set of tags and content is displayed in order. While it is possible to use CSS and tables to override this linearity in websites, it is not yet possible in e-books. So when your design software encounters layered elements, it writes a command for each element one at a time, starting with text boxes and then moving on to images in the order it finds them. This means that if you have an image layered on top of a text block, the e-book will display all the text followed by all the images. And manually moving all the images into their proper places in the code is not fun. Trust me.

We’ll discuss this concept further in the Typography Phase, but it’s important to understand why we’re making the distinction between critical elements and disposable ones: critical elements will be placed where the design software will find them and translate them to XHTML, while disposable elements will be hidden using “masters.”

You may download the PDF version of RAZZED to practice classifying the design elements. (Pretend the PDF is a set of concept sketches.)

Step 6: Gather all the images for the book and optimize them for print.

Find out what image file specifications your printer prefers and then use your favorite image editing software to make copies that meet these specs. Common optimizations involve resolution, color settings, file type, and transparency settings. Do not worry about down-sizing these files for the e-book just yet. Most of that will be done automatically when the e-book is rendered.

Our example manuscript, RAZZED, uses many images because the story titles are done in the author’s handwriting. Image files needed for constructing the chapbook are:

Element 4: Masters

Masters are reusable templates that can be assigned to specific pages within your book. In InDesign, masters can be created and assigned in the “pages” panel. If you are using QuarkXPress or Scribus, we’d love to know if there is a similar utility.

Step 7: Create a design file for each .doc file you created during the Manuscript Prep Phase.

Create design files that match the names of the text files you will be importing into them. When creating your files, be sure to specify the page size and other basic preferences for your finished book. After you’ve set the preferences for your first file, select “save presets” prior to clicking “ok” to create the file. That way, you won’t have to re-enter all those preferences while creating the rest of the files.

Step 8: Create masters for each design file and arrange disposable elements in them.

Do not worry about creating every master you will need for the entire book. As you go, you’ll discover new masters that you’ll have to create. But it helps to have the basic ones down. Automated page numbers, headers, footers, and accent images should be positioned as appropriate. You might also want to place text boxes in your masters so that it is easier to judge where the other elements go. These text boxes will show up as dotted lines that will allow you to quickly insert text boxes into your pages during the Typography Phase. To get a better idea of what you’re aiming for, view photos of some sample masters we used in RAZZED by visiting our e-book set on Flickr.

Any elements you place in the masters will show up on any page assigned to that master in the print version. These elements will comprise the bottom layer upon which you may superimpose text and other images. When making adjustments to a master, be sure to check all pages assigned to it for anything that may have become misaligned. Remember, though, that elements on the masters will not be inserted into the e-book.

Congratulations! You now have a set of design files that are ready to receive your book’s text.

Note to Scribus users:

Some of you may be using Scribus, but be aware that it does not export to EPUB and the PDF’s it generates will not always be accepted by print on demand services. If you know your printer will accept Scribus files and you’re not afraid to manually convert TXT files to XHTML files, please let us know in the comments and we’ll plan an extra session.

This series will be permanently archived at the exPRESS Portal on the Folded Word website.

*Note: This tutorial series is provided as a springboard for discussion within the indie-lit community. Readers assume all risk and liability if they decide to implement suggestions made in the tutorials and any discussion that follows. Due diligence should be taken when downloading sample files or installing programs.

3 Comments on “exPRESS: Design

  1. Pingback: Exhausted from Writing the exPRESS « Grayestone Lodge

  2. Can these posts count as more than one, for the wordpress challenge to post every day of 2011? I think that would be more than fair, considering all that you have put into this! 😉 Thank you for all you do to help!


  3. Fortunately for the Folded Word blog, we only committed to the post every week for 2011. I did that knowing how long it would take to get each of these posts done. I’m enjoying it, though. Thanks for actually reading it! 😀


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