Create Books and Other Long Documents in InDesign

If you’ve ever tried to create a long document in a word processing program like Microsoft Word, you undoubtedly had problems. Everyone does. Plus, the longer, larger, and/or more complex a Word document gets, the more likely it is to crash. (Been there; done that.)

In fact, the two main reasons people move from a word processing program to a desktop publishing program are to get 1) better color handling and 2) more stable long document features. Although Adobe InDesign is not often billed as a long-document layout program, it does have built-in book features and more people are using the program to lay out books. I am one of them. So far, I have used InDesign to lay out a cookbook (Vegan Success), technical book (Web Business Success) and a non-fiction book (Happy Hound). I also have five more books in production now.

As an aside, I’ve done a lot of long document projects in a lot of different programs and I can tell you that dividing your document into smaller pieces is invariably a good idea. Even if you never use the InDesign book features, I encourage you to remember the “book” concepts even if you end up creating a long document in a word processor some time in your computing future.

Many people have spent countless hours of frustration trying to piece together the remains of a corrupted document because they tried to put 200, 400 or 1000 pages of a book into one file. Don’t do it. Break up long documents into chapters or sections and you will be rewarded with files that aren’t prone to tragic instability problems.

In InDesign terminology, when you create a long document, you create individual chapter files, which are then organized into a “book.” Really the book is actually just a file that opens as a palette with links that point to multiple InDesign documents. You can use the book palette to synchronize colors, style sheets, and page numbering across an entire book. For example, here is a book palette for a book I’m working on now.

fig 1

When you open the chapters, you always need to open them from the book palette. Just double-click the name and you see the little open book icon next to them.

Of course, you need the chapter files first. So lets start at the beginning with a few tips on getting your written work into the land of InDesign.

Start with a Template

The nature of a book is that you want all your pages to look the basically same. To retain consistency (and sanity), you should set up a template in InDesign. A template has an .indt extension (as opposed to .indd) and contains settings for your styles, page layout, graphics, and other master page content. When you double click the template in the Open a File dialog box, InDesign creates a new document based on that template.

To create a template, the easiest thing to do is to create a sample document. Choose File|New|Document and in the New Document dialog box, make sure you add checkmarks next to Facing Pages and Master Text Frame if you want InDesign to put an empty text frame on the master page. (If you have a more complex layout, you may want to leave Master Text Frame deselected.) Set up your page size and margins and click OK.

fig 2

Now dump in some dummy text, so you can define your styles. I find that it takes quite a bit of trial and error before I get to a layout I like, so going through the process in a junk document is easier. Be sure to go into your master page and set up your headers and footers. Add page numbers into your master page by drawing a frame, clicking the Type tool and choosing Insert Special Character|Auto Page Number.

Once you have things looking good, remove any junk text and save the file as a template. It’s easy to save a document as a template. Just choose File|Save As, type a file name, and make sure you change the Save as Type drop down choose to InDesign CS Template before you click Save.

fig 3


Prepare the Word Document

Although I lay out files in InDesign, I don’t write them there. I write my books in IdeaWeaver, then bring them into Word for final editing and preliminary styling. If you know Word, it can be faster to apply styles using keyboard shortcuts in Word, than applying them in InDesign. You can then import the partially formatted document into InDesign and it will magically pick up the formatting of the styles you have set up there.

To make this trick work, the style names must match exactly. Since Word comes with built-in Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. styles, which also have built-in shortcuts. (Ctrl+Alt+1 is Heading 1, Ctrl+Alt+2 is Heading 2 and so forth.) I just set up styles in the InDesign template that have the same name as the Word styles. When you choose File|Place, make sure to check the checkmark next to Show Import Options. In the Options, make sure that it says to Import Styles Automatically. Next to Paragraph Style Conflicts and Character Style Conflicts, make sure the drop down says Use InDesign Style Definition. You also may want to remove the checkmark next to Import Unused Styles.

fig 4


Flow in Text

Like many things in InDesign, figuring out how to flow in long copy isn’t intuitive. The key to getting text to “autoflow” so InDesign adds new pages is to hold down the Shift key when you place it (I told you it wasn’t obvious!) So to add your text into your chapter file, choose File|Place and you’ll notice that the pointer turns into a tiny page icon. Now hold down the Shift key and click inside a text frame that is based on a master text frame. InDesign adds as many new pages as it takes to flow in all your text.

fig 5

Once you have your chapter loaded in choose File|Save As and give it a name like Chapter 01. You may have noticed on my book palette screen capture (figure 1) that I’ve prefaced my file names with letters. Because I separate out the front matter like the table of contents, everything lists in order because of the letter prefix (i.e. in file lists, Chapter01 isn’t listed before Table of Contents). The file names also are descriptive to remind me what the chapter is about, which can be helpful in a long book.

Repeat the text flowing process for all your chapters.

Set Up Your Book

Creating a book from your chapters is simple. Choose File|New|Book. In the New Book dialog box, give your book a name. You see a blank book palette appear. Click the Add Document button (which looks like a plus sign) to add a new file to your book. Add all your chapters. Assuming you have set up automatic page number, InDesign will keep track of the pages in your book, so the chapters are numbered sequentially. Click Repaginate in the palette menu if you want to force it to repaginate all the files in your book.

fig 6

In many cases, you want your front matter, such as the table of contents to be numbered differently from the rest of the book (such as i, ii, and so forth). You can either click the chapter in the book palette and choose Document page number options, or go into the document itself and choose Numbering and Section options. Either way, you see the Page Numbering Options where you can change the style.

fig 7

As you are laying out your book, you undoubtedly will make final tweaks to your styles. Try to make these changes in one chapter and then designate it the “Style Source” chapter in the book palette by clicking next to it in the list. Then when you click the Synchronize button, your styles will be synched to this chapter.

fig 8

Add a Table of Contents

After you have your documents and book set up, you can do a table of contents. Go into your front matter chapter and add a new page. Now choose Layout|Table of Contents. Place a checkmark next to Include Book Documents.

Now you need to select the Paragraph Styles that you plan to include. For example, in my case, I select Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3. Click the Add button to add each one into the list of Included Paragraph Styles. Once the style is in the list, click to highlight each one, so you can select the table of contents style you want each level to be formatted with in the Entry Style drop down. When you are done setting up your table of contents, click OK.

A loaded text icon appears and you can place your new table of contents in your chapter. It’s a good idea to keep the table of contents in a frame that is not linked to other flowing text. You will inevitably make changes to the book that will affect the table of contents, so you don’t want to accidentally overwrite anything every time you update the table of contents.

fig 9

Now you have all the basic components of a book laid out in InDesign! As a reader and author, I think indexes are important and all of our current books do have them. However, I’ll save that topic for next time. Until then, good luck with your next book project!

If you are laying out a book in InDesign, check out these articles:

About Susan Daffron

Susan Daffron is the author the Alpine Grove Romantic Comedies and multiple award-winning nonfiction books, including several about pets and animal rescue. Check out all her books on her Amazon Author page.