Choosing software..Other writers experience!

In order to get a macro view of the writing landscape, I took a glimpse of what other writers ran into and felt about what tool they were using. Here are some of the pain points and advice from a blog by Joel:

Stephen: I’m presuming that you’re speaking of print versions of your books. First off, Word is not a viable tool for professional book design and layout. For one thing, it’s a word processor, not a page layout program. So it’s tools on not designed to optimize all the elements that go into a book. When you use Quark or InDesign there are Book options that allow you to do each chapter separately, keeping files sizes more manageable, and then joining them in a Book folder. Then, too, when exporting (or distilling) a PDF for the printer–we don’t generally send InDy orvQuark files out to printers anymore–there are some options for optimizing graphic files for the purpose of bringing their sizes down. But perhaps most important of all is to optimize them in Photoshop before importing them into your page layout doc.

Bill: Joel, Stephen, or anyone who can help me, I have written/published three books on golf and golf courses. I used Word exclusively. I was able to accept the layout compromises and the limitations of image manipulation, and I am satisfied with the products. There are pictures on every page which leads to very large files and the reason for my question. Several times as the files got over 300 KB, the program crashed, and I split the book into sections based on the size of the file.
When I combined the sections, the manuscript had to be compressed.
Now I am getting to create a second edition of one of the books, and I need to be mindful of the size of the section files. How should I handle the large files?
I like th Word product, for obvious reasons which you identify, but the size of my files is a problem. Thoughts? Suggestions? Thanks, Bill

Roger: I started with Microsoft Word but have moved onto Scribus. Its a good program, yes there is a learning curve but it does all I want for text and images. I can even show the bleed area on the page, something I could never do in Word. Of course the best part its free and they are always updating the program. InDesign is costly and probably harder to learn. I am completed 8 books now and even my first couple in Word I have redesign them in Scribus. Its good for layout of images, resizing, etc. Last 2 books have been hardcover with a dust jacket, Scribus does it perfectly for me. Forget Word its a battle to do want you want in book design, go for Scribus.

Roger: I also agree with Stephen, Word is not a good tool to use in designing a book. Word does crash when the file is too big and you can lose all you work.

When designing a book I use Scribus and find it great. Some books I have produced have a many images which makes the file very large. So when I export the PDF file to be printed it can be over 1GB. I just divide it into a couple of PDF files to send to the printing company.

Designing a book will be so much easier using another program, I will never use Word again, its a battle.

Stephen: Mike, doesn’t really matter what program you use, as long as you produce a printer-ready PDF at the end according to Amazon’s (CreateSpace’s) specs. That said, a typical workflow that is the start of professional results would be Microsoft Word for writing, vector drawing art done in Illustrator, photos worked in Photoshop, and page design and layout in InDesign or QuarkXPress.

Sandra: Joel, I need some help. My husband and I are editors for our local genealogical society and we publish a quarterly journal, which has about 48-52 pages plus front and back covers. It is really difficult using Word for the layout with all the elements we have to incorporate. We bought Publisher thinking this would be easier, but lo and behold, it doesn’t let you create an index, and we must have an Index at the back of each Journal!! Do you have any suggestions for us?? Thanks for your help.–sandra s

Joel: Sandra, you can still use Publisher if you have the index done by an indexer, you’ll just add it to the book like any other text. That’s the way the vast majority of indexes are handled, and the way I do them with my clients. For complex books, I recommend Adobe InDesign.

Tom: Serif Pageplus will let you index as well as generating ToC. Well worth looking at and excellent value for money – a fraction of the price of InDesign and, I understand, almost all of its features.I’ve used it more for family history than genealogy and I can’t understand why it is not better known. Usual disclaimers other than a contented user for over a decade now.

Roger: I use Scribus, its great and free. I am onto my 10th book now and have used Scribus for the last 8 books. I started with Word would never go back to it.Scribus it good for text and images, formatting, etc. Does take a little to learn the various parts. I learnt by using to make a book. Word has a problem with size, when you have lots of images, it crashes. Scribus once you have finished your book, the file can be exported as a PDF, which I send onto the printer. I would totally recommend Scribus.Joel: Roger, you can create an index in MS Word but you’ll need to closely coordinate with whoever is doing the layout to make sure the page references are correct. The software many indexers use is Cindex but it’s a professional-level program.

Roger: I see the Cindex program costs around $500. Maybe too professional for me. I will try out using Word to Index the book. Looks like its more work to complete but more simple to use.

Pedro: if the index is titles and page number you can do it with scribus

Aamir: you can generate index using Adobe Indesign CC quite easily….

Graphic Dig: Great article with a important discussion. Thanks for sharing the info and the recommendation for the page layout software as Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign and Quark Xpress. I am using these tools and got my job done successfully. Thanks for your suggestion.
Hazel: Thanks for the recommendation on PagePlus. I thought I would give the free starter edition a spin as I had some exposure to this software a few years ago. Unfortunately it would not install properly on my pc. It seems this is because I am running Windows 7 Pro 64 bit version, and Page Plus (x6) is not fully compatible with it. ? I do wish they would warn you in advance of things like this. Oh well, back to the drawing board. Sorry about your problem with installing PagePlus X6. As I said I’ve not tried PagePlus Starter and I hadn’t noticed that their web site says Win XP to Win 8 but only 32-bit.
Stephen: Before I upgraded to PPX7 I was running PPX6 perfectly successfully both on my laptop and my desktop, both of which are Win7 Pro 64-bit SP1. In fact, I am still running PPX6 on my laptop. Since most of my DTP work is done on my desktop with a nice big screen that is the only one I have upgraded to to PPX7. I see that Serif are still selling PPX6 for only £19.99 in UK which is a lot less than PPX7. I’m not sure what it costs outside UK. Perhaps that might be worth trying? PPX7 does have a few bells and whistles over PPX6 but I doubt that they would be a great advantage for the project you described.Hazel: I edited a special interest magazine for around 10 years. It was professionally printed by a specialist short run magazine printer. During my time as editor, more and more of the design support work was discontinued by the printers as they stripped out costs from their own operation. We were also PC based rather than Apple and that was the exception rather than the norm in the design world.

Eventually we had to do all the design ourselves to the point where we just uploaded the .pdfs of the finished magazine onto their website. To do this and get a professional product we invested in InDesign. It did everything we needed but there turned out to be a long learning curve, diverting me from my editing role. I am a writer not a designer. So I focussed on writing and editing and a colleague went on a course and learned how to use it for our small team.
That was a few years ago. I gave up being editor around 2 years ago and have turned my hand to writing. I have written a book of prose and poems with a lot of illustrations (mostly hand drawn) which I would like to publish as a limited run for family and friends and grandchildren. It is in Word and I have scanned in all the illustrations. Is there anything less sophisticated than InDesign you would recommend for doing the layout, given I have a “graphical eye” but no InDesign skills and not really time, or inclination to be honest, to learn them? I still work on a PC BTW.

Tom: I’ve found the pc-based Serif PagePlus great for (very!) limited run books, in my case family history stories with half-tone and vector illustrations. I have found it easy to use, and much better value than MS Publisher. Disclaimers; it is some years since I compared the two products – things might have changed since then – and I have been using the various iterations of PagePlus for some years now so I have had some time to become familiar with its interface.

I can send the output directly for PagePlus to PDF for uploading to Lulu and have been more than happy with both.There’s a free version (PagePlus Starter) which I have not used and
a review of the current version X7 at

R. Thomas: If you’re not doing a lot of books, the software required to do a professional job can be very expensive. I’ve not only invested in the software (InDesign, Photoshop, etc.) but numerous courses at a community college. Before I got hooked on the Adobe products, I used Microsoft Publisher to do newsletters. That seemed to work. It might be the solution for one-time publishers. Also, some people freelance as book formatters for a decent fee.
Heidi: Hi Jeanne, I saw your comment and have wondered the same thing in the past. I now have been using Creative Cloud for about eight months. My rationale for making the leap is similar to yours in that my software all became dinosaurs and with my most recent computer upgrade buried all but Freehand. I could not buy all new software for financial reasons and in my search discovered Creative Cloud. I went with the full package that allowed the download of several of their software, i.e.: Muse, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Edge and their fonts…I’m in designer Heaven for the same amount I pay for our phone bill. You can go for fewer software downloads for less per month…I think it is limited to two or three.

I have used Adobe products all my professional career and really only had a short downtime learning what all the new bells and whistles I had missed through updates that I did not take on. I find their products quite user friendly. They have a vast amount of learning videos and forums for user questions and I bought the Classroom In A Book Guides for Muse and InDesign and I was up and running in no time. I don’t know Publisher so I cannot tell you how they compare.My advice is if you have many books to put together and more websites to build, it is worth the leap. I am a professional designer and I’m not giving it up any time soon. I would be interested to see what other comments you get. Best wishes.

Jeanne: I’m an artist and designed my website and books using MS Publisher…a very outdated program, I understand, and the newer version is not user friendly…and features in the old version have become deactivated somehow through automatic software updates. So I need new programs, but which? When I was finally ready to upload my first book designs to blurb, I saw it didn’t accept Publisher files and I loathe preformatted templates, being a creative person. They only accept Adobe products but I’m wondering how much of a learning curve I’m going to have and if it’s worth getting involved in their new “Cloud” subscription arrangement since they’ve discontinued actual programs that one can purchase on disc. What do you suggest? Thanks, Jeanne
Stephen: Oy! Don’t be thinking even a little bit about fonts. Get your novel written first. It’s just so sway premature and irrelevant this early. Leave all design and layout thoughts until there’s a complete work and all it’s pieces can be seen in context.
Shawn: Hey I really love your blogs Joel. my situation is pretty straightforward, I’m writing a novel, and was getting my head very wrapped up in ‘fonts’ , and now the layout question, although this is before I’ve even written much . . my only issue is that somehow my sense of design is somehow connected to the things I write on my page . . does that make any sense at all? the fonts i use, to the layout I have set up , all affect the way that I write because of what i ‘see’, and I wonder what is your advice to take some of the burden off , if I decide to just focus on the story , and hire someone to do the layout professionally later, considering I have some issue with what I’m looking at for the duration of the writing experience . . . should I bother with fonts? or maybe I am answering my own question, and it is sort of in-between . . as long as I give it a look that supports my general vision for the time-being . . for some reason I worry that it won’t ‘look right’ when I get to the end , and will want to change too many things . . I have already acquired a few good fonts I like though , but I’m not sure if Open Office reveals the depth of the font , and that would explain why I can’t print it to look good right now . . is this true ? sorry for the long question , especially if it is not completely on topic . But it’s a key thing for me!

Sandra: My personal preference for book building is either FrameMaker for long documents like text heavy, technical manuals. Or InDesign, for more artsy design layouts, as it integrates well with Illustrator and PhotoShop. Both have a book publishing feature. That is so helpful if your book is not written linear or you have contributing authors giving you sections or chapters at different times. It will all come together in the book feature, including updating page numbering, toc and index.