Book Design: What Is A Masterpage?

Last week, I released an article on book design basics, and I realized a few hours afterward that I’d forgotten to bring up a tool that I personally wish I’d learned sooner as an amateur book designer; and that tool is the masterpage.

So what is a masterpage?

Basically, a masterpage is a page that you can use as a template for other pages in your document. Masterpages appear outside of the actual pages of your document, so it isn’t going to be printed like the rest of the document is; but the design elements in a given master page will be transferred onto any page it is applied to.

For example, if you have a page numberer applied to a master page, and you apply that master page to another page in your book, then the page number will appear on that page.

No matter what design program you are using for your print book, you need to learn how to create and apply masterpages — and most importantly, how to apply a masterpage to multiple pages at once. Any design-based program worth its salt should let you apply a masterpage to multiple pages at once. When I was first starting out with Scribus and still unfamiliar with its interface, I had to manually change the masterpage for each individual page, one at a time. It was tedious. Please learn from my mistake!

Most programs will let you create as many different masterpage templates as your book needs. For instance, Shadow Herald has six separate masterpages;

Firstly, left and right “normal” master pages without any page numbers or special features attached (used for many things; title pages, copyright pages, dedication pages, tables of contents, and of course, blank pages).

Secondly, left and right “interior” master pages, which have a page number text box, the author’s name, and the book title inset at the bottom of the page (used for most pages of the book).

Finally, left and right “teaser” master pages, which have only the author name and the name of the teaser novel inset at the bottom, and no page numbering.

If I wanted to do something a little fancier with the chapter titles, I could always add in a master page for it; this is often seen in YA novels, where the first page of each chapter has a bit of decoration around the chapter title. I’ve experimented with this in my own designs, as you can see here;

Because of an ebook’s need for flexibility requires a complete lack of defined pages (instead, only defining sections, which are identified by a linked table of contents), master pages are a tool applicable only to print books. But as you can see by now, they are indeed very useful for print. Someone who doesn’t know how to create masterpages would have recreate or copy-paste every recurring element in their book, from chapter decor, to page numbers, to entire headers…

In short, it’s a great tool to have, and one of many reasons why I recommend indie authors pick up a design program rather than use Word to format print books.

And that’s it for book design and masterpages for today. If you find my advice helpful, then you can support my journey as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi. Thank you, and have a lovely day!

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