Which Software Is Best For Typesetting Your Paperback?

(Foreword note; this article is about typesetting a book for physical copy. Ebooks play by different rules, and I’ll be covering them next week!)

As a typesetter, you need a lot of tools. The ability to kern and lead precisely, an eye for widows and orphans, the ability to add drop caps, so on and so forth. If none of these terms are familiar to you, that’s okay! I’ve written a post explaining typesetting for beginners, so you can read that.

With that out of the way, on to the software scrutiny.

When many independent authors design their books, they often default to using the same program in which they typed up the manuscript in; Google Docs, Microsoft World, Open Office, etc.

It’s definitely possible to design a book in these programs (and there are plenty of YouTube videos that will walk you through the process), but I don’t actually recommend using them. Why? Because these programs are designed with the creation of text in mind, not the display of text. A lot of features have been added over the years to make these programs more designer-friendly, but ultimately, their intended purpose is to help a businesswoman write a formal letter, or a college freshman to type up his thesis.

If you design your print book in a program like Microsoft Word, you’re going to have less control over how your text and pictures are arranged on the page, you’re going to have a harder time creating master pages, and the end result may be a little awkward or generic.

So what other options are there?

Firstly is InDesign. You might’ve already heard of it, because most publishing companies use InDesign to create their books and most colleges teach it to anyone looking to enter the publishing industry. Unfortunately, InDesign is subscription-based and has quite a cost attached to it, so it might not be a good option for you if you don’t already have access to Adobe Cloud.

Don’t worry; if you don’t can’t afford to pay $20 for Adobe Cloud every month, there’s cheaper options out there.

For one, Affinity Publisher still costs money, but a one-time payment of $49.99 is cheaper over time than continually forking over money to Adobe. Affinity has a similar layout to InDesign if you’re already familiar with that, and is a good option if your text is heavy with photographs and artwork.

For a design software that’s a little easier on a beginner, Xara has a similar price to Affinity (a one-time $49.99), but a simpler and more intuitive interface.

But for a simpler interface and a strong focus on text placement, Scribus is astoundingly free. Scribus’ weak point is that it handles images more awkwardly than most of the other design programs listed here, so it’s most applicable to books with uncomplex picture layouts, such as inserting an author photo in the back, or applying a little background decor to a chapter’s head.

But Scribus more than makes up for that with the flexibility and precision with which you can arrange text. In that regard, it has every feature a veteran designer would expect of a paid program. This makes it my top recommendation for text-focused books.

Finally, if you want your book typeset quickly, effortlessly, and for free, then Reedsy offers free formatting services. I’ve tested it out for myself, and it’s not bad. Unlike all the other programs I’ve offered, you need no design experience to use it. The downsides are that the result is a little generic and that it works strictly for text-only books. Your bio picture is the only picture you can contribute to the process.

Did this help you find the resources you need to format your book? If you find my advice helpful, then you can support me as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi. Thank you, and have a lovely day.

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