7-Step InDesign Tutorial for Book Layouts image

While the cover of a book may get all the glory, the interior layout is equally (if not more) important than cover design. After all, the pages are what readers experience as they read the book. This tutorial will give you the basic tools you need to start formatting your book using InDesign.

How to Lay Out Your Book in InDesign

Before you begin your book layout, you’ll need a complete manuscript. Manuscripts can be created using any word processing application—make sure to complete all edits and apply character and paragraph styles prior to beginning your design.

You’ll also need to figure out where and in what order to place the front matter, such as a table of contents, copyright page, foreword, preface, introduction, etc., as well as the back matter, such as an author page, glossary, appendix, index, etc. Use already published books as a reference to figure out how you want to sequence these sections.

Follow these simple steps to create and lay out your book using InDesign:

1. Set Up Your Document

To get started, you’ll need to create a new document. To do this, open InDesign and go to File, then click New Document (or click on Create on the left side). This will open a dialog where you can configure your document layout and name your document.

First, you’ll need to decide what size your book will be. In the publishing world, this is referred to as “trim size.” One thing to bear in mind when deciding your book’s trim size: The cost of printing will depend heavily on the number of pages. If this is a concern, consider, for example, a 6” x 9” book instead of a 5” x 8” book in order to reduce the number of pages.

If you plan to have widespread distribution online and in bookstores, you’ll probably want to limit your trim size to 6″ x 9″ as anything larger might not fit on all bookshelves.

TCK Publishing layouts are generally 6” x 9” for both fiction and nonfiction; it is an industry standard for traditional and print-on-demand distribution. When in doubt, use this trim size for general nonfiction, novels, and memoirs.

Be sure to leave fairly generous margins. Margins allow space around the edges of the pages and in the gutter (where the pages meet along the spine). Margins make pages easier to read, and they guarantee that none of your content gets cut off during the printing process.

At TCK Publishing, we start most of our projects with the values below, which are fairly industry-standard:

Document setup dialog

You can leave the Bleed and Slug values as is. (Bleed is the term for an image that touches the edges of the page; slug refers to non-printing information that might appear in the document such as date or time.)

2. Import Content into Your Layout

Next, you’ll need to import your book text into InDesign. Use clean, edited copy so you’ll only need to make minimal changes after everything is carried over to InDesign.

You can import text from .doc, .rtf, or .txt files. Some character and paragraph formatting will be maintained, but most page layout settings, such as margin and column settings, will be ignored and will need to be set up directly in InDesign.

To begin importing copy, go to File and click Place. Locate your manuscript file from your local directory. When you’ve chosen your file, you will have a “loaded cursor” that will allow you to place the text in the document.

Point the loaded cursor inside the margins at the upper left corner, then press shift + click. InDesign will automatically flow the text onto as many pages as necessary.

Your manuscript is now an Indesign document!

3. Apply Paragraph and Character Styles

Now it’s time to get creative! This is when you’ll apply paragraph styles, character styles, and fonts; you can also add drop letters, images, glyphs, fleurons (ornamental symbols used to denote section breaks), and any other aesthetic elements you want.

To make your job easier, it is helpful to have all the tools you’ll need visible in your InDesign window. The most common formatting tools are found in the Tools, Control, Character Styles, and Paragraph Styles windows. To view the Tools and Control windows, go to Window, then select each one. The Paragraph Styles and Character Styles can be found under Type.

To keep your workspace clean, you can arrange and stack the windows to your liking. See the instructional video to get an idea of how you can organize your InDesign workspace.

Now you are ready to get formatting!

First, be sure to check that any formatting from your word processor document carried over.

Next, you’ll be applying paragraph and character styles. Paragraph Styles are used to format blocks of text such as headings and subheadings, paragraphs, lists, and offset quotes. They can also be used to style headers and footers. In addition to font and type size, paragraph styles can include indents, lines before and after, line height, etc.

You can define your paragraph styles by adding new styles or modifying the existing ones. To create a custom style, go to the Paragraph Styles window, then go to options and select New Paragraph Style. The dialog gives you customization options for nearly every aspect of the paragraph.

You’ll need to create paragraph styles for every text element in your book. Styles guarantee consistency and ensure that your book looks professional.

Keep in mind that for the main body of text, the font size should be at least 11pt and the leading (the technical term for line spacing) should be about 14pt.

Once your paragraph styles are set, click anywhere in the paragraph and then click on the appropriate style in the Paragraph Style window to apply it. You can always modify paragraph styles later—any changes you make will be applied to any paragraph in that style.

Next, you’ll need to have character styles in place as well. Character styles are applied to particular text in a paragraph and can include things like bold, italics, small caps, underline, etc. To set these up, go to the Character Styles window to create or edit styles, just as you did with the paragraph styles.

To apply your character styles, highlight the appropriate text and then click on the style in the Character Styles window.

4. Add Images

Next, add your images. Remember that images should always be at least 300 dpi in resolution so they will render clearly when printed. Check the image resolution before placing it in your InDesign document.

To import an image, go to File and select Place. Choose the image from your local directory, then click Open. To resize the image, highlight the image and then go to the scale option in the control window. We recommend scaling by percentage so it will scale with respect to the ratio of the image.

All images should be anchored so that when you’re editing the document, the image flows with the appropriate text. In the event that you add or remove text or even add or remove pages, the image will move along with the text.

To do this, select the image, click the blue box along the upper right edge of the image. The blue box will turn into an anchor to indicate that the image is anchored. Double click on the anchor icon to customize the alignment of the image.

5. Add Headers and Footers

Headers and footers are the bits of text that appear at the top and bottom of the pages respectively. In the headers, the title of the book often appears on the lefthand page, with the author’s name or chapter title on the righthand page; footers often contain page numbers. However, you can customize your headers and footers according to your preferences.

Headers and footers are easy to do in InDesign using master pages. To create master pages, go to Window and click on Pages.

Indesign Master Pages

There are two sections in this window: the master page navigation pane and the individual book page navigation pane.

Master pages are like styles—they determine the way that other pages look. Clicking the A-Master will bring you to a blank spread where you can add text boxes for your headers and footers.

To create your text boxes, click on the Type tool (the T icon) in the Tools panel. Click and drag your mouse on the spread to create a text box of your desired size. Drag the text box where you would like your header to be—usually just above the top margin.

Copy and paste this text box and drag the new text box to the opposite page, creating identical headers on both pages of the spread. Do the same for both footers.

You can add the header text in each of the boxes at the top, since it will be the same throughout the chapter.

To insert page numbers, place your cursor inside the text box, go to File, then select Type, then Insert Special Character, then Markers, and then click on Current Page.


The Letter A should appear as a placeholder. Repeat this process for the opposite page.

Once your master pages are set up, the master page layout can be applied to the actual pages of your document. To do this, go to Window and open the Pages dialog. Here you will see your A-Master. Right-click on the A-Master, then select Apply Master to Pages from the dropdown menu. For now, select All Pages and click OK.

At this point, the headers and footers will appear on ALL pages—but there are some pages where it shouldn’t appear, such as the front and back matter, chapter title pages, and blank pages.

To remove the master page formatting from specific pages, make sure your Pages dialog is open. In the pages dialog, locate the page that you would like to remove the headers and footers from. Then, drag the blank or [None] Master Page onto the page icon in the window.

6. Add a Table of Contents

Once the page numbers are set, decide whether you would like to add a table of contents (TOC). (Hint: If your book is nonfiction, you probably want a table of contents!) Before generating the TOC, you need to insert a blank page where you would like it to appear. To add a page, go to the Pages window, highlight the page where you would like to place the TOC, then, in the Pages menu, select Insert Pages. Make sure to put a 1 in “Pages,” and select the correct location for the page, then click OK.

Inserting Pages on Indesign

Now, you have a blank page that’s ready for your TOC. If you’ve formatted your headings correctly using paragraph styles throughout the entire book, creating a TOC requires just a few clicks.

To add table of contents go to Layout, then Table of Contents.

In the dialog, you will see a few sections. First, name your TOC and select the style you would like the TOC title to appear in.

Next, under “Styles in Table of Contents,” select the paragraph type you would like InDesign to pull the TOC’s contents from. Click “Add” so that the style appears in the “Include Paragraph Styles” box.

The “Style” section will determine what your TOC looks like. Choose an entry style (you can also manually change this later, in the document itself). Then, select the location of your page numbers (and whether you want page numbers at all). In the “Between Entry and Number” dropdown, you can choose the alignment of the page numbers relative to the entries as well as any stylistic add-ons.

Once you are done making your selections in the dialog, hit OK and you will see your loaded cursor. Drag your cursor to create a box where you want your TOC to appear on the page. Adjust the font type, size, and style until you are satisfied.

By now, all of your pages should be formatted, your headers and footers should be in place, and your TOC should be set. You are now just one step away from having a print-ready file.

7. Create a Print-Ready PDF 

InDesign files are not usually accepted by printers, so you’ll need to create a PDF of your document. You can use the Indesign High Quality Print preset for this. Go to File and then Export. Select the PDF print format, save the file, and your document will be exported to a PDF.

Note that the cover image has not been included. You may include it in your PDF file, although typically, the cover is handled separately from the book interior file.

Your Book Is Ready to Sell!

These seven simple steps are all you really need to create beautiful book interior layouts in InDesign. As you master the program, you can create more complex layouts, but remember to always stick to the industry’s size standards for easy distribution.

You can download TCK Publishing’s 6″ x 9″ Book Layout Template to get you started.

If you don’t have the software yet and want to try using Adobe Indesign, you can download the trial version.

You can make sure your book is done using our self-publishing checklist. Then it’s time to start marketing! We’re here to help with that too: Learn to market and sell your books on Amazon and beyond.

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Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.