This is the first in a series. Here is a complete list of current posts in my InDesign Beginner’s Cheat Sheet.
I’ve encountered some debate as to whether the learning curve for InDesign makes sticking with Word the wiser choice, even if there are trade-offs in sophistication and control. Today, in the second post in this series on formatting for IngramSpark, I’m going to focus on encountering InDesign as a beginner and on my sense that, in fact, for a basic book layout, InDesign is surprisingly easy to learn.
I’ll begin by repeating my disclaimer: These posts are NOT how-tos. I am not an expert on InDesign, on formattiing books, or on Ingram’s requirements. I am simply sharing some observations and experiences, ideally as encouragement or in solidarity with others who blanched at the torrent of unfamiliar terms and commands in Ingram’s file-creation instructions and thought, “I can’t do that!”
It may turn out that I can’t do it either, but I’m giving it an honest try and reporting as I go. Please share your own wisdom and experiences—even if it’s to tell me I’m nuts!
An InDesign Formatting First Step: Using a Book.
Yes, this will add to the expense. Any book on a popular digital program will cost. In my previous post in this series, though, I explained why, for me, a book was essential.
That said, like many of the various how-to tomes I examined, the book I chose, Classroom in a Book, introduced me to many skills that are not bad to learn but are not really necessary for those of us working with plain black-and-white narrative text.
For example, I skipped the chapter on color. However, many of the basic formatting procedures, like how to use the “Pages” panel, were covered in sections involving graphics; what’s more, a lot of the locations I needed to store in my working memory, such as where to find “Fit Spread in Window,” were explained early on in connection with using graphics.
So I completed the early chapters in toto. If you’re contemplating diving in as I have, you may need to budget time to work through the instructions that give you these basic skills.
Book Formatting with InDesign: Today’s Good News!
As I wrote in the previous post, you almost certainly already have many Word skills that will serve you well in InDesign:
The Styles panels live at various places in Word, depending on your version. In my version, Word for Mac 2008, the Styles dialogue box is always available in my “Formatting Palette” but is also shelved under “Format” in the menu bar.
You may have already learned to use Styles in order to format an acceptable ebook submission for Smashwords or Kindle. Styles in InDesign work virtually identically: you create a style by telling the program, to begin with, what font you want, what size the font should be, what line spacing you need, how much of a first-line indent you want, and how you want the text justified. You can adjust a couple of other options in InDesign; I’ll mention the ones I found important in future posts.
In both programs, once you’ve created a style, it appears in a menu in the dialogue box. To use it, you simply select the appropriate style and the text you want it to govern and click apply. In both Word and InDesign, such formatting moves as centering, italicizing, and bolding should all be set with Styles rather than the clickable commands in the Word editing panel.
Key Commands and Editing Conventions.
Basic steps in editing remain identical across multiple platforms. Of course, CTRL on a PC becomes COMMAND on a Mac, but CTRL-Z still means Undo, CTRL-A means Select All, CTRL-F means Find, CTRL-S means Save, etc. The Text tool cursor in InDesign functions pretty nearly like any other cursor you’ve worked with: Dragging the cursor selects, clicking elsewhere deselects, the number of times you click in a block of text determines whether you select a word, a line, or an entire paragraph. Holding down “Shift” as you click adds whatever you click on to the selection. Old friends like these comforted me as I traversed new ground.
Same-old, same-old, except that you type into text boxes, a step that usually isn’t necessary in Word. You can type directly in the text boxes in InDesign, but from what I gathered completing the Classroom in a Book lessons, it’s generally standard to create your text in Word, then use the “Place” command to import it into InDesign rather than to try to compose in InDesign. I did, however, edit and correct directly in InDesign. Seems to work okay.
Basic Document-formatting Steps.
Setting margins also works the way you’re used to, as does selecting fonts. However, headers and footers are part of the new territory; I had a bit of a battle with these, which I’ll detail in a post coming up.
Find/Replace = Find/Change.
This is a vital word-processing application, and it’s equally vital in InDesign, where it works very much like the Word version you should be used to. As in Word, you can ask the Find function to locate formatting as well as “special characters” like spaces and line breaks. Since applying a paragraph style globally can wreak havoc with more specific formatting like italics, knowing how to manipulate the Find box can save you a lot of time.
My Takeaway: Easier Than It Looked!
Because so many of the functions I already knew how to perform were immediately transferable, the new skills specific to InDesign have turned out to be add-ons rather than the total cognitive cliff-jumping I expected when I first looked at the crowded screen. A lot of all that gobbledy-gook is old stuff, repackaged. with bells and whistles added. Better than Word? The jury’s still out on that.
Next post: new functions I found useful in InDesign.