InDesign Cheat Sheet! Add Some Text!

Woman writing

This is part of a series. Here is a complete list of current posts in my InDesign Beginner’s Cheat Sheet.

Okay, time to enter some text into your InDesign file.

In this post, I’ll discuss my experience with the basics of adding text. You’ll have many decisions to make once you’ve populated your pages, but I’ll get to those later. For now, let’s just get some text in.

***Click on the images for a larger version. Then use CTRL/COMMAND + + (plus sign) to enlarge them still further.***

Here’s a warm blanket if you need one: Until you actually save a file, InDesign allows you infinite “Undos.” If you don’t like what you just did, hit CTRL/COMMAND + Z. You’re back where you were, ready to try again.

One problem you may face that I mentioned earlier: If your workspace doesn’t show the tool menu to the left, or any panel options to the right, go to Windows > Workspace > Advanced. The various components should appear.

Remember: You’re now working with content pages rather than master pages. You can’t change master-page elements on content pages. For example, you can’t fool around with the font in your running heads, assuming you created some. You must return to your masters and make the alterations there.

indd pages panel w text

You can override master-page elements, but you’ll only need to do so in a couple of specific places, and the process is quite simple, as I’ll explain below.

An important step: clean up your Word file first!

If you have already formatted your text for Kindle or for one of the other ebook platforms, like Smashwords, and it came out without odd line breaks and other formatting errors, you’ve probably done this work. If not, I recommend following Mark Coker’s formatting guidelines at Smashwords. At their most basic, and as Joel Friedlander of The Book Designer web site tells us, these guidelines say you should:

  • Run your text through a plain-text program like TextEdit for Mac or Notepad to strip hidden formatting behind your Word document
  • Then use Word’s “Styles” to format, rather than tabs and returns.

Above all, NO TABS and no stacked returns! Styles allows you to set features like first-line indents and spaces before and after paragraphs or headings.

indd Coker page

Here’s a fragment from Mark Coker’s guide to formatting for Smashwords, discussing the need to eliminate tabs and spaces for formatting.These guidelines also apply to interiors for print books.

Here’s help with Word’s Styles process. As one of the footnotes tells us, this is the way to “clean” text for print as well as for ebooks.

Now that you have a clean Word file, it’s time to adopt a very different basic process from the one you’re used to in Word:

You CAN type directly into text boxes in InDesign, and you CAN copy/paste from your Word files. But the preferred process is to use the “Place” command, under “File.”

indd place

In fact, Joel Friedlander considers using copy/paste instead of “Place” one of the four basic formatting mistakes beginners make. For one thing, he says, if you copy/paste, you’ll lose your italics, if you have used any. He also says that you will lose a number of important formatting options.

So the basic steps are these:

  • Create a clean Word file of the text you want to insert into your InDesign document.
  • In InDesign, go to File>Place
  • When offered the chance to browse, select the file you want to insert. The file will “load” onto the cursor; you’ll see it as miniature text attached to the cursor.
  • Position the loaded cursor in the upper left-hand corner of the first page of your document in your Pages Panel (not the master!).
  • When the little black cursor arrow turns white, click.

You still have formatting to do, but the text is now in your InDesign document.

I recommend that you load your book a chapter at a time. It is possible to load an entire 90K manuscript at once, but in my view, doing so has disadvantages:

Handling larger files creates more opportunities for your program to get annoyed with you and make mistakes, perhaps garbling page order or even leaving out portions. I’m not saying it will; I am saying that if it ever does, the only way you’ll know is if you read the entire ms.

You’ll be doing this anyway, but will have no reason to do so until your formatting is in place, since you’ll want to limit the number of times you have to read the whole book all the way through. If you find a major error midway through after formatting, correcting the error can affect all the work you’ve done all the way to the end of the book. Better to be able to do a quick inspection a chapter at a time so you can catch any misbehavior on the program’s part before you do a lot more work.

You will need to apply the correct style to each chapter title and subhead or subsection (I use Arabic numerals to denote subsections within larger chapters). To me, it’s a lot easier to catch all of these in a chapter than if I have to comb through a long manuscript looking for them, even using the Find and Replace option in InDesign.

These are just my preferences. If you want to load the whole book at once, you should be able to.


What if this process loads only one page!

It’s possible that this can happen when you insert a multipage file. If so, you’ll see a tiny red square low on the right margin of the page into which you placed the file. This means the text is “overset”: you haven’t made provisions for such a long document.

indd overset

Here’s the “overset” symbol, telling you that there’s too much text for the space you’ve allotted.

So what are those provisions you should have made?

Ideally, you should have your document set up for “Smart Text Reflow” (STR). This toggle is supposed to automatically create pages as needed when you load a multipage file. To see if STR is turned on, go to Preferences, which is located under “Edit” on a PC and under the InDesign logo in the upper left corner on a Mac. Choose Type, and in the box that appears, you’ll see the STR button about two-thirds of the way down.***

indd STR

You’ll have a couple of options; I suggest going with the defaults unless you run into a problem, then trying other options to see if they change anything.**

There’s another easy solution if by some chance your full file won’t load:

  • Select the last page in your current Pages panel (probably the one with the single page of the text you’re trying to add)
  • Go to Layout>Pages>Insert Pages and just add a bunch of pages.

indd Layout w text

Your pages should flow right into the new space.

**UPDATE! What if neither of these strategies work? What if STR sulks and won’t flow text, and adding pages doesn’t drag it out of its cave? It happened on my next project. Go to my latest post, “InDesign Obstacle: When Smart Text Reflow Doesn’t Work” to see the thrilling solutions I found!**

My final Beginner’s Cheat Sheet tip for today: removing the running heads and page numbers on your opening chapter pages.

According to the designers, best practices state that these pages should not carry the running heads (nor should your “front” and “back” matter, but we’ll address those in future posts).

To clear the heads from these pages, simply select the page in the Pages panel, go to Layout>Apply Masters to Pages, and in the dialogue box that opens, select “none.”

indd apply  master box


Note that you can add your chosen master, or no master, to a range of pages. Just type the range into the box.

Next: Beginner’s Formatting Tips from the Beginner in Chief (me). big smile smiley

* When  I was working on my latest book interior, STR went into a snit. The first chapter loaded beautifully, but subsequently, only a single page of Chapter Two marked with the overset emblem would load.

I jiggled around in the program for a while to see whether I had changed a setting somehow. Everything appeared normal.

Finally, I went to my masters to see if I had inadvertently done something to them.

Poking around, I found a small icon of a manuscript page with an arrow attached to the upper right margin of each of my master pages. Hovering the cursor, I read that “This story is your primary text flow.” Wondering whether this had anything to do with my problem, I clicked both these toggles to “off.”

Bingo! STR leapt into action on the next try.

I’ll leave it to the experts to explain what happened. So far, the chapters seem to be loading fine.

**UPDATE! I was too hopeful. This didn’t work the  next time I opened the file. Go to “InDesign Obstacle: When Smart Text Reflow Doesn’t Work” to see what I did next.**

**BTW, in case you’re wondering, “Story” is an alternative editing space you can choose to use. My book suggests that it can be superior for editing work, but I only used it for a single option I’ll discuss in future posts, and I can’t see that failing to use it regularly for editing caused any problems.



Filed under book design, indie publishing, novels, Print on Demand, Publishing, Self-publishing, Tech tips, Writing

3 responses to “InDesign Cheat Sheet! Add Some Text!

  1. Pingback: InDesign Obstacle: When Smart Text Reflow Doesn’t Work | Just Can't Help Writing

  2. Pingback: Finally! Formatting Text in InDesign, Part I | Just Can't Help Writing

  3. Pingback: CHECK OUT MY BEGINNER’S INDESIGN CHEAT SHEET! | Virginia S. Anderson

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