Since I work on a range of documents through my work, I have high-level layout skills and knew I could do the layout of my family history book myself, including tricky designs. At work I use Windows machines but at home I use a Mac. I wasn’t as familiar with design on the Mac as I was using Microsoft Office, so I experimented in MS Word and Publisher after work at the office. 

At home, I played around with Mac Pages. I found the Mac to be missing a few features from Word that I wanted, but discovered other features that I really liked. In the end I was glad I did it on the Mac because the finished design is really beautiful — even with several work-arounds because of missing features. 

One of the design elements in my books that appears tricky but is actually quite simple is placement of photographs. Many of the photographs overlap each other or are angled on the page. This is done by ‘floating’ the images. In MS Word, double-clicking on the image will bring up a dialog box that provides a huge range of settings. The default is ‘In Line with Text,” but that can be changed to place the image in front of text, behind text, etc. In Mac Pages, these setting are available through the Inspector. The ‘Object Placement’ option lets you set the image to Inline, Floating, and In Background. The ‘Object causes wrap’ options let me set how the image affected the text around it. Experimenting with these provided the positioning and effects I wanted.

The Mac also had a default border option that appeared to be old style photo corners — which was exactly what I wanted for my images. Had I chosen to complete the book in MS Word, I’d have had to figure out a way to get the same effect with clip art over or under-lays. I used other design elements as well, including shadows on images that created a three-dimension look to give the impression that they were in a photo album.

As noted, I was able to rely on the insider publishing knowledge I had about white space (make sure there’s lots), font readability and other tricks of the trade. For example, making the font larger doesn’t necessarily make it easier to read if the text is crowded on the page. Large fonts also tend to look less professional. 

For a polished page but better readability, it’s best to use a smaller font (9 to 12 points) but make the space between the lines larger than whatever the default ‘normal’ is set to in the word processing application. Books and magazines typically use a 9 1/2-point font but make the line spacing about 14 points high. I prefer to use a percentage for line spacing rather than a set point. Using a percentage for line spacing meant that if I changed the size of the font, the line spacing would change automatically as well. After experimenting, I decided on a 10-point font on a 1.2 percent line spacing. 

And since the book would be read in print rather than online, I chose a serif font rather than non-serif. Serif fonts are almost always used for the printing of large blocks of text — such as those in books, magazines and newspapers. The serifs help the eye distinguish the letters more quickly. However, those same serifs can blur or look fuzzy on a computer screen, so san-serif fonts are better for online reading. 

This all sounds complicated, but I applied ‘styles’ throughout the book to make it easier. Each style was named for its use and had all the options set for font name, text size, line spacing, and indents. I had one style for Chapter Headings, another for Body Text, a third for Image Captions and so on. After I typed (or copied in) text, I applied the appropriate style. This use of styles made tweaking a breeze. For example, if I decided to reduce the line spacing or increase the font size, I made that change to the style rather than to the text. The moment the style was altered, all text in the document that had that style applied to it, instantly changed to reflect the new setting.  

Continued in Part 4: Printing