4. Getting layout software

I believe in doing everything myself, even though it would almost certainly have been cheaper, quicker and easier to pay someone else to design the cover, lay the text out and then send me the files in the correct format. If you’re like me, here’s what you need to know.

The big problem is that LS is geared up for dealing with proper publishers. You can only submit your cover and text files in a small number of formats, and the one they recommend is PDF/X1a-2001. This is standard for professional printing companies, as it means that the PDFs won’t use any features like animations, transparencies, form fields, sounds, or any of the other confusing things that can be included in PDF files. This kind of file also includes all the information needed to print – including all the pictures and fonts. This is, I’m sure, a good thing in the end. Lulu have much looser stipulations for their PDFs, and are prepared to help you out if there’s a problem. With LS, you need to make sure that there are no problems.

Unfortunately, it isn’t easy for ordinary people to produce PDF/X1a-2001 files. As far as I can tell, there are only two possible ways of doing it, the first of which inexplicably didn’t work for me.

 

Method 1 – use any program for design, then Acrobat X to convert the file format

In theory, it ought to be possible to produce a normal PDF file using whatever program you like (Word, Open Office, etc.), and then convert it into a PDF/X1a-2001 file using Adobe’s Acrobat X. Also in theory, it should only be necessary to do this conversion once, so the free one-month trial of Acrobat X should suffice.

You may be able to put this clever plan into practice. If so, you are a better man than me. Should you decide to try, here’s some information that might help in your futile quest.

You can get a month’s free trial (PC only) by going to https://www.adobe.com/cfusion/tdrc/index.cfm?product=acrobat_pro&loc=en. Otherwise it costs about £90 for the standard version (only available on PCs) or about £125 for the professional version, which is available for Macs too. I have Windows 7 running on my Mac using Parallels, so I downloaded the free PC trial and tried to convert my standard PDF (produced using Mac Word 2011) into a PDF/X1a.

Unfortunately this produced an error which no one on the Internet could tell me how to avoid (apparently there was both an art box and a trim box, and these things should never co-exist). Acrobat X should make it possible to produce the PDF/X1a directly from Word, but again I ran into complex, boring and inexplicable problems that prevented this from happening.

I am now glad that this was impossible. Word is a horrible program to use for page layout, and it’s very difficult to trust it with things like colours, page sizes, etc. The cover I created using Word was at least a billion times worse than the one I finally created using InDesign, and I suffered intolerable anguish in the process. Despite the fact that Word 2011 has lots of really good features, it becomes slow and frequently does infuriating and inexplicable things.

 

Method 2 – use InDesign

LS will accept InDesign files, and InDesign also exports to LS’s preferred PDF/X1a-2001 format. Once you’ve got the hang of InDesign, it’s a lovely program to use and it means you’re less likely to end up with something that looks home-made. The downside is the price.

You can download a free InDesign trial (for Mac or PC), which gives you the full version for a month – almost (but in my case not quite) long enough to learn how to use the software, design your cover and export the final file. If you run over, you can hire InDesign by the month from Adobe. It costs £56.70 for one month, or £95.14 for the whole of the Creative Design suite. That’s expensive, but not too bad for a one-off.

I decided to buy the full program though, because I wanted to be able to go back and modify my design later without having to pay another £56.70. I knew that my work on the cover would keep getting interrupted and that I’d keep changing my mind, so I expected the process to be pretty drawn out. The cheapest price I saw for InDesign was £275. If you’re a full-time student you can get it for less.

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