Self-publishing a children’s book: What’s the best software for layout and design?

The article title question is a pretty easy one to answer: Adobe InDesign is an industry standard for book publishing, and would be an excellent book creation tool for a self-publisher, specifically those needing graphics manipulation or other advanced book layout and design tools.

…and there’s no way I can afford it. So, sorry InDesign, no offense but you’re too rich for my blood. My wallet can’t afford you. 

I had been using Microsoft Word. It’s a fine word processor and document creation engine – I use it for my “regular” book publishing needs. But I’m working on a new project. A children’s book. With a title of “Sharks and Bunnies“, you can bet it’s got a lot of interesting art on each page.

For now, I’m using Microsoft Publisher. It’s not InDesign, but it’s a heckuva lot cheaper and far better than MS Word. So far, it’s perfect for my needs.

For building my children’s book, I’m doing this for every page:

1) Work with an artist to create art. She’s painting 18″x18″ pieces.

2) Scan in and post-process the art with Photoshop. This is also where I overlay the book text over their place in the art. Other tools like GIMP (free) or the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite (cheaper than Photoshop, but I don’t use Corel for this reason) would also work fine.

3) Export from Photoshop as a 9″x9″ TIFF.

…then I do this in Microsoft Publisher:

4) Create a new document (page/paper size is 9″x9″, with an extra .5″ gutter for the spine. The published book will be an industry standard 8.5″x8.5″.)

5) Import all page TIFFs into each page in Publisher, and place each piece of art where it goes – the guidelines and rulers and “snap-to” functionality allows me to place the graphic easily on the page and plan for bleed and other layout considerations.

7) Export the entire project as a PDF. (Publisher has detailed resolution controls so the art won’t be degraded by PDF image compression.) 

…steps 4-7 are what I was originally trying to do in Microsoft Word, and it failed miserably. It’s not designed for such sizes or frequent graphical manipulation. The process was extremely buggy.

And I also found out another Microsoft Word “feature” the hard way: Word’s file size caps off at 512MB. Any bigger, and Word will refuse to open the file. So after I made modifications to my Word file, I could no longer open it! Nasty. Microsoft Publisher, on the other hand, doesn’t crash, graphic manipulation and project sizing is smooth and intuitive, and the performance is great, even with a large file (the current file size for my publisher file is 643MB. It takes several seconds to initially open and save, but the actual work inside the file is delay-free).

To answer the original question: What’s the best software for doing layout and design for self-publishing a children’s book? There are many options that will work well for many people. My choice right now is Microsoft Publisher.


  1. Eric Bowers says:

    You’ve gotta get a Mac! Leave those dusty PC’s behind…

  2. Rj says:

    Thanks for the tip, Im going to look into that:)

  3. Use “Scribus”. It is an easy-to-use free and opensource page layout and desktop publication tool. It is available for not only Linux but also Windows and Mac OSs.

  4. Eugene says:

    I agree that word is limiting, and I’ve been finding some success with The Draw program integrates nicely with the Write program allowing me to work in either or both. I’m in the first draft of my second eBook and am just taking a break before I start focusing in on the graphics and layouts.
    Do you know of any open sources / creative commons graphics available for public use? I can probably generate what I need, but if there’s already something out there I might as well check it out.