How to Layout a Book with OpenOffice.org: Part 1

This article is part of the Layout Books with OpenOffice series:

It is all in your head: the plot, the characters, the locations, and even the scenes, but for some reason, staring at the blank page and blinking cursor makes you freeze. You like the idea of writing a book but cannot imagine actually completing it. If that feeling sounds familiar, then this might be the right article for you. Even if you have written a book and have it all ready to go, you may intend to self-publish it, start your own publishing company, send it to an editor, or just layout your book so you can see how it looks.

There is a long list of reasons why you might need to prepare an OpenOffice.org document in book form, and once you have learned how to do it, you will have a useful skill that you or people you know may need in the future. You can use this method for both print publications and e-books.

1. Start OpenOffice.org Writer with a regular blank document template.

Page format

The first thing you will need to do is set the size of your book. In my personal experience, it helped me tremendously with writing to be able to see each page at a normal book size rather than the 8.5″x11″ college essay size. Suddenly, writing one hundred or two hundred pages will not take so long or seem so daunting.

2. Click “Format” in the menu and then click “Page…”

3. Enter in your custom width and height.

The current format will be “Letter”. Many non-fiction paperbacks will be 6″x9″, while fiction paperbacks are often smaller sizes, such as 5.25″x7.5″. If you are doing this purely for effect, then it is entirely up to you. If you have to meet certain printing press specifications, follow them precisely.

There are lead pages that always proceed the actual text of a book. If you are preparing a book for printing, they will be crucial. Bookstores rely on that information for stocking, and libraries rely on it for cataloging.

4. Create a title page.

There is no particular format set in stone, but a title page should include at least the title of the book and statement of responsibility (author’s name). If available, it should also include the publisher and place of publication. This is the place to be creative. You can use whatever font style and size you want. Create a manual page break at the end of the title page.

5. Create the title page verso.

This is the page directly on the other side of the title page and usually contains more detailed publication information, including copyright, ISBN, and CIP (cataloging in publication) data.

The verso will be on the left side in your book

6. Click “Format” and “Paragraph”.

Click on the “Alignment” tab, and change it to “Justified”. From this point on, you will want your text to be justified.

7. Insert another page break, and you can enter any number of optional pages such as a dedication.

This can include a half title page with just the title or title and author’s name on the second to last page before the text. The final page before the text will be blank, and the text should begin on the recto or right-hand side.

8. Insert a page break and begin your text.

Most books will begin with a chapter number, chapter name, or both.

In part 2, you will learn how to properly align page numbers and format paragraphs. You are now well on your way to preparing your book for publication. Writing a book can be a very rewarding experience, even if you have no intentions of publishing. With OpenOffice.org, free and open source software, you have all the tools you need to make it happen. Happy writing!

5 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing! Never knew you can do all that with OpenOffice! Thought you can only do that on Illustrator.
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  2. Honestly, this doesn’t sound like the way I’d start doing it. When I start writing a big document, I’ll start off defining my classes of text. I’d be creating different paragraph classes for titles, sub-titles etc. Then I’ll customize the styling/formatting for those classes. Then I write what I want in the actual document itself, highlight the title (for e.g.) and then just double click on the “Title” paragraph class to set it automatically. I’ll also try to minimize the manual page breaks I need to make. Typically, I’ll want a page break before each new section. So, I create a new paragraph class for “Section” and in the formatting for the class, I’ll configure it to automatically introduce page breaks by going to “Text Flow” -> Break -> Insert/Page/Before. That way, I make my document more consistent overall and less susceptible to human error.

  3. Having just finished a 130 page book in OO, there are a number of important tricks.

    Rule #1 is “Write the book, then format it.” Rule #2 is “Thou shalt use page styles.” OO has excellent support for styles. Learn to use left & right pages (which once you get it set up actually works pretty easily) and to use different styles for each chapter so that your page header shows the current chapter correctly.

    A little-documented but very important trick for working with page styles is that not all hard page breaks are equal. [CTRL][ENTER] is useless with page styles. Insert the page breaks between chapters explicitly, using “Insert|Manual Break”. This brings up the Insert Break dialog, where the (next page’s) Style can be chosen from a dropdown. That’s key to making the style formatting flow correctly.

    All in all, OO is a great tool for writing, and true style support makes it much more powerful than Word for large documents.

  4. Thank you for all of your helpful comments. I will include some of your suggestions in Part 2.

    Regarding page breaks, I have never had trouble with them. I have written a 312-page book, a 270-page one, and am working on a third. I used them for the title page and first few pages, but only at the ends of chapters throughout the remaining pages. It is important later on when you need to make sure your chapters and page numbers are correct.

    I agree with Stephen about formatting after writing the book. The only formatting I do before writing is the page size, and that is already done for me when I start with my template.

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