If you are an author/illustrator of picture books, at some point in your process you are going to need to make a dummy. Everyone has their own methods, but here’s the method that works for me. Having a background in graphic design, my comfort zone for laying out pages is in Adobe InDesign. InDesign offers a high level of control and flexibility for laying out pages, placing art, formatting text, printing and exporting files. If you’ve never tried InDesign before, don’t worry, it’s fairly straightforward to learn.
One thing that is important to understand right away about InDesign is that it creates links to your content. The organization of your files matter.
Make a Project Folder
Start by making a project folder. You can name the folder the title of your book for example. Inside that folder create a folder called Sketches. Now open InDesign.
Set up Your File
Choose File>New Document. [figure 1]
I put in 32 pages for my picture book, as well as the size of the pages and the orientation. This file isn’t for production, so we’ll ignore bleed, slug and other settings.
Now you should have file set up with all your blank pages (Figure 2). You can use the command and plus or minus keys to zoom in or out so you can see more of the pages.
Tap the R key or choose the Rectangle Frame Tool in the toolbox (Figure 3). Click and drag to make a frame the same size as your page. (Figure 4). With the frame still selected go to Object>Fitting>Fit Content to Frame. Copy and paste that frame on all the other pages.
Click on the Layers panel and rename your layer Art. Create a new layer and call it Text. Now save a copy of your file as (File>Save a Copy) and name it something like 32-Page-Landscape and for format choose InDesign CC 2017 template or the template for your version of ID. Congrats! All the work you just did is now a template that you can use the next time you start a new project! And save your open file in your project folder as an InDesign document (file.indd).
Time for Art
At the start of a book project, you’ll likely want to sketch rough thumbnails and plan the page turns. I like to print out my blank dummy file. It gives me a bit more room to draw my thumbnails. But I have a template that I use to jot down story points (download the file). To do this choose File>Print. In the General section, check Print Blank Pages (Figure 5) then select the Setup section. Check Thumbnails and choose 4x4 from the dropdown (Figure 6). I’m printing on letter size paper, so when I click Print, I’ll get two sheets with the blank, numbered pages to sketch my thumbnails.
My initial sketching usually is done on paper. As I refine the sketches, I’ll scan them in and use them to make digital sketches in Sketchbook Pro. The sketches are saved in my Sketches folder in my book project folder. Now I can place my sketches into my dummy file.
I’ll choose File>Place, selected the file or files(s) I want to place and my cursor is loaded with those files. I simply click the page where I want them to go to place them in the layout. To bring in your text, follow the same process and place the text on your text layer. You can get a sense of where you are in your project this way. You can see the blank pages fill up with sketches. Now when I work on those sketch files, refining them and making improvements they update in my dummy file. Printing your dummy file in thumbnails now can give you an overview of the progress of the book.
You’ve finished a dummy and now you want to send it to your crit group, agent or shop that bad boy around! Choose File>Export and choose Adobe PDF in the format menu. The standard High Quality Print setting usually works pretty well. And there you have it. A nice shiny PDF picture book dummy.
Hope this quick overview of InDesign helps you get your dummies done! I’ll share some more advanced tips next time like using styles, libraries, roundtrip, etc.
If you have questions, leave a comment and I’ll answer back soon.