Tag Archives: simple tech

Make a PDF Book Dummy the free, easy way

Update to this post: This originally was only about Scribus, which is a page-layout program similar to InDesign, but if you don’t want to use that, you can use Microsoft PowerPoint online, which is free, to do your layout and save as PDF. You can also do that with Microsoft Word online, also free, by inserting your images and saving as a PDF. Or you can use OpenOffice or LibreOffice, free MS Office substitutes . If you’re using the presentation (the PowerPoint-like) programs and not the Wordlike ones, I recommend using PowerPoint online instead, as the free PowerPoint-like ones are not as good as the free real one that’s online). Office Online is not as robust as the non-free offline one but it’s quite good. All you need is a Microsoft sign-in, and you can get sign up at those links.

This post will give an overview of making and editing a book dummy using the free page layout program Scribus.

Why you should make a PDF book dummy

First of all, what is a PDF Book dummy? It’s an editable book dummy in digital version, saved as a PDF file. It’s not animated or music-making like an app. it doesn’t flip pages. It sits on the screen, enchanting editors with words and pictures. It’s an alternative to paper book dummies. Best of all, it’s not that complicated to make one.

Picture book writers who don’t illustrate will find it useful to make editable text dummy. I do love the scissors and Scotch tape kind as well, but this way, the text won’t be cut up like a ransom note.

More and more children’s book publishers and are asking for PDF  picture book dummies both in submissions and as you develop your accepted book.  Having a PDF book dummy will streamline your children’s-book submissions. But how do you make one? You could try to put it together in Photoshop and Acrobat, but that’s difficult. Indesign is complicated and costly.  You could scan a paper dummy into a PDF, but that’s time-consuming, and anyway you can’t make changes to it easily. Scribus is a great alternative.

What is Scribus?

Scribus is a free, open source page layout program.

What is open source? Why is it free?

Basically, this means a program is not written by people working for a company, but by a group of programmers working for the love of it and who give away their products. You can download it at http://scribus.net.

Sometimes Open Source isn’t perfect, but bugs get reported and fixed in updates. Don’t worry about viruses, just be sure you download the program from the official program page. Gimp is a well-known open source program similar to Photoshop. WordPress is also open source.


Using Scribus to make and edit your book dummy

Scribus is simple to use. I’m not going into detailed tutorials here, but you can find those at http://wiki.scribus.net/canvas/Scribus_Video_Tutorials

You don’t need any special knowledge to use it–what I’ve done here is basic. You do not need Adobe Acrobat.

You should create all your images and save them as JPGs or TIFFs. You can either create them digitally, as I do on a tablet, or you can draw your pictures on paper and scan them then save them.


Here’s an overview and some formatting tips for your book dummy

Create a page layout of 32 pages, then insert image frames and text boxes. Image frames and text boxes can overlap or be separate. You can resize image to frame or frame to image using the Item menu. You can type in the text, or paste it in.

For images, first make an image frame, then insert the image using the mouse or keyboard shortcuts.

If you change an image, don’t manually put into the layout. Save it as the same file name and the image will automatically update in Scribus. Awesome, huh! I like watching it change.

Some things about the text styling aren’t that obvious at first (unless you are one of those virtuous people who read the manual …)

To edit text, use the Text menu. You can choose from whichever fonts you have on your computer. To style the text, use the Edit menu (Edit/Edit text). I didn’t have any luck keeping the same font and had to select the text and change the font each time. (This seemed like a bug. Eventually the font size stayed the same but only after many attempts. However, compared to the time I saved using the program, I didn’t mind).

My cursor would get “stuck” sometimes and when that happened I would hit the Escape (esc) key and all would become unstuck. Took a while to figure that out!

One cool thing (out of many) is that you can zoom way out to as small as 10% and see your dummy as thumbnails, giving you a good sense of the visual rhythm.


How to make the Scribus file into a PDF

Scribus files are saved with the file extension .sla. Don’t worry about that. Once you’re done with your dummy, simply use the edit menu and export it as a PDF. If you make changes to any pages and want to make a new PDF, simply export it as a PDF again. You can keep the same file name or change it.

To edit your dummy, open the .sla file (e.g., mydummy.sla) in Scribus.

There you have it! It’s very flexible and forgiving. You can change any of the pages and put them back in, just as if it were on paper. You can print it out, email it, post it online, or send it to your Kindle or any e-reader that takes PDF files (note: this is not the same as formatting an ebook for Kindle, which is a different process. You can read PDFs on Kindle).

Scribus lets you export it in color, black and white, viewed in one column or two, and there are other viewing options as well.

Ready to hit “send”? My next post will be Tips for submitting a PDF book dummy.


Looking for help writing and/or editing for your picture book manuscript or dummy? Please visit my critiques and editing page.

Free writing software for picture books

OK, it’s not specifically MADE for that, but it is great free writing software for picture books. Text Block Writer, which breaks up texts into bite-sized chunks, is available on Cnet (link to program right below) as well as other places. Unfortunately, there’s no Mac version, only Windows.

Free Writing Software: Text Block Writer (on Cnet.com)

text block pro

Just imagine writing Moby Dick this way!

The program is virtual index cards. You can create small blocks of text and move them around. You can change block and text colors. The blocks have a scroll bar so you can fit a bit more text lengthwise into the block. You can move blocks around or toggle through hundreds of them, like a big stack of real index cards.

Though the program is aimed at writers of any kind, with its flexibility and appeal to visual people, I think it’s especially helpful for picture books and other short text, such as articles. For one thing, it helps you keep sentences short, which can be challenging.

It doesn’t allow for sketches, but that’s OK. I just like that there is not a big block of intimidating words staring at me or a whole page to fill up. It’s gentle and eases you into your writing, like sinking into a warm bath. Ahhhhhh.


Writer’s block? Try text blocks!


Writing out of order is an excellent way to break through writer’s block (I just realized the program has the word “block” in it! Freudian slip?).

Writing out of order creates new connections between ideas, stimulating creativity. It can be useful to work just on the middle of the story, or skip ahead to various parts, or to write one character at a time to really get to know that character. You can skip over areas of a story that are problematic, until the puzzle pieces fall into place. By moving blocks around, you can try different ways your story might go and visualize page turns.

I do sometimes use real paper index cards, but this brings the power of word processing into play. It’s also a fun right-brain activity. Stories are indeed like jigsaw puzzles. Authors must make the pieces fit perfectly.

There’s something really cool about being able to move the pieces around–to be the puppeteer! Would be nice if you could randomly reshuffle the blocks like in an Ipod Shuffle …

There’s no need to retype the story from the boxes. You can export the entire text into an .rtf document, which can be opened in Word and other word-processing programs. It’s fun to watch your story go from little pieces to an instant manuscript.

Remember– whenever you download software from a free site, go through the process slowly before hitting the download button. Often they will have boxes that are already checked where it says check box to download something else. If you don’t uncheck it, the site will often put annoying programs onto your computer, such as new search engines. Also, be sure you are downloading the right program as the sites will sometimes have ads that are misleading.

Reputable sites such as Cnet and Sourcefourge do check for viruses and malware, but even if not a virus or malware, the add-on programs can be irritating and hard to get rid of. But if you’re a little careful, you can get lots of great free writing software for Mac or Windows.

In short, you can write long or short. You’ll truly see the building blocks of your story.

It must be quite something to do a novel on this. Hmm, maybe I’ll try it someday.

Link again:

Free Writing Software: Text Block Writer (on Cnet.com)