How to put a book together when I viscerally hate doing layout and have no talent for it?

So one thing that has always been a blocker for me when considering creating a zine or book of some sort of any real scale, is that I have no artistic or visuo-spatial talent. I can write gud-ish, I like my ideas, I think I am capable of making a thing that a very niche group of weirdos would appreciate. But when I try to put those word jumbles into columns and boxes and make them pretty it just doesn’t work and hurts my soul. I don’t know what to do about that.

I could just pay someone to do it and/or find collaborators, that would be my preferred route, but that’s still a limiting factor. At the very least, I don’t even know where to start to find someone reliable and within an affordable budget. I’ve thought about options like kickstarter, but even though I have a couple years of blogging under my belt, I’m not sure if I have enough cache to make a successful Kickstarter, and at the very least I’d have to up-front pay for a proof of concept, which I don’t mind doing, but that brings me back to the original problem of how to find layout and artist people for commission and/or collaboration.

I keep talking about my game I’m working on for the Eclectic Bastionjam, and I’ve accepted that, while I’m happy with the (still WIP) game content, in terms of presentation it’s just not going to be at the level of professionalism that I originally wanted. So if I’m not even trying to meet that deadline except to the extent that what I submit is useable, which it already is, then I’d like to take my time and turn it into a zine sort of thing.

Something like Super Blood Harvest, where it’s a few issues that collectively build out a game and setting and that is very rich and flavorful while still fairly modest in scope. Or maybe something like Mork Borg where it’s almost more like a book of art and poetry than a traditional RPG game book.

I realize those are high bars, it doesn’t have to be to that level, but those are maybe the aspirations. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but also, I need to figure out how to even get that ball rolling if I ever want to do anything with it at all, and the overwhelmingness of that is somewhat debilitating.


Layout is tricky, and it can be frustrating. I’m not an expert at it…but practice has really helped me get a handle on how things work. The works you mention are rather lofty (definitely more art-y), so I would really recommend starting off smaller unless you also do graphic design.

You’ll need some software. I like Affinity Publisher because it doesn’t have the Adobe Subscription Model, but you can start off even cheaper. If you have Office, Microsoft Publisher is intuitive enough and can get you acquainted with some basic principles like the grid, text flow, etc. I’ve seen some relatively impressive things put together in just Word Processors, Collage-ing, or even Google Docs, so don’t let the software become a barrier.

The best piece of advice is to practice with it and keep at it. Power through all the hair-pulling when orphan lines creep in, and you have to do re-edit after re-edit :slight_smile:. Don’t worry about matching professional results out of the gate, focus on just finishing something. Write a small, 10-20 page zine and then toss it in the layout software and fiddle with it until it looks like something you would use at the table. Thinking about function before form is really the first step. You’ve got to know the rules before breaking them in those aesthetically pleasing ways in the works you mention :slight_smile:.


You’re apart of a community stuffed to the brim with extremely talented people and I have a feeling there’s more opportunities to work and collaborate with others than you might think. This sounds like a multifaceted issue really but here’s what I would say:

  • Understand the actual reason why you viscerally hate doing layout, and decide if that specific reason is something you’d personally like to try to overcome through education (YouTube), practice (seriously, practice, a lot), and the frustration of going through the learning curve.
  • If you decide that trying to overcome your hate for layout is not worth combating (which is absolutely okay to identify within yourself), truly try to find some examples of layout you do genuinely enjoy and hold onto those for reference when you begin collaborations and or commissions.
  • Since you seem to enjoy producing content with your blog, I would approach your project like it’s your blog. Get the content started, as if it’s a blog post, but make sure you’re consistently working on the project toward a clearly defined goal. One page’s worth of text per day perhaps, maybe a chapter a week, maybe just a rough concept idea every other day. Something.
  • Start following layout artist’s social pages or blogs. You can even get a list going of people’s work you enjoy, that you might eventually be comfortable with approach for a commission or collab. This will also consistently provide layout inspiration, start getting you excited to see your content in their layout styles, and give you a feel of the general availability of the artists.
  • Engage with the artists content, like the posts that you genuinely enjoy, leave comments if you think there’s something worth commenting about. This gets your name in front of the artist (especially if they have a small following) and from my experience this makes the transition into DM’s when you eventually reach out to the artist a bit more comfortable, they’re already aware that you enjoy their content at that point.
  • On your journey of following layout artists, you’ll probably stumble upon someone that creates content you really enjoy and you’ll look at their following then promptly ask yourself “how does this person only have (small number) followers?! Their stuff is amazing!”. These are the creators you should consider collaborating with. Not only do you typically have a better shot at working with people that are trying to get their name out there but you’ll also be signal boosting and supporting another creator that you enjoy.
  • Solidify your concept based on the content you’ve been creating and start to package it into an elevator pitch. This will help you convey your ideas clearly when you begin to approach layout artists or other creators. If you find yourself trying to send a message to an artist and struggling to compose the first sentence because you can’t quite explain your project’s concept, take a step back and really ask yourself what you’re working on.

I hope this helps give you an idea of how to engage other creators, potentially find collaborators or artists to commission, and get the ball rolling on your project. We all here at the Pit would be very excited to get a sneak peak at whatever you decide to start working on! Remember that you have a lot of people around that share your interest and would genuinely like to see more content from creators like yourself. :crossed_swords:


If you like coding and want a polished, professional-quality result, you can take the time to learn LaTeX. A lot of publishers use that, including academic journals. If the coding is too much of a pain, you can try a LaTeX front end. LaTeX does the measurement work and layout for you. You just have to tell it exactly what to do. There are plenty of manuals, on paper and online, to consult, and there is a big LaTeX user community to help with code issues (that inevitably arise).


Ya those both are books of incredible art and I have no pretensions of matching that lol, I meant more so in terms of the nature and scope of the projects; the way they approach worldbuilding and game-making, the kinds of information they dwell on and the kinds they don’t, and how the language is presented. But it just so happens that both of those books have beautiful art as well. I don’t need to make a book as beautiful as either of those, it just needs to be good enough to carry the rest of it.

In any case, I know that you are correct, but it’s also… it’s not so much that I’m not theoretically willing to put in that effort, my current career and the way I pivoted from my last career is a testament to that, but it’s just, except to the extent that learning layout would be a means to the end of being able to more easily produce books of my own, I find no personal joy nor have any intrinsic interest in learning layout. But, I also acknowledge that this could merely be a mental hangup I’ve placed on myself that I just have to get over, and that once I get over it and get decent at it and can do it at least on a primitive level fairly easily, I will grow to appreciate the craft of it more.

I am a software engineer so coding is fine, but of course my least favorite kinds of coding are things like HTML and CSS lol. I do have some experience with LaTeX though and would much prefer that to trying to line up columns in MS word or Google docs or some other bullshit like that where it’s just going to fight me the entire way. Good idea!

I thought I remembered you said something about coding from the Intro thread, and that’s why I thought of it. :slight_smile:

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For what it’s worth, I’ve found Microsoft Powerpoint to be a decent programme requiring little extra knowledge by much more flexible for producing booklets than Word or Publisher.

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Thanks a ton! These are all really good points!

Re: Why layout viscerally frustrates me; as I said in my response to @ktrey, I think it is in part that I don’t have an intrinsic interest in learning to do it, it’s just a means to an end, so time spent banging my head against the wall learning to do layout feels like time that could be “better” spent writing or coding or weightlifting or cooking… Anyway, it is both deeper than that, and also I realize that that is foolish, but it is what it is, I think I just have to get over it. I’ve done it before.

The idea of stumbling upon an awesome artist with a unique style who is super underappreciated who I really resonate with and can develop a partnership with is like my dream lol. There are a few artists in the RPG community who I follow and interact with, but it can be hard to keep track of them all; like with comic books, I’m definitely the kind of person who tends to focus more on the writer than the artist, so I often struggle to remember which artists did which stuff or who they are and what they’re about.

Patrick had a big list of RPG or RPG-adjacent artists, but I think it’s pretty out of date. At one point I had tried going through the list, but many of the links were dead. Also, it was almost too exhaustive a list to be practical.

But ya, in general, I’ve been trying to be more active in the wider RPG community again besides just my blog and a handful of blogs I closely follow, so hopefully, I’ll make some critical point of interaction at some point.

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I’m going through drafts of my heartbreaker, modifying it as we playtest the different versions in our Barrowmaze campaign. I have no layout experience and have been trying to learn Affinity Publisher as I do it.

My aim has been purely to make it a comfortable read - I struggle to read great tomes of beautiful prose with exquisite colour backgrounds and fancy fonts. Give me ICRPG or Black Hack 2e any day (and, more recently, OSE). More than anything else, these do well with keeping relevant information to double page spreads and brief paragraphs, so that’s been my focus - when I use it at the table, I want next to no page flipping. No layout prizes - just simplicity.

Maybe just find that one key element that you like in other products and build around that. Keep it simple.


Ya this looks great!

In terms of layout, I go back and forth a bit. In some ways I do prefer the simple and elegant approach, but also, just like with good art, I think some of the fancier kinds of layout can be extremely and immediately evocative. If I could develop good, simple, elegant layout, and then add one or two flourishes on top of that, that would be ideal. There’s the “dream” version of it that looks out of this world in terms of layout, but that’s just not going to be on the table for me to do myself.


IMO, this is a great thing to identify. We all only have so much free time to work on our projects and if you genuinely feel like you’re wasting that time on one specific aspect you don’t enjoy, pass that aspect off to someone you want to work with. You’re one step closer to truly creating a comfortable and efficient workflow for yourself.

Take a second to consider that there might be a new layout artist out there that has the dream of working with someone that’s creating awesome content that resonates with them. You can try to make connecting those dots easier by actively engaging in the community, be it on pages like this one or on social media (I would encourage you to explore more on social media to find artists, specifically).

There’s a handful of lists out there - they’re great as an extensive reference, if not archive, of artists. They’re a bit overwhelming, I tend to find illustrations resonate a lot more with me when I see the original post from the creator pop up in one of my feeds, with a bit more context to the piece.

So good to hear! Can’t wait to see more.

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as been said before, you can always hire someone to do the job for you. no need to be good at everything


I actually find it both relaxing and satisfying to do layout - it just takes so much gaddamn TIME, sometimes.

I have cloned this repo for building html and pdf of Black Hack and have started editing the markdown file to be for Maximum Recursion Depth and so far it is working! This is very cool! I can eventually create a more generalized version of this repo and then it’s basically just plug in the markdown file and it’ll produce the basic layout from the ground up. This is amazing, this is going to make putting this game (and all future games) together infinitely easier…

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It is not possible as best as I can tell to upload either html or pdf files here, but it works and is looking good.

Most of the time was just spent figuring out the code and best way to interface with it, but now that I’ve got that down (and granted, could continue to dig into it further), I can move pretty quickly with this. This is a real game changer…

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You could always host it in Google Drive or Dropbox and share the link here.