8 Must Knows Of Typesetting

So, you’ve finally finished your book.

Congratulations! Now the work of publishing begins.

Sure, there are many ways to grab your reader’s attention. Good marketing, an attractive cover design, and placement. But what encourages the reader to leap from browsing your book to buying your book?

The truth is most of the time it’s book formatting or typesetting.

What is type setting? 

Typesetting is the skill of setting text on a page. It is done to give your readers the best reading experience without any hassle. The typesetter will

  • Pick the size of the margins
  • Style the chapter starts,
  • Choose the right font style and size for content.

While it may seem like a boring topic, typesetting is one of the most important reasons why a reader keeps reading. Think about it.

How many times have you read a book which was not appropriately bounded, had an unusual font or had any other problem that made you not want to read anymore?

These are few problems that can arise when the type is wrong, or the book designer doesn’t use the correct tools to typeset your book.

So, what types of things should you look out for? Let’s start with a short list of considerations for typesetting.

1. Font

This is a very important decision to make.Your choice will depend on the genre you are writing about. You may have used the font Times New Roman in your manuscript. While many writers stick with Times New Roman because they think it is required, it isn’t. It’s familiar to most readers because it’s used in majority of newspapers, magazines, and computers. It is one of the most popular serif fonts.

Serif fonts are those letter designs that keep letters in words together with a very simple device: a serif. This is a little line on the edge of the letter. Centuries ago, printers found that these tiny additions help the eye keep words together. Reading as Sans Serif font or a font without Serif lines is exhausting for the eye.

There is a wide range of Serif fonts available in any word processing program. You might be drawn to another serif font. If it’s easy to read, consider it. You can also use one font for the text and another for chapter headings.

Font

2. Trim Size

How big is your book? Trim size refers to how large each page will be. If you go into a bookstore, you immediately notice that books come in all shapes and sizes. Longer books tend to have larger pages, allowing more content. This can keep the cost lower. Books with less content are smaller in size to get a higher page count out of fewer words.

But, keep in mind, when choosing your trim size, the amount of text on each page will determine how your reader approaches your work. If you want a simple, easy to read book, go with fewer words on the page. If you’re trying to intimidate your reader, make each page heavy with text. You can see the difference by just looking at the book and seeing how much white space you see.

If you’re creating only a digital version (ebook), trim size is set by the reading device, but you must still be aware of how your text will appear on the page.

Trim size

3. Margins

Another way to control the white space on your page is by considering your margins. Wider margins give you less text per page but offer relief to the reading eye. Narrower margins give you more room for text but can get tiring to read.

When setting your margins, keep your text style in mind. If you tend to write in shorter sentences with smaller words, you might be able to have narrower margins than the standard one inch. But if you tend to write in longer, heavier paragraphs, you might need more white space. You can get that with slightly wider margins.

It is essential to set your font, trim size, and margins before you go on to the next typesetting issues since they are all affected by these factors. For example, you can go through your book, making sure the paragraphs are entirely justified with no widows or orphans. But if you then change the margins or the size of your page, all the formatting done goes out the window, and you’ll be back to square one.

Margins

Outer margin

4. Justification

No, this isn’t about how you explain to your family that you’re writing a book when they’re bombarding you with questions. This is another part of the margin issue of your book.

If you look at most books, the margins on both the left and right of the page are straight, giving the page a neat and clear appearance.

While justification is just another tab on most word processing computers, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to your margins. Even in many professionally published books, it is easy to find justification errors. These are places within the text where the words look cramped in a single line, creating a darker, heavier-looking line. The opposite is also true. It’s common to find lines in many books where the words are spread out. In some cases, the letters are spread out within words, making the line appear to be stretched across the page.

As a reader, this can pull you out of the text, making you aware of the mechanics, rather than the story or information. So, justifying your margins can be much more than just setting a tab on your computer.

After you have justified the margins, go through your work looking for errors. Look for any place that your spacing seems off. Then, look at the words in that line. In most cases, just changing a word or two can fix the problem. In other cases, breaking up the paragraph allows the words to fall into a better rhythm, which takes us to the next typesetting issue.

Justification

5. Paragraphs

Every paragraph needs to be indented, right? Well, no, not really. It depends on your style. In most cases, the first line of the first paragraph of a chapter is not indented, but all the rest of the paragraphs are indented five spaces. However, in text-heavy pieces, this can lead to large, dark blocks that can be daunting on the page.

So many writers choose to separate paragraphs with a blank line. This gives the reader’s eye rest and breaks up the heavy text. On the other hand, if your style of writing makes use of shorter paragraphs, this style may make your work look repetitive or “striped.”

In some cases, you may want to insert paragraph headings to make your intentions clearer. Consider whether you want to use the same font, size, or typeface as the rest of the text. In some cases, a heading is clearer when it is set apart with a complimentary font, a larger type size, or written in bold typeface. You may need to play around with several options to see what looks best for the entire work.

Paragraphs

6. Word Stacks

This is another issue that often sneaks into even professionally typeset books. You might spot them in books where a word is repeated several times in a row. If the formatting and justification is right, the words may line up so that identical words are above each other in successive lines. If it’s a simple word such as “the” or “a” the readers eye may just gloss over it. But longer words create disruption and will pull a reader out of your text. Usually, the only way to fix this issue is to actually edit the words, removing as much repetition as possible.

Word Stacks

7. Widows and Orphans

A final word about paragraphs. Be sure to look at how your paragraphs end. If the text wraps around to the next line with only a single word, you may need to look at how your words are spaced. Basically, you need to get rid of “widows” and “orphans.”

No, this doesn’t mean that you hate women and children. “Widow” is a line that occurs when the first line of a paragraph appears at the bottom of the page, all by itself. An “orphan” line is when you have to turn the page to see the last line of a paragraph. This can be especially disconcerting when an orphan is the last line of a chapter.

Widows and orphans are difficult for readers because they set a small amount of information apart. As the reader’s eye goes across the text, it’s easy to skip over these lines.

Like the justification errors, you must go through your manuscript carefully, and reformat any widows and orphans that might have crept in. This is also a good time to check for orphaned words in your work. Like orphan lines, this is when a part of your paragraph is abandoned through the justification process. Sometimes a single word is left on a line by itself, or, in some cases, may even cross over to the next page. You need to find and fix any orphaned words since these are always at risk of being skipped by the reader.

Think about it: If you have written the line, “And then I saw Roger,” Roger needs to be with the rest of the sentence. You wouldn’t want to see a line where “And then I saw” was on one line and poor “Roger” was left to himself. Your reader will skip right over the name and head on to the next paragraph. This can lead to confusion, especially if seeing Roger is important to the story.

Widows

Orphans

8. Special Characters 

Depending on your word processing program, you may have to go through and set special characters. Some programs, for example, require you to place a letter at the end of an em-dash, or you simply have two hyphens in a row. Others may require you to use special characters from a drop-down menu.

Take special care with items such as ellipses, quotation marks, and dashes. But also check for any special symbols such as trademark, copywrite, or footnote notations. Many times, these need to be inserted at about half the size of the rest of your font. If you are using math or scientific symbols, make sure that the symbols translate to your finished work uncorrupted. Too often, sending a piece from one program to another leaves blanks or odd characters in place of your intended symbols. When in doubt, email the piece to yourself and look at it from another device.

9. Other terminologies in typesetting

  • Kerning: Adjusting the spacing between characters.
  • Drop caps: Stylizing the first character of the first paragraph in a chapter.
  • Book blocks: The block of text on each facing page of a book should end on the same row.

10. Getting A Professional

It’s always better to go to a professional than trying it yourself and wasting time and money. A professional will keep your book’s concept in mind and make sure your readers will have no problems while reading it. Here are a few tips to follow before you find “the one.”

  • Get a typesetting whose an expert in the market of your book.
  • Make sure to look at their previous work from a reader’s perspective.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions. This way you’ll understand better and won’t cause any miscommunication.

Typesetting is not for the faint of heart. It is tedious work that requires great attention to detail. When typesetting’s done correctly, the reader won’t notice at all. But if it’s done poorly, it can prevent your reader from connecting to your work.

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