Book design

Typesetting 101

Typesetting 101You and your book designer have created an outstanding design for your book pages, and now your book is ready for typesetting. The irony of excellent typesetting is that no one will notice it! Your reader will find it smooth traveling from cover to cover.

How exactly is a book typeset?
Most manuscripts are typed in a word-processing program where, for ease of proofreading, the text is double-spaced and paragraphs are indented with tabs. Using the “Find and Change” feature, your text is prepared for typesetting by:

  • changing two consecutive spaces to one space—an old typing convention was to insert two spaces after a period or colon, but it’s not necessary with modern typefaces
  • removing tabs—paragraphs will be indented using the “paragraph style” specified in your book design, rather than using tabs
  • checking em-dashes, en-dashes, ellipses and other typographic elements to make sure the space before and after is consistent, and conforms with your editor’s style sheet.

Flowing text into your page design
First, your text is flowed into your page design. The pages are numbered consecutively from Chapter 1 to the end of the text, and this is our first look at how many pages the book has, and how much room there is to play with. Depending on the number of pages specified in the budget and printing quotes, the text will be manipulated to fit the page count.

Typesetting pages individually
Page-layout software (I use InDesign) will typeset text to an extent, but it has some limitations. Each page in your book must be examined separately for the following:

  • awkward or inconsistent spacing between letters, words and lines
  • lines that are too loose or too tight (too big or too small spaces between the words due to hyphenation and justification settings)
  • how hyphenated words are divided, and how many lines end in hyphens
  • paragraph endings—there shouldn’t be just one small word or half a word on the last line of a paragraph
  • page endings—right-hand pages shouldn’t end with a hyphenated word or an awkward page turn
  • facing pages should have the same number of lines of text—if not, the text is manipulated to make it fit.

Kerning titles
Each chapter heading and subheading is checked for awkward character combinations. Because every letter is shaped differently, some fit together better than others. Adjusting the space between two letters is called kerning. For example, the beginning of the word “illustrator” can look squished in some typefaces and need more space than normal. Some other combinations which often need kerning are VA, FI and To.

Typesetting—invisible book design
As you can see, your book designer spends a lot of time making sure your readers don’t notice anything about your typesetting. That’s the beauty of good typesetting—no one notices it!