What is typesetting?

Book Design for Independent Authors

If you’re planning to self-publish a book, typesetting is a term you need to become familiar with.

The artistry of typesetting is to turn your text document and any images into a file suitable for a publishing platform such as IngramSpark or Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). You may also come across the terms ‘book design’, ‘page composition’ or ‘formatting’ which are industry terms for the same process.

As a writer, you will be wrapped up in the words of your story or immersed in research until the time comes to publish your book and step into the role of an independent author.

You complete your manuscript and have it edited but how do you then turn this into a physical book?

Authors are also avid readers and I’m sure you’ve come across a book that jarred in some way. It wasn’t the content, plot, or theme, but something else that bothered you. That feeling is normal. As human beings we are capable of subconsciously processing information on the page, including the spaces, text size and style. When the interior of a book has been badly designed, you pick up on it and it impacts your reading enjoyment.

Your work deserves to be turned into something beautiful that you can be proud of.

What is typesetting?

Typesetting in publishing is the process of setting up text, line spacing, numbers, images, and glyphs (marks, signs, and symbols) that make up a book interior ready for printing.

If you enjoy watching historical shows on television such as Outlander or Bridgerton, you may have seen the old-fashioned printing presses in use. Each letter was carved into a wooden or metal block and added to the press by hand. Fortunately, digital advancement means the book designers of today can typeset manuscripts a lot faster!

Even your word processing software can format your text as you write.

Artisan composing movable type for Letterpress Printing
Artisan composing movable type for Letterpress Printing.

Why use a book designer?

If Microsoft Word has a formatting feature, surely any savvy independent author could cut a few corners and save money by typesetting their own manuscript? Why, then, should you use a book designer?

Typesetting requires expertise.

As mentioned, when the interior of a book has been poorly designed it impacts the reader. Nobody takes notice of book design (except the designer) until it is done badly. Would you prefer your first book review to be about the disjointed margin sizes or the content?

Like most skill sets, book design has rules to follow. Only by working in this field will you learn these rules and be able to navigate the design world and typesetting to a professional standard.

Let’s look at a few of these rules:

  • Margins – these are the white spaces around the edge of the book. Having the right margins allows the reader to comfortably flow from one line or paragraph to the next.
  • Line and paragraph spacing – if the lines of text are too close together the book becomes hard to read. With paragraph spacing, you can choose whether to have no space between paragraphs but indent the first line, or to have a line space. Either way, it must be consistent.
  • Widows and orphans – first lines and last lines are important to the flow of the book. Ideally, the first line of a paragraph should not appear at the end of the page and the last line should not appear at the top of the next page.
  • Text alignment – it’s best if all the text lines up across the page and this is where a book designer uses their knowledge of line spacing and adjustments to ensure the text, headings, bullet points, and images or illustrations are in alignment.

These are a small sample of the rules book designers follow to avoid publishing a book with an awkward interior. It’s worth noting that in Microsoft Word or similar software applications it is more difficult to abide by these typesetting features. As an aside, it bugs me that I can’t seem to set the bulleted list above properly, that is with all lines indented, in a WordPress post!

Whether your book is a work of fiction that has taken you years to write, or a business book that will help boost your visibility to your niche audience, having a high-quality product is vital.

Think of your book as a branding tool. As a business owner your book is an extension of your work. A poorly designed book will reflect on you and your business. If writing fiction is your passion, and you wish to write more books in the future, this first novel will set the bar for your reader’s level of expectation.

Book quality matters to your reader. Create a lasting impression that helps them connect with you as an author of excellent books.

Design is the intermediary between information and understanding.”

Hans Hoffman, artist and teacher.

Typesetting for your book with Chapter One Book Production

There are many requirements a book designer needs to assess before your book is created. The process includes deciding on:

  • a suitable trim size (book sizes)
  • the margins
  • any illustrations or images
  • the size and style of your typeface.

Knowing what questions to ask is the starting point for all good book designers.

Choosing the right typesetter is imperative. Shop around, check out the testimonials on their websites, look at examples of their work, and make sure they have experience with your genre.

Catherine Williams typeset my book ‘Wax & Gold: Journeys in Ethiopia & other roads less travelled’ and from the very start it was clear my book was in the hands of a master typesetter – even though this is something I know almost nothing about. I had previously sent my manuscript to a freelancer I found online, and the disastrous result made me realise what an artform typesetting is in itself, and just how important it is to the reader’s experience of your work. Catherine moulded the text into what is instantly recognisable as a professional layout, and helped me through the entire process of publishing. She made small design proposals and additions that I would never have thought to ask for, and which she certainly didn’t have to do, but which have given the book a real character of its own. I have had nothing but compliments from my first readers, and cannot recommend her services highly enough.”

Sam McManus, Author of ‘Wax & Gold’
A page from ‘Wax and Gold’ by Sam McManus

I have over 25 years of experience designing the content for and managing the production of books. My background in working for publishers like Able Publishing, Robert Hale Ltd, The Crowood Press, and DK, have given me both breadth and depth of experience to help authors bring their manuscripts to life as wonderful books.

For more information about hiring me to typeset your book, schedule a virtual cuppa to discuss your project.

Alternatively, you will find a list of services and costs on the website.

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