You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet recently. It’s because I’ve had my head in a book – my book. I’ve been typesetting.
When I decided to self-publish my latest novel, I knew there would be some work involved. I hadn’t realised just how much. The research is on-going. Researching all the things that need to be done, and how to do them, including:

  • find an appropriate printer (or third-party provider),
  • get an ISBN (in fact you need more than one),
  • design a cover,
  • write a short, snappy description for the back cover. This is known as a ‘blurb’  (silly name!)
  • furnish your cover with all of the relevant info (including your blurb, your publishing name, your ISBN & barcode),
  • prepare your manuscript for printing…

That’s where the typesetting comes in. How difficult can it be? Well, there’s more to it than you might think, and some aspects are more obvious than others.

Chapter Headings
Of course you need to ensure your chapter headings are all the same style and font size. You need to make sure each chapter ends with a page break, so that the next chapter starts on a new page.

Paragraph indents
The first line of each paragraph has to be indented, and by the same amount (around 0.5cm will match most novels), except for the first paragraph of each chapter, and the first paragraph immediately after a time break (which needs a blank line after it).

You don’t need to justify yourself, but you probably do need to justify your text (if you don’t want your pages to look too different to other novels). The justification option in MS Word (and, most probably, all other word processing applications) spreads lines out tight to the left and right margins. That tends to mess up the spacings between words. And that’s where your troubles really begin…

Having justified the text, the words will get stretched apart. The last word in each line is pushed tight up to the right margin. That means the space that was between that word and the margin before justification has to be ‘lost’ elsewhere within the line. Depending on the number of words and characters in a particular line, this can be a lot of extra space to fit in. Some lines can look as though they contain double, or even triple spaces between words.What can you do about this? Theoretically, you should consider kerning (that’s ‘kerning’, not ‘gurning’ – though it’s enough to make you pull a face). Kerning is to do with character spacing. Word has a kerning option, but though the text shifts a bit when you switch it on, the change is slight, and I can’t particularly see that it’s any better. So what can you do? I’ll come back to that later.

Widows & Orphans
This is where the last line of a paragraph ends up isolated at the top of the next page, or where the first line of a paragraph is on its own at the end of the previous page. The good news is that Word has an option for automatic widows and orphans control. The bad news is you can’t use it! Why? Because of…

Have a flick through any of your novels and you’ll see that the last lines of facing pages are always adjacent (except at the end of a chapter of course). I guess there’s no reason why you absolutely have to follow this convention (it’s your book, after all) but if you don’t, it will be one more thing that doesn’t look quite right, and it might just be enough to put off independent bookshops from stocking your book. MS Word fixes widows and orphans by moving them onto the next or previous page, with the rest of the paragraph. Which completely messes up the blocking!

So how do you fix:

  • kerning,
  • widows and orphans, and,
  • blocking?

In MS Word, at least, the only way I can see to do it is by manually editing the text. I’m not exactly happy about this, partly because of the time involved, but also because I want to word my sentences to convey meaning, not so that they look good on the page.

There’s more. ‘Stacking’ is where the same word happens to appear in the same position in two or more adjacent lines. Where the same is true for dashes, the effect is known as ‘ladders’.

There are, apparently, software programs that are good for typesetting (Word isn’t one of them) but they tend to be both expensive and difficult to learn. That, I suppose, is evidence of why typesetting is a career of its own.

Going through the manuscript page by page, adjusting and editing the text to fix all of those quirks, takes almost as long as writing the book in the first place. And the changes are dependant on the page size and margins being fixed – change them, and you have to start again. So I only hope I’ve got them right! The good news is that typesetting isn’t so critical for a novel as it would be for a non-fiction book with illustrations, or an art book.

The other good news is that I’ve finished typesetting my novel! It’s done, but it was emotional. In future, I will definitely pay to have my novels professionally typeset. But only if I’m earning a lot more than I do now!

So now I’ve turned my attention back to the cover design. Finalising the design is dependant on the number of pages (which allows the spine width to be calculated) which I didn’t know until the typesetting was done. I’m almost there; the cover design is almost finished. I just need to buy the ISBNs (the price of which I notice increased well above the rate of inflation this year). I’ve got a reasonable quote from a printer (and seen examples of their work). All I need to do is save my two files (cover design and book manuscript) as pdf files, and send them off. I have to admit to being a bit nervous now – do I really want to go through with it?

Watch out for my next post, in which I’ll show you my cover, and explain how I designed it.

Oh, by the way; I can’t now look at any kind of text – books, magazines, blogs, websites, or TV and film credits – without paying attention to the way it’s been typeset. So; there’s another albatross round my neck for the foreseeable future…


Text ©Graham Wright 2019

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

About literarylad

Graham Wright is a freelance writer and author. His first novel, Single Point Perspective, is set in and around the city of Manchester, where he lived and worked for more than fifteen years. His second, Moojara, is set in and around the world, but mostly centres on Perth, Western Australia. Both are works of dramatic literary fiction - imaginative, serious and thoughtful, but with a sense of humour. Graham is currently living in north Shropshire, where he is busy working on novel number three.
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1 Response to Typsetting

  1. Enlightening post. Good for writers to be aware of the process, it’s part of our chosen world.

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